Giant's Causeway Day Trip
If you love the outdoors, a Giant’s Causeway day trip is an unforgettable Northern Ireland experience. At the UNESCO World Heritage Site in County Antrim, visitors can hear the legend of Finn McCool and learn about the park’s unique geology. Out on the trail, there are cliffs to hike and columns of 60-million-year-old basalt rock to climb. Use our travel blog to learn everything you need to know about visiting the hauntingly beautiful seascapes of the Giant’s Causeway.
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WHERE IS GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
Giant’s Causeway (Irish: Clochán an Aifir) is located on the northern coast of Northern Ireland. The Causeway is in the village of Bushmills in Antrim County. It is found along the Causeway Coastal Route about 61 miles north of Belfast. The physical address is: 44 Causeway Road, Bushmills, County Antrim, BT57 8SU.
WHAT IS THE GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
The Giant’s Causeway is a 4-mile stretch on land that lies between a ridge of cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean. It is a region of remarkable geographical significance where some 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns push up out of the sea. These columns give the appearance of pavement or stepping stones and have given rise to legends of giants using the stones as massive building blocks.
Northern Ireland has declared the area a National Nature Reserve and it is one of the most visited parks in the UK. Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is managed by the National Trust. At the park there is a network of trails running along the cliffs and seashore. A Visitor’s Center offers guided tours, audio tours, and a shuttle to bring visitors to some of the most stunning sections of park.
HOW WAS THE GIANT’S CAUSEWAY FORMED
The hexagonal blocks and basalt columns of Giant’s Causeway were forged between 50 and 60 million years ago. During this era North America was breaking away from Europe, and gaps in the Earth’s surface were filled with molten rock. Cycles of volcanic eruptions and cooling lava resulted in layers of basalt (dark, fine grain rock rich in minerals). These cooling layers cracked in even patterns resulting in the symmetrical formations we see today.
WHY IS IT CALLED GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
County Antrim legend has it that the area was once home to a giant named Finn McCool (Irish: Fionn mac Cumhaill). Finn’s nemesis, a giant named Benandonner, lived across the Irish Sea in Scotland. In order to confront Benadonner, one day Finn built a road across the sea from the stepping stones along the coast. After a fierce battle, Finn returned home and Benandonner ripped up the path – resulting in the Giant’s Causeway.
In another local myth, Finn builds the causeway to his love across the sea. In a gruesome twist of fate both Finn and his grandmother die in the telling of this fable. Around the nature reserve there are rocks and bays named for Finn (and his granny).
DESIGNATION AS A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
In 1986, the Giant’s Causeway was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The declaration was based on two main criteria: 1) The massive basalt columns running along the coast are an area of exceptional natural beauty; and 2) The site’s columns have been crucial in furthering the understanding of Earth’s geological history.
IS IT WORTH VISITING GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
The Giant’s Causeway is one of those special places where pictures do not do the site justice. The Causeway’s cliffs, bays, and crashing surf are spectacular. Up close, the geometric columns of basalt rock have a striking, other-worldly appearance. Standing by sea contemplating the neat rows of rock extending into the Atlantic Ocean, one cannot help but be in awe of nature’s choreography.
Combine the beauty of the Giant’s Causeway with the National Trust’s strong commitment to maintain the integrity of the site, and a Giant's Causeway day trip is worth every vacation minute you devote to it. Giant’s Causeway is an international treasure.
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
Season: The Giant’s Causeway is an outdoor park. Visitors are exposed to the wind, rain, sun, and other elements of the northern Atlantic Ocean while onsite. The rainiest, coldest months to visit are October through January. The busiest months are July and August. April, May, June, and September are recommended as the best time to visit Giant’s Causeway.
Best Time of Day: Most day tours from Belfast and other cities will arrive onsite and tour between 11am and 3pm. Therefore, it is recommended to arrive before 11 or after 3 for the most relaxing experience.
NEED TO KNOW INFORMATION
Pro Tip: It is free to walk the Giant’s Causeway. Visitors can park off site and walk to the Causeway on foot at no charge (except for parking). Visitors who do not wish a guided tour, audio tour, or to use the shuttle can bypass the Visitor’s Centre and walk the road to the Giant’s Causeway. There are toilets on the outside of the Visitor Centre for those who choose to walk the site for free.
Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre: At the entry to the Giant’s Causeway there is a Visitor Center and car park. The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Center offers historical and geological exhibits, a café, gift shop, and rest rooms. It is where visitors meet for guided tours and/or pick up of audio tour equipment. The Centre is a about a mile from the Giant’s Causeway. Guests can hike the distance. Or, with the purchase of a Visitor Experience Ticket, take a shuttle to the site.
Visitor Experience Tickets: The purchase of a Visitor Experience Ticket gives visitors access to reserved on-site parking, on-the-hour guided tours, audio equipment for self-guided tours, and access to Centre exhibits as well as the café, gift shop, and rest rooms. Visitors are strongly encouraged to pre-book tickets through the Centre’s online portal to reduce queue times. Tickets are timed and visitors are asked to arrive within a 30-minute window. After entry, guests may stay as long as they like.
