Boyne Valley in 3 days

A trip back in time? In Ireland, all things are possible, as you’ll discover with this three-day tour of the Boyne Valley’s historic headliners.

Just a short drive from Dublin airport or city, you’ll find a mythical valley steeped in ancient wonders. Follow the Boyne Valley route as it loops its way through counties Meath and Louth. Here, you’ll see the legacy of every big player in Ireland’s history, from ancient pagans to High Kings, Early Christian monks to Anglo-Irish aristocrats. This three-day tour will show you the main sights but there’s enough here to keep you busy for four or five days, if you extend your stay.

The Boyne Valley may be a driving route first and foremost, but there’s plenty on offer for walkers or cyclists, who want to slow the pace and savour every moment.

Distances are calculated at an average speed of 50km/h and here's what you need to know about driving on the island of Ireland.

Day 1

Dublin Airport/city to Drogheda: 80km (50 miles)/1 hour 36 minutes at 50km/h

Dublin to Navan

As you leave Dublin behind, the green pastures of County Meath appear before you. You’re heading north-west towards the busy market town of Navan, but before you get there, a short detour will bring you to a place whose very name evokes an Ireland of myth and legend… the Hill of Tara, seat of the High Kings, and for centuries, the centre of political and spiritual life in ancient Ireland.

Hill of Tara, County Meath

Drop into the visitors’ centre (a converted 19th century church) for a great audiovisual introduction to the site and then take your time exploring superbly named monuments such as the Mound of the Hostages and the Sloping Trenches. And don't forget to enjoy the view – it’s said you can see a quarter of Ireland from here.

Visitor Centre, Hill of Tara, County Meath

When you’ve had your fill of fresh air and fantastic scenery, it’s time for lunch (and maybe some shopping) in Navan. Try Earl’s Kitchen in the Old Cornmarket, just off the Market Square – justly famous for its delicious desserts.

Navan to Brú na Bóinne

Having experienced the historic superstar that is Tara, it’s time now to head for another. Brú na Bóinne, dominated by three large passage tombs, Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, is one of the most important prehistoric sites in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These tombs are around 5,000 years old, making them older than the pyramids in Egypt and Stonehenge in the UK.

Newgrange, County Meath

You can only access Newgrange and Knowth through the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, near the village of Donore, where you’ll be led on an epic journey back in time to the Stone Age. Stand in the central burial chamber of Newgrange and watch as the light creeps slowly along the narrow stone passageway, illuminating the chamber in golden light and simulating the path of the rising sun on the winter solstice. It’s a marvel of engineering and astronomy.

Visitors at Newgrange, County Meath

Killeen Castle Golf Club

An 800-year-old castle, a golfing legend and a mystical tree… Jack Nicklaus designed the 12th green at Killeen Castle around a hawthorn tree (known as a magic tree in Ireland), after he heard it would be bad luck to cut it down.

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Beaulieu House and Gardens

A stately home with a difference, Beaulieu House has been occupied by the same family since the 1600s. A stunning setting on the banks of the River Boyne and historic walled gardens make this a very special place to visit.

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Brú na Bóinne to Drogheda

Once you’ve emerged from Newgrange back into the daylight, fast forward to 1690 and you’ll find yourself in the midst of a ferocious battle between two kings for the ultimate prize… the British throne. At Oldbridge, on the banks of the River Boyne, Protestant King William III (of Orange) defeated the forces of deposed Catholic King James II and ensured the continuation of protestant supremacy in Ireland.

Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre, Oldbridge House, County Louth

Brush up on your history at the Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre in the elegant 18th century Oldbridge House. And if you visit during the summer, don’t miss the live demonstrations of cavalry manoeuvers with players in full period dress.

Re-enacting the Battle of the Boyne, Oldbridge House, County Louth

Finish your day in Drogheda and enjoy a night spent in the contemporary chic of the d Hotel, or any of the plentiful B&Bs and guesthouses around the town.

d Hotel, Drogheda, County Louth

Day 2

Drogheda to Kells: 56.5km (35 miles)/1 hour 7 minutes at 50km/h

Drogheda to Old Mellifont Abbey

Rested and refreshed after a good night’s sleep, start your day by exploring Drogheda, a town full of quirky surprises, such as the preserved head of St Oliver Plunkett (yes, really!) on display in St Peter’s Church, or the Martello Tower at Millmount, which was built in the early 1800s as a precaution against French invasion.

Drogheda Museum Millmount, County Louth

The Boyne Valley is justly famous for its rich Early Christian heritage and at Monasterboice, just a short drive from Drogheda, you’ll see some of the finest religious art on the island. St Muirdeach’s Cross, carved with scenes from the Old Testament, and the seven-metre-high West Cross, the tallest in Ireland, are worthy legacies of founder St Buite, a man reputed to be so holy that he ascended into heaven on a golden ladder lowered by angels.

High cross, Monasterboice, County Louth

Nearby at Old Mellifont Abbey, the remains of the fine octagonal lavabo (communal washing area) offer a glimpse of former glories. After all, this was one of the most powerful and influential monasteries on the island, and home to over 400 monks and lay brothers.

