Stonehenge Inner Circle Tour

A few years back, I was lucky enough to visit a spot that’s on many a bucket list: Stonehenge. Travel snobs will tell you it’s overrated and there are better places to visit. Maybe I’m basic, but you have to be pretty spoiled not to appreciate the prehistoric splendor of this massive, ancient site.

Because obnoxious tourists used to chip off pieces of the stones for souvenirs, the site is now protected by a rope barrier, which keeps visitors at a distance of 50 feet. There is, however, a way to get around this and get a closer look. If you ever visit this incredible World Heritage Site, here’s how to book a private tour, which doesn’t cost as much as you might think.

Visiting Stonehenge: The Basics

Stonehenge isn’t free. Sure, if you rent a car in the UK, it’s easy enough to drive up the streets that run alongside the site and see it from a distance to catch a glimpse without paying. This is still pretty incredible, but if you’re traveling from overseas, you probably want to get closer. Regular adult admission is £15.50 (about $19 USD) and general opening hours are between 09.30 am and 5:00 pm. The English Heritage website recommends booking tickets in advance to ensure you get a spot. Book online, print and bring your confirmation, and make sure to get there within 30 minutes of your slot. 

Aside from Christmas, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and Boxing Day, they’re open most of the year. The summer and winter solstice are obviously kind of a big deal at Stonehenge, so they usually have some kind of festival going on. If you’re planning to travel around the solstice, check the website and brace yourself for big crowds. Generally, your tour takes a couple of hours.

How to Book Stonehenge Inner Circle Access

Stonehenge Inner Circle Access

If you’re going to travel all the way to the UK to visit, I recommend paying a few bucks extra for Stone Circle Access. You obviously can’t touch the stones (or you shouldn’t, at least), but you can get up close and personal with them. Well, I don’t know about personal. But you can definitely get closer than 50 feet. Stone Circle Access is £31.80 (about $38 USD) for an adult ticket, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get access–availability is limited. You might as well try, though.

Fill out an online application to request access here. You’ll see a schedule of available dates and times for Stonehenge inner circle access. You’ll request three specific dates and times, fill out some basic info, and English Heritage will review your request. Keep in mind: the hours are outside of normal operating hours, so you may have to visit later in the evening or super early in the morning.

My reservation was reviewed and approved within 24 hours, and I requested a date in May about three months in advance. Your own experience might vary, though, especially considering this was a few years ago.

My Stonehenge Experience

Stonehenge Inner Circle Access

You can also book guided tours to Stonehenge from nearby towns, and the English Heritage site lays out your options for that, too. If you’re up for it, it’s easy enough to just rent a car and drive there on your own, though.

My husband and I drove our rental car from Cardiff, Wales into Amesbury, England. Amesbury is one of the nearest towns to Stonehenge, about 10-minutes away. You can drive from just about anywhere in the UK, of course. Driving to Amesbury from London will take about two hours.  If you like big, green, rolling hills, the drive is immensely worth it. Of course, there are the typical quirks that come with navigating the UK roadside, namely roundabouts and staying on the left side of the road. Once you get the hang of it, though, it’s not so bad. Bring a physical map because you won’t get cellular access everywhere and some spots are pretty rural. Once we got to Amesbury, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Salisbury, then simply drove to Stonehenge for our inner circle access the next morning.

You meet at the visitor center and a guide walks you past the ropes into the circle. For about an hour, you’re free to walk around, take pictures, and stand in wonder. You won’t be alone, though. There are about 30 other tourists there with you. Still, it’s a pretty impressive experience.

Oh, and since you’re close to Wiltshire, I’d also recommend checking out the Westbury White Horse, a somewhat mysterious, massive horse figure carved on the side of a hill. It’s free, it’s a 30-minute drive from Stonehenge, and it comes with sprawling views of the English countryside. And sheep. Definitely worth it.

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Kristin writes about money, travel, and human behavior at Lifehacker, the New York Times, New York Magazine, and Mentalfloss. She's also written for NBC News, Fox Digital, and Scripps Network Interactive. Learn more about her here.