Giant’s Causeway Tickets: Prices vary throughout the year. For the 2023 season adult tickets range from $13.50 Euro to $15.00 Euros; Children $6.75 Euros to $7.50 Euros.
Giant's Causeway Parking: The purchase of a Visitor Experience Ticket includes reserved parking in the car park outside of the Visitor Centre. For those who choose not to buy a ticket, walkers can park in the Causeway Coastal Route Car Park (.3 miles away) for around $10.00 Euros on a Pay-By-Phone system. Or, park in Bushmills (about 2 miles away) and walk or take a bus to the site. Pro Tip: Do not park on the side of the road or risk being “clamped” and fined.
Giant’s Causeway Hours: Vary throughout the year. The Causeway is generally open from dawn to dusk; and the car park and Visitor Centre from 9am to 6pm.
MUST-SEE SITES AT GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
Camel Rock: Legend dictates that the camel was giant Finn McCool’s main means of transport. Science tells us that the formation is basaltic rock that formed a natural dyke while cooling.
Clifftop Trails: Exiting the Visitor Centre visitors will find a series of trails that run along the coast and the cliffs above the causeway. The trails are of varying lengths and difficulties. The red, yellow, blue, and green trails offer dramatic views of the Giant’s Causeway and Northern Ireland coast. Trail maps can be obtained in the Visitor Center. Guests may also book a 5-mile Clifftop Experience hike.
Giant’s Boot: In Port Noffer bay there is a path that leads to the sea where visitors will find a (rock) boot, size 93.5, that is reputed to have once belonged to Finn McCool. (Finn lost it as he fled from the Scottish giant, Benandonner.)
Grand Causeway: The Grand Causeway is the biggest of three sections of basalt columns that make up the Giant’s Causeway. It is about mid-way along the paved park road.
Wishing Chair: The wishing chair is another natural rock formation on-site. Visitors sit in the chair, which some liken to a throne, and make a wish while staring out at the sea.
Visitor Centre: The Visitor Centre building itself is a site to behold. The building has won several awards for its design and sustainability concepts. Inside the Centre there are imaginative, educational exhibits which add to the overall experience of the day.
The Visitor Centre has maps marking the trails around the Causeway. We recommend you pick up a map and audio guide before heading outside to the Causeway. Exiting the Visitor Centre on the park side there are large signs denoting roads and trails along the Causeway:
Blue Trail: The Blue Trail is a sloping paved road with a sidewalk that links the Visitor Centre to the Giant’s Causeway. On this trail you will walk parallel with the shore and pass Portnabo Bay, Port Ganny, and Port Noffer. You can veer off the Blue Trail to tide pool, scramble over rocks, and see the Giant’s Boot and Wishing Chair. You can walk the Blue Trail both ways. Or if you are short on time, walk it one way and take the shuttle bus the other.
Pro Trip: It is mostly downhill from the Visitor Center to the Shuttle drop-off, and uphill on the way back.
Red Trail: (Recommended Route) For a truly spectacular outing, leaving the Visitor Center take the Red Trail (on the right). This path will slope upwards and take you along the edge of cliffs that follow the coastline. With farmer’s fields on one side, and the crashing Atlantic surf on the other, the dramatic views are unmatched. When you get to the Shepard’s Steps, walk 162 steps downhill. At the bottom of the flight, turn left on the trail and walk downhill until you are at shore level. Then, take the Blue Trail along the coast back to the Centre (around 2.5-miles).
Shuttle Bus: If you are short on time, have small children, or have mobility impaired individuals in your group, take the shuttle bus back and forth to the Causeway. The shuttle bus is fully accessible. It takes the paved road from the Visitor Centre about 1.25 miles down to the Giant’s Causeway (the area between Port Ganny and Port Noffer) where there is a turn around. Visitors can exit the bus at the turnaround, and walk or wheel around the site.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A DAY AT GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
Be in tune with the weather and dress appropriately: This is an outdoor maritime site. Wind, rain, sun, mist, and water are integral to the experience. The temperatures are often cooler by the coast than inland so pack warm clothing. Be aware that the ground on the cliffside trails is uneven, often muddy, and there are few guardrails. Rocks along the shore are eroded, slippery, and frequently wet so sturdy footwear with good tread is a must. Also, bring along a hat, sunscreen, rain gear, and water.
Pack your camera gear. This is highly Instagram-able setting.
HOW LONG TO SPEND AT GIANT’S CAUSEWAY
A visit to Giant’s Causeway can be done in a quick 1-hour shuttle bus ride to and from the causeway or in a day long hiking trip along the County Antrim Coast. For a well-rounded trip taking the recommended Red Trail to Blue Trail loop, and visiting the Travel Centre exhibits, plan on a minimum 3-hour visit.
Hope you enjoyed learning about the legend of Finn McCool, Laura and Randy
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