It’s definitely overlooked and underrated, and that means you should definitely check out Newgrange, Ireland, for yourself.
Where: Newgrange, the world’s oldest building and the star of Ireland’s history-haunted Boyne Valley, about an hour’s drive from Dublin.
Why: Built at least 5,200 years ago—1,000 years before Stonehenge—Newgrange and its mysterious neighbors, the megalithic passage tombs of Knowth and Dowth, were built by a lost, technologically advanced civilization. Working before the invention of the wheel, 300 workers took 20 years to shift 200,000 tons of stone from as far as 50 miles away to build it. Nobody is quite sure why.
In 1969, archaeologists working deep inside, about 15 feet underground, made a startling discovery. At sunrise on the winter solstice—the shortest day of the year—a thin beam of sunlight, channeled through a precisely aligned opening, penetrates the inner chamber and floods it with blinding light.
Don’t miss: The waiting list for the winter solstice experience is years long. But the phenomenon is dramatically simulated during excellent guided visits from the Bru na Boinne Visitors Center, west of Donore (+353 41 988 0300 ) every day of the year. When light fills the darkened chamber, you’ll understand why ancient people worshipped the sun.
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Also worth seeing: The Boyne Battlefield where, in 1690, William of Orange defeated his father-in-law and Catholic rival James III in one of the most contentious battles of Irish history. As a pre-Millennial act of cross-border co-operation, the Irish government joined forces with Ulster’s Orange Order to purchase and develop the battlefield, now open to the public year round.
Tasty treat: Tea, with homemade cakes, is arguably the best meal in Ireland.
Best restaurant: The Signal Restaurant, in the Station House Hotel, specializes in traditional Irish food—rack of Kilmessan lamb, Boyne Salmon. The setting is an abandoned railway station morphed into a luxury hotel. Kilmessan, Co. Meath +353 46 25239.
How to get there: From Dublin, take the N2 north towards Slane in Co. Meath. Turn right on Donore Road, 1.2 miles south of Slane. The Bru na Boinne Visitors Center is 4.5 miles further on the River Boyne. Bus Eireann operates day tours of Newgrange and the Boyne Valley from Dublin’s Central bus station.