If the last two years, while international travel has been turned on its head, hasn’t encouraged us all to discover what’s on our doorstep and appreciate everything Ireland offers, we’re not sure what will.
The Boyne Valley, being less than an hour’s drive from Dublin, primes itself perfectly as a spot for seamless day trips from the capital whilst also a well-connected destination for overnight breaks promising delicious food, incredible heritage and culture and craic in abundance.
As the name suggests, the Boyne Valley traces the River Boyne as it meanders across two counties, Louth and Meath, in Ireland’s Ancient East. Whether you head northwards from Drogheda to Dundalk and Carlingford tracing the coast to 'Sea Louth’ and experience all the littlest county has to offer, or weave your way around the historic hills finding dotted treasures in Navan, Slane or Kells in the ‘Royal County’ of Meath, the Boyne Valley has something to entice everyone.
As ambassadors of the local Boyne Valley Flavours grouping of food and drinks producers and hospitality providers, we’re well placed to recommend the highlights of our home region, from glamping stays and neighbourhood bistros to shellfish feasts and historic castle distilleries.
Come and Sea Louth
In Bettystown, on the short Co. Meath coastline, The Cottages offer a unique seaside retreat: a collection of six 300 year old thatch-roofed cottages run by Roger and Liz Pickett with vaulted oak beams, farmhouse kitchens and feature fireplaces.
Each looks out on the beach and sit surrounded by pristine flower gardens. The Lime Kiln in Julianstown is a great stop for lunch and to pick up some local provisions in their adjoining store and deli before making your way to Drogheda.
In Drogheda, a great spot to book in for a stay is Scholar’s Townhouse, a street back from the town centre set in an 1800’s former monastery turned lavishly eclectic townhouse hotel by the McGowan family boasting both a finer white table-clothed restaurant and a more relaxed hunt-style bar.
Brunch and coffee at Five Good Things is great, and the setting on St. Laurence Street is even better –– intertwined with the Highlanes Gallery, a visual arts space set stunningly in a former Franciscan church and friary a stone's throw from St. Laurence’s Gate, the 13th century Barbican which acts as an emblem of the town paired with Millmount on the other side of the Boyne which dates slightly earlier.
Looking for a great cup of coffee? Seek out Ariosa, West Gate Coffee Shop or The Coffee Box, and try resist the fresh buns and cakes at The Moorland Cafe. For homemade Italian try Simona Cafe or for brasserie vibes with a little Eastern European inspiration try The Passion.
As Ireland's largest town there’s no shortage of pubs to choose between for a night cap. Uniquely, Drogheda is also home to Ireland’s first gin school –– Listoke Distillery in Tinure, where you can learn all about the art of distilling and distill your very own bottle with your choice of botanicals in a half-day experience.
Further up the Co. Louth coast, you’ll find the legendary fish and chips at Fisherman’s Catch on Clogherhead pier. Psst… Local secret: the fish shop next door sometimes has freshly-made, piping hot fish chowder –– ask at the counter, unbeatable on a cold day!
In Clogherhead itself, Smuggler's Rest is also a great restaurant to drop in to for seafood, steaks and gourmet burgers. In Dunleer, Cafe Twenty Twenty is worth a stop-off the M1 for coffee and treats whilst in Annagassan a seafood and shellfish feast awaits in The Glyde Inn.
A picture perfect old school pub at the front and more modern, expansive restaurant towards the back (with great seaside views and terrace) this award-winning Inn is the main attraction in a small town with a big Viking heritage. Check sealouth.ie for more information on a new coastal trail and collect-your-stamps passport finding scenic viewpoints and places to eat.
Finally, making your way to the northern reaches of Louth, explore Dundalk from the coastal suburb of Blackrock (check out Cafe Rock Salt!) right up to the charming Carlingford with its incredible oysters and activity centre all in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains.
An Táin Arts Centre in the town always has something interesting on, from plays and talks to film screenings and stand-up. Another great stop is the Louth County Museum, with The Townhouse restaurant just steps away for a delicious update on bistro classics like surf and turf and cauliflower wings.
Likewise, The Spotted Dog is a wonderful spot serving hearty breakfast, brunch and lunch all week and a contemporary take on classics at dinner Thursday-Saturday weekly. Celebrating a decade in business is café 23 Seats whilst Russell’s Saloon is a great spot for drinks*.
