Navan, about an hour outside of Dublin, is the only town in Europe that is spelled the same forward and backward. Fun palindrome aside, there is a lot to be excited about in Navan. The town has some of the most important ancient sites in Ireland as well as cultural and local attractions to keep visitors busy.
Ready to explore this corner of Ireland’s ancient east in County Meath? Here are the top things to do in Navan.
Seek the High Kings of History at the Hill of Tara
The Hill of Tara is one of Ireland’s most important ancient monuments. Set on a ridge outside of Navan, some claim you can see a quarter of Ireland from the top of the hill. Known in Irish as Teamhair na Rí, "sanctuary of the Kings”, Tara is the sacred spot where the High Kings of Ireland were crowned. A massive ringfort once stood on the hill, but the most notable marker these days is the Stone of Destiny (Lia Fáil) where the High Kings were inaugurated. The site was so important that St. Patrick made his way to Tara to confront the seat of Pagan power in Ireland. Tara was abandoned in 1022 but remains a symbolic spot in the hearts of the Irish people and has been a rallying point and gathering place for centuries.
See Bective Abbey
The ruins of Bective Abbey overlook the River Boyne near Navan. The abbey was first built here in 1147 and the sheer size of the abbey suggests that it grew to be an important place of worship and a strongly fortified home for the monks who once lived here. The abbey was the first burial place of Hugh De Lacy, Lord of Meath and an important figure in Irish history. Sadly, the abbey closed in 1536 and its abandoned cloister was converted in a manor home by an employee of the English court. His additions to the abbey made it look so much like a castle that Bective was actually used as a filming location for the movie "Braveheart."
This working farm just outside of Navan town offers a fun taste of life in the Irish countryside. Organize a day out, a party, or even a hen-do (bachelorette party) and you’ll soon be baking brown bread, learning an Irish jig, and taking a tractor ride to wade in the bog. Make your way back to the farm to wash off the bog mud and then you can try your hand at catching a few chickens or petting the other farm animals. At the end of the day, visitors sit down to enjoy a cup of tea and your own freshly baked Irish bread.
Visit Athlumney Castle
The ruins of Athlumney Castle lie just outside of Navan town. The walls that still stand hint at the grand, fortified home that once stood in this Irish countryside. The first tower house was built here in the 15th century and was later converted into a large Tudor home in the 17th century. In 1694, during Cromwell’s conquest in Ireland, the Maguire family who lived in the castle set it on fire in an attempt to distract his forces while they were attacking nearby Drogheda. The castle has not been restored, but many of its original architectural details are still visible.
Enjoy the Views at Dunmoe Castle
Dunmoe Castle once marked the edge of the English Pale—the area extending from Dublin where the English ruled the parts of Ireland they had managed to conquer in the Middle Ages and through the 15th century. The fortified castle here was owned by the D’Arcy family and had four defensive turrets. Today, Dunmoe Castle has been left in ruins and only two of the turrets still stand. It managed to survive Cromwell’s invasion and stood through the Battle of the Boyne but was finally destroyed by a fire during the 1798 rebellion. However, a trip out to the castle gives the visitor’s the chance to imagine what once was while taking in beautiful views of the River Boyne.
Marvel at Donaghmore Round Tower
Just a mile beyond Navan is an excellent example of an Irish round tower. The Donaghmore Round Tower sits on the site where St. Patrick is believed to have founded a monastery in the 5th century. The tower itself, which is missing its conical cap but is otherwise in excellent condition, dates back to the 10th or 11th century. Standing nearly 85 feet tall, the tower is the first landmark you will spot when approaching Donaghmore, but you will also find the ruins of a 16th-century church and a historic graveyard beneath the round tower.
The Solstice Arts Centre, run by the Meath County Council, in Navan’s premier destination for arts and culture. The modern art center hosts regular exhibitors featuring the work of local and national artists. The best time to visit is in the morning when the bright and airy Solstice Cafe is open and serving homemade breakfast items to fuel your creative curiosity.
Horse racing in Ireland is both a legal, high stakes betting sport and a major social event. Navan takes its races seriously and has a popular course that has been open since 1920. Stop by to catch a few races, place a few euros on the winner, or simply soak up the lively atmosphere while in town.
Stretch Your Legs at Blackwater Park
Navan may be one of the largest towns in Ireland but its main center is actually quite small. After exploring Navan town, take in some fresh air with a walk through Blackwater Park. The town park is situated on 66 acres along the River Blackwater and full of paved pathways for a stroll or bike ride. There is also a playground for children and weekly free 5k run through the park to keep sports enthusiasts motivated.
Fish on the River Boyne
Navan is set between the Rivers Boyne and Blackwater which is a treat for outdoor lovers. The Boyne runs through County Kildare before winding through County Offaly, past Navan in County Meath and finally into the Irish Sea in County Louth. The picturesque waterway is a popular spot for fishing for trout and salmon in summer and autumn. The area around Navan is particularly well suited for salmon fishing in the early summer and you may want to try your angling hand at catching the Irish delicacy. A fishing license is required but day permits are available if you want to get out on the river. The local angler’s association can provide more details or even suggest a guide.