EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
The Giant’s Causeway is the most popular – and perhaps most famous – tourist attraction in Northern Ireland. Comprised of an area of around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that protrude out of the sea, it’s a unique and breathtaking sight for visitors. The landmark is steeped in mythology and folklore, adding to the mystery of how the formation came to be.
If you are planning a vacation to Ireland, make sure you add this coastal gem to your bucket list. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986, and is also considered to be the eighth Wonder of the World by the Irish. The Giant’s Causeway is not to be missed!
Here’s everything you need to know about this Northern Ireland attraction, including the best time to visit, how to get there, where to stay, and some insight into its history.
HOW WAS THE GIANT’S CAUSEWAY FORMED?
The basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway are remarkable in their shape. They are carved into nearly perfect hexagons that interconnect with one another, a seemingly impossible creation of nature. But how were they made? It’s one of the biggest questions that makes the Giant’s Causeway a place of such mystery, attracting travelers from far and wide.
Formed almost 60 million years ago, the basalt stones were made after an ancient volcanic eruption. When molten rock was forced up through the earth’s fissures, a lava plateau was created. The fracture pattern at cooling surface propagated down the lava as it cooled, causing long, geometric columns. What we see today, is a series of 40,000 hexagonal stepping stones.
But science didn’t play a part in investigating natural causes until the late 18th Century. For hundreds and hundreds of years, it was believed that the rocks were built by supernatural forces. For many, the question still remains. Whether it’s simple science or really the work of giants, the landscape is certainly magical.
WHAT DO GIANTS HAVE TO DO WITH THE STONES?
The Giant’s Causeway takes its name from the legend of Finn MacCool, a giant from the Fenian Cycle of Gaelic mythology. According to urban tales, the columns are the remains of a walkway built by the Irish giant himself.
After Scottish the giant Benandonner challenges him to a fight and threatens to take over Ireland, an angry Finn takes chunks of rock from the Antrim Coast and propels them into the sea. Eventually, the rocks form a causeway and Finn attempts to face his enemy.
However, after a grueling fight, Finn retreats from the vicious Benandonner and returns home to hide. Finn’s quick-thinking wife now steps in to save the day, disguising Finn as a baby. When Benandonner sees the size of the baby, he realizes that the father must be even bigger, so runs back to Scotland.
HOW TO GET TO THE GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
The attraction is located in Country Antrim, along the north coast. It’s about three miles northeast of the town of Bushmills. There are regular trains running from Belfast or Londonderry to Coleraine, where the Ulsterbus Service 172 can take you to the bay.
If you’re planning on getting vehicle hire in Ireland, you will find the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre on the B147 Causeway Road.
The Bushmills Park and Ride Car Park (opposite the Bushmills Inn Hotel) is the best place to park when visiting the Giant’s Causeway. By parking here, you will get a £1.50 discount on your Visitor Centre ticket.
If you do not plan to use the Visitor Centre, simply park up and walk to the Giant’s Causeway. It is free to visit.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
The Giant’s Causeway is free to visit. However, if you decide to use the Visitor Centre, charges will apply.
Adult – £11 online / £12.50 standard
Child – £5.50 online / £6.75 standard
Family ticket – £27.50 online / £31.25 standard
The price of admission will include access to the Visitor Centre, use of the outdoor audio guide, an orientation leaflet, and parking. There will be an additional charge to use the shuttle bus.
Under 5s go free, and so do members of the National Trust. It is also possible to book a special Giant’s Causeway Clifftop Experience for £35.00, which is a guided walk where you can see undiscovered views of the coastline.
HOW LONG DO YOU NEED?
There are different paths and tours available at the Giant’s Causeway, so the amount of time needed to see the columns will vary. It is entirely up to you how much time you spend walking around, but most people allow at least two hours.
You will need to factor in the 20 minute walk from the car park to the bridge if you do not use the shuttle service. For those wanting to spend time in the Visitor Centre, you will need a bit more time.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT?
The best time to year to plan your visit is during the summer months. Positioned right on the open oceans, the weather is always quite windy. If you would prefer to avoid the crowds, a vacation during the shoulder months such as late spring or early fall would be ideal.
When it comes to time of day, go very early or late as the attraction tends to get busy between 11am and 3pm. Stay overnight close by, so you can get there as soon as it opens in the morning, or make your trip at sunset.
WHAT TO WEAR
Wind and rain can be frequent by the coast, so bring waterproof and windproof clothing is a must. Even if it’s a mild day in Belfast or Londonderry, the climate can quickly change by the time you reach the Causeway Coastline.
Due to the cold winds, a hat or hood is also recommended. Also, remember to wear comfortable walking shoes. The rocks have an uneven surface, and can sometimes be slippery. High heels, sandals or flip flops are not suitable.
PLACES TO STAY NEARBY / THINGS TO DO
If you want to make sure you can get there early in the morning, it’s recommended that you stay nearby. But it’s also easy to get to from other major towns and cities in Northern Ireland. Here are some of the places where you can stopover:
Located just a few minutes from the Visitor Centre, the village of Bushmills is the perfect place to stay overnight if you are planning a Giant’s Causeway vacation. It has a number of great cafes, pubs and restaurants, and is also close to Bushfoot Golf Club. From the Bushmills Park and Ride Car Park, visitors can also use the paid shutter service to get to the coast, so this is definitely the most convenient place to book accommodation.
