Updated October 2020.
Stonehenge is an iconic destination in England. If you’re visiting London, Stonehenge and Salisbury make a great day trip from London.
The best way to visit Stonehenge is to go through Salisbury. Not only will you get to travel to one of the most famous places in England, but you’ll also get a chance to see the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral and one of the few remaining copies of the Magna Carta.
How to get to Stonehenge
One-way train tickets to Salisbury from London run anywhere from £9 to £28 depending on your departure time and how far in advance you book. Once in Salisbury, you can catch a bus to Stonehenge.
When I visited Stonehenge, I went on The Stonehenge Tour. The £32.50 tour includes transport to and from Stonehenge and Old Sarum, admission to both, and a free audio guide during the bus ride. The bus has hourly departures and picks passengers up either in front of the train station or in the center of Salisbury. It takes about 30 minutes to get to Stonehenge from the Salisbury train station, including the stop in the town center.
If you wish to provide your own transport to Stonehenge, tickets are £19.50 for adults, £17.60 concessions, £11.70 for children, and free entry for English Heritage members and children under four. Once you get to the Stonehenge welcome center, you’ll take a 10-minute land train to the actual site.
When to visit Stonehenge
Stonehenge has timed entries, and you must book in advance (especially during the summer months).
However, to walk around Stonehenge without the crowds, the best time to visit Stonehenge is during winter. It may be cold but you’ll be able to see it right away with fewer people around.
The Stonehenge Welcome Center
The Stonehenge Welcome Center provides its visitors with a history of Stonehenge and the surrounding area. It also has an exhibition containing some excavated artifacts and recreated Neolithic huts that were supposedly built near the area. I also found out that during World War I, the area around Stonehenge was the largest military training complex in the world.
Before you take the land train to Stonehenge from the welcome center, I recommend getting one of the complimentary audio guides. There are a few plaques around the area, but the audio guide will give you an in-depth history of Stonehenge and its mysteries.
A few interesting facts: No one will probably know exactly why Stonehenge was built, but they know that it was built in three stages. Stonehenge is still astronomically correct, even after all these years. During midwinter and the summer solstice, there are two stones that the sun sets directly over, called sarsens. All around the monument and in the surrounding area are burial mounds called barrows that tell the archaeologists a lot about the people who lived around Stonehenge.
If you choose, the Stonehenge bus tour also stops at Old Sarum on the way back to Salisbury from Stonehenge. Once an Iron Age fort, it is the site of the earliest settlement in Salisbury. It was turned into the first cathedral and occupied at various points in history by the Romans, Saxons, and Normans. I chose not to go because the bus only made a stop there every hour and I wanted to make the most of Salisbury and its cathedral.
Once back in Salisbury, head straight for the Cathedral. It’s one of the most stunning buildings I’ve ever laid my eyes upon and it has an incredibly fascinating history.
Did you know that the Germans were ordered not to bomb Salisbury because the pilots used the cathedral spire as a navigation point? This is because Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest spire in Great Britain and the 3rd tallest spire in the world.
It was consecrated in 1258 and was also the first cathedral to found a girls’ choir (in 1991…). Salisbury Cathedral houses the world’s oldest working mechanical clock, made in 1348. The clock doesn’t have a face but it chimes every hour. The baptismal font was built to commemorate the cathedral’s 750th anniversary. Salisbury Cathedral and the Magna Carta are free to see and explore, but a donation is encouraged as the church gets no funding from the state.
The Magna Carta
The Cathedral also houses the best-preserved copy of the Magna Carta in its Chapter House. Only 4 copies remain. The one in Salisbury is the best preserved of the four original copies from June 1215. It is written in abbreviated Latin on vellum. You won’t regret seeing the document that inspired the Bill of Rights and so many other constitutions.
The Parish Church of St. Thomas and St. Edmund
After marveling at the Magna Carta, head to the Parish Church of St. Thomas and St. Edmund, which was built for the men working on the Salisbury Cathedral. It was dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury around 1220. The Church has one of the best Doom Paintings in Europe. It depicts the risen Christ, his disciples, and the judgment of souls into heaven and hell.
The Town of Salisbury
If you have the time, walk around Salisbury. It was exactly what I pictured old English towns to look like: old, beautiful, timbered houses and storefronts; lots of green; and lots of history. I spent over an hour just meandering its streets and taking photos.