How to visit the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

by Jan

The Giant’s Causeway is an awesome place to visit and features as one of the top bucket list destinations in the UK.

Even if you haven’t been, you’ll recognise this incredible landmark from the millions of photos taken every year!  However, awesome as the photos are, nothing quite beats getting up close and personal to the Giant’s Causeway yourself.

Luckily for us, we have just made our own visit to the Giant’s Causeway.  It was the highlight of a road trip along the rugged coast of Northern Ireland.  We took the Causeway Coastal Route, a 120-mile stretch of shoreline, encompassing some of Northern Ireland’s most breathtaking scenery.

When planning our road trip, we did a lot of research into the best way to see this phenomenal landmark,  So, whether you are planning a road trip or an organised tour, our guide to the Giant’s Causeway will give you all the information you need to plan your own trip to Northern Ireland’s top tourist attraction.

What is the Giant's Causeway?

People on the Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland

Firstly, let’s start by saying what the Giant’s Causeway is.

The Giant’s Causeway is a spectacular rock formation on the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland, in the UK.  This natural wonder consists of more than 40,000 interlocking basalt columns protruding from the sea, creating an incredible landscape.

Since 1986 the Giant’s Causeway has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is one of Northern Ireland’s most awe-inspiring natural attractions and attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world.

Where is the Giant's Causeway?

The Giant’s Causeway lies on the north coast of Northern Ireland, about 2 miles northeast of Bushmills.  The direct route from Belfast takes just over an hour by car, though the Causeway Coastal Route is far more scenic.  The landmark is about 3 hours’ drive from Dublin.

The postcode is BT57 8SU.  As it is Northern Ireland’s most major tourist attraction, it is well signed and easy to find.  We took a slow, laid-back route to get there, arriving on day three of our road trip.  We stopped at several other major attractions on the way, including Carrickfergus Castle, the Gobbins, and Carrick-a-Rede.

How to visit the Giant's Causeway

There are several options for visiting the Giant’s Causeway, which mostly depend on whether you have your own transport.   Some of the options are paid and some are free.

As we’d hired a car, we took a leisurely drive along the Causeway Coastal Route, which has some of the most stunning views in Britain.  However, it is easy to get there without a car too.

Here are the best ways to visit the Giant’s Causeway:

A tour from Belfast

If you don’t have a car, the easiest way to visit the Giant’s Causeway is to book a tour from Belfast or Dublin.  The group tours include luxury coach transport, a local guide, and visits to some of Northern Ireland’s most iconic locations.

The tour option saves you the hassle of public transport and means you can visit other attractions along the way.  You’ll have several choices about what else to add to your tour, including Game of Thrones filming locations.

The Giant's Causeway Visitor Experience

View of the Giant's Camel rock formation at Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland

If you prefer to visit independently you also have several choices.  The first option, which we chose, is to book a tour from the Visitor Centre.

The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre is managed by the National Trust, so this option is free to members.

The Visitor Experience includes on-site parking, entrance to the museum and a guided tour.  It starts in the Visitor Centre, where visitors can watch an introductory film.  You can also visit the museum, which has numerous exhibits about the history and geology of the stones.

You can also borrow audio-guides, which are available in different languages.

Prices for non-members

  • Adult £15   (£13.50)*
  • Child £7.50  (£6.75)*
  • Family of four £22 (£20.25)*

*off-peak prices are in brackets

If you struggle with walking, there is a minibus which transfers visitors to and from the stones for a small charge.

Two boys walking on the coastal path near Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland

After an introduction in the Visitor Centre, our ranger took us out to the Blue Route.

On the way, he stopped at key points to share the history, geology and background of the Causeway.  The Giant’s Causeway is recognised as an Area of Special Scientific Interest, so he also pointed out rare flowers and wildlife.

Our ranger was a fantastic storyteller and gave an animated version of the myths behind the stones.  Not surprisingly, we’re talking about giants!

Read on to discover the story of the two angry giants who put the Causeway on the map.

The Legend of the Giant's Causeway

Giant Stone Boot at the Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland

Local folklore claims that Giant’s Causeway is a result of a dispute between two mighty giants, Finn McCool of Ireland, and Benandonner of Scotland.

Legend has it that Finn created the Causeway by hurling rocks in the sea to get across to Scotland, where he planned to duel with his Scottish enemy.

However, when Finn realised how enormous Benandonner was, he quickly returned to Ireland.  Following a suggestion from his quick-thinking wife, Oonah, Finn disguised himself as a baby and hid in a cot.

When Benandonner arrived and saw the enormous baby, he feared for his life, assuming that Finn would be humungous. He beat a hasty retreat to Scotland, ripping up the Causeway as he left!

If you look carefully, you can still see a Giant’s boot left on the beach.

