We visit the iconic free attraction near Bristol that is ‘better than Stonehenge’

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You can touch the stones at Avebury, and it’s free!

Challenge anyone to name three tourist attactions in the South West and Stonehenge will undoubtedly come up - and for good reason. The UNESCO World Heritage site near Salisbury gets almost 1 million visitors every year.

Yet few people arriving on coach tours from London will know of Stonehenge’s neighbour some 20 miles away, and closer to Bristol, which not only features the world’s largest pre-historic stone circle, but it is free to visit.

That combined with the smaller crowds has led some people to take to TripAdvisor to call Avebury a ‘better experience than Stonehenge’. So a year after visiting Stonehenge, I decided to pay Avebury a visit from Bristol.

How to get to Avebury?

Firstly, the bad news. Avebury henge and stone circles lie within the village of Avebury which was built up around the monument in later years - but to get to it on public transport isn’t easy despite being 40 miles from Bristol.

Google in fact recommends taking a train from Bristol to Swindon and then catching a 49 bus, which takes 30 minutes, to get to the site. Or, you can drive, which I did. This takes you on the M4 and takes under an hour.

What is Avebury henge and stone circle?

Arriving at Avebury by car, you immediately see the giant stones of the large circle in fields either side of the road. There are about 100 of these huge stones, each several metres apart.

The circle of stones along with a surrounding ditch known as a henge were constructed during the Neolithic age roughly between 2850 BC and 2200 BC. Why? We don’t know, but there are thoughts it was for a religious ritual.

Avebury has the largest stone circle in the world - and is certainly worth visitingAvebury has the largest stone circle in the world - and is certainly worth visiting
Avebury has the largest stone circle in the world - and is certainly worth visiting | Alex Ross

Around 1,000 years after being built, they were abandoned - only to be occupied during the Roman period before the village sprung uparound it in the early Middle Ages.

Today, the village is at the core of the large stone circle which largely stands in tact. There are also two smaller stone circles which sit within the enclosure and can also be explored.

What can you do on a visit to Avebury

On arriving by car, you can park up in the main National Trust car park (£7 to park) and walk up a pathway, dotted with information boards, which passes a cricket pitch and comes out in a field with part of the stone circle.

You can either then go up and inspect/walk around the circle or head to the village high street where pretty thatched homes line the way. Step aside the tourists taking pictures, and you can head toward the visitor centre which has a cafe and shop.

There you can find the Alexander Keiller Museum where some of the archaeological collections from the site are on display.

There is a cafe along with a museum at the Avebury siteThere is a cafe along with a museum at the Avebury site
There is a cafe along with a museum at the Avebury site | Alex Ross

How much does it cost?

The best thing about this attraction is it is completely free. Yes, you may need to pay to park your car at the National Trust car park, but once you out it is free to walk around.

This gives you extra incentive to buy a cake and coffee at the on-site cafe or call in the village’s one pub, the Red Lion.

Anything else to see nearby Avebury?

If walking around Avebury hasn’t quenched your thirst for history, you can drive over to two equally impressive Neolithic sites nearby.

Two miles away is West Kennet Long Barrow, which is at the end of a short, beautiful walk from a layby on the A4. The earth mound was constructed even earlier than Avebury or Stonehenge, in around 3650BC.

West Kennet Long Barrow is older than Avebury and Stonehenge - and also worth a visitWest Kennet Long Barrow is older than Avebury and Stonehenge - and also worth a visit
West Kennet Long Barrow is older than Avebury and Stonehenge - and also worth a visit | Alex Ross

Nearly 50 people were buried inside before the chamber was blocked with stones, which still stand at the entrance today.

On the other side of the A4, and within walking distance of West Kennet Long Barrow, is the massive Silbury Hill. The lump in the ground is the largest artificial mound in Europe and was completed in around 2400BC.

Is Avebury better than Stonehenge?

I visited Stonehenge last year, and it’s a well-oiled operation with a huge coach park, shuttle buses to the stones and a large visitor centre. You can’t actually touch the stones and it was so busy I found myself stumbling more over fellow tourists than actual historical monuments - but that being said, it’s quite a breath-taking monument to see, and one I’ll never forget.

The village of Avebury was built thousands of years after the stones were constructedThe village of Avebury was built thousands of years after the stones were constructed
The village of Avebury was built thousands of years after the stones were constructed | Alex Ross

In comparison to Stonehenge, Avebury is free to visit, and you can touch the stones. On my visit families were using some of the giant stones as shade as they enjoyed picnics on the grass. There is more freedom. You’re not pointed in any particular direction, just let to explore on your own. There are also good facilities with food and drink, and a museum to find out more on the attraction.

To save on money and time while still seeing a spectacular monument, it’d be Avebury for me.