A must-try (make that a must-book, as tables are limited) is Square Restaurant, led by talented chef Conor Halpenny.
A Louth native and winner of the prestigious Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year in 2017, Halpenny deftly commands a tiny kitchen in his neighbourhood bistro which we’re sure the Michelin Guide is sniffing out for an accolade.
The food is refined and fine-casual with each dish celebrating the local larder as much as possible. If staying overnight in Dundalk, check out the Fairways Hotel, fresh from a regeneration and designer overhaul in 2019.
Meander Through Mighty Meath
If exploring deep into the Meath countryside, start by making your way to the pretty village of Slane, also the birthplace of poet Francis Ledwidge.
Drop in to Slane Distillery, makers of Slane Whiskey, set on the resplendent grounds of Slane Castle (more popularly known as the setting of iconic concerts in recent decades) led by Henry Mountcharles' son Alex Conyngham and learn the brand’s story and have a taste on a weekend tour or a tutored tasting, like their signature Irish coffee.
In and around Slane you’ll find great food in the likes of Inside Out, Brabazon at Tankardstown House and family-run bistro No. 3 Collon.
When in Slane and looking for a place to rest your head, the 18th century coaching inn Conyngham Arms has long been a popular overnight spot but for something a little different, try glamping at Rock Farm Slane.
A luxury eco-glamping operation with yurts, shepherd’s huts and bell tents on a working farm overlooking the Boyne and Slane Castle.
Available April to November annually, it’s a unique way to truly immerse yourself in the peaceful and beautiful Boyne landscape.
If visiting on a Thursday, the Slane Farmer’s Market takes place at Rock Farm (11am - 4pm) showcasing the food of the immediate region, with lots of organic meat and vegetables from the adjoining farm and many of the food producers locally meeting their customers and selling their wares - from cheese and cakes to breads and ciders.
Don’t miss the food stalls from Jeni Glasgow (formerly of Eastern Seaboard), Lu Thornely’s Chaat Indian Street Food cart as well as hand-rolled ice cream from Silly Sid’s, whose milk is sourced from their own family farm in Newgrange.
In Kilmessan visit The Station House Hotel, and if staying over you're in for a treat, welcomed by warm scones and tea served with owner Thelma’s homemade jam.
Thelma and Chris Slattery have spent 40 years running the hotel which in a previous life was a passenger train station and now sits on 12 acres of manicured gardens.
Chef Gordon Mooney leads the Signal Restaurant and aside from the a la Carte menu regularly celebrating local producers as suppliers, they host monthly Boyne Valley Dinners offering a tasting menu (€80pp approx.) of the region.
In the county town of Navan, stop by Bakealicious, a small bakery and cafe on Old Cornmarket run by Eimear Reynolds. Aside from all the usual indulgent treats like doughnuts, brownies, cupcakes and eclairs the bakery also offers a good variety of vegan, gluten-free and spelt flour bakes. Find sandwiches and toasties too.
Another bakery and cafe nearby is Earl’s Kitchen whilst if looking for something delicious, local and family-friendly, seven days a week, visit The Central –– which has a sister site The Bective in Kells.
Outside Navan, one of the best gastropubs in Ireland has to be The Cross Guns, run by Dermot McDonnell which through a combination of an eclectic interior and a stand-out menu means this spot is more a destination than a pit-stop.
The Headfort Arms popularly anchors the town of Kells with rooms, events spaces and both the Kelltic Bar and Vanilla Pod restaurant adjoining. Grab coffee in 2Brew or a bite in BookMarket Cafe. Outside Kells (and technically in Westmeath) is a little known gem in the form of Killua Castle, a historic house and demense which has been painstakingly restored over the last 20 years by Lorena and Allen Krause where they also produce a celebrated range of venison.
The grounds are open for public visits and walks on Saturdays. Finally, just inching on the Cavan border is the headquarters of Sheridans Cheesemongers, run by brothers Seamus and Kevin Sheridan, and a temple to all things cheese, condiments, charcuterie, wines and cupboard staples, alongside a cafe menu with great coffee. On Saturdays they host a small producer’s market, 10am -3pm.