The small town of Ballycastle is one of the most beautiful places to stay in County Antrim. It is best known for its stunning beach, which sits on the most north-eastern tip of the island. It is also part of the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and is home to a number of attractions including Kinbane Castle and the Bonamargy Friary ruins. If you stay here, you can also get to Fair Head, a massive cliff with amazing views, coastal walks and rock climbing activities.
Portrush is a small but popular seaside resort town, located less than 20 minutes away. You can reach the attraction by car or bus, and taxis are affordable costing around £21 – £26 one way. The gorgeous Portrush Whiterocks Beach is a scenic, recreational stretch of sand, suitable for families and children. Surrounded by limestone cliffs and caves, it’s perfect for a day out. If the weather is good, you can take part in watersports, and there are some great picnic and sunset spots along the coastline.
The large town of Coleraine is ideally located, with easy access onto the A37 and A2 to Londonderry, the A26 towards Belfast and Lisburn, and the A29 southbound. Making it a good base for travelers looking to explore other towns and cities in Northern Ireland or beyond. It is located near the mouth of the River Bann, and is around 22 minutes away from the Causeway. If you’re looking for a picturesque beach with swimming and surfing, don’t miss Portstewart Strand which is less than 15 minutes by car. Other attractions include the Mount Sandel Mesolithic site, the Mussenden Temple, Downhill House, and Christie Park.
From the Northern Irish capital, there are a number of ways to reach the Giant’s Causeway. By car, it’s just over an hour. But it’s also possible to take the train or bus. The city is also home to a number of tour operators, so you can book a driven tour excursion. Belfast is one of the most popular places for visitors to stay during their vacation, because it offers so much choice in terms of restaurants and nightlife, shopping, attractions and other amenities.
During your stay, don’t miss the Titanic Belfast Museum, the beautiful Belfast City Hall, Belfast Castle, the Botanic Gardens, Crumlin Road Gaol, Cavehill, Carrickfergus Castle, and St. George’s Market.
Famed for the intact 17th Century Derry’s Walls and its seven gates, this is a great city destination for history fans. Within the walls, there is a striking spired cathedral, displaying artefacts from the 1688–9 Siege of Derry. By the Peace Bridge, the Tower Museum offers the most spectacular city views and features unique exhibits. Other attractions to add to your sightseeing schedule are the Guildhall, the Free Derry Corner, The Museum of Free Derry, The Siege Museum, and the Bogside neighbourhood.
EATING AND DRINKING
You won’t go hungry when you book your trip to this famous attraction. Here are some great places to eat when visiting the Giant’s Causeway:
Giant’s Causeway Grab & Go Café
Enjoy a selection of freshly made food and snacks at the café inside the Visitor Centre. Traditional dishes will be on offer, including Irish stew and North Coast seafood chowder. There’s also free WiFi connection. To access this café, you will need to pay the Visitor Centre admission.
A delightful pub and restaurant located right at the entrance. This is one of the most popular places to grab lunch or dinner after your coastal walk. The menu features tasty plates made from fresh produce, sourced locally wherever possible. There are both seafood and vegetarian specials available daily.
Located next door to the Visitor Centre, the Causeway Hotel is another convenient place to eat. It’s been newly refurbished, and has a warm and welcoming environment suitable for families or groups. There’s a bar area and a separate dining space, and morning coffee / breakfast will be available from 9:30am. The Irish stew, chunky chowder with wheaten bread, and fish ‘n’ chips are big favorites.
Bushmills Inn Restaurant
If you have parked at the Bushmills Park and Ride, stop off at the Bushmills Inn for a bite to eat. This four star, luxury boutique hotel features a restaurant that overlooks a pretty garden courtyard and a menu that blends old and new. Enjoy a twist on classical Irish cuisine, with each plate crafted from traditional roots but with a contemporary edge. They always used locally sourced ingredients, promising to deliver a true taste of Antrim and around.
GIANT’S CAUSEWAY VISITOR TIPS
- Take the mountain trail (red trail)
Most visitors walk straight through the tunnel and down to the Causeway when they arrive. But there is a trail that offers spectacular views from the mountain top. This route gives you the best vistas across the World Heritage Site and the Atlantic Ocean. This is marked as a more difficult trail, but it is not overly challenging and can be easily accomplished by all ages.
- Visit in the off-season
As one of the most well-known attractions in Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway attracts a lot of crowds. Travel out of season (in fall or winter) and you will have much better views. Just keep an eye on the weather forecast and choose a clear day.
- Walk the Causeway Coast Way – if you’re interested in long-distance hiking, take the Causeway Coast Way. This route connects Portstewart with Ballycastle, passing through the Giant’s Causeway and covers a total of 33 miles. Many people like to do just a small section of the trail, stopping at the many pubs and seafront cafes along the way.