I just returned from a packed family trip to the British Isles. In 2.5 weeks, my parents, four siblings, and myself visited London, England, Wales, Scotland, Edinburgh, Northern Ireland, Ireland, and Dublin. (I had found a fantastic deal for about $450 per person roundtrip in business class, which I booked for the whole family about 9 months ago. Subscribe to my Deals email list to be occasionally notified of deals like that. Over the last three months, I've sent 2-4 emails per month.)
Admission for a simple visit to the field that contains Stonehenge, with a few rope fences and a short shuttle ride from the carpark, costs an astounding £15.50 GBP ($20+ USD) for an adult! However, there's a fantastic way to get 90% of the experience for absolutely free!
The farmer with land adjoining Stonehenge generously put a pedestrian-friendly gate in his fence (marked by the red marker on above map or you can view it directly on Google Maps here) and there's a nice path into his sheep field that goes right up beside Stonehenge! There was plentiful free parking on that dirt road, right by the farmer's gate. You'll get the view as seen in my opening photo. Now you can only view it from one side and you can't get quite as close, but you really can't get very close even if you purchase admission. Rope fences keep you quite a ways back. From the farmer's field, you are vulnerable to admission holders blocking your view, but as you can see, I was fortunate to not have that issue. (I did no clonestamping/healing in my photo. If you do have people blocking you, if you're patient, you can likely take multiple photos, load them as layers in Photoshop, auto-align the layers, and use masks to composite the photos together wherever the tourists are not. That combined with content aware heal should get you a clean photo relatively easily.)
A few key tips:
- Make sure to use Google Maps to get to Stonehenge. Google Maps routed us around the absolute logjam on the A303 by taking us up on The Packway through the little town of Larkhill. We came down from the NE on the dirt road I have marked. That saved 20 minutes of sitting in traffic! (Use Google Maps almost everywhere you travel. Its traffic data and intelligent routing saved us tons of time. Do audit its routes, though, and do not take back roads in the UK & Ireland when it only saves you a minute or two as the narrow roads can be stressful driving, especially when driving a 9 passenger van as we were.)
- After comparing Google Maps' aerial photos with my on-the-ground photos and my memory, I'm 90% sure they've removed that little paved angle road that comes up from the A303 from the SE, as well as that parking lot right by Stonehenge. This is likely due to the advent of the visitor center some distance away and the use of a shuttle bus.
- The paved road between the visitor center and Stonehenge (that approaches Stonehenge from the NW) is marked for permitted traffic only, so you MUST come in on the dirt road from the NE (or possibly the dirt road from the SW; I don't know if coming in from the SW is still possible, given Google Maps' aerial photos appear out of date and we didn't try it. If the A303 right by Stonehenge is anything like the day we were there, you're much better coming from the NE from Larkhill anyway.)
- The approximate location of the farmer's gate is here on Google Maps or is found at 51°10'52.6"N 1°49'43.5"W which is also sometimes notated as 51.181273, -1.828743.
- If you want to spend the money to get up closer and view it from all angles, consider the 9 day pass that allows you into 100+ historic places in England for £30 GBP vs. £15.50 for this single location.
If you choose to go the free route at Stonehenge, you will be skipping the visitor center which some folks may value for its educational info. However, there are plenty of free resources online to learn about the history of Stonehenge, such as the ever-excellent Khan Academy's essay on Stonehenge.
Here are a few more photos that help you get the lay of the land:
I'd like to wrap up with some more personal notes on both visiting Stonehenge and on my travel philosophy in general, which will inform you what you can expect from this blog.
I don't want to say Stonehenge was a letdown. I'm glad I've visited Stonehenge once in my life. But was it worth driving an extra three hours, three hours we could have spent in the GORGEOUS town of Oxford? I'm not sure. There's something about incredibly famous landmarks (Stonehenge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) whose high expectations adversely affect our enjoyment of them in an incredibly unfair way to where we would enjoy them more if they weren't as famous! I do think that the question of whether it was worth the trip was only a question for us because of how much we had packed into our schedule.
My travel style is that of Budget Luxury. I try to find deals where I can get awesome stuff very cheaply. I'm willing to pay a little more for luxury or high quality or otherwise unique experiences, but I'm always looking for ways to save money while traveling. Thus my travel experiences are what are for most people a very odd high-low mix of luxury 5 star hotels (when I can get them for cheaply) and 2.5 star hotels, for instance.
A perfect example of this seeming disconnect was when we were staying at the Sheraton Grand Edinburgh (which had rates of $700/nt around the time we were there) using credit card points. Dad asked the concierge for a place my brother Dietrich could get a haircut. The concierge recommended a place that charged $52 for a haircut, likely a normal price for most who would spend $700 on a 5 star hotel. However, this was quite a shocking prospect for my father as my family has never spent more than $20 on a haircut and usually spend more like $10-15.
All that to say, there were a few places in the British Isles that we visited (that I had not researched ahead of time as thoroughly as I should have) where we did not go inside because of the high entrance fees relative to their unique value. I was very happy when we found free or cheap alternatives to the many high costs of admission.
This post is part of a series of posts about my family's British Isles trip in July/August of 2016. My parents and four siblings joined me as we went from London to Dublin and everywhere in between in 2.5 weeks. Here's our itinerary:
- London (England)
- Stonehenge (England)
- Oxford (England)
- Bibury, Cotswolds (England)
- Peak District (England)
- Chatsworth House (Peak District, England)
- Yorkshire and Staithes (England)
- Foggy Scottish Highlands (Scotland)
- Bright Scottish Highlands (Scotland)
- Kilts & Bagpipes (Scotland)
- Edinburgh (Scotland)
- Northern Ireland
- Waterford/Dunmore East (Ireland)
- Western Ireland and the Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)
- Dublin (Ireland)