Which ancient stone circles in the UK are accessible for public visits besides Stonehenge?

11 June 2024

When you think of ancient stone circles in the UK, the first site that probably springs to mind is the iconic Stonehenge. A place of wonder that has held its secrets for over 5,000 years. But did you know that there are other equally intriguing stone circles scattered across the UK? These neolithic heritage sites have withstood the test of time and continue to offer visitors a glimpse into a lost world. From Avebury in England to Callanish in Scotland, read on to discover which ancient stone circles are open for public visits.

Avebury Stone Circle

Unlike the isolated Stonehenge, Avebury is a part of a larger neolithic landscape. As the largest stone circle in the world, Avebury offers a unique experience where visitors can touch the stones and truly immerse themselves in history. The stone circle was constructed about 5,000 years ago. It is so large that it contains an entire village!

At Avebury, you can walk freely among the stones, explore the nearby Museum Avebury Manor and Garden. Guided tours are available to provide more in-depth knowledge about the site, or you can choose to explore on your own. The best time to visit Avebury is in the quieter periods from September to January when you can enjoy the site without the crowds.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Located in the heart of the Lake District, Castlerigg Stone Circle boasts a spectacular panorama. It's not as large as Avebury or as famous as Stonehenge, but it is undoubtedly one of the most atmospheric. Castlerigg is one of the earliest British circles, built around 3000 BC during the Neolithic period.

There is no entrance fee for Castlerigg, making it a great free visit while exploring the surrounding countryside. The stone circle is always accessible, ensuring that no one misses out on the incredible ancient heritage that it offers. The best time to visit is during the early morning or late evening when the lighting gives the stones an otherworldly aura.

The Rollright Stones

The Rollright Stones are a complex of three Neolithic and Bronze Age sites located near the village of Long Compton on the border of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire. The site comprises the King's Men stone circle, the King Stone, and the Whispering Knights.

The stones are steeped in folklore and traditions. The legends say that the stones are the petrified remains of a king and his knights. The site is open to the public all year round. You can freely walk among the stones, although touching is discouraged to preserve them for future generations.

Callanish Stones

Scotland's answer to Stonehenge, the Callanish Stones, is a cross-shaped setting of standing stones erected around 2900 BC. This ancient site is situated in the Western Isles of Scotland and provides a fascinating insight into the past.

Visitors can walk around the stone circle and imagine the ceremonies that might have taken place there thousands of years ago. The visitor centre provides a wealth of information about the site's history and its significance. Guided tours are available, and the site is usually less busy than Stonehenge, providing a more relaxed visit.

Ring of Brodgar

The Ring of Brodgar is another Scottish stone circle, situated in the Orkney Islands and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Consisting of 27 stones, the circle was erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC and used for ceremonies and rituals.

The site offers free access to the public year-round, with guided tours available in the summer months. The Ring of Brodgar is a place of tranquility and beauty, with the surrounding landscape adding to its aura of ancient mystery and intrigue.

In conclusion, Stonehenge may be the best-known stone circle in the UK, but it is by no means the only one. These ancient stone circles each have their own unique charm and appeal. They offer an exciting opportunity to step back in time and experience a piece of our heritage. Whether you're planning a trip to London or Scotland, make sure to include a visit to one or more of these fascinating sites. You won't regret it.

Swinside Stone Circle

The Swinside Stone Circle, also known as Sunkenkirk, is situated in the Lake District National Park. This English Heritage site is one of the best-preserved stone circles in the UK, with 55 stones still standing from the original 60. Built around 3000 BC, Swinside is a serene example of the magical stone circle phenomenon.

The site's isolation adds to its charm and tranquility. There is no visitor centre or guided tours making it a perfect spot for those who want a more personal encounter with the past. Access to the site is free; however, it requires a 1.3-mile walk from the nearest road. The best time to venture here would be the shoulder months of April and October when the weather is generally clear and mild.

The standing stones form a perfect circle and, according to local folklore, were felled by the Devil himself to prevent the construction of a church. This tale echoes the common association between stone circles and pagan rituals.

The Merry Maidens

Down in Cornwall, you can find the Merry Maidens, a perfect stone circle, which consists of 19 standing stones. This stone circle was likely built around 2500 BC during the Bronze Age. The site is managed by the English Heritage and is easily accessible as it is located just off the side of a road.

The folklore surrounding the Merry Maidens says that the stones were once 19 maidens, who were turned into stone as a punishment for dancing on a Sunday. Two other standing stones, known as the Pipers, can be found nearby and according to the legend represent the musicians who played for the maidens.

The site is open for visits year-round and does not require any entry fee. The relatively flat and short grass surrounding the circle makes it a perfect spot for a picnic during the warmer months, from June to August. However, for a more solitary experience, a visit in the colder months of December to February would be ideal.


With an array of stone circles dotting the UK landscape, visitors and locals alike can be captivated by their ancient allure. Each stone circle, from Avebury to the lesser-known Swinside, holds its historical significance, shrouded in mystery, folklore, and intrigue. These standing stones serve as silent witnesses to our distant past, offering us a unique opportunity to connect with our ancestors.

Visiting these heritage sites allows us to appreciate their grandeur and contemplate the skills, beliefs, and community spirit of the Neolithic and Bronze Age people. Whether you plan a guided tour or decide to explore independently, be sure to respect these spaces and preserve them for future generations. So next time you think of Stonehenge, remember that it is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ancient stone circles in the UK. From March to February, from January to December, these sites offer a remarkable journey through time, regardless of the month.

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