Stonehenge is often high on the list of places a visitor wants to see when they’re traveling in the UK, but for most of the year the stone circle itself is cordoned off, meaning that sightseers can only look at it from afar – while paying up to £13.90 for the privilege.
The summer and winter solstices, however, are the two nights of the year in which visitors can get up close and personal with the stones – and there’s no charge attached! If you want to see Stonehenge in style therefore, then the all-night Solstice celebrations are the way to do it.
When to Visit
The summer and winter solstices are the longest and shortest days of the year respectively. The Stonehenge solstice celebrations take place in the night leading up to the sunrise of the solstice morning. In 2014, the Stonehenge summer solstice festivities will take place on the night of 20th-21st June, while the winter solstice revelries will be held on 20th-21st December. For obvious weather-related reasons, the summer solstice is the more popular event! The party starts at 7pm and goes on until 8am the following morning, with the sun setting at 9.26pm and rising at 4.52am.
Stonehenge is in Wiltshire, England. Although car parking is free at Stonehenge during the Solstice, spaces are limited and visitors are encouraged to come via public transport whenever possible. The nearest bus and railway stations are 12 miles away in Salisbury. From there, a shuttle bus ferries visitors to a drop-off point near Stonehenge from 6.30pm until 1.15am, before returning them from 4am until 9.45am. The drop-off point is 1 ½ miles away from Stonehenge itself, which takes roughly 30 minutes to walk (although an additional free bus service is available for wheelchair users and individuals with mobility difficulties).
What to expect
Thousands of people (last summer attracted 21,000 revelers, and this year’s event will be taking place on a Friday night – meaning that it’s likely to attract even more), ranging from neo-druids like Arthur Pendragon to families on holiday having a gander. Expect to see ravers, rituals and everything in between.
Stonehenge has been a sacred site and place of pilgrimage for thousands of years, and many of the visitors there for the solstice will be there not for sightseeing, but to honour ancient pagan or druid traditions. Be mindful and respectful of this fact as you would in any other religious setting. That said, the solstice is a time of fun and celebration – so don’t be afraid to bring some booze, dance to the drums and let your hair down!
What to bring
- Groundsheets and blankets to sit on and huddle up in – the nights get very cold, even in the summer
- Food and drink to see you through until morning (although hot and cold food will be on sale nearby – keep an eye out for the Hare Krishnas with their free curry!)
- Sensible clothes – wellington boots, lots of warm layers and a waterproof jacket are recommended
What not to bring
- Loudspeakers – amplified music is not always conducive to sacred ceremonies. Bring some instruments instead
- Illegal drugs – although a lot of people use the solstice as an opportunity to indulge in psychedelics and such, this is not recommended. The location and the crowds could make an unpleasant reaction far worse than it might otherwise be, and the remoteness of the location means you may not be able to get help if needed. Police and sniffer dogs will be on site to enforce this, and last year 22 arrests were made
- Excessive alcohol – people behaving in a drunk and disorderly fashion can be removed by security, and alcohol may be confiscated upon entrance
- Glass – this is banned on site as it tends to impede the barefoot dancing
- Anything flammable, such as fireworks, BBQs or Chinese lanterns –no one wants to be the girl who burned down Stonehenge
- Pets – they may disturb the neighboring wildlife
Share your experiences of Stonehenge – at the solstice or otherwise – below.