Written by JAMES SMART
Stonehenge isn’t just a 4000-year-old monument: it’s a swirl of ancient myths and modern controversy, a symbol of England from long before England existed, and one of the world’s great mysteries.
Here, we explore its features, history and how to plan a visit.
What is Stonehenge?
Set in Wiltshire, Southwest England, Stonehenge was built in stages between around 3000 and 2000 BCE, and tweaks to its layout continued until 1500 BCE.
People have long pondered its origins. Myths associate it with giants and human sacrifice. It’s been sold at auction, hosted New Age parties and might one day have a highway rumbling beneath it.
The stone circles
Stonehenge is made up of granite "bluestones" and larger sarsen (a kind of sandstone) blocks. Each sarsen stone is around 4m tall and 2m wide. They form two circles.
Between the two circles is a horseshoe of stones, and at the center is the great Altar Stone. Some standing stones and lintels are missing, but enough remain to give a sense of what once stood.
The ritual landscape
At sunrise on the longest day of the year, the sun shines past the mighty Heel Stone, which sits outside the main circles, into the heart of Stonehenge.
A pathway, which would have been walked by prehistoric pilgrims, runs past the Heel Stone, while burial mounds and the remains of other circles have been uncovered in the surrounding area.
How was Stonehenge built?
Up to 80 bluestones were transported 240km from the Preseli Hills in Wales either by sea or – incredibly, given they each weigh as much as a small car – by land.
The wheel had not yet arrived in Britain, so they were probably either pulled on sledges greased with animal fat or rolled over tree trunks.
The larger sarsen stones traveled 30km from the Marlborough Downs. During the henge’s 1500-year heyday, stones were added and removed on several occasions.
Stonehenge is generally open 9am–8pm during the summer, 9:30am–7pm in April, May and September, and 9:30am–5pm in the winter.
Tickets are from £19.50/£11.70 adult/child, and access is timed – book well in advance to secure your spot.
There are direct trains from London Waterloo (90 minutes), Cardiff (two hours) and Exeter (two hours) to Salisbury. Buses connect the station with Stonehenge.