Exploring Ireland’s Boyne Valley Region & Slane Village
The historic Boyne Valley—often called “Ireland’s Ancient East”—is home to some of Ireland’s most beloved historical sites, including Newgrange and the Battle of the Boyne. But while 200,000+ domestic and international tourists descend on Newgrange each year, very few take the time to explore much of the rest of the area.
And that’s really a shame, because the Boyne Valley in County Meath has SO much more to offer. It has not only all that history, but also gorgeous landscapes, an up-and-coming local foodie scene, and a unique modern whiskey distillery that boasts some pretty cool music history of its own.
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I’ve done a handful of deeper posts on individual things to do in the Boyne Valley, but wanted to do a more holistic post on what you’d need to know to plan your trip—from ancient historical sites to charming villages, traditional pub music to seeing artisan food producers up close and personal.
This isn’t typically the case, but my pictures in this post don’t really do the beauty of the area justice (partly because my visits were work trip-based, so I didn’t have as much freedom to explore and take photos). But trust me, it’s a gorgeous corner of Ireland, and pairs nicely with a couple days in Dublin as well.
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Why should you visit the Boyne Valley?
As I mention above, the Boyne Valley offers a great combination of ancient and medieval Irish history, with a dash of modern rock ‘n’ roll history thrown in for fun. You’ll find bucolic rolling hills, an array of excellent restaurants, and the welcoming Irish charm the locals are famous for.
Want to see the process for cheese-making, whiskey distilling, pressing cider, and so much more?? Yup, it’s got you covered. It’s got major highways running through it that can get you up to Northern Ireland, over to County Clare, or down to the south of the country easily.
Add to that its location just a short 30+ minute drive from Dublin, and it’s a great add-on to any Dublin itinerary as well.
While many people may focus on Navan or Drogheda in the area as a base, I think visitors should consider tiny Slane village instead. You’ll see more on why below, but to me it’s the perfect spot to explore the Boyne Valley.
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Where to stay in Slane, Ireland
There aren’t lots of big chain hotels here, so most of your options will be pretty good. I definitely think you should stay somewhere unique & local, and here are a couple of my recommendations.
Slane village itself is absolutely charming, and a lovely place to stay a night. Try the Conyngham Arms (a beautiful tiny boutique hotel or inn) or the Old Post Office just across the street. Or go more interesting with a working farm or glamping in yurts at nearby Rock Farm. I’m also always a huge fan of B&Bs in Ireland as well.
Do I need a rental car?
Yes, I’d definitely say so. There are some buses in the area, or you could take a guided tour if you are really scared to drive in Ireland.
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What to do in the Boyne Valley
There’s so much to see and do in the area, depending on your particular interests. While you can try to see some of this by a multi-day group tour, I strongly recommend renting a car (even just for a day or two, if you’re basing yourself in Dublin), as much of this wouldn’t be on a tour.
Visit the amazing archeological & other historical sites
Now this is the one that I can’t speak to personally but is a MUST. The Boyne Valley is home to so many amazing historical sites, including Brú na Bóinne. We often refer to this as Newgrange today, but the overall site includes Newgrange (the most famous), Knowth, and Dowth.
Newgrange is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and dates back to around 3200 BCE. It is so cool!! Visiting Brú na Bóinne will give you a fully interactive visitor experience exploring the Neolithic culture, landscape and monuments. I strongly recommend pre-booking tickets, you can find hours, prices, etc. here.
The Hill of Slane is another must-visit, and encompasses a number of historical sites with centuries of layers. Located just north of Slane village, the historical legend says that St. Patrick (sent by the Pope) lit a Paschal fire on this hill in 433 CE, defying the high king who forbid any fires while the pagan festival fire was burning on the Hill of Tara.
This is said to have kicked off Patrick’s success in bringing Christianity to the island, and the hill remained a center of religious life for many centuries. Its significance in the area likely dates back to pre-history, including burial mounts, and you can also see ruins from the 1500s Slane friary, as well as a 12th century Norman stronghold.
And we haven’t even talked about maybe the second-most-famous historical site…the Battle of the Boyne! You can visit the battlefield where (Protestant) William of Orange defeated the (Catholic) James II in 1690, continuing the ascendancy of Protestantism in Ireland and keeping James from regaining the English throne.
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See some trad music
One of my absolute favorite things to experience in Ireland is traditional or “trad” music. You can find this at pubs all over the country, though it sometimes takes a bit of asking around to avoid a super tourist-focused one.
Traditional music is much more than just MUSIC. It’s a core part of the culture, encompassing a welcoming atmosphere, storytelling, history, and a communal spirit. It’s absolutely fascinating watching a handful of musicians make astoundingly intricate music—many of whom have never played together before.
Some of the most common instruments you’ll see in this type of session are the fiddle, accordion, flute, banjo, mandolin, bodhrán (drum) and harp, but others will pop up from time to time. The musicians will ebb and flow, sometimes leaving for a while to go grab a pint at the bar and chat, then returning to jump right back in. The talent is amazing!
For me, this is one of the richest cultural experiences I’ve had in Ireland, and I recommend asking around with locals to see who has trad music on while you’re visiting.
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Here’s a video with some examples of the trad music I’ve seen in Ireland, and towards the end some regular live music from Boyle’s in Slane (which I’ll get to further below).
Full disclosure, I work for Brown-Forman, who owns Slane Distillery (so I was able to visit on a work trip). However, they have no relationship with or endorsement of this blog…all opinions are, as always, completely my own.
