Seven things you didn’t know about Stonehenge – and how to visit

The sight of Stonehenge has been mesmerising travellers for centuries
The sight of Stonehenge has been mesmerising travellers for centuries - Moment RF

The principal achievement of the Just Stop Oil protest has been to turn the entire population of Britain into supporters of lichen research. The spraying of an orange powder paint made from cornflour, even if it would – as the group claims – “wash away with rain”, drew the world’s attention to the fact that besides its many claims, the ancient monument is a repository of a species of lichen found nowhere else in the world. Social media quickly filled with pro-lichen campaigners, with members of the public – and J.K. Rowling – piling in to attack or ridicule the Just Stop Oilers for their misguided choice of location and tools.

The Just Stop Oil protest at the ancient monument
The Just Stop Oil protest at the ancient monument - AFP

The sight of Stonehenge, with its broken circle of stones and mighty central trilithons, standing in apparent isolation on Salisbury Plain has been mesmerising travellers for centuries. Even the most erudite specialists continue to debate whether it is a cremation ground, a sun worshipping site, or something else entirely. New finds and interpretations are announced all the time, adding to the mystery as much as they seem to solve it.

In 2015, the discovery of a massive and previously unknown palisaded enclosure beneath the banks of Durrington Walls, a couple of miles away, reinforced the theory that Stonehenge is one component of a planned Neolithic landscape on a vast scale. In 2017, a new causewayed enclosure – an early Neolithic monument comprising circuits of segmented ditches – was uncovered at Larkhill, to the north of Stonehenge, during excavations before the building of new army housing. Last year, analysis of the Stonehenge altar stone indicated it comes from a region much further north than the other stones, leading scientists to question the reason behind this disparity in provenance between the site’s various monoliths.

But Stonehenge is also a source of quirky factoids and an inspirer of wild speculation. Here’s a few to ponder while you wait for the sun to rise. Read on for our guide to visiting Stonehenge.

Fresh discoveries are still being made about the site
Fresh discoveries are still being made about the site - Getty

Christopher Wren carved his name on a stone in the 17th century

Assorted graffiti from across the centuries is present on many of the stones at Stonehenge. Stone 52 bears the name “Wren” and is thought to have been chiselled by St Paul’s Cathedral architect Sir Christopher Wren, whose family had a home nearby.

It has a starring role in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles

While making their escape north, Tess and her husband Angel pause at Stonehenge. Tess feels that her end is near, so she has Angel promise to marry someone else after her death. As it’s night and they’re tired, Tess sleeps on one of the stone “altars”. Near daybreak, the two are surrounded by police who take Tess into custody. For her part, Tess is glad that the end has come. Literary critics say the scene indicates a relationship “between the symbolical sacrifice of Tess at Stonehenge and her association with fertility, ritual, and mythic cycles of seasonal death and rebirth”.

The Stonehenge scene from Hardy's novel
The Stonehenge scene from Hardy's novel - Getty

The first guidebook claimed the monument survived Noah’s flood

Catchily titled An Illustration of Stonehenge and Abury, in the County of Wilts, Pointing Out Their Origin and Character, Through Considerations Hitherto Unnoticed, it was written by Henry Browne and published in 1823 – when the Biblical view of history had not been fully exploded by new theological ideas filtering out of Germany. Browne’s guidebook regarded Stonehenge as one of the few ancient structures that survived the Old Testament flood.

It was bought at an auction in 1915

Stonehenge was purchased for £6,600 by local businessman Cecil Chubb, who went to the auction allegedly to buy dining chairs. It happened, he said, “on a whim”. Chubb’s wife Mary was reportedly unmoved by the romantic gesture; the price equated to around £570,000 in today’s money. Three years later Chubb gave the monument to the nation, to be cared for by the then Ministry of Works. In 1919, Prime Minister David Lloyd George recognised his generosity with a title, Chubb becoming Sir Cecil Chubb, First Baronet of Stonehenge. The new nobleman had a coat of arms designed, bearing a silver lion’s leg grasping two branches of mistletoe – a plant regarded as sacred by the druids – and the motto “Saxis Condita”, meaning “founded on stones”.

It was the focus of a mass arrest

In 1985, more than 600 new-age travellers were en route to celebrate the Stonehenge Free Festival when their convoy was stopped seven miles short of the landmark by a contingent of some 1,300 policemen. The confrontation turned violent and went on for several hours before 537 were taken into custody in one of the biggest mass arrests of civilians in the history of England. The event is known as The Battle of the Beanfield.

