Stonehenge during the summer solstice: all you need to know
The summer solstice is Stonehenge's big day. Thousands of people flock to the megalithic monument to watch the sunset on June 20 and the sunrise the next day in an event that mixes festivity with spirituality.
If you are lucky enough to be visiting London in the summer, specifically in the third week of June, you should not miss the summer solstice celebration held at the nearby megalithic monument of Stonehenge. Between the 20th and 21st of that month, when the length of the day is the longest of the year, a large number of British and visitors from other countries gather on a day that can only be described as magical.
On that day, Stonehenge takes on a different dimension that combines festivity with an attempt to recall ancient pagan ceremonies. Attendees can access the complex free of charge and will be able to walk among the stones, something not allowed during the rest of the year.
1. Contemplating the sunrise on June 21st
The word solstice comes from the Latin word solstitium, which could be translated as "still sun". One of them, the summer solstice (between June 20 and 21), occurs at the peak of the day and is perhaps the best time to visit Stonehenge. The other, winter (December 21-22), marks just the opposite event.
These days have always had a special significance, as they mark the changing of the seasons, so important for ancient agricultural cultures. For this reason, ceremonies and festivals were held in many parts of the world.
One of the many theories about the origin of Stonehenge relates it precisely to these celebrations. Although the purpose for which it was built has not yet been discovered, what is known with certainty is that during the summer solstice the sun rises to the left of the Heel Stone and crosses right through the central axis of the rock complex.
The mystery of its origin and the way in which the sunrise adjusts to the constructions has made Stonehenge a place of pilgrimage every year to contemplate that moment. Thousands of people, many followers of new age philosophies or druidism, come to the monument and spend the night creating an unrepeatable atmosphere.
Those who have the opportunity to travel from London to see the sunrise, either on their own or in some of the organized tours to Stonehenge from London, should try to arrive very early. The complex opens its doors as soon as the first light of the sun appears and the parking lot is not able to cope with the number of vehicles arriving.
2. Immerse yourself in the atmosphere
The first reaction of anyone arriving from London at Stonehenge on Midsummer's Day is likely to be one of awe. While nothing can compete with the neighborhoods of London, the megalithic monument has nothing to envy in terms of atmosphere.
The complex and its surroundings are filled with an atmosphere that perfectly combines festivity and mysticism. During the night, visitors can enjoy the music performed by those present, as well as dances of all kinds.
One of the attractions of the summer solstice at Stonehenge is the people who attend. Not even in the best musicals in the capital you will find so many costumes. Among these, in addition to the nymph, the druid costumes stand out.
In fact, many consider druidism as a true religion. You will easily recognize them by their clothing: tunics, cloaks, staffs and Celtic-style jewelry. Women usually wear crowns made of flowers and leaves, while men wear their beards and hair long.
This colorful atmosphere increases as one approaches the inside of the stone circle. This, the best known attraction of the Stonehenge monument, is filled with people meditating and even entering a kind of trance.
Joaquin's Traveller Tip
It is advisable to check on the official Stonehenge website of English Heritage the dates and times of the activities of that day, as well as the exact time of sunrise (usually around 5 am).
3. Contemplate the rituals
One of the things to keep in mind when choosing the best time to visit Stonehenge on this date are the rituals performed there. To understand them, it is necessary to know one of the many theories, more esoteric than scientific, about the origin of the monument.
Thus, a physician named William Stukeley claimed in the eighteenth century that Stonehenge had been built by the Druids to serve as a temple.
It mattered little that the dates did not fit and the monument became a pole of attraction for those who declared themselves followers of Druidic beliefs, closely related to paganism.
The summer solstice is one of the magical moments within these beliefs and Stonehenge is the ideal place to celebrate it. Thus, many people erect authentic altars with candles and natural elements. It is frequent that, within the circle itself, these followers of the Druids sing their songs and perform a pagan ceremony. If you have done any of the Harry Potter tours in London you will already know that some character has been related to these ancient druids.
Regardless of your beliefs, contemplating these rites in such a wonderful setting as Stonehenge is something worthwhile. Certainly, this spectacle can sometimes compete with some of the capital's more typical London nighttime attractions.
4. Enjoy the sunset
Although the sunrise viewing on the 21st at Stonehenge is the most famous part, if you can get from London to Stonehenge the day before you will see that there are already many people waiting to see the sunset on the 20th.
Those present bid farewell to our star to the rhythm of drums that will not stop playing almost all night. The sun ends up hiding between the perfectly aligned stones of the monument, as if following a path marked more than 4500 years ago.
5. Join the party
If you've already enjoyed London's nighttime activities, spending a night at Stonehenge will seem like something completely different.
During the solstice celebration there is not only an air of spirituality, but also a more or less riotous party. Attendees drink alcohol and dance during the hours between dusk on the 20th and dawn on the 21st.
One thing you should keep in mind if you are planning to join the party is that you cannot enter the indoor enclosure with backpacks or large bags. Likewise, the controls installed control that no glass objects or alcoholic beverages are introduced. Obviously, fires cannot be lit either.
