Newgrange is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is also one of the most popular attractions in Ireland. Called Bru na Boinne (Palace of the Boyne) in the Irish language, this heritage site is home to a series of passage tombs dating back more than 5,000 years. Located an easy distance from Dublin, it’s a pleasant day trip from the city. If you’ve seen pictures of Stonehenge or been to the actual monument in in England and you were impressed by this structure, you will love Newgrange. This site is 1,000 years older than Stonehenge, and the structure is in many ways even more interesting and sophisticated. There are three mounds at this site: Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth. By visiting this site you will learn more than just about passage tombs, you will learn about the ancient people who lived and worked on this land.
Bru na Boinne gains its significance from a few key factors about the site. The passage tomb of Newgrange was built so that on the winter solstice, the chamber is brilliantly illuminated. The whole light show lasts about seventeen minutes, beginning at 9 am on the day of the winter solstice. Seeing this spectacular site is in such demand that people enter their names in a lottery to be one of the chosen few to experience it. This ancient temple proves the sophistication of the people who lived here. A great understanding of science, the planets, and the calendar must have been necessary to develop such an advanced place of worship.
Every day at Bru na Boinne visitors can experience what the solstice at Newgrange is like. Tours are complete with a demonstration, using artificial lights of course, as to how the chamber fills with light on the solstice. Many visitors arrive to this archaeological site in County Meath to see Newgrange and Knowth, though Newgrange is more popular. When you arrive, there is a visitors center where you will buy your tickets and get assigned a tour time. To fill the time in between you can take a look at the interesting exhibit that gives background information on the site. There is also a short video presentation, gift shop, and restaurant. When the time of your tour is approaching, you will leave the visitor’s center, cross a picturesque bridge, and board a bus to either Newgrange or Knowth.
There is no direct access to the passage tombs without a tour group. One of the best parts of visiting this UNESCO site is the passionate guides who lead the tours. They not only provide background information but encourage visitors to formulate their own theories about the people who lived here and what their stone carvings and temples could mean. After an introduction, small groups are brought inside the passage tomb. You must duck your head to make it into the final chamber, which is a beautiful display of swirling stone. The entire passage tomb is rainproof, and besides being a place of ancient ceremony and worship, it is also home to some interesting graffiti. Dating from the early nineteenth century, local boys began to carve their names into the stone on the inside of the chamber.
The tour of Newgrange takes approximately one hour. The visitors center is open year-round, except for the days around Christmas. Hours vary depending on the season, but generally the site remains open until 5 pm in winter and 7 pm in summer. The last tour is given 1 hour and 45 minutes before closing time. While it is possible to use public transportation from Dublin to reach Newgrange, this also would mean depending on a series of trains and buses. A rental car, or an organized bus tour, is the best way to reach the UNESCO site. Come learn about an ancient civilization and leave with a greater understanding about the history of Ireland.