The summer solstice marks the longest day of the year, a date that’s been of much significance to nature worshippers throughout history. That is still the case, but for many nowadays, the solstice is known as party time!

In an attempt to please all, English Heritage opens Stonehenge, the 5000-year-old sacred stone monument, to 20,000, some of whom come to engage in the spiritual aspect of the celebration, some to get a rare opportunity to gain up-close access to the stones, and others to simply join in the powerful, reverent celebration.

The main event happens at sunrise on the solstice when the sun’s light aligns with the central Altar stone, Slaughter stone and Heel stone. Druids consider the solstice to be a wedding celebration of heaven and earth—the Sun King God and the Mother Earth Goddess.

Since a visit to Stonehenge typically means parading around the stones at a distance, gaining access to the inner circle is a rare treat. On the solstice, the stones are accessible from the evening of the solstice to the next morning.

For travellers interested in just gaining close access to the stones, but who don’t want to battle the solstice crowds, English Heritage offers pre-booked Stone Circle Access visits outside of normal hours of operation. Download booking forms and submit well in advance of your trip due to high demand.

Summer solstice at Stonehenge is far from the free-for-all mayhem that most summer festivals have become. As a sacred site, a number of restrictions are in place to protect the space: no camping, dogs, fires, fireworks and amplified (for a complete list of conditions as well as directions and ticketing information, visit efestivals). Instead, acoustic music is played by samba bands and drummers while druid ceremonies and maypole dances mark the reverent occasion to commune with nature.

Stonehenge was estimated to have taken 30 million hours of labour to complete. They are an architectural wonder given their age and the astronomical accuracy with which they were built. As Britain’s greatest national icon and one of the world’s foremost historical attractions, there’s no better day to experience the awe and mystery of this great monument than right inside the stone temple on the summer solstice.

image: Jen Hunter (Creative Commons BY-SA)