This article is part of our Trip Report, A Summer Holiday in Ireland and Scotland.
Some of the sites we like to visit are natural wonders, like Giant’s Causeway. Some are spectacularly beautiful, like the Cliffs of Moher. And some capture our attention and remain in our memories because they’re simply fascinating.
Brú na Bóinne falls into the latter category – it probably won’t give you a “wow” moment, yet it’s simply fascinating.
What Is Brú na Bóinne?
Brú na Bóinne is an area in County Meath, Ireland, about 30 miles (50 km) north of Dublin. It contains several prehistoric sites dating back 5,000 years to the Neolithic period. The most notable sites are several large Megalithic passage graves (tombs), the most prominent of which is the Newgrange site. Brú na Bóinne is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, having been designated as such in 1993.
Where Is Brú na Bóinne Located?
Brú na Bóinne is located in northeast Ireland, just off the main M1 motorway between Dublin and Belfast. This makes it extremely convenient to visit if you’re driving between the two capital cities, and in fact, we visited when we were driving from Belfast back to Dublin near the end of our Summer Holiday in Ireland & Scotland.
As we mentioned earlier, Brú na Bóinne is about 30 miles (50 km) north of Dublin, less than an hour’s drive. From Belfast, it’s about 80 miles (125 km) to the south, which should be a drive of about an hour and 45 minutes. From either direction, take Exit 9 off of the M1 motorway and head west. You’ll follow the signs along Donore Road (L1601) and Staleen Road for about 5 miles (8 km) to the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre.
How Do I Visit Brú na Bóinne?
All access to the Brú na Bóinne sites is through the Visitor Centre. At the Visitor Centre, you’ll find exhibitions about the Brú na Bóinne sites, plus you can purchase tickets for guided tours of the Newgrange and Knowth sites. You can get a ticket for the Visitor Centre Exhibition only, for the Exhibition plus Newgrange, for the Exhibition plus Knowth, or for the Exhibition plus both Newgrange and Knowth. Newgrange is the most prominent and popular site, and we were limited on time, so that’s the one we booked.
The Brú na Bóinne Visitor Information web page contains a ton of good information about visiting Brú na Bóinne.
As of October 2018, ticket prices for Brú na Bóinne are as follows:
Tickets are available online at the World Heritage Ireland website for Brú na Bóinne. You can access the online ticket purchasing page here. Tickets can be purchased up to 3 months in advance.
We definitely recommend purchasing tickets in advance. For one thing, the tours may sell out. As we’re about to publish this article on a Friday afternoon, tours are already sold out for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. And for another, tour tickets are for a specific time. If you buy your tickets in advance, you can arrive at the right time to go on your tour without undue waiting. However, if you wait to purchase tickets when you get to the Visitor Centre, there may be no tours available for hours, in which case you may have to wait for a long time.
If you don’t book tickets in advance, the Visitor Centre has walk-up tickets available to purchase daily on a first-come, first-served basis. But, as we mentioned, the number of available tickets will be limited and may sell out quickly.
Operating hours for the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre are:
- January – 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
- February/March/April – 9:30 am to 5:30 pm
- May – 9:00 am to 6:30 pm
- June/July/August/early September – 9:00 am to 7:00 pm
- Late September – 9:00 am to 6:30 pm
- October – 9:30 am to 5:30 pm
- November/December – 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
The last tours leave the Visitor Centre 1 hour and 45 minutes before the Centre closes. Last admission to the Visitor Centre is 45 minutes before closing time. The Centre is open year-round, except for December 24 through 27.
Our Visit to Brú na Bóinne and the Newgrange Site
We didn’t do a lot of advance planning for our visit to Brú na Bóinne. We wanted to go, but we weren’t sure whether we’d have time, since we were starting our day in Belfast, visiting Titanic Belfast, and seeing a bit of that city before we headed back down toward Dublin for the evening. We arrived at Brú na Bóinne around 2:30 pm, and we felt fortunate to be able to book a 4:00 pm tour.
During our hour-and-a-half wait for our tour, we explored the exhibitions at the Visitor Centre and ate a late lunch in the Visitor Centre’s cafeteria-style restaurant. This part of our visit wasn’t particularly memorable. The exhibits were fine but not extensive, and the restaurant food wasn’t anything to write home about. We were definitely ready for our designated tour time to arrive.
A few minutes before tour time, we were directed to head out to our tour bus. This involved a short, nice walk of maybe 200-300 yards, including walking over a footbridge crossing the River Boyne. We then boarded a shuttle bus, which took us on a 6-8 minute drive to the Newgrange site. When the bus stopped, we dismbarked and walked a few dozen yards up the hill toward the main Newgrange site.
Our group gathered near the Newgrange tomb entrance. At that point, our guide told us about Newgrange and the other Brú na Bóinne sites and their history and briefed us on our experience inside the tomb. As we mentioned at the top of this article, Newgrange was entirely fascinating.
I won’t nearly do it justice, but here’s a general description. From the outside, the Newgrange tomb/passage grave looks like a large mound with a stone wall built around its perimeter. Its diameter is about 100 yards – large and dramatic, but not entirely huge.
The southeast-facing part of the mound has an opening large enough for a person to enter – but not nearly tall enough for a grown man over 6 feet tall! The entrance leads into a passage that continues roughly 20 yards into the mound, underground. In front of the entrance are several large stones, about 3 feet tall and 10 feet long, with designs carved into them. The central stone was beautiful and memorable enough that we bought a smaller replica in the gift shop to display in our home.
When you get to the end of the passageway, it opens into a central chamber, large enough for maybe 20 people. There are additional chambers off to the side. Each of the chambers was a burial/preservation site for important Irishmen or Irishwomen of the period. Basically, it’s roughly analogous to the Egyptian pyramids and mummies, with the idea being to memorialize the important dead, and preserve and prepare them for the afterlife. It’s an amazing feeling just to be present in such a remarkable place. We spent an all-too-short few minutes inside the passage grave, listening to our guide, before we had to exit to make way for the next tour group.
One of the most interesting aspects of Newgrange is that its entrance is oriented such that the sun shines through the opening above the entrance, directly into the center chamber, at sunrise on the winter solstice. Our first thought is that this was incredibly cool – like it was straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. Our second thought was, hmmmmm, I wonder how many times the eastern sky is clear at sunrise in eastern Ireland on December 21, so that everything works as planned? An overcast morning would totally destroy the effect, but it seems like it would be overcast more often than clear on that date.
We understand that special packages are arranged for sunrise on December 21 and a day or two on either side. I’m guessing these are (a) expensive, and (b) very tough to secure.
After our visit inside the tomb was complete, we walked around and enjoyed the grounds and its sights for about a half-hour. There are a number of large stones on the grounds, reminiscent of Stonehenge. There is also a covered walkway where we took some funny pictures. And the whole grounds have great views across the very green valley of the River Boyne.
There’s no designated time to re-board a shuttle bus to head back to the Visitor Centre. Once we were satisfied that we’d seen everything, we made our way back to the bus stop, hopped on, and rode back to the Centre. Once we got back, we stopped to take a few photos at the footbridge leading back to the Visitor Centre.Have you visited Brú na Bóinne? Do you have other tips about it for Middle Age Miles readers? Please let us know in the Comments!
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