The Mystery of Stonehenge Special Access: How to Get the Inner Circle Tour

Stonehenge at sunset

Whilst planning a 15-day tour of England and Scotland for my parents, one of the highlights of their trip was stone circle access at Stonehenge. Unlike most visitors, they were able to go beyond the ropes and walk around inside the circle, examining the stones up close and experiencing the site from the inside out.

After they posted their pictures, many people commented that they weren't even aware people could still go in the circle. Most of them went through big tour companies or just showed up as a normal visitor, so the option was never made available to them. Instead of walking between the stones and really taking it in from the inside, they were forced to stand behind ropes in a crowd and look in from the outside.

Not everybody cares about this, but I hate to think of people putting all that effort into their big trip, then having regrets – so let's talk about how you can get the all-access experience at Stonehenge. There are three basic ways to go about it…

How to Get Inner Circle Access at Stonehenge: 3 Ways

1 | Get the Stonehenge Stone Circle Experience

My parents, enjoying Stone Circle Access at Stonehenge

Stonehenge Stone Circle Experience tours are special tours operated before and after opening hours to allow a small group of visitors to walk among the stones as people have done for thousands of years. Tours are limited to 30 people, and they generally sell out well ahead of time. 

Stone Circle Experience tours are held before and after public hours, either in the early morning or early evening.

You can NOT touch the stones on this tour or any other. Too much damage has been done over the years, and they want to preserve the site for many generations to come.

As of July 2023, the price for adults is £59 (or £65 with gift aid) and the price for children is £35 (£40 with gift aid). If you're an English Heritage member, adults are £45 (£50 gift aid) and kids are £27 (£32 gift aid). Children under 5 are free, as are carers for those with disabilities.

For those who are wondering whether it's really worth it, check out my dad's Facebook comments afterwards:

When we were in England we got to see the Stones…Front row seats! No not those Stones…these Stones! Stonehenge up close! Had to pay extra to do so but it was an after hours tour where we got to mingle among the Stones for about an hour.

It was a cool evening on the windswept plain that holds Stonehenge. We could have come in the day during the sunshine but we would have had to stay behind the rope. After hours we got to walk thru and around them and…feel…the ancient presence of the peoples who built them thousands…of years ago around 3000 BC. The Neolithic Age. How did they do it…and why? All the answers are only guesses. We could look closely and take as many pictures as we wanted…but if we touched them we were threatened to have our hands cut off. Nah, just kidding…but we would have to go back to the bus…that's almost as bad!”

2 | Commercial Tour Packages for Stone Circle Access

First off, know that the Stonehenge tours you see around the internet are not actually affiliated with Stonehenge in any way. Stonehenge is operated by English Heritage, a non-profit preservation group similar to the National Trust. Stonehenge does not offer tours in the sense that you get accommodations + transport + access. They only sell the on-site access.

The tours you see offering transport or lodging + Stonehenge are run by for-profit tour companies. There's nothing wrong with that, and it may be the best and most convenient option for you – but it's important to understand the difference.

Also keep in mind that unless you book a tour that specifically tells you you'll get stone circle access, it's 99.99% likely you won't be getting stone circle access.  One plus to commercial tours is that you may get great commentary along with your tour – but some are better than others, so read the reviews ahead of time.

The other important thing to bear in mind is that if you use a tour company, you'll likely leave much earlier in the morning (some leave London or Bath as early as 4:30am) or be out much later at night. Some will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel, which means you may also have to wait as others are similarly collected and dropped off. When you're on a trip and trying to maximize where your time and energy go, you might feel that's not the best use of your resources.

If you decide to book, we recommend checking out sites like Viator and TripAdvisor where you can read reviews and ensure your transaction is protected.

3 | Stonehenge at Solstice

The sun shines through the stones at Stonehenge

During solstice celebrations, Stonehenge closes to tourism and opens up to all, free of charge. During this time, the ropes are removed and guests can move around the stones freely. Thousands of people gather to celebrate the solstice and see the alignment of the sun and the stones.

