The Newgrange Neolithic Passage Tomb: Wow. Just Wow.

I hesitate to say that Newgrange is a “must see” thereby adding to the FOMO-anxiety tourists routinely face, but if you’re in Ireland and can get there without too much headache, it’s well worth a visit. I have yet to meet someone who’s been and doesn’t gush.

Chris and Julie in front of the Newgrange passage tomb.

Since there’s a wealth of background information already out there regarding Ireland’s Neolithic passage tombs, this post will focus on practicalities (i.e., what you need to know to plan a visit!). First off, do not put Newgrange into your GPS; you might be directed to the Newgrange site where you will be sorely disappointed to be turned away. Newgrange is part of the Brú na Bóinne Neolithic “complex” which includes a visitor center and the passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. To tour Newgrange and/or Knowth, you must begin at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre.

Lisa with one of the many smaller mounds surrounding Knowth

Allow at least 2 1/2 hours to visit Newgrange alone, or 4 hours for both Newgrange and Knowth. Chris and I visited both and here’s how our timing worked out:

  • 9:00am: Arrived at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre and received tickets for the 9:45am tour of Knowth and the 11:15am tour of Newgrange.
  • 9:00–9:35am: Explored the visitor center exhibits. These are well done and 35 minutes wasn’t quite enough, but we were free to come back after the tours.
  • 9:35–9:40am: Walked from the visitor center to the tour buses. Allow plenty of time - you don’t want to miss your bus!
  • 9:45–9:55am: Waited for everyone to load the bus, then drove the few minutes to Knowth.

Our Knowth guide, explaining how the site has been used and re-used through the centuries.

  • 9:55–10:50am: Toured Knowth with knowledgeable OPW guide.
  • 10:50–11:00am: Boarded bus, rode back to visitor center bus area, hopped off Knowth bus, and boarded Newgrange bus. All of the buses were lined up together with destinations clearly marked.
  • 11:00–11:25am: Waited for everyone to load, then drove the few minutes to Newgrange. There’s a bit of down-time here while transitioning buses.

An example of megalithic artwork carved into a kerbstone at Newgrange

  • 11:25am–12:20pm: Toured Newgrange with knowledgeable OPW guide (love them!).
  • 12:20–12:50pm: Boarded bus, rode back to visitor center bus area, then took our time walking back to the visitor center proper enjoying the view from the bridge over the River Boyne.

The visit was long but not taxing. Still by 1:00 I was looking for coffee and a snack. No worries on that front; the visitor center has a very nice cafe that offers a wide array of food and drink.

This may sound bonkers, but we visited Brú na Bóinne twice in about four weeks; the first time on our own, and the second with family. The second time around we had time for only one tour, either Newgrange or Knowth, since we were heading to Trim Castle after.  Some folks had already seen Newgrange so opted for Knowth, but which one should the first-timers see? It was a no-brainer to me: Newgrange.

The entrance to Newgrange passage tomb. Note the "roof box" above the door.

Newgrange dates to around 3200 BC making it older than Stonehenge and the great pyramids of Egypt. It was built with over 200,000 tons of material, including individual stones that weigh up to 5 tons. The construction alone is an engineering marvel, but there’s more. The tomb’s main passageway is some 60 feet long and perfectly aligned with a “roof box” above the outer entrance. Each year on the winter solstice, the sun shines directly through the roof box and along the passage, gently illuminating the center chamber. It’s mind-boggling to see. Yes, you can actually enter the passage tomb and experience this phenomenon, albeit with a strong light as a substitute for the sun (still cool).

A souterrain leading into the Knowth passage tomb. Visitors can see inside a small portion of Knowth via the walkway and stairs at the far left of this photo.

Knowth is lesser visited but impressive in its own right. While it isn’t as old as Newgrange (dating to 2500 BC), it is larger, surrounded by more mounds, has been re-used extensively over the millennia, and contains 30% of all the Megalithic art in Western Europe. You can enter the Knowth passage tomb and peer into passageways and souterrains, but can’t get into the central chamber as in Newgrange. You can, however, walk up a stairway onto the top of the Knowth mound and take in a superb view that includes Newgrange, Dowth, and the hill of Tara. As much as Knowth has to offer, I’d visit Newgrange if pressed for time. The inner chamber is a sight to see.

Julie enjoying the view from the top of the Knowth passage tomb.

Lastly, I’ve heard that tours can get sold out in high season. If traveling then, it’d be wise to call ahead to check availability.

So that's how they do it! One of the mounds at Knowth is getting a haircut :)

Location: 8 km southwest of Drogheda, County Meath; GPS: 53.69463, –6.44649
Hours: Visit OPW’s Heritage Ireland site for seasonal hours.
Cost: There are many options! €3/adult for the visitor center exhibit only, €6/adult for exhibit + Newgrange, €5/adult for exhibit + Knowth, or €11/adult for exhibit + Newgrange + Knowth; concessions available; free with OPW Heritage Card