The people who built stone circles left no written records.
So, nobody knows if these 4,500-year-old monuments were used as ostentatious calendars, human sacrifice spots, or temples for the gods.
But what we do know is they’re epic to look at and incredible to visit.
And in England, there are two stone circles that stand out above the crowd: Avebury and Stonehenge.
But if you’re short on time, how are you going to choose which stone circle to visit in England? How do you know which one is going to be the most memorable, magnificent, and mysterious?
We’ve made it simple for you.
We’ve listed the main points to consider and chosen a winner for each category.
Although in an ideal world, you’d have time to see them both and compare them yourself.
Avebury is completely free. You can grab a tour there from London, step outside the door and start staring at the stones. If you decide to drive there, there’s a small parking fee which is free for English Heritage members.
On the other hand, Stonehenge can be expensive. It can cost around £20 per adult for the visitor centre and access to the stones; this adds up if there’s a few of you. It can also sell out quickly, so you need to book your date and time early in the British summer.
Free always wins.
Stonehenge is a sleek attraction. Mugs, calendars, t-shirts: You’ll find every item imaginable with a photo of Stonehenge on it for sale in the gift shop. There’s also a visitor centre and recreated Neolithic houses that can entertain both families and avid historians. There’s a shuttle from this visitor centre to the stones that takes around 10 minutes.
There’s less at Avebury. There’s a collection of prehistoric remnants at the Alexander Keiller Museum, which costs around £5 to enter and then there are the sites. But there’s something more wholesome about Avebury. The stones encircle a quaint English village. Which means you can grab a pint inside a stone circle. Now that’s a unique experience.
WINNER: Avebury and Stonehenge
You may get more information at Stonehenge, but you can go to a local pub at Avebury.
Everyone wants to take that Stonehenge photo when they visit England. It’s iconic, amazing, and beautiful. And it’s also completely unique. No other stone circle in Europe is constructed with as heavy stones stacked in such a strange way.
But sometimes people are a little disappointed. After all, how many different shots of it can you get? And because it’s busy, there’ll always be random photobombers who’ll spoil your perfect shot.
Avebury is the rebel sister, a much ‘wilder’ stone circle. The stones weren’t carved into a shape, they were chosen for their natural forms. Rectangles to represent the male, and diamonds to symbolise the female. Pretty cool, isn’t it?
But the best thing about Avebury is you can take your time to get as many angles as you want because there are so many stones and you're allowed to wander in any way you please. Unlike Stonehenge, you can turn up at sunrise, sunset, or whenever you want. What’s more is the main photobombing risk here comes from local sheep. But we think that can add more to your pictures.
Stonehenge is a beautiful feat of engineering, but Avebury is better for wild-spirited explorers. We know what we like.
Stonehenge is simply Stonehenge. You get the incredible view, the information, and the gift shop. But you don’t get to touch the stones because there’s a thin rope which keeps you away from the circle. So, sadly, you need to forget about absorbing the megaliths’ mystic energy or getting that perfect close-up selfie.
Whereas at Avebury, it’s like Disneyland for Neolithic history enthusiasts. The grounds are massive. In fact, it’s the largest stone circle in the world. You can feel a little like Indiana Jones as you rove through the plains.
Here, you’re free to get close and hug the stones if you wish. You can explore a mysterious chambered tomb, a sanctuary, and the largest artificial mound in Europe; Silbury Hill. And of course, you can finish your expedition in the pub where you can have a pint with some local pagans.
Nothing can beat walking freely amongst the largest stone circle in the world.
The truth about Stonehenge is shrouded in the mist of time. The theories say it used to be a burial and ceremonial centre, a religious pilgrimage destination, an astronomical calendar, and even a community hub.
You may have thought this spectacular site was the work of the Celtic high priests; Druids. But you’d be wrong. Stonehenge was built 1,000 years before the Celts lived in this region. So how old is it? The stone circle is 4,500 years old. So that leaves us with 4,500 years of history and mysteries to solve.
An air of intrigue also surrounds Avebury. They believe pagans worshipped a fertility goddess at this 4,500-year-old stone circle.
But the thing about Avebury is the stones are just one part of a vast sacred landscape.
The whole complex could have had a more social purpose. The Windmill Hill enclosure is a 5,500-year-old earthwork which may have been used as an area for gatherings and festivals. Silbury Hill could have been a gradually built monument serving as a gathering place for events and bringing communities together.
Avebury has the feeling of an ancient city.
It remains an archaeological enigma due to being so different from every other stone circle.
Small but mighty. Stonehenge is a bit of celebrity and likes to show off to impress the crowds. The size and shaping of the stones, together with the sophistication of the design are simply remarkable. And there’s something really cool about the site. Some of its monuments are aligned with the Summer and Winter Solstice.
But this prehistoric site is the victim of its own attractiveness. You can’t escape the commercialisation of this place and the crowds of fellow enthusiasts.
Avebury should really be called AWEbury. Just think about it; the stone circle is so big that you can fit a village into it. The encircling henge (a huge bank and ditch) is almost a mile in circumference, full of standing stones. You can get tired just by walking around it.
And that’s not all. This site will surprise you with the largest prehistoric mound in Europe; Silbury Hill. You can explore even further and enter the dark chambers of a Neolithic tomb. Plus, you don’t have to slalom through crowds of people.
WINNER: Avebury and Stonehenge
There are so many incredible sites to explore in Avebury, but the precision and alignment of Stonehenge deserve a medal.
Travelling to Stonehenge from London is easy-peasy. You can get the train from London to Salisbury train station and then take the Stonehenge Tour bus which drops you off at the site. You can also get on a direct bus or book one of many tours to this prehistoric monument.
If you prefer to travel in a small group with a friendly guide, get on our 3 day tour for an unforgettable experience.
Getting to Avebury feels like embarking on a quest. It’s not a touristy route, so you travel in peace without crowds. Jump on a train and change in Swindon to catch a bus to the village. Alternatively, travel by National Express to Beckhampton and take a pleasant walk to the site in Avebury.
You can always get on our 1 day tour with our knowledgeable guide who’ll combine the secrets of this spectacular site with Bath and Lacock Village.
WINNER: Stonehenge and Avebury
Stonehenge is a good option for people who like convenience, Avebury is great for those who like adventure.
Both sites are neck to neck. Almost. But you get a more authentic experience at Avebury. So, if you’re a real explorer and a history enthusiast head to the little village to try to unravel the mystery of this complex site.