Travel Writing by Cory Hanson

Review – Newgrange & Hill of Tara Tour

 

In Dublin, there are many choices for day trips. Various companies offer day and overnight packages to cities and natural landmarks all over the island nearly every day during the tourist season. With so many choices, it’s easy to get confused—or pay too much for a sub-par tour.

One of the most popular near-Dublin attractions is Brú na Boinne in County Meath, home of one of the world’s oldest and best preserved human-made structures, Newgrange. This stone-age passage tomb predates the Egyptian Pyramids and Stonehenge by centuries, and its interior is almost perfectly intact and open for visitors.

But its most impressive feature can only really be seen for a few days of the year. The entrance tunnel into the structure leads to a central, cross-shaped (but decidedly pre-Christian) chamber. With an unbelievable feat of stone age astronomy and engineering, a small window-like opening above the entrance was built to align perfectly with the spot on the horizon where the sun rises on the winter solstice. For a few mornings before and after the shortest day of the year, the rising sun shoots a beam of morning light down the entrance passage to illuminate the inner chamber with a golden glow for just a few short minutes. Tours visiting Newgrange on any other day are treated to a satisfying re-creation of the effect with an electric light. Needless to say, it is a popular attraction for Irish natives and international tourists alike.

Newgrange Entrance

Newgrange Entrance

It is possible to visit Brú na Boinne and Newgrange from Dublin with public transport, but I don’t recommend it. The bus ride on boring motorways, the layovers in bus stations, and the hurried schedule far outweigh any money saved by skipping a guided tour. And if you’re investing the time and money in a day trip, Mary Gibbons and Newgrange Tours is a great bet.

This tour doesn’t just visit Newgrange. The first stop is a brief poke-around at Ireland’s historic (but imagination-requiring) Hill of Tara. While few structures remain today, this hilltop was the seat of power in Eastern Ireland for centuries. A millenium ago, the High Kings of Ireland were crowned and ruled from this scenic hilltop—affording a 360 degree view of much of Central Ireland.

Only Mounds Remain on the Hill of Tara

Only Mounds Remain on the Hill of Tara

I recently tagged along on one of Ms. Gibbons’ day tours from Dublin. The bus picks up in City Centre and at a few large hotels. Between pickups, Mary narrated a mini tour of the center of Dublin, pointing out things new even to me. On the road from Dublin to the countryside, her enthusiastic and knowledgeable commentary was a great overview of ancient and modern Irish history for visitors unfamiliar with Ireland’s complex past. 

The well-explained historical background of the Hill of Tara and the Battle of the Boyne—the site of which the tour passes between the Hill of Tara and Newgrange—gave meaning to an otherwise mostly-empty hilltop and a now-pristine river valley. Access to Newgrange is understandably tightly-controlled, so at Brú na Boinne the tour group is put in the capable hands of the staff and guides for the actual visit to the passage tomb interior.

The tour group and I had a great time on the bus and at the historical landmarks of Co. Meath. If you are thinking about a relaxed day trip from Dublin, consider Newgrange Tours and say hello to Mary for me!

Nuts and Bolts

  • Not surprisingly, these highly-rated tours are very popular and can book up. Plan ahead and get in touch in advance to book your spot and let them know your pickup point.
  • The tour price includes the bus tour and admission fees at Newgrange. Lunch at the Brú na Boinne Visitor Centre cafe is not included. 
  • Student discount offered with valid university ID.

See my full disclosure for more about invited reviews.

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