Navan is not far from Dublin, and it’s certainly possible to visit the region during a series of daytrips from Ireland’s capital. However, there’s something decidedly satisfying about getting out of the city and spending a night or two here in the countryside, which is riddled with prehistoric sites and legendary attractions.
The actual city of Navan is forgettable from a tourist’s perspective, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of the local facilities. This is an excellent place to pick up gifts and souvenirs, as well as to enjoy an evening out. Beyond, visitors are well-served by looking into car hire in Navan so that they can get out and explore County Meath.
Once you’ve arranged a rental car in Navan, make a point of visiting the following must-see attractions:
Brú na BóinneThe Boyne Valley—and, in particular, the Boyne’s convergence with the Blackwater—marks one of Ireland’s most historically important regions. The headlining attraction here is Brú na Bóinne (Palace of the Boyne), which was recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This Neolithic necropolis is actually a collection of several sites. Foremost among these is Newgrange, a mind-bogglingly ancient passage tomb that was lost to history until the 17th century. At first glance, it is little more than an impressively large grassy mound, measuring 80 metres across and 13 metres tall. The wonder sets in when you consider its age. Newgrange is a full 1,000 years older than Stonehenge and roughly 600 years older than Egypt’s pyramids. If that doesn’t impress, consider the fact that most (if not all) of the 97 giant kerbstones used to build this structure were quarried some 80 km away and transported here across mountainous terrain with Stone-Age technology.
The builders of Newgrange had a startling grasp of astronomy. They installed a light box at the entrance of this tomb that is perfectly aligned to receive a single ray of light each year during the winter solstice. In an Indiana-Jones-style affair, this tomb is locked in utter darkness for an entire year before it’s bathed in light for a mere 17 minutes. As you can imagine, the waiting list for those eager to witness this event is long and difficult to land on. A few lucky people are chosen by lottery each year.
There are two other impressive passage tombs at Brú na Bóinne, though none with the dramatic flair of Newgrange. One of these, Dowth, is also aligned to the winter solstice. The other, Knowth, is every bit as old as Newgrange. From an archaeological standpoint, it’s even more important. It was home to the most extensive collection of passage art ever excavated in Western Europe. Knowth remained an important site long after Newgrange was forgotten, so it features many more additions and developments.
Legendary Kings and ChristiansYou could easily spend a few days marvelling at Brú na Bóinne, but there’s much more to see in County Meath. Headlining this list are two legendary hills that played crucial roles in Ireland’s transition from Kingship to Christendom.
The first is the Hill of Tara, a legendary coronation site of the kings of Ireland. From a distance, it’s little more than a green hill. However, this hill was the site of ancient rites and coronations long before St Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland. Druids were active here before each of Ireland’s 142 kings were crowned upon the Stone of Destiny (which has been relocated to the Royal Enclosure). Legend has it that aspirers to the throne would stand atop the stone. If the stone let out three cries, the nominee was crowned.
St Patrick took to the Hill of Slane in the 5th century in response to a royal edict from Tara’s high kings outlawing Christianity. Early Christian tradition holds that he lit a signal fire here on Easter Sunday in defiance of the edict. As such, the Hill of Slane is synonymous with the rise of Christianity in Ireland. When the king and his entourage arrived to quell St Patrick’s defiance, the saint unleashed an onslaught of cataclysms and miracles, culminating in a quick sermon in which he used a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity. The ruins of several religious structures are still standing—most notable an extant bell tower from a 16th-century friary. A signal fire is still lit here each year on the evening before Easter.
Medieval SitesYou’ll find Europe’s largest Norman Castle right here in County Meath. Construction on Trim Castle started in the 1100s, and it was well-built enough to resist a seven-week siege about a century later. Plenty of the original structure still stands, making this a key attraction for the region. Trim is a popular place to book hotels near Navan, as rooms with a view invariably take in the old fortress.
The Old Melligont Abbey in Drogheda is another important 12th-century site. It stands alongside the river Mattock (a tributary of the Boyne) and is the oldest Cistercian abbey in Ireland. The abbey’s in ruins, but that’s central to its appeal. Visitors who arrive between May and October can join a guided tour. Otherwise, make point of admiring the Chapter House and the Lavabo on your own.