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Avebury Stone Circle vs Stonehenge

Wiltshire in southern England can claim some spectacular Neolithic sites. Stonehenge is arguably the most famous prehistoric site in the world, but Avebury’s Stone Circle, just 30km away, is the biggest stone circle in the world. Avebury is less famous than its counterpart to the south but which of these monuments is better to visit, especially if you are short on time? Avebury Stone Circle vs Stonehenge? There’s only one way to find out…

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Introduction to Stonehenge

Stonehenge! Where the demons dwell. Where the Banshees live and they do live well!” – Spinal Tap

Stonehenge is Britain’s most famous prehistoric site. Construction of this famous monument is believed to have started around 5000 years ago during the Neolithic period.

Avebury Stone Circle vs Stonehenge

It is thought that the stones as we know them were established in around 2500 BCE. There are two types of stone used at Stonehenge – sarsens and bluestones. The sarsens are the largest stones, established in two concentric arrangements – the outer circle and inner arc. The bluestones were set up between them. It is believed that the arrangement was changed over the centuries.  

The stones were brought to the site from two different locations – the sarsens from Marlborough Downs, around 25km away, and the bluestones from over 250km away, from the Preseli Hills in Wales! The construction is surprisingly sophisticated with interlocking joints used to ensure stability of the monument.

The purpose of Stonehenge is not entirely clear. The stones’ layout is definitely designed to mark the changing of the seasons. It is thought that midwinter, rather than midsummer, was more important for the people who built Stonehenge – cold, dark midwinter marks the shortest day of the year. Thereafter the days would become longer with increasing light, warmth and the prospect of planting crops in the springtime.

The monument aligns with the midwinter sun as you approach Stonehenge from the avenue. It is uncertain as to whether the ancient people also marked the movement of the moon at Stonehenge. The moon has a more frequent cycle than the sun, so is a good measure of time.

The stones have been restored over the years. In 1918 a number of leaning stones were straightened and fallen stones re-erected. Some were also set in concrete. There have been some major conservation projects over the years and work continues to to preserve the stones to this day.

Visiting Stonehenge

When we were children, our parents could drive to Stonehenge, stop the car on the road and then you could walk right up to the stones, and even climb all over them. Not so, these days. Stonehenge receives over one million visitors every year.  

The monument now has a visitor centre with information about the site and its construction. You can just show up and buy tickets but you may have to wait to get in if the site is busy. You can buy tickets in advance for a timed entry and there is a discount available if you book online.

Once you have arrived you can spend as long as you like there. Parking is free if you have pre-booked or buy a ticket. You can visit for free if you are a member of English Heritage. If you are an overseas visitor you can buy a pass which will get you into over 100 sites in the UK, including Stonehenge. (This pass represents good value if you plan to see at least 2-3 historic attractions on your visit to the UK.)

The monument itself is located around 2 km from the visitor centre so you can walk or catch a shuttle bus to the viewing area. If you’re walking it takes around 25-40 minutes. Dogs are not allowed to visit but there is an exemption for assistance dogs.

The site can get very busy at weekends and bank holidays, as well as during the school holidays.

The Stonehenge VIP tour

It is still possible to walk around the stones. You have to arrive at the visitor centre outside normal visiting hours, either early in the morning or late in the evening. And, of course, you will pay a premium. These visits are extremely popular, tickets are limited and book up very early, so if you want to walk within the stones, plan ahead!

It does cost a lot but is the only way to get near to the stones these days, unless you are planning to attend – with thousands of other people – at the summer solstice. If taking the VIP option, you need to turn up at the bus stop around 10-15 minutes before your allocated time slot. The bus then takes a small group of people to the stones.

You are allowed to wander around them for around 45 minutes but are not allowed to touch the stones. A guide will point out various features. If you’re lucky it may be possible to time the visit for sunrise or sunset.

Avebury Stone Circle vs Stonehenge

Visiting Stonehenge For Free

It is possible to see Stonehenge without pre-booking or paying. You can drive past the visitor centre and continue into Larkhill where you can park.

Then walk along Willoughby Road to reach the public footpath which will take you across the fields that lead to Stonehenge.