Please note that this is accurate at time of writing, but sadly, some have called for an end to the practice. Some people use it as an excuse to get drunk and leave messes in their wake, and that puts it in jeopardy for everyone. 

If you decide to go during a solstice celebration, please be respectful and take any trash you came with (and perhaps a bit from some of the less considerate visitors). It's important to respect sites like this in order to ensure people can continue to enjoy them.

 

Consider an English Heritage Membership

As mentioned above, Stonehenge is operated by English Heritage. You don't need to be a member to get the Stone Circle Access Experience, or to visit – but it's a great way to support the preservation of important historical sites for future generations.

Your membership typically includes a printed guide through the post (or at least it did when we joined), online access to their member site and special deals, plus discounts and free admission to more than 400 historic attractions around the UK.

They do offer a short-term membership for those traveling from abroad, and you can review the options at the links below to decide what's the best value for your situation and plans. Please note that there are some differences in the benefits of each type of membership.

A standard English Heritage membership gives you free access to the main Stonehenge tour regardless of whether you pay extra to access the stone circle up close. 

Arranging Transport to and from Stonehenge

The hardest part about arranging your Stone Circle Access Experience is figuring out transport. The typical departure point is Salisbury, which is around 10 miles away from Stonehenge. Although there's a Stonehenge bus that departs from Salisbury's train station, it only runs during and shortly after the normal business hours at Stonehenge (as of our last check).

Early morning stone circle access visitors might be able to get a ride back to Salisbury this way (with a lengthy wait considering the morning tours are one hour long at 6:45 or 8, and the first bus doesn't leave Stonehenge until after 10). The ride there will still be an issue, though. Evening tour participants will face a similar dilemma.

Stonehenge BusView Timetables

The most straightforward option is to rent a car, but that's not always desirable. Many people aren't comfortable driving on the left side of the road, and rental cars + the cost of petrol can be expensive if you need to go far.

Remember, fuel is substantially more expensive in England, and it takes a lot longer to drive a mile on curvy rural British roads than on most American interstate highways. If you do decide to drive, be sure to bring a physical map or get built-in SatNav, as your phone's GPS may lose signal in rural areas.

If you don't wish to rent a car, I'd recommend staying in Salisbury and taking a taxi. The taxi company can recommend a good pickup time and give you a quote for the trip + wait time during the tour. It's a very common request for them, so you can rest assured they know what they're doing and they'll give you an accurate quote in advance.

If you're coming from Salisbury, you can expect to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of £50 on the taxi ride. My parents had a great experience with AA Taxis , and you can call them at +01722 505011.

Fudgehenge at Roly's Fudge in Salisbury, England

Salisbury is a gorgeous destination in its own right, and you can use the rest of your time there to visit the cathedral and stroll around this old medieval market town – maybe even check out Fudgehenge while you're at it!

One tip for those on a longer UK trip – check out Pear Tree Serviced Apartments in Salisbury. They offer apartment-style rooms, a complimentary welcome breakfast, and most importantly, a laundry room. Although you can find full service laundry and off-site laundrettes in many towns, it's often more convenient to do it on your own schedule at the hotel.

My parents said they enjoyed their brief stay greatly, and the hotel was right next to the train station. They also noted that it was near a number of grocery stores, which would have been handy (and cost-saving) if they had spent more nights there.

And One Last Thing…

Once you've booked your Stonehenge Stone Circle Experience and sorted your accommodations and transport, there's only one thing left to remember – bring an umbrella and a warm anorak or coat! It can be quite chilly early in the morning or late in the evening, and England is not exactly known for being dry.

All of that is made even more noticeable due to the vast plains surrounding Stongehenge. There's nothing to block the sharp winds. My parents went in mid-May and found themselves quite comfortable everywhere except Stonehenge, which was freezing.

 

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