Joaquín's Traveller Tip
although the atmosphere is generally good, alcohol can sometimes cause an incident. Choose an area where you feel comfortable to enjoy yourself without problems.
6. Get close to the stone circle
The day of the summer solstice is probably not the best time to enjoy the attractions of the monument. It is really about enjoying the spiritual atmosphere and the activities that the attendees perform.
One of the aspects that you should take into account to better enjoy that day is the place where to stand. If you can, look for one from which you can see the sunset or sunrise among the rocks.
Something that is very interesting that day is that you can enter inside the stone circle, something that can only be done on rare occasions and if you book the special activity that the association that controls Stonehenge organizes or any of the tours organized from London that include it.
The summer solstice is one of the few times when you can touch the stones (although for conservation reasons I do not advise it). It is common to find people hugging them or sitting on them to meditate, as if they were in the same Saint Paul's Cathedral.
7. Eating and drinking
Certainly, the dining options at Stonehenge during the summer solstice don't resemble those you find, for example, for lunch at The Shard restaurant, but that's no obstacle to going hungry.
Stonehenge not only fills up with new age or druid followers, but also with picnicking families with children of all ages. If you have organized in advance, you can imitate them and have a bite to eat near the monument.
In addition to that option, you can also choose to buy something at the food trucks that you will find at the monument. As you will have seen if you have taken a food tour of London, one of the attractions of the country's food is the wide range of recipes from all over the world.
8. Strawberry Moon
The magic of watching the summer solstice at Stonehenge is enhanced some years when it coincides with a full moon night. This combination has been christened Strawberry Moon and, unfortunately, only happens on rare occasions. Some websites tell you what the moon will be like on each night.
When that happens, it is possible to see for a few brief minutes the sun disappearing at one end of Stonehenge while the full moon appears to be wedged between the stones at the opposite end.
If you are lucky enough that your stay in London coincides with this circumstance, I recommend that you go to Stonehenge without fail, either on your own or hiring an excursion that allows you to see the sunset.
9. Learn about the origin of the festival
In my experience, knowing something about the place you are visiting, whether it is one of the best museums in London or a megalithic monument like Stonehenge, makes the experience more enjoyable and satisfying.
Beyond some extravagant theories such as the extraterrestrial hypothesis or the one mentioned about the Druids, the truth is that it is not known with certainty why Stonehenge was erected.
One of the most popular theories is that it was an astronomical observatory used by the priests of the time to study the stars and draw up a calendar. This was to serve them to get more out of agriculture and livestock.
The solstices were decisive to know the best harvest (in summer) and sowing (in winter) seasons, so both moments acquired a special and almost magical character. For that reason, it is supposed that the farmers celebrated both moments around the Stonehenge structures, which were erected aligned with the axes of these solstices.
10. Neighboring solar monuments
In the surroundings of Stonehenge other complexes related to the path of our star were erected, since they are aligned with its movements.
Some of them, such as the wooden monument near Durrington Walls or the Neolithic burial mound of Maeshowe are really interesting. If you have time and possibilities (and you have not been exhausted after enjoying the summer solstice at Stonehenge), you can make an extra visit.
Summer solstice prices at Stonehenge
The entrance to the monument on that day is free, so you will only have to pay for the transport used to get there. In my article How to get to Stonehenge from London I explain the different possibilities that exist.
Summer solstice schedules at Stonehenge
Those who want to start the celebration on the evening of June 20 to see the sunset and want to arrive by car should note that the parking opens around 19:00 (although I advise you to make sure in advance on the website of the company that manages Stonehenge), as well as the monument itself.
The parking lot tends to fill up early, so it is best to arrive in plenty of time to avoid problems. The entrance of cars (if it has not been filled before) is cut at 6 am on the 21st and the entrance to the monument at 8 am, ending the celebration.
How to dress for the summer solstice at Stonehenge
Unless you want to dress up as a druid or similar character, it is best to wear something warm. Although it is held in the summer, the area is quite humid and it can get chilly at night. A thermal T-shirt can be a great complement. Don't forget to check the weather forecast and bring a **raincoat **just in case.
On the other hand, footwear must be comfortable, as the terrain is uneven. A good flashlight is almost essential to get from the Visitor Center to the monument.
How to get from Salisbury to Stonehenge to see the solstice?
Public transport from London only goes as far as Salisbury, a few miles from the monument.
Those who choose this option instead of the private car or the organized tour will have no problems that day. From Salisbury train station itself there are special buses from the Salisbury Reds company that will drop you off at the Visitor Center. The timetables can be consulted on their website.
Once at the Visitor Center you can choose to walk to the monument or get on one of the buses destined to make that journey. If in doubt, ask one of the many volunteers who are deployed throughout the complex that day.
I want to see the summer solstice at Stonehenge, but I can't travel on those dates
If everything I've told you has caused you to desire to see the moment of sunrise at Stonehenge during the summer solstice but you can't travel to do so on site, there is a possibility that may (somewhat) alleviate that desire.
For the past few years, the event has been broadcast by English Heritage on their social media channels. Although you will not be able to enjoy the incredible atmosphere that is generated, at least you will be able to contemplate this beautiful moment live.