You won’t be able to get amongst the stones (most visitors don’t anyway unless they’ve paid for the VIP experience) but you should get a good view.

An alternative, and longer, route is walking from Woodhenge (see below).

You can also visit Stonehenge for free for the summer solstice on 20th to 21st June each year. It is likely to be very busy and there are terms and conditions for entry to the site.

Getting to Stonehenge

Driving is the most efficient way to reach Stonehenge, either driving to the visitor centre or Larkhill. If it’s not possible to drive, there are plenty of coach tours that will offer a day trip from a number of UK cities.

Other Attractions Near Stonehenge

Woodhenge is around 3km (as the crow flies) from Stonehenge and similarly dates from about 2500 BCE. It comprises concentric posts in six oval rings. The structure was around 40m long and 30m wide and thought to be a ceremonial site.

Originally made from wood, the timber has long gone, rotted to obscurity, but after the site was discovered, concrete pillars were inserted into the ground to indicate where the posts would have been located.

Parking is free. You can walk to Stonehenge from Woodhenge via a country path or along the roads. (Another way to visit Stonehenge for free.)

Avebury Stone Circle vs Stonehenge

Introduction to Avebury

And you, my love, won’t you take my hand? We’ll go back in time, to that mystic land.” – Spinal Tap

Avebury is located just 30 km north of Stonehenge (as the crow flies). It is less well-known but is actually the world’s largest stone circle and is even older than Stonehenge. It is thought that construction started in around 2850 BCE.

The main henge comprises an enormous circular bank and ditch which encloses a large circle of around 100 stones which is 1.3km in circumference. Two smaller stone circles are contained within this henge. There are also stone avenues leading to the henge, suggesting that this was probably a ceremonial site.

Key Features of The Avebury Henge

As you drive through Avebury village it is impossible to miss the enormous stones. The henge is huge and you can walk through the fields to see all the stones within the boundary of the site, defined by the enormous banks and ditches.

Avebury Stone Circle vs Stonehenge

You will need to cross a few roads to reach all the stones. (Take care, some of the roads are on bends, so it’s not always easy to see oncoming traffic.)

Just to the south of Avebury is West Kennet Avenue – two rows of standing stones leading to the Sanctuary. Originally comprising over 100 stones, set in a corridor formation, many of the stones were lost over the years.

The stones are very large, but not as big as the ones at the henge. Some are long and thin, others are more triangular/square in shape. Where stones have been lost, there are markers in the form of concrete pillars that show where the original stones would have stood.

Avebury Stone Circle vs Stonehenge

Visiting Avebury

Again, it is easiest to drive to Avebury if you can. There is a car park, operated by the National Trust, which is located a few hundred metres from the main site. It has a charge but is free to members of the National Trust.

Avebury Stone Circle vs Stonehenge

If you aren’t able to drive, you can book a coach tour to Avebury (which often incorporates Stonehenge as well).


The site itself is free to visit and you can walk around the stones.

We recommend bringing walking shoes or boots as the site can get a bit muddy and there are flocks of sheep who share the stones with the visitors  – and a fair amount of sheep poo in the fields!

Visiting Avebury For Free (i.e. avoiding parking charges)

There is a car lay-by on the B4003 next to West Kennet Avenue. If you get there early enough (and you will need to as it’s not a large lay-by) or are lucky enough to arrive when someone is leaving, you may be able to park there to walk up the West Kennet Avenue and into Avebury itself.

There is also a small track near Beckhampton close to the Adam and Eve stones where you can park up, but you would have to walk along some of the road to reach Avebury and it’s a fast road.

Alternatively, if you are staying in the area, your accommodation should be able to let you park with them, even if you arrive earlier than the check-in time. Just check beforehand.

Further Neolithic Places to Visit Around Avebury

Silbury Hill

This is Europe’s largest pre-historic man-made earth mound, rising to 30 m in a very satisfactory circular conical shape. Although it is a lush green, grassy hill these days, it was originally kept free of grass, the stark, gleaming white of the underlying chalk standing out against the countryside. It would have been seen for miles around and must have been quite the sight for Neolithic visitors. There is a free car park but you are not allowed to climb the hill these days, the only restriction in the area.

