Situated at Newgrange and Knowth are two of Ireland's most important prehistoric megalithic sites. A megalithic structure is one composed of large interlocking stones, which are not held together with mortar.
Both Newgrange and Knowth are thought to have been used as tombs, though there is some contention as to their original use. They range in age from 3500 to 5000 years old and predate not only Stonehenge but also the Great Pyramids of Egypt. It is thought they played a central role in the religious life of Ireland's prehistoric people.
Many of the stones and passageways have been covered in megalithic art. This type of art consists of spirals, zigzags and other geometric shapes. These sites contain some of the best examples of this type of art in all of Europe.
Of the two sites, Newgrange looks the most impressive from the outside. It is a large mound, surrounded by kerbstones, whose reconstructed exterior is covered in dazzling white quartz. A feature of the Newgrange tomb occurs during the winter solstice when the sun is in such a position that it illuminates the central chamber.
On the other hand, Knowth has a larger interior but it is not as accessible as Newgrange and entry is restricted to an antechamber especially created for visitors. Knowth is the older of the two sites and dates back 5000 years. There are also several other small mound tombs surrounding the larger passage tomb.
Entry into these sites is strictly controlled and can only be made via the visitor center at Brú na Bóinne. Be careful to allow yourself plenty of time, especially in the summer months, as no pre-booking of guided tours is allowed. There are only a finite number of tours per day and you may miss out if you do not plan you trip. Entry into the historical sites is not guaranteed. If you arrive too late, all the tours for the day may be booked out which will certainly be a disappointment. Note that the last tour leaves the visitor center one and half hours before closing time.
You have options to just visit the center if you wish or, in addition, take the tour to one or both sites. Prices vary accordingly. The center is well organized and you will enjoy the exhibition and audiovisual show, available in several languages, as you wait for your guided tour. Buses will take your tour group to the sites and guides do a good job of imparting lots of interesting information and their enthusiasm helps to bring the sites to life.
Be aware you cannot go into all the passageways but you do get to glimpse them and, in the Newgrange site, you get to see the central chamber and walk through a confined passageway, which is quite narrow. The guides usually try to simulate the winter solstice condition using artificial light, which gives a good indication of what the chamber would look like on the day of the solstice.
Tours of each of these ancient sites last over an hour each. No photography is allowed within the tombs. Although all tours are conducted in English, you can get leaflets and guide books in several other languages.
These megalithic sites are found in the Boyne Valley, which is approximately 50 kilometers north west of Dublin. The nearest town is Drogheda, which can be accessed via the M1 from Dublin. Be aware there is a toll before the turnoff at the Donore exit. Once there, you will be able to follow the clearly marked signs to the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre. Day tours also leave regularly from Dublin.
After your tour, you can grab something to eat at the café which has a good menu though can be extremely busy. There is also a small gift shop at the center. The center's opening times varying throughout the year and they close on most public holidays.
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