Lucas said: “I liked the three stones in a row holding up two.”
It was Lucas who first suggested going to Stonehenge, I think. The kids had watched an episode of Go Jetters set at Stonehenge and became quite fixated on the stone circle – why it was there, what it was for, who built it, etc. Guy was the one who said, “Maybe we could go there in half term?” He looked at the distance and thought it would be doable with an overnight trip, so we thought – why not?
Before we left
Stonehenge is about a four-hour drive from our house, so we thought it would be best to incorporate an overnight stay. Once we’d decided on dates (the second week of half term – yes, we have that in our school area…) I looked for an Airbnb [affiliate link]. Airbnb has become my go-to for any trip, after having only truly great experiences with Airbnb hosts (unlike hosts advertising on other sites). I did look at Travelodge and Premier Inn, but as a family of five, we’d have had to sleep in two separate rooms, which just isn’t practical for our kids’ ages.
Despite my passion for Airbnb, it wasn’t easy to find somewhere without a two-night (or more) minimum stay. And it was even less easy to find somewhere that would accommodate the five of us in the perfect configuration (a room for the twins, a room for Lucas, a room for us). I ended up booking a nice-looking place in Calne, about 45 minutes from Stonehenge but in the right direction (north).
I booked our tickets for Stonehenge online the week before our trip. I was pleasantly surprised to find that as National Trust members, the kids and I could get free entry – bonus! Sorry, Guy… but it was only £17.50 for an adult ticket.
What we did
We decided to drive straight down to Stonehenge on the first day of the trip. Our kids were tired after four hours of mainly sitting down (what’s that about?) plus I forgot to bring a carrier, so after check-in, we headed for the shuttle bus to the stone circle. The wait was minimal and the bus was comfy, although quite packed. During the journey, there was an audio commentary, but the children were more interested in trying to spot the stones.
When we got to the circle, I was disappointed to see that there was a guided path around the stones, but no opportunity to wander in and out. My logical head understands why this is – up to a million visitors each year, the risk of damage to the stones and the ground – but I really hoped to be able to experience the circle fully. Because of this, the children lost interest fairly quickly. Lucas said, “I don’t want to look at the stones, I’ve already seen them.”
We took a brief walk around – it was very busy, which also surprised me as I thought it would be quieter outside peak holiday season. The kids were running around, which annoyed a few people – which annoyed me. It was not the immersive, interesting experience I expected.
We decided to move on as the children were tired and bored. We got the shuttle bus back to the visitors’ centre (note: upon disembarking, you are led through the gift shop, including shelves of breakables) where we had a look around the model stone cottages. This was probably the best bit for the children! They really enjoyed going in and out of the huts, especially Aurora, who led her brothers around and showed them the ‘bed’ (woven branches) and ‘pillow’ (large piece of wood). They liked touching the walls, which left a chalky residue. The opportunity to try and move one of the huge stones lying on a bed of log wheels was a huge hit.
We had a quick look round the exhibition but the children had lost momentum by this point. The boys liked the small metal casts of the circle through the ages and talking about its evolution from a true circle to what we can see today. This really helped put it into perspective for them and they enjoyed touching the models, too.
On the way back to the car, we found more than 20 colourful flying insects, which the boys have not stopped talking about – it may have been the highlight of their day!
What we thought
The children absolutely loved it, and have been talking about it nonstop to all of our friends; even chance encounters in the street. They liked the different sizes and shapes of the stones, and running around on the grass at the circle site.
Aurora said: “My favourite thing was stones in a row.”
Jake said: “Mine was the stones in a row too.”
Us adults were less convinced. We didn’t expect it to be such a tourist attraction. I mean that both in the sense of how busy it was, and how cultivated the experience was. It lacked authenticity for us and we had a much better time at the smaller Avebury stone circle the next day. In particular, I hoped to feel a spiritual connection but the light gravel path and small grey cable fence made us feel completely removed from the stones.
We are all glad we went, and that we shared the experience as a family, but we won’t be planning a return trip. We understand the need to moderate and regulate visitors to the site, but it was much too ordered and organised for our taste.
- Take advantage of the buses between the visitors’ centre and the stone circle, leaving each location about every 5 minutes.
- Pre-purchase tickets online: the queue is much shorter and there is no additional cost, so if you have children in tow it means a shorter wait.
- Go out of season to avoid queues and have a more peaceful experience.
- Manage expectations – your children may get bored before you do and there is not much geared towards younger visitors.
Parking? yes, a large free car park right next to the visitors’ centre.
Refreshments? yes, a cafe at the visitors’ centre. We didn’t use it, as we brought snacks and drinks.
Loos? yes, with well-maintained facilities.