West Kennet Long Barrow

Built in 3650 BCE this barrow was constructed as a chambered tomb. When it was excavated in 1859 nearly 50 people were discovered to have been buried there, along with some of their artefacts. The tomb was sealed in around 2000 BCE and sarsen boulders were used to block its entrance.

There is a car lay-by on the A4 near the footpath to the barrow where you can park. Walk up the hill across the farmland. Like so many of the Avebury sites, you can climb onto the barrow and venture inside.

The Sanctuary

A temple that was constructed from both standing stones and wooden posts sited in concentric rings this was probably a ceremonial temple and is thought to have been built in around 2500BCE. It can be found at the end of the West Kennet Avenue, on Overton Hill, which suggests that it was linked to the henge at Avebury.

Adam and Eve Stones

Located near Beckhampton, just turn off the main road before the roundabout (coming from Avebury) and at the end of the track are two standing stones. It is thought that Eve, the smaller stone, formed part of the Beckhampton route into Avebury.

Other (Non-Neolithic) Attractions in Avebury

Avebury Manor

Dating from the 16th century this manor house was refurbished in 2011 as part of a BBC documentary. Each room has been decorated in the style from a different era – the living room is from 1930, the kitchen from the turn of last century. There are Tudor bedrooms and a Queen Anne room. One of the nice things about the manor is that you are encouraged to touch the objects (obviously treating them with respect) so it’s quite interactive. It also has a pleasant garden.

Alexander Keiller Museum

Keiller was an archaeologist who, having inherited a marmalade business, used his wealth to buy land around Avebury and conducted excavations at the site. A pioneering aerial photographer, he used his skills to understand the archeology of the area from the skies.

He first excavated at Avebury in 1937, clearing undergrowth and discovering buried stones (which naughty farmers had buried centuries ago). Many of the buried stones were recovered into their original holes and where there were missing stones, Keiller placed concrete markers to show where the stones would have been located.

He sold the land to the National Trust (for a nominal value, representing the cost of the farmland) in 1943, hence helping preserve Avebury as an important archeological site. This small museum documents some of the artefacts he found in the area.

There is a fee to enter the manor and museum but National Trust members can visit for free, as can English Heritage Overseas Visitors with the pass.

Avebury Stone Circle vs Stonehenge – Which Is Better?

So you only have time to visit one of the attractions, which do you choose? In our opinion, Avebury is the hands-down winner. Here’s why:

Avebury is free to visit.

You can arrive at any time. Avebury receives fewer visitors than Stonehenge (around 250,000 visitors each year) but is a popular attraction for those in the know, so it can get busy at certain times of the year. That said, it is much bigger and spread out over a wider area so there is more space for everyone to enjoy their visit.

You can walk around the stones and even touch them.

There are lots of other interesting megalithic features at Avebury and some fantastic walks in the lovely English countryside to see them.

There is a pub in the village, amidst the stone circle!

You can stay overnight in Avebury village or close by. This means that you can enjoy the stones in the evening, after the day-trippers have gone home, and earlier in the morning, before the next bunch arrive.

We stayed at the Dorwyn Manor, less than a kilometre’s walk away. It was a great choice, a lovely bed and breakfast hotel with excellent brekkie and an honesty bar (help yourself to some drinks and pay the following morning). We were able to park in their spacious car park as soon as we arrived. Pub grub and local beers are available at the Red Lion pub in the village centre – reputedly one of the most haunted pubs in Britain!

Both sites are undoubtedly of huge historical importance and both are fascinating to visit. But whereas Stonehenge is an icon – precious and protected and to be admired from afar, Avebury is  intimate and inviting and leaves you wanting more.

Stonehenge is a world-famous destination and is great to have ticked off the list but we could go back to explore Avebury time and time again. And indeed we have!

