|by Sean O'Neill||Landmarks and Monuments, Ireland, United Kingdom||1244|
Today is the start of our series of interviews with the world's top guidebook
writers. We're asking each writer a single question:
"Think about a famous tourist attraction. Now what would you recommend as an alternative?
With any luck, each answer will surprise and enlighten you. But don't get us wrong. These guidebook writers (and their publishers) are not dismissing any attraction that's rightfully famous. Everyone agrees you can have fantastic experiences at well known attractions. All we're trying to do here is recognize that—under some circumstances and for certain types of travelers—lesser known attractions may have their own appeal, offering comparable experiences.
We begin our series with Stonehenge—a set of massive rocks arranged in circles between 3,500 and 5,000 years ago.
Newgrange in Ireland (about an hour north of Dublin) is believed to be at least 500 years older. It's also a more impressive feat of engineering. The passage tomb is combined with an extraordinary astronomical machine to perfectly filter and amplify the few precious moments of dawn light on the winter solstice every year and cast them upon the ashes of the dead. The sunlight at dawn on that day is deflected by the exact design of the passageway and floods the burial chamber in the most perfect golden light, weather permitting.
Here's the kicker—unlike at Stonehenge, where officials prohibit up-close encounters (with rare exceptions), at Newgrange you, the visitor, can go right into the heart of the tomb itself. At Stonehenge you're an awed spectator, at Newgrange you're an awed participant.
Both places are man made, but the Irish alternative is certainly a more intricate and complex construction.
Tip: Go near the winter solstice to feel the mystical effects. (The next one is December 21.) There are fewer visitors in the off-season. If you want to enter on the solstice itself, though, you'll have to enter a lottery, which you can do by visiting the office that's on the grounds of the site. For more info, see Newgrange's official website.
Prefer an alternative to Stonehenge that's in England itself? Don't miss Avebury, about 25 miles from Stonehenge. It has its own group of impressive earthworks and megalithic monuments. In fact, the entire town—pub and all—sits within an ancient stone circle.
Rather visit Stonehenge anyway? A guided day tour from London run by Stonehenge Tour Company has a starting price of $110. You'll save a bit of money by hopping the hourly rail service from Waterloo Station to Salisbury (90-minutes each way, $45 round-trip, off-peak, nationalrail.co.uk). From there, a 10-mile taxi ride to Stonehenge costs roughly $30; the bus (route 3) is about a third of that price. General access costs about $10. (For more info, visit this Stonehenge website.)
Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts by posting a comment below.
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