This article is part of our Trip Report, A Summer Holiday in Ireland & Scotland.
For years, Giant’s Causeway had been a bucket list destination for me. It’s a geological formation on the far northern coast of Northern Ireland, made up of hexagon-shaped stone pillars (basalt columns). The unusual geology was the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption, with the columns presumably being formed when the lava cooled quickly, causing it to fracture into the hexagonal columns. Or maybe, the columns are the remains of a causeway to Scotland, built by the mythological Irish giant Finn MacCool. Either way, I was fascinated by the pictures I’d seen of Giant’s Causeway, and I longed to visit someday.
And when I got there, Giant’s Causeway did not disappoint. It is spectacular.
Where Is Giant’s Causeway?
As we mentioned, Giant’s Causeway is on the far northern coast of Northern Ireland, on the coast of the North Atlantic Ocean, in County Antrim. It’s a little over an hour drive from Belfast, and about a 3-hour drive from Dublin.
One of the challenges with Giant’s Causeway is that it’s far away from many of the other things you’ll want to do in Ireland, which are mostly toward the south and west portions of the Irish isle. Thus, it’s hard to fit into a one-week trip to Ireland. I’ll say, though, that it’s well worth your time to go up there. If I was only going to spend a week of my life in Ireland, I would move heaven and earth to make sure my itinerary included Giant’s Causeway, regardless of the logistical challenges it may present.
How Do I Visit Giant’s Causeway?
The area around Giant’s Causeway is held by the National Trust, a charity founded in the late 1800’s to preserve special places in the United Kingdom. The Trust maintains a beautiful Visitor Centre that sits atop a cliff overlooking the Causeway. Giant’s Causeway is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, having been given that designation in 1986.
Some details of visiting Giant’s Causeway and the Visitor Centre are:
- Giant’s Causeway official website (definitely check this out before you go): https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway
- Location of the Visitor Centre: It’s just off of Causeway Road. If you’re approaching from Belfast (that is, from the southeast), you’ll make a right turn off of Causeway Road where marked, and another right into the parking lot. The official address is 44 Causeway Rd, Bushmills BT57 8SU, UK
- Cost of Admission to the Visitor Center & Experience: On-site, it’s 11.50 pounds for adults, and 5.75 pounds for children. There is also a “Family” ticket available for 28.75 pounds. You can save a few pounds by purchasing tickets in advance online. The advance online prices are 10 pounds for adults, 5 pounds for children, and 25 pounds for a “Family” ticket. A Family ticket is good for 2 adults and up to 3 children, so it’ll save you some money if you have 2 adults and either 2 or 3 children.
- What are the hours of the Visitor Centre? Hours vary by month. Here are the opening times for 2018, from March forward:
- March/April/May – 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
- June/July/August/September – 9:00 am to 7:00 pm
- October – 9:00 pm to 6:00 pm
- November/December – 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
- Closed December 24, 25 and 26
- Last admission to the Visitor Centre is one hour before closing
PRO TIP: You don’t actually have to pay to visit Giant’s Causeway. The paid-admission tickets at Giant’s Causeway are for the Visitor Centre & Experience. However, walking the trails, including the trail down to the coastline to explore the columns, is free. Trails are open from dawn until dusk every day. That said, the official website says that onsite parking is reserved for paid visitors to the Visitor Centre.
You’ll see below that we arrived late; at that hour, we actually parked at the Visitor Centre for free and had no problems. I don’t think that’s normally the case. Reading online, I see some people saying that you can park to the left of the Visitor Centre, near the Causeway Hotel for free. I’m not sure if that’s correct, but that’s what I read. Also, if you’re not going into the Visitor Centre but want to park legitimately in its lot, you could drop off the passengers nearby (perhaps at “The Nook” restaurant on Causeway Road) and have the driver go down, purchase one paid admission, and park.
It’s a bit of a hike from the Visitor Centre down to the columns on the coast, a bit over 3/4 of a mile one-way. It’s easy getting there, as the walk is downhill, but of course it’s uphill on the way back with an elevation gain of a few hundred feet. If you don’t want to make the hike, there are shuttle buses operated by Translink that will take you down and back up for a modest fare.