Avebury Stone Circle vs Stonehenge



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  1. I must say I never heard of Avebury Stone Circle or I might have in the past but didn’t really pay much attention to it. Forgive my ignorance. Avebury might not be as photogenic as the Stonehenge but I wonder if its mystery goes even deeper than its counterpart. It would also be interesting to view it from the top or may be from outer space. What I liked about it though is that it’s almost like a living extension of every house in the village. You can step outside or out of the backyardo or admire the stones from one’s own livingroom – a proper center piece I must say lol 😉 #flyingbaguette

    Jan – https://flyingbaguette.com/

    • You’re absolutely right about Avebury not being as photogenic as Stonehenge – it’s difficult to find a spot that truly captures the scale and magnificence of the site. It really is part of its environment and is a fabulous place simply to explore.

  2. I really enjoyed this post. I am old enough to remember being able to walk within Stonehenge — truly a magical experience, but I’m sure damaging to the site. As magnificent as it is, I prefer Avebury. I like that it feels less touristy and somehow closer to the Druids.

    I really appreciate the options you presented on ways to see all the henges in the area. Walking the route with Stonehenge and Woodhenge is right up my alley.

    Lyn | http://www.ramblynjazz.com

    • Thank you so much! Glad to hear that you preferred Avebury too. It’s definitely less touristy and the fact that you can get close to the stones makes the history seem more real and immediate.

  3. What a fascinating bunch of sites to explore in this area. I’ve been to Stonehenge a number of times and always love seeing it, though not being able to get close (I understand why) and the cost makes me want to consider other places now too. There’s a stone circle near where I grew up in the Lake District (Castlerigg) that I always visit when I go home. You can go right up to the stones, it’s in a beautiful scenic location and it’s also free! All the things Avebury seems to have too

    • We’d definitely recommend Avebury as a much more interesting – and significantly cheaper – alternative to Stonehenge. Stonehenge is to be admired, Avebury to be explored. We love the Lake District so will make a point of visiting Castlerigg when we next return to that beautiful area.

  4. Great read! Loads of information here. It’s very detailed. I never knew about 90 percent of these things. Thank you. I have a lot more places to visit! Thank you.

  5. I’ve never heard of Avebury before – but considering I wasn’t impressed with Stonehenge, that doesn’t surprise me. As a young traveler, I didn’t spend money to see Stonehenge (looked from outside the gates) so maybe being up close to Avebury would change my perspective.

    • Avebury is much less well-known than Stonehenge. We did enjoy our visit to Stonehenge but it was just that – a visit. We love exploring Avebury and all the other neolithic sites around it. It is fantastic to be able to get so close to the stones.

  6. I’m lucky in living 35miles from Stonehenge and 12 miles from Avebury.

    I often drive past Stonehenge and it has become so much just another landmark on the route that I forget its importance. I haven’t visited the site in 30 years and this has reminded that I must get back and appreciate some of my own country’s history and heritage.

    I only visited Avebury last year after living close by for over 20 years!

    The info here in great, just what everyone needs to be able to make a concise and rewarding visit here.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words. Isn’t it funny that we can travel the world but sometimes don’t get to visit some of the historic sites right on our doorstep – we ourselves live near a large number of attractions and just don’t quite get round to visiting!

  7. Thanks for sharing guys and putting Avebury on my list. I have been to Stonehenge many years ago and it has become even more touristy since I went, so I’m not too keen on returning. I’ve also heard “rumours”/conspiracy around Stonehenge may be a replica and the real stones are preserved for scientific purposes but who knows, right? Anyway, Avebury is way more interesting, older, free and no crowds. I also appreciate your info on the parking situation and potential places to stay in the area.

    Carolin | Solo Travel Story

    • I’ve not heard the rumours about Stonehenge, so it was interesting to read about them. For us, although Stonehenge is amazing, particularly from an architectural perspective, Avebury was so interesting and a great place really to get close to the stones and their remarkable history.

  8. I must confess my ignorance because I had never heard of Avebury Stone Circle. Stonehenge, on the other hand, is well known and reported by travelers, history lovers and even mystical literature. Although I’ve never been to Stonehenge, it’s almost as if I already know the place from hearing so much about it.
    Avebury Stone Circle would certainly arouse more curiosity in me, as well as having the advantage of not being crowded with tourists and being free.

    • To be honest, it was only a few years ago that we learned about Avebury. But it stole our hearts and we love visiting. There is so much more to see and it’s fantastic to be able to get so close to the stones.

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