Jutting out dramatically into the sea along the famed Causeway Coast of Northern Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway is a collection of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns about 60 million years old clinging the coast in dramatic columns and causeways.
Science claims that the Giant’s Causeway was created ago by quick-cooling lava after a volcanic eruption. Myth claims it was angry giants chucking rocks into the sea to decide who would be the next ruler of Ireland. Who’s right? That’s up to you to decide!
To make the most your visit, here are our top 5 things to do at the Giant’s Causeway below.
The Giant’s Causeway is one of Ireland’s most famous landmarks, therefore the Visitor Centre is proportionally quite busy. Many people simply drive to the Giant’s Causeway, pop into the Visitor’s Centre and then walk down to the Giant’s Causeway (or take the shuttle).
However, as local experts, we recommend that the most rewarding and adventurous way to visit the Giant’s Causeway is by hiking to it along the Causeway Coast – in all, a 52-km-long route along Northern Ireland’s coastline. Following the coast, you’ll come across crumbling castles, towering sea stacks, beautiful ocean vistas, quaint harbours, postcard beaches, and nesting seabirds. In fact, this is the the route we take our clients on our Hiking the Causeway Route and Donegal trip.
Starting at what little remains of Dunseverick Castle, follow the Causeway Coastal Route, voted Lonely Planet’s top 2018 destination, along the narrow coastal trek. This 4.5 mile hike will take you about 2 hours. Along the way, admire rolling emerald farmland dotted with grazing livestock on one side, and ocean waves flecked with diving seabirds rolling out to the horizon on the other.
As you approach the Giant’s Causeway, watch as the geology grows more and more strange as you start to spot the basalt columns and formations made famous by the Causeway. Descend the cliffs via the panoramic Shepherd’s Steps – 162 stone steps leading down to visit the “Organ” – a row of unique, enormous columns towering over the bay – and the “Amphitheatre,” where you can drink in the coastline panorama as well as admire curious rock formations such as the chimney stacks. Finally, after such anticipation, follow the coastal path down to the Giant’s Causeway. It’s worth the wait!
The Giant’s Causeway is one of the most intriguing landscapes found in Ireland – and the world in general. In fact, it is so unique that us recognised by UNESCO World Heritage for its “spectacular area of global geological importance on the sea coast at the edge of the Antrim plateau.”
Whether you’re an amateur photographer or a pro, avail yourself of the amazing landscapes for stunning photography. It’s difficult to explain the awe-inspiring experience of being able to walk, climb and scoot your way across this ancient volcanic battlefield.
Test out different perspectives, angles and lighting with your camera to get the most remarkable pictures possible. Photographer’s tip: avoid midday as much as possible; early morning or late afternoon lighting is the best for photos. Though the Giant’s Causeway is stunning under clear blue skies, alternatively visit the causeway during a storm, as the waves pounding on the 40,000 basalt chimney stacks is a force to be reckoned with!
For wildlife lovers and birdwatchers, keep an eye out for the variety of birds, such as stonechats, gannets, fulmars and peregrine falcons who live in and around the Causeway Coast. For more wildlife locations, read our suggestions here: 5 Wonderful Wildlife Spots in Ireland.
Prefer to travel at your own pace?
Ever wondered why it’s called the Giant’s Causeway? Why…’giants’? To answer that, we’ll dip into one of Ireland’s most fascinating myths. A long time ago, Irish giant Finn McCool got into an argument with the Scottish giant Benandonner, over property rights. Angry, Finn started chucking boulders from the Antrim Coast into the sea. Inspired, he built a causeway (a bridge) across the sea to Scotland to challenge Benandonner to a duel.
Intimidated by the Scottish giant’s huge size, Finn retreated to Ireland. Realising that a con was the best way to win, his wife disguised him as a giant baby. Benandonner concluded that if Finn’s child was that big, Finn himself must be huge! Benandonner runs away, ripping up bits of the causeway behind him, leaving it the fragmented causeway we see today.
Though you may not see the giants on your visit, knowing the story gives insights into the ancient Celtic people. Before you explore the stones, visit the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre, an interactive centre perfect for introducing you to the mythos of Irish folklore surrounding the Giant’s Causeway – as well as explaining the science behind the basalt columns of the Causeway Coast. You can even pick up an audio guide for more details as you explore the stones. Note that access to the stones is free but use of carp park or Visitor’s Centre is £11.50 pp. The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre has a cafe, shop and toilets.
The Giant’s Causeway will always be beautiful – but to see it in the best light, you’ll have to wake up early. Watching the dawn break and the world come to life is always a special and meaningful experience – you’ll get the feeling that you have the world all to yourself.