Our Visit to Giant’s Causeway
We had a most interesting visit to Giant’s Causeway. It certainly wasn’t the normal way to go, but it was fun, interesting, and importantly, not at all crowded.
On the day we visited Giant’s Causeway, we had started our day in Edinburgh. We took a mid-afternoon flight from Edinburgh to Belfast (BFS) on EasyJet. The flight was a little delayed and it took some time to pick up our rental car at the airport, so it was around 5:00 pm or a little after when we headed out of BFS airport toward Giant’s Causeway.
We arrived at the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre around 6:00 pm, parked in the Visitor Centre parking lot, and headed toward the Centre. If you remember the “hours” information from above, you’ll recall that the Centre closes at 7:00 pm, but last admission is one hour before closing. So, we couldn’t get in. We didn’t know beforehand, but at this point we realized that we could hike the trails for free. And, it being June 11 at 55 degrees N latitude, we had plenty of daylight left.
Thus, we walked down to the Causeway and got to visit when there were very few people around. This was great. Honestly, if I could do it all over again on a blank slate, I’d actually choose this time of day. I might arrive a little earlier to see the Visitor Centre, which we completely missed this time. But the late hour meant no crowds, and once we ventured away from the columns to hike up and along the cliffs, we had the trails to ourselves.
Once we got to the coast, we spent a long time leisurely exploring the coastline, the columns, and the formations. We climbed all over the rocks and walked along the water’s edge. And of course we took some pictures.
I could have stayed at the Causeway for hours, marveling at the beauty and magnificence of it all. It would have been very nice to sit amongst the columns and enjoy a picnic if we’d thought ahead enough to do that.
During our visit, it was cool but not cold, around 60 degrees, it was breezy but not uncomfortably windy, and there was no rain.
As we worked our way down the coast, we noticed a trail that turned to the right and went up to the cliffs above us, so we decided to take it. This was a moderately strenuous hike that included a lot of stairs. Once we got to the top, we continued along a trail along the cliff’s edge and circled back to the parking lot at the Visitors Centre. The cliff-top hike gave us some fabulous dramatic views looking back across the Causeway formations and over the ocean.
In total, we spent 2½ to 3 hours at Giant’s Causeway, including our hike. Afterwards, we drove back into Belfast for the night. I certainly could have stayed longer at one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever visited.
Another Nearby Attraction – the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
The one other thing we wanted to do near Giant’s Causeway was to walk across the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The Rope Bridge is about 3 miles/5 km east of the Causeway Visitor Centre. It’s also owned and maintained by the National Trust. Unfortunately, we arrived at the Rope Bridge far too late and were not able to cross it.
The Rope Bridge connects the mainland to the small island of Carrickarede. It spans about 70 feet and is a dizzying 98 feet above the rocks and narrow sea passage below. Prices for the Rope Bridge are 8 pounds for adults, 4 pounds for children, and 20 pounds for a “family” tickets. Be sure to check the Carrick-a-Rede page on the National Trust website for opening hours, and note that the last tickets to cross the bridge are sold 45 minutes before closing time.
Wasn’t Giant’s Causeway Also One of the All-Time Great Racehorses?
Yes, he was, thanks for asking. Owned by Sue Magnier & Michael Tabor and trained by Aidan O’Brian, the great Giant’s Causeway raced 13 times, with 9 wins and 4 second-place finishes at the very highest level of competition. He was the European champion in 2000 and amassed more than $3 million in earnings. In his final race, Giant’s Causeway came to the US for the Breeders Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, where he engaged in a stirring stretch duel with American champion Tiznow, falling just short of victory in the United States’ richest race. He also went on to become a highly successful sire.
Giant’s Causeway was a great champion indeed, as impressive as his namesake location.Have you been to Giant’s Causeway? Did you enjoy it as much as we did? And do you have other insights or tips to help out Middle Age Miles readers? Please let us know in the Comments!
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