How the Giant's Causeway was formed

Stone formations at Giants Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Geologists would argue that there were no giants.  Instead, the Giant’s Causeway is the result of intense volcanic and geological activity.  It formed over 60 millions of years of successive cooling and shrinking of lava flows.

Today, you can see about thousand of pillars of interlocking hexagons.  There used to be far more, but many got ruined in the early days of tourism.

Can you walk on the Giant's Causeway?

Views from the Giants Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Yes, you can walk on the Giant’s Causeway and it’s amazing.  In fact, it’s been voted as number four in the Lonely Planet’s top 50 UK experiences.

You can’t really get a sense of how phenomenal the stones are until you are up close.  Each one is unique and as a collection they are incredible.  Although they are mostly hexagonal, on closer inspection you’ll see that not all the stones have six sides.  Some only have five or as many as eight.  When the tide is out, you’ll also be able to see some mini pools on the rocks.

Visitors can climb on the stones and explore for free. There are several top photo spots, where you’ll find people queuing for their turn.

Plus, there’s a wishing stone, where you have to rub your bottom on it three times to make a wish.

Take care, as the stones can be slippery when wet.  Visitors should wear sensible shoes.

Visiting the Giant's Causeway for free

Interlocking columns at the Giants Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

It is important to note, that you don’t have to pay to go onto the Giant’s Causeway.

If you are travelling independently, you can give the Visitor Centre a miss and walk directly to the Giant’s Causeway.  It’s free to go onto the stones.  You only have to pay if you want the Visitor Centre Experience with a guide.

However, if you’re travelling by car you’ll have to park 10 minutes’ away in the Causeway Coast Way car park.  Plus, you will have to pay £10 for parking.

Alternatively, for those without transport, you can walk along the coastal route to get to Giant’s Causeway.

Hiking Trails at the Giant's Causeway

There are three official walking routes at the Giant’s Causeway.

Blue Trail

The short Blue Trail takes visitors on the main asphalt road from the Visitor Centre to the Giant’s Causeway.  This popular route is about 1 mile and takes 25 minutes each way.

This is the road we took on the Visitors Experience.  At the top of the road, you’ll spot the boulder marking its designation as a UNESCO site.

We extended the hike by joining the Red Trail and walking to the Organ Pipes.

Coastline view of walking trails at the Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland

Red Trail

The Red Trail follows on from the blue trail but diverts up to the cliffs and car park.  You can do this trail in reverse to access the stones.  It is a 2-mile hike and fairly steep in places as it snakes up the cliff face.

Yellow Trail

The Yellow Trail is a longer, challenging trail for experience hikers.  The route follows the clifftop along the Causeway Coast Way from Runkerry Head to Hamilton’s Seat.  It is 1.8 miles and can take several hours.

Getting to the Giant's Causeway

By car

You can drive directly from Belfast in 1 hour, or use the more scenic Causeway Coastal Way.  From Dublin, the drive is about 3 hours.

By public transport

The nearest train station to the Giant’s Causeway is Coleraine, which is about 11 miles away.

If you take a train from Belfast to Coleraine, you can then get the 172 Ulster bus.

A coach tour

As I mentioned earlier, an organised coach tour is the easiest option if you don’t have a car.

The best accommodation in Bushmills

View of the water mill by river Bush, Bushmills, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

If you’re travelling independently, Bushmills is a fantastic place to stay, as it is so close to the Causeway.  We stayed for three nights, which meant we could go early to Giant’s Causeway, before the crowds arrived.

Bushmills is a pretty village, with several shops, pubs, and places to eat.  It is also home to the oldest whiskey distillery in the world, Old Bushmill’s Distillery.

The closest accommodation is the Causeway Hotel, which is located on the World Heritage Site.  If you are looking for budget accommodation in Bushmills, you could stay at Aunt Rachel’s Barn Hostel or the Finn McCools Giants Causeway Hostel.

Accommodation in Belfast

Large Titanic sign outside the Titanic Museum Belfast

Alternatively, you could do a day trip from Belfast, where you’ll find plenty of choice of accommodation.

For luxury accommodation, try The Regency or The Fitzwilliam Hotel.

For mid-range accommodation, have a look at the Hilton or Bullitt Hotel.

We stayed outside town in an amazing 2-bedroom apartment (Titanic View), which is perfect if you have a car.

Other places to visit in Northern Ireland:

There are so many fantastic places to visit near the Giant’s Causeway.  You could adventure across the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge, visit Ballycastle, or explore the medieval Dunluce Castle.

Game of Thrones fans could include a visit to the Dark Hedges or the picturesque Ballintoy Harbour.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to pick.  They are so close, you can visit them all!

We'd love to hear from you.

We’d love to hear your questions or comments below.

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