Who doesn’t love a good mythical tale? The Giant’s Causeway is a place of natural wonder and has a big backstory to discover. The Causeway was the first UNESCO World Heritage site in Northern Ireland, and it remains a firm favourite amongst tourists and locals alike.
For those researching the best places to visit in Northern Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway may (rightly) be a bucket list mark on your itinerary. Whether you want to visit on a guided tour from Belfast or spend a week along the North coast, this guide will tell you all you need to know about visiting the Giant’s Causeway.
What is the Giant’s Causeway?
First things first, what is the Giant’s Causeway?
The Giant’s Causeway is an exposed section of basalt rock columns along the North Atlantic coast. The Causeway has 40,000 hexagonal columns, which you can explore by foot. The pattern creates a unique geological phenomenon and draws in thousands of visitors a year.
What is the Giant’s Causeway story?
According to Irish legend, the Causeway was once home to a giant called Finn McCool.
Finn got into a heated argument with the Scottish giant Benandonner, who threatened Ireland from across the ocean. Picking up rocks and clumps of land, Finn began throwing objects towards Benandonner and into the sea.
After a while, he’d thrown so many rocks and bits of land that he formed a bridge. Finn gets partway across his bridge before realising he has made a bit of an error. Bernandonner is huge. Fleeing back to Northern Ireland, Finn’s wife comes to the rescue by quickly disguising him as a baby.
Luckily for Finn, when Benandonner arrives, he is so terrified by how big the baby is he decides the father would be much too big to fight! Running back to Scotland, Benandonner pulls up the bridge behind him – breaking the path apart so that the scary ‘father’ giant won’t be able to follow him.
Now, visitors can see the remains of Finn’s bridge to Scotland, hence the name the Giant’s Causeway.
How was the Giant’s Causeway formed?
There is a scientific explanation of the Giant’s Causeway for those who aren’t quite sold on the folklore version.
Scientists believe that the Causeway was formed around 60 million years ago by lava flow cooling as it reached the sea. The hexagonal shape is believed to come from pressure, with the columns geometrically fracturing as they formed.
How to visit the Giant’s Causeway?
So, you know what the Giant’s Causeway is and the stories behind its creation. However, how do you actually visit the Giant’s Causeway?
Your first choice is between visiting independently or through a tour.
The cheapest tour I found was this full-day tour, which departs Belfast at 9:15 am and incorporates different attractions en-route. The benefit of visiting the Giant’s Causeway by tour is you don’t have to worry about car hire, fuel, or the £13.00 ticket cost. When you total all these factors, it is more budget-friendly to visit on a tour than independently. If you are visiting Belfast and looking to visit the Causeway as a day trip, I’d definitely recommend choosing a tour.
However, if you plan to explore more of the North coast, consider hiring a car and visiting independently. You can book parking in advance online, saving you a bit of money. The £13.00 adult ticket includes parking, a guided storytelling tour, and access to the Visitor Centre exhibition. Alternatively, park in Portballintrae and hike about an hour along the coast to reach the Giant’s Causeway for free.
The main benefit of visiting independently is the freedom of unlimited time and picking which surrounding attractions to explore. With tours, you’ll be fixed to a rigid itinerary, so consider whether this suits you or not.
Places to stay near the Giant’s Causeway
The Causeway Hotel
Address: 40 Causeway Road, Bushmills, BT57 8SU
For clifftop, elegant accommodation, The Causeway Hotel is a good choice. Plus, the hotel is less than a twenty-minute walk from the Giant’s Causeway.
Booking.com lists their triple room with a sea view at £165 per night. This price includes a complimentary cooked breakfast and parking.
Finn McCools Giants Causeway Hostel
Address: 32 Causeway Road, Bushmills, BT57 8SU, United Kingdom
If you thought you couldn’t get much closer think again. Finn McCools offers budget-friendly accommodation