A druid ceremony at Stonehenge in 1985
A druid ceremony at Stonehenge in 1985 - Getty

Ancient astronauts have docked here

This claim gained popularity thanks to Erich von Däniken’s 1968 book Chariots of the Gods?, which claimed numerous monuments, including Stonehenge, may have been built by extraterrestrials. His hypothesis is based upon “interpretations” of Mayan iconography and mysterious landmarks around the world such as the Nazca Lines. The association of monoliths and stone circles with extra-terrestrial life persists in popular culture, from the enigmatic monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s film of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, to the mid-70s childrens’ TV serial, Children of the Stones, in which the stone circle of Milbury – filmed in and based on Stonehenge’s sister site of Avebury – turns out to be a conduit for sinister alien intelligences from beyond a black hole.

Pop musicians love the name

Richie Havens called his 1970 album Stonehenge and featured the standing stones on the cover. Stonedhenge is the second studio album of English blues rockers Ten Years After; reviewing the disc, one critic said it “seemed to be an attempt at tuning in to cosmic vibrations”. A progressive metal band formed in 1992 in Hungary was called, Stonehenge. Spoof-rockers Spinal Tap’s song Stonehenge – performed with hoods and dry ice – contains the lyric, “Stonehenge! ’Tis a magic place/Where the moon doth rise with a dragon’s face/Stonehenge! Where the virgins lie/And the prayers of devils fill the midnight sky”.

How to visit Stonehenge

Public transport

Green Traveller has made a video on getting to Stonehenge without using a car, including by bike. See


The Stonehenge Tour (01202 338420; leaves from Salisbury, 10 miles/15km to the south, which has a mainline railway station. Bus-only costs £19.50 for adults, £13 for children aged 5-15 or £51.50 families (up to two adults and three children) and including entry to Stonehenge and the hilltop site of Old Sarum, it is £38.50, £25.50 or £115. You can pay extra to add Salisbury Cathedral entry. In summer (April-September), the first bus leaves Salisbury railway station at 10am and the last one leaves Stonehenge at 7pm.


The visitor centre and car park (free for ticketholders) sit to the north of the A303, where the A360 and B3086 meet at Airman’s Corner. In summer traffic can back up to the Countess Roundabout on the A303 in both directions: it may be worth taking the back route via the B3086 and the Packway south to Airman’s Corner.

Tour or no tour?

Interpretation and signage at the visitor centre are excellent. Audio guides for adults are no longer available on site, but you can download them free onto your device from the App Store or Play Store. Headphones for Android phones can be purchased at admissions and in the gift shop for £2.

For an in-depth guide to the stones and their broader context, Blue Badge Tourist Guides ( can be booked from approximately £336 per day.

The swanky visitor centre
The swanky visitor centre - Getty

Highlights for adults

Getting off the shuttle halfway, at Fargo Plantation, and wandering through the trees to see the mysterious – and much older – oblong ditch known as The Cursus, before approaching the stones as they should be approached (if possible): on foot.

Highlights for children

Seeing the recreated face of a 5,000-year old Neolithic man in the visitor centre and then being able to play in his house (the Neolithic village outside is based on remains found at Durrington Walls and often has re-enactors and demonstrations.)

Best time to visit

Winter. At the end of the day, to catch the sun going down behind the stones to the southwest – even better if it’s frosty. And, of course, the winter and summer solstices, when entrance is free, but you have to contend with mighty crowds.

Where to eat

The café in the visitor centre is light and bright with long wooden tables and decent food: you have to try the rock cakes, obviously, and the kitchen produces soups, sandwiches and salads and uses lots of produce from local suppliers.

For a pub lunch, drive six miles for a roaring fire and Sunday roasts at the Swan at Enford ( or a bit further for homemade food at the excellent Red Lion Freehouse at East Chisenbury (

Best view

Pass the entrance to the stones and follow the fence round to the north, veering down the faint parallel lines in the grass known as The Avenue. About 100 yards downhill, turn and look back to see the stones silhouetted against the sky.


Park at Woodhenge Car Park near Durrington Walls and walk to Stonehenge across National Trust land. It takes about an hour, at a leisurely pace. Irritatingly, you have to walk past the stones to validate your tickets at the visitor centre, then double back.

A crisp morning at Stonehenge
A crisp morning at Stonehenge - Chris Gorman / Big Ladder

Costs/contacts/opening hours

Stonehenge, Amesbury, Wiltshire SP4 7DE (0370 333 1181; opens daily 9.30am-7pm (March to September), 9.30am to 6.30pm (September 30 to mid-October) and 9.30am to 5pm (mid October to March). Tickets bought online cost £125.40 for adults aged 16-59, £15 children aged 5-17 (infants free), £22.70 concessions (student card holders or over 65s) and £65.80 families (up to two adults and three children). Booking online saves 15%. Tickets are timed entry. The last admission is two hours before closing time. English Heritage and National Trust members and carers for disabled visitors must book their free tickets in advance.