Learn about whiskey & music history at Slane Distillery & Slane Castle
Whiskey distilling has been deeply embedded in the culture and history of Ireland for centuries, and so even if you’re not a huge whiskey drinker I’d recommend visiting a distillery for the experience (check out the whole Irish Whiskey Trail).
Slane Distillery is an interesting blend of historic and modern. The distillery is nestled on the banks of the River Boyne, on the grounds of beautiful Slane Castle Estate. Within the last decade, the Conyngham family (who own the estate) have launched Slane Irish Whiskey, building a state-of-the-art distillery in the castle estate’s 250-year-old stables.
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It’s a great place to spend away an hour or two, blending a beautiful, historic location and modern whiskey making (with a strong commitment to sustainability).
You can check their website for the most updated info on tours, cocktail classes, and more (and sometimes you can just stop in and have a cocktail). It’s right next to Slane Castle as well, so visiting both very efficiently is super easy.
If Slane Distillery isn’t to your tastes or is out of the way, Listoke Distillery (also located in the Boyne Valley) has a “gin school experience”, and I am CRUSHED I didn’t know about this before. I love gin! You can learn more here.
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Once you’ve sipped some whiskey, head a few steps over to Slane Castle. It’s sat on the estate for over 300 years as the ancestral home of the Conyngham family. You can walk around the grounds, take a tour of the castle, have a drink at the bar or a meal at the lovely Gandon Room (which I recommend!).
In Ireland, the name “Slane” is also synonymous with music (maybe a bit like Woodstock is in the U.S.). In the early ’80s during a time of political unrest and challenging economics, Lord Henry Conyngham opened the doors of Slane Castle estate and hosted the first open-air concert there, with Thin Lizzy headlining and U2 supporting. The Slane festival has been a tradition ever since.
I wouldn’t travel super out of the way to visit Slane Castle on its own, but if you’re in the area (and especially if you’re visiting the distillery), it’s worth a short stop.
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If you’re staying in Slane village…
I’ve already talked about the Hill of Slane, the distillery and castle, and we’ll talk about some nearby food producers below as well. Slane village itself is pretty small, but it’s worth a walk around if you’re there (i’m a sucker for the pretty bright-colored doors).
But one of my absolute favorite things to do in Slane is spend an evening at Boyle’s, the local pub. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch live music to go along with your “pint o’ the black stuff”…Colin was playing a few nights when I was there and he was amazing!
The owner, John, and all the staff are just super welcoming and it’s a great chill atmosphere. My video above (in the trad music section) includes some video of Colin and Dierdre playing at Boyles as well.
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See the artisan side of the Boyne Valley
As I mentioned at the outset, the Boyne Valley is becoming known as a foodie destination as well, and a lot of that is due to really interesting local farms and artisan food craftspeople. If you have some time in the area, check out the Boyne Valley Flavours website to add some deliciousness to your visit.
On my last trip I got to visit two different makers to hear them talk about their process…the first was The Cider Mill, where farmer Mark is pressing and making some of his cider the ancient traditional way, called keeving.
His Cockagee cider (the keeved kind) is absolutely delicious and won Best Irish Drink in 2018. It’s the only cider in the country being keeved, which uses only natural fermentation. I’ll also say that his pear cider is MMMMMM.
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I also got to visit Boyne Valley Farmhouse Cheeses to learn how Michael and his family make absolutely delicious goat cheeses. Also…GOATS!!!
They’re known for their blue cheese, so we got to try that and a regular cheese as well as some fresh goat milk. He took us to his cheese vault as well (WHY DON’T I HAVE A CHEESE VAULT???), where the cheese are aged naturally to develop those beautiful veins and coating from the cultures.
These are only two of the many amazing farmers and food craftspeople in the Boyne Valley area, so make sure you check out what’s available!
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And of course, take a day trip to Dublin
Whether the Boyne Valley is a side trip from Dublin or vice-versa, you’d be crazy not to spend time in the city when you’re this close. Dublin is one of my FAVORITE cities in the world! It’s just so vibrant, welcoming, fun, and really easy to explore on foot. I just feel really “at home” here.
Assuming you have okay weather, the best thing to do is just walk around and explore. You definitely need to stop by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christchurch Cathedral, and Trinity College (whether you wait in line for the library is up to you).
You should pick your favorite bridge over the River Liffey, wander peaceful St. Stephen’s Green, learn about some of the more recent history along O’Connell Street, and maybe take a tour of Jameson or Guinness. And above all else you should EAT! Dublin has a vibrant foodie scene that I loved exploring.
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Where to eat in the Boyne Valley area
These are just a few options to get you started, by no means an exhaustive list.
First, one place you definitely need to try is No. 3 Wine Bar & Restaurant in Collon. We went here for lunch one day and I was charmed by the ambiance and wowed by the really interesting menu (including their wine menu). Everything I ate and drank was delicious, and it needs to be on your list.
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In Slane proper, I had a few meals at the Conyngham Arms hotel (where I was staying as well). Another great option, including for a snack, is George’s Patisserie. I had coffee and a scone after a long overnight flight, and it was the perfect thing to perk me up, but they have soups and sandwiches as well as all manner of baked goods as well.
For a drink, both Boyle’s (pictured above with live music) and the Conyngham Arms are great options in Slane.
I’ll bet you didn’t know the Boyne Valley had all this and more! If you visit and only do Newgrange, you’re leaving so many more cool cultural experiences on the table.
So if you’re headed to “Ireland’s Ancient East”, make sure to check out Slane Distillery, the castle, and some of the amazing food options in the area!
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