As travelers, we have to be honest with ourselves. There are some well-known attractions that simply aren’t worth it. And for me, one of the biggest duds in the world is Stonehenge.
Judging by traveler reviews, Stonehenge is amazing! Everyone seems to be impressed by the size, the mystery, the sun setting behind the stones. So I went expecting to feel awed, moved, something, ANYTHING. I didn’t.
I went to Stonehenge on a day tour from London. We took a long bus ride several hours, passing the visitor center – which at the time was under construction – until we got to the actual site. The entire time, the tour guide was regaling us with Stonehenge theories and tales that you could learn watching an interesting documentary on Netflix instead of on an uncomfortable bus.
Though I’m not a huge fan of guided tours to begin with, I can accept that kind of nonsense as long as the site that I paid £80 and spent 2 hours getting to blows my fucking mind. But when we got there and I saw the famed pile of rocks, I was deflated. The most interesting thing about the site was the herd of sheep grazing nearby.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the historical significance of Stonehenge. I get the mystery surrounding the creation of such a structure. I love mysteries! In fact, I’m the kind of idiot who still sort of buys into Bermuda Triangle conspiracies. But when I saw Stonehenge and I thought of all the other beautiful and mysterious man-made things in this world, I concluded: this is bullshit.
This isn’t the Sphinx in Egypt or the ruins of Machu Picchu. This isn’t the moai statues of Easter Island; at least those are sculpted. Stonehenge is a pile of rock slabs of different sizes and shapes structured in a vaguely circular pattern. All the best things about Stonehenge are peripheral to the actual structure – the story, the sunset around it, the sheep.
So why is it so popular? Why do so many travelers rave about Stonehenge on sites like TripAdvisor? Because people love lying to themselves and over-justifying their own bad decisions as a defense mechanism. It’s called the self-justification effect. When we’ve put a lot of effort into something, we overvalue it. Because who wants to drive all the way out to the middle of nowhere in England to see a pile of rocks? But if we’ve already put in that effort, it’s easy to convince ourselves that this pile of rocks holds the key to the universe, that we found all the answers to life in these ancient rudimentary structures. And that “the rock cakes in the restaurant are amazing!” It’s the same reason why so many parents never shut up about how fulfilling it is to have children, when they spend their entire lives actively trying not to murder their own. It’s why fraternities haze new recruits to earn their loyalty.
So let’s get real. At least 50% of people who thought seeing Stonehenge was a life-changing experience probably just don’t want to admit to themselves that they wasted an entire day of their English vacation doing something really boring. And I’d venture to guess that anyone that legitimately loved the experience is an archaeologist.
I’m not writing to discourage anyone from visiting Stonehenge. In fact, I myself can be told by a million people that something sucks, and I will still want to find that out on my own. So I encourage you to go and form your own opinion. But I strongly advise you to keep your expectations low. Or at least bring a really good book for that bus ride.