Old Mellifont Abbey to Slane

Slane is our next stop, a quiet village that is the unexpected home to one of the world’s great rock concert venues, Slane Castle. Its sloping lawns form a natural amphitheatre that has played host to all the greats: the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, Madonna, Eminem… U2 have headlined here three times, and lived at the castle during the recording of their album, The Unforgettable Fire (the drawing room was turned into a recording studio).

Slane Castle, County Meath

While you’re in Slane, you might want to leave the car for a while and explore the lush countryside in a different way. At Rock Farm (part of the Slane Castle estate) you can rent electric bikes and continue your tour on two wheels. Don’t miss the Francis Ledwidge Museum, just outside Slane village, celebrating the life of the World War I poet, who died at the Battle of Ypres in 1917.

Electric bike tour, Rock Farm, Slane, County Meath

And when lunchtime rolls around, George’s Patisserie offers great coffee and chocolate brownies to die for!

Hill of Slane

Legend has it that Saint Patrick lit the first paschal fire in Ireland at the Hill of Slane, in defiance of the High King Laoire at nearby Tara. But Laoire was so won over by Patrick’s devotion he allowed him to continue his missionary work.

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Laytown Races

Since 1868, the golden stretch of beach at Laytown, County Meath, has hosted a unique spectacle each September – the Laytown Races, the only horse racing event of its kind in Europe to be run under the rules of racing.

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Slane to Kells

Everywhere you look in the heritage town of Kells you’ll see evidence of its ancient history: the four stone crosses, the round tower (notice the five top windows instead of the usual four? Each window faced one of the town's five access roads – perfect for spotting marauding Vikings approaching), St Colmcille’s House, a small stone oratory that dates from the 11th century. And of course Kells is synonymous with the famous Book of Kells (now on display in Trinity College Dublin), which was completed here during the ninth century.

Kells, County Meath

A great way to pack all this history into one visit is to take a tour with a knowledgeable local guide. Think of the details they can add to your journey: did you know, for instance, that Oliver Cromwell stabled his horses in the church during his Irish campaign in the 17th century? Or that local aristocrat the Marquess of Headfort rather scandalously married a London chorus girl called Rosie Boote in 1901?

Overnight in the Headfort Arms Hotel, which has been in business for nearly 200 years.

Day 3

Kells to Dublin: 117km (73 miles)/2 hours 20 minutes at 50km/h

Kells to Loughcrew

As you drive from Kells to Loughcrew, you’ll notice the landscape changing. You’re climbing to the highest point in County Meath, the Loughcrew Hills and another Boyne Valley treasure: Loughcrew, a megalithic cemetery containing about 30 passage tombs.

Loughcrew, County Meath

Legend has it that these three burial mounds were created by witches flying overhead and dropping pebbles on the land below – hence Loughcrew’s Irish name, Slieve na Callaigh, which means ‘Hill of the Witch’ or ‘Hag’s Hill’.

Loughcrew to the Hill of Ward

Moving on to another wonderful viewing point, our next stop is the Hill of Ward just outside Athboy. As you climb past bemused sheep to reach its summit, bear in mind that you’re standing on the site of an Iron Age fort, and the place where the wild, pagan festival of Samhain or Halloween was celebrated. To this day, pagans congregate on Tlachtga (to give the hill its Irish name) to welcome the Celtic new year. It’s quite the spectacle, according to the locals.

Spire of Lloyd

This inland lighthouse (the only one in Ireland) was built in the late 18th century by the first Earl of Bective in memory of his father. The family reputedly put the Spire to more practical use by using it to view horse races and hunting.

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Sheridan's Cheesemongers

In a beautifully restored railway building near Virginia, on the Meath/Cavan border, you’ll find the very best of Irish and European cheeses, foods and wines stacked floor to ceiling. Sheridan’s Cheesemongers are stars of Ireland’s artisan food scene and a visit to the weekly Saturday morning market here is a treat for the tastebuds.

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Hill of Ward to Trim

We are coming back down to earth again as we head for Trim. Grab a light lunch at Trim Castle Hotel before crossing the street to explore one the finest examples of Norman architecture in Ireland – Trim Castle.

This imposing stronghold, built by Lord of Meath Hugh de Lacy in the 13th century, has been towering over the surrounding landscape for almost 800 years. Several centuries after its creation, the castle was sold by one Arthur Wellesley, better known as the Duke of Wellington. Eventually its austere beauty served as a backdrop for Mel Gibson’s 1995 film, Braveheart. During the summer, you can take a guided tour and climb to the battlements to enjoy spectacular views. Just don’t look down!

Trim Castle, County Meath

We end our Boyne Valley tour here. It’s been a busy three days but if you want to make just one final stop, we say treat yourself to dinner at the award-winning Signal Restaurant at the Station House Hotel in nearby Kilmessan, less than an hour from Dublin, where you can dine like a king. What a fitting end to this magical tour.

If you have more time, there's plenty more to explore on Dublin's Doorstep.

Useful Information

The Boyne Valley: Counties Louth and Meath

Information on counties Meath and Louth

Driving in Ireland

Tourism offices in Ireland

Accommodation in Ireland

Getting to Ireland

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