Top Tips for Visiting The Giant’s Causeway

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.

Giants Causeway Basalt Pillars

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…

The story of Finn McCool and the Giant’s Causeway

The challenge:  The story we like goes like this: Benandonner had heard of the great Finn McCool, and decided he would challenge Finn to a battle. This he did by throwing a rock over the narrow seas at Finn. The giant’s rudeness angered Finn who accepted the challenge straight away, telling Benandonner to come right over so the two of them could fight it out.

The causeway: As is usually the case with giants, Benandonner was more bark than bite, and had given the challenge just to look good.  He was of course secretly hoping Finn would refuse. Finn’s “Hey Ho! Let’s Go!” made Benandonner extremely nervous. He started making excuses. He said he had no way of getting across the sea! This infuriated Finn who tore up rocks close by and threw them into the sea, creating a rock column causeway for the giant to use. Finn shouted to the giant to stop all his bluster and get himself over the causeway without delay.

The set up: Now Finn had eaten the Salmon of Knowledge (see the sculpture in Belfast) and knew better than to actually go hand to hand with a giant. Together with his (fourth) wife Oona, they set out to fool Benandonner. Finn wrapped himself in blankets and lay down in a baby’s cradle, while Oona began cooking potato cakes, some containing iron bars.

When Benandonner arrived, Oona welcomed him in and told him that Finn had just popped out and would be returning soon. She offered him a  ‘special’ iron cake and when the giant bit into it, he screamed out as his front teeth broke. Oona looked surprised and scolded the giant telling him that he clearly wasn’t going to come off well in a fight against Finn, who ate several of these cakes every morning without problem.

The giant baby: “Why,” she exclaimed, handing a regular cake to the ‘baby’ who chomped away on the cake, “even our baby loves them!” Benandonner is said to have taken one look at the enormous hairy baby and in an instant decided that if the baby was this big, Finn could only be enormous. This was a fight he could do without. At this, the giant got up and hurried back to Scotland, kicking the stones of the causeway into the sea so that the ‘Giant’ Finn would not be able to follow him.

We presume that Finn got out of the cradle and he and Mrs McCool spent the evening by the fire, enjoying a celebratory bottle of Bushmills!

Tips on getting the most out of your trip

  1. Take walking shoes, a picnic and allow time to explore.
  2. Dress for the weather and you will enjoy your visit so much more!
  3. 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

Runkerry beach hike to Giant's Causeway
Hiking to Giant’s Causeway – Runkerry Beach
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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 .
    4. 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.
    5. Use the Bushmills Park and Ride service which runs every 20 minutes from March to October.

The Rocks

  • 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!

 

How much is entry to the Giant’s Causeway

There are several things you should know:

  • You can access the site for free so long as you are not using any of the National Trust’s facilities, including the toilets and car parks. Simply walk through the tunnel from the car park, or up the grass bank to the right of the visitor centre. The path up the grass bank takes you along the cliff top and down a path to the Giant’s Causeway.
  • The National Trust charges  £12.50/adult, £6.25/child 5+ years, or £31.25 for a family (2 adults, 3 children) with small discounts if you buy online (£1.50 on adult entry). This includes use of the car park, WC, an audio guide and access through their visitor centre/tourist shop.If you are on the tourist trail visiting several National Trust sites  (Downhill Demesne ~ 15.50/family, Carrick-a-Rede Bridge ~ £22.50/family, Castle Ward ~ £23.80/family) and especially if you live in the UK, you might want to consider  annual membership which gets you in free for all National Trust sites throughout the UK. Family membership is £126 a year, individual £72. There are also options for couples and one-parent families.

*Our site is supported by the small commission we earn from any bookings you might make on booking.com or via TripAdvisor if clicked through from our website!

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