Getting there, entry fees, what to expect and a wee story about a giant
The Giant’s Causeway is probably Northern Ireland’s most famous tourist destination and it is certainly worth a visit.
Many people pop in to visit the Giant’s Causeway as part of their multi-stop Causeway Coastal Route Tour. We believe that the best way to enjoy the site is to stop a while so that you can walk around, take in the views and soak up the atmosphere.
We recommend parking away from the site and making your journey to the Giant’s Causeway part of the experience. This could include walking in along the cliffs from Portballintrae, or taking the heritage train from Bushmills. See more below.
Worth a visit – 92% of visitors on TripAdvisor ranked Giant’s Causeway as Very good (21%) or Excellent (71%)
What to expect
- The famous hexagonal stones make up three promentories jutting into the Atlantic ocean, and cover an area smaller than a football field, which doesn’t seem that large, but the setting is magnificent. Even on a stormy day, you should still get some decent photos for sharing back home.
- Surprisingly (for such a heritage site) but thankfully for the intrepid visitor, you can clamber out over the stones. This can be a bit tricky, especially in the wet, and will require parental supervision and hand holding for visitors with younger children. Staff are on hand to prevent people from going too close to the ocean edge, you are free to go where you please.
- The National Trust manage the site and operate a visitor centre at the cliff top with a car park. It takes 20 minutes to walk down to the site from the visitor centre on the direct route. There is a shuttle bus operated by UlsterBus which charges £1 per person.
- There are no facilities at the site itself.
- The National Trust charge an ‘entry fee’ which gives you access to an audio guide, the carpark, toilets, a café and a missable exhibition. You can also access the site legitimately for free by foregoing all of the above. See the box below discussing entry fees.
The Giant’s Causeway and Finn McCool
Finn McCool was a semi-mythical warrior who possessed all the knowledge of the world, a toolkit of magical swords and outstanding warrior powers. Through his lifetime he had many adventures which, amongst other things included rescuing kings and defeating goblins and beasts from the otherworld. Some consider him the protector of Ireland and believe that he sleeps in a cave, awaiting the day when he will awake and return to save Ireland in its darkest hour!
In this context, Finn’s battle of wits with the Scottish Giant Benandonner was just a regular day at work…
Tips on getting the most out of your trip
- Take walking shoes, a picnic and allow time to explore.
- Dress for the weather and you will enjoy your visit so much more!
- Walk beyond the main tourist area, up the slope to what looks like a giant church organ and beyond this to a viewing platform that looks down into an ‘amphitheatre’. On your return take the path that heads up to the top of the cliff, and return to the visitor centre along the cliff path. Or do the journey in reverse.
Getting there is part of the experience
- Take a train ride to the Giant’s Causeway on the narrow-gauge steam heritage train from Bushmills. The train operates 6 departures a day in July-August with a limited schedule the rest of the year. Car-parking is free. If you can’t get a train, you can walk from here. See below.
- Hike/walk to the Giant’s Causeway from Portballintrae, or from the Bushmills Heritage railway station where there is free parking (note that car parking is only free at the Bushmills station, not the Giant’s Causeway terminus). This is a gorgeous beach and cliff top walk with the Giant’s Causeway as your goal. You can take the longer coastal route along the cliff edge one way, and return via a more direct route following the train track. 7–10km round trip. You can extend this hike by starting out from Dunluce Castle.
- If all that walking is not your style, consider either staying or having a meal at the olde worldey National Trust-managed Causeway Hotel* which is cliff top and next to the visitor centre. Overnight visitors can park for free and get complimentary access to the visitor centre. If you are just planning to eat, check first (Tel: +44 (28) 2073 1210) as it is sometimes fully booked up with an event .
- Ulster Busses 172/ 402 / 402a run services between Coleraine and Ballycastle, passing Giant’s Causeway and other Causeway Coast sites. Download the timetable (PDF) or use the Ulster Bus Journey planner.
- Use the Bushmills Park and Ride service which runs every 20 minutes from March to October.
- The area of typically six-sided pillars at the Giant’s Causeway was formed by vertical and horizontal cracking in the cooling lava that covered the area some 50-60 million years ago.
- Here is a video that explains it all, courtesy of the National Trust
- There are approximately 40,000 pillars creating three promontories into the sea. The tallest columns are 12m in height.
- Similar structures are found in Scotland on the Island of Staffa at Fingal’s Cave, said to be the other end of the Giant’s Causeway.
- Hexagonal rock structures like this also occur in other parts of the world, but they don’t have a giant!
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