Stonehenge. Iconic? Certainly.
Overhyped? We decided to find out for ourselves!
Read on to see what there is to do at Stonehenge for kids, and find out about more family-friendly things to do around Stonehenge. Educational opportunities are everywhere in this part of England – kids, be warned!
Stonehenge facts for kids (and adults!)
Stonehenge is an ancient circle, or henge, of huge sarsen stone slabs and smaller bluestones. Dating from around 2800BC, Stonehenge is older than the pyramids.
How Stonehenge was built is still a bit of a mystery. It’s accepted that Neolithic people could drag the 4-ton bluestones using tree trunks and ropes, but why they quarried them hundreds of miles away in Wales is unknown. Perhaps it’s to do with the beautiful blue quality that the smaller stones take on in certain lights. The transportation of these bluestones took many years. Later on, the giant sarsen stones (obtained much more locally) were put into place and it’s these which form the monument we see today.
Another mystery surrounding Stonehenge is what it was used for. The likely explanation is that it was a ceremonial place and a site of large gatherings and feasts. It’s almost certainly something to do with the changing seasons as its stones line up precisely with the sunrise and sunset for the solstices.
Even though the structure of the stone circle has changed over the millennia, it’s quite remarkable that a relatively delicate construction is still standing after all those centuries.
Today Stonehenge is a World Heritage Site and is extremely popular with visitors.
Visiting Stonehenge with kids
Arriving at Stonehenge
Stonehenge’s Visitor Centre will be the first thing you see when you arrive. It’s located quite a distance from the stones, so you can’t see them from the centre. Instead, you have to catch a bus to get to Stonehenge itself. Of course, you could also walk over the fields if you want – we decided it was too far for our children’s little legs.
Our advice is to get straight on the bus to see Stonehenge and then return to look around the centre later. Pick up an audio guide to get the most out of your visit. Plan on spending a couple of hours at Stonehenge.
Stonehenge Museum and Neolithic Village
When back at the visitor centre, make sure you look in the museum. One of the best bits is a circular room surrounded by screens where a time-lapse reconstruction of Stonehenge is shown. It feels as though you’re standing right in the middle of the stone circle and you can see exactly how the stones are lined up with the summer solstice.
In the museum itself you can find out more about the site’s history and how Stonehenge has changed over time. There are lots of little artefacts that give clues to Neolithic life. It’s all fascinating and well laid out but we did have to rush through as the kids weren’t interested at all (except in perhaps the skeleton). To be fair, you can’t expect a 4 and 2 year old to give two hoots about a museum!
Outside, the Neolithic village is the best thing at Stonehenge for kids, other than the stone circle itself. You can go into the homes and sit on the rather sparse furnishings. This is much more of a hands-on way for kids to imagine what life would have been like for ancient people in Britain. Our kids definitely found it much more engaging than looking at the exhibits in the museum.
The landscape around Stonehenge feels ancient. The countryside is generally open with few trees and dotted amongst the fields you’ll see ancient burial mounds, or barrows. People have lived here for a long time.
Some people find Stonehenge disappointing; it’s got a worldwide reputation which is hard to live up to. I don’t agree. While the stone circle is fairly small, most of it is still standing after thousands of years and the archaeological finds tell us so much about the way people lived. Personally, we loved it.
Stonehenge is still important to many people today: visit on the summer solstice and you’ll find 40,000 people gathering to watch the sunrise, just as they must have done thousands of years ago.
The last time I visited Stonehenge (years ago, as a child) you could walk right up to the stones and even touch them. Of course, some people just can’t behave properly and so now they are roped off and a circular pathway takes you around them. You can still get reasonably close though.
We let our kids loose as we walked around Stonehenge. I can’t say that they were exactly awed by it, but they did have a lovely time chasing each other in the sunshine. And weeks later, the Cub still remembers her visit. Not all was lost.
There are other Neolithic finds in the nearby fields which you can walk to if you like. Many of them are now simple ditches and are best seen from the air so you’ll get a better view of them from the information boards around Stonehenge.
Having said that, the Stonehenge Landscape itself is great for walking, and is free to enter although you need to pay £5 for the car park if you’re not a member of English Heritage or the National Trust.
TIP: This means that if you don’t mind admiring Stonehenge from afar, you don’t actually need a ticket to see it!
There are now plans to bury the nearby noisy A303 and I imagine that once it’s gone (don’t hold your breath), more of the atmosphere of the place will return.
Other Neolithic sites near to Stonehenge
There are plenty more related things to do near Stonehenge for kids and adults alike.
Take a look at nearby Woodhenge, where concrete posts now mark the location of ancient wooden posts arranged in concentric circles; perhaps part of a building or simple totem poles of some sort. A child’s skeleton was found here with signs of ritual sacrifice – was this a regular occurrence?
One of the most well-known Neolithic sites in Wiltshire is Avebury, 30 minutes or so away from Stonehenge by car (not to be confused with Amesbury, right next to Stonehenge). Avebury also has an ancient stone circle but it’s much larger and has a totally different feel to Stonehenge. Nearby to Avebury you will also find West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill, among other prehistoric sites.
On your way to Avebury from Stonehenge, make sure you drive part the Alton Priors White Horse; a large carving in the chalk hills. It’s not anywhere near as ancient as the other sites – only 200 years old! However it is near a couple of Iron Age hill forts if you’d like to look at them. Otherwise the best view of the horse is from the road. There are 8 similar hill carvings in Wiltshire.
Or if you’re heading to Salisbury, Old Sarum is an Iron Age hill fort and the original site of this ancient city.
Know before you go
Stonehenge is administered by English Heritage and the National Trust, so if you’ve got a membership for either of these schemes then your visit will be free. Tickets are sold with an admission time.
Stonehenge tickets are available on English Heritage’s website. A pre-booked adult ticket costs £16.50 and a child 5+ costs £9.90; more if you buy when you arrive.
Even if you have a membership it is best to pre-book a slot online anyway. Stonehenge gets really busy. I would advise booking the earliest slot you can.
We went for the 10am slot and Stonehenge was quiet as we drove past at about 9.45am. The bus we got on to get to the stones was empty but there was already a crowd when we arrived at Stonehenge. We looked around for about 45 minutes and when we got back to the visitor centre the queue for the buses was huge. Book the 9.30am slot!
If you’re a real early bird then you can join a group tour before the general opening to see Stonehenge up close and walk amongst the stones themselves. This is adult members only, selected dates only and costs £45. Details are on English Heritage’s website, under Stonehenge Up Close.
Getting there and away
Stonehenge is located in the county of Wiltshire, near Salisbury.
Stonehenge lies just off the A303, and anyone driving along this road will get a great view of the stones (probably in slow motion too, there’s usually a traffic jam).
You’ll need a car or a tour to get to Stonehenge. If you’re not on a day tour from London or Bath, try the Stonehenge bus day tour from Salisbury.
The postcode for your sat nav is SP4 7DE.
Where to eat at Stonehenge
There is a cafe selling sandwiches and drinks, including packed lunch for children. We ate here and it was nice, as the cafes in English Heritage/National Trust properties usually are. Prices are in line with similar attractions; about £30 for a family of four.
You can always bring your own picnic. Or, as your visit will probably only last a couple of hours grab lunch after your visit in Salisbury or another nearby town, depending on where you’re staying.
Where to stay near Stonehenge
The historic city of Salisbury is nearby and has lots to keep you entertained for a weekend. It’s the perfect location if you want somewhere local to stay. Take a look at some hotels in Salisbury here.
Stonehenge day trips operate out of London and Bath, among other cities. If you don’t have a car, a tour is probably the best way to go.