One of the most meaningful sunrise experiences you can have in Ireland is a visit to the Giant’s Causeway at sunrise. You’ll have this usually crowded place all to yourself – meaning you can appreciate the raw beauty and rich mythology of the Giant’s Causeway without rubbing shoulders with too many others. Listen to the sound of the waves lapping the columns or watch the seabirds dive for food as the sun slowly warms the glowing rocks of 40,000 basalt columns.
Alternatively, if you can’t make it in the morning, a visit in the late evening as the sun sets is perhaps less gleaming, but still amazingly beautiful.
Explore the Giant’s Causeway at sunset free from daytime crowds on two wheels on our epic, bucket-lister trip.
Nearly all visitors to the Giant’s Causeway visit the famous landmark on foot. But for those adventurous souls out there looking for a new (and less crowded) perspective of region, explore the magical Causeway Coast by canoe or kayak! Available on our fully guided private family trip, Giants, Myths and Legends, your paddling expedition will be tailored to suit all ages depending on ability, weather, tides and preferences.
From distilleries to castles to coastal hikes, we’ve singled out some of our favourite places to visit along the Causeway Coast in the vicinity of the Giant’s Causeway. Read more below, or check out our trips taking place in this stunning and iconic region of Ireland.
One of Ireland’s most revered whiskey distilleries is found a stone’s throw from the Giant’s Causeway: Old Bushmill’s Distillery. Start off with an educational tour of the distillery before perfecting your taste buds by doing a whiskey tasting. Bringing your family? For the kids, they’ll organise a family-friendly non-alcoholic tasting!
The mystical Dunluce Castle is perched dramatically on the edge of a cliff overlooking the North Channel. Built and maintained by the Ulster Scots – first by the McQuillans then stolen by their rivals the MacDonnells – local legend claims that the castle kitchens once toppled spectacularly off the cliffs, though this probably didn’t happen. Another legend states that Belfast native CS Lewis used Dunluce Castle as his model for Narnia’s royal castle Cair Paravel. Interestingly, the Game of Thrones infamous Red Wedding scene was inspired by a real wedding that took place (in much the same way as in the novel) between the McQuillans (the Starks) and the MacDonnells (the Freys).
Another place that has piqued inspirations is Ballintoy Harbour, used as a filming location for HBO’s Game of Thrones series (in scenes on of the Isle of Pyke). A tiny harbour tucked into a rocky cliff, Ballintoy is a picturesque stop whether or not you’re a Game of Thrones fan.
This swinging 30m high rope bridge spans a 20m gap between the mainland and tiny rock of an island, Carrickarede. The original Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge was built by salmon fishermen some 350 years ago, though it was disused by the fishermen at the end of the 20th century due to lack of salmon (in the 1960s, for example, roughly 300 fish were caught per day; by 2000, just 300 fish were caught over the whole season). The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge has its own literary connection and is best summed up by Ireland’s famous poet Seamus Heaney:
‘A lone figure is waving
From the thin line of a bridge
Of ropes and slates, slung
Dangerously out between
The cliff-top and the pillar rock.’
– A Postcard from North Antrim, 1978.
Downhill Demesne is an 18th century mansion built on a windswept headland on the Causeway Coast by the Bishop of Derry. Destroyed by fire then by disuse following WWII, the impressive ruin is now owned by the National Trust. Overhanging the bluff is the famous Mussenden Temple, a round neoclassical structure named in honour of the Bishop’s cousin Frideswide Mussenden, and once used as a great library. Recently, Mussenden Temple and the beach below the cliff were used as a filming location for Game of Thrones where Stannis Baratheon was visited by Melisandre. Just below the estate is the beach town of Portstewart. Head to Harry’s Shack on the sand dunes for delicious beachside cuisine.
Just to the east of Dunseverick Castle ruin is a 3-mile stretch of beach: White Park Bay. This little-visited beach is a great alternative to the far busier Portstewart Beach further to the west. A backstage view to rural Ireland, the hills are dotted with grazing cows and sheep, and there is even a small cairn perched just above the beach.
Note: At the Giant’s Causeway, especially around the gate, you may notice dozens of wishing coins wedged in between the columns, slowly discolouring the surrounding rock. Although there is certainly a sense of history and romance in these corroding wishes, it also distracts from the natural beauty of the Causeway. Please do not similarly pollute the area with coins or any other rubbish – let’s keep this incredible place beautiful and clean.
Read more about our views on nature conservation here.