Stonehenge has long drawn pilgrims on sacred days. A recently opened visitors center has transformed the tradition for the summer solstice (on June 21 this year, though the date varies).
Thousands of revelers—including caped druids, antler-wearing poets, and raggedy mummers—descend on the ancient stones to greet the year’s longest day. It’s one of the few occasions when people are allowed to stand inside the circle.
In this ritual bridging the millennia, devotees can glimpse the sun rising behind the famed Heel Stone (a single slab in the prehistoric avenue beside the stones). Stonehenge crowds will find restored dignity thanks to sweeping grassland and uninterrupted views of what Siegfried Sasson called “the roofless past.”
The northern road that sliced through the historic land is gone, as are the shabby welcome facilities. Located a discreet 1.5 miles from the site, the canopied visitors center features an aerial video map as well as a 360-degree panorama that lets travelers “stand in the stones” any time of year and watch the seasons and centuries roll by.
“Within the stones you become distinctly aware that you’re in the presence of Neolithic people,” says archaeologist and author Francis Pryor. “You catch yourself looking over your shoulder, thinking someone’s standing beside you—but it’s a bluestone. It’s quite eerie.”
- Tip: To reach Stonehenge from the visitors center, skip the bus ride and follow field trails passing burial mounds.
- Travel Trivia: Believed to have been dragged here from Wales, each Stonehenge bluestone weighs roughly four tons.
This piece, written by Juliana Gilling, first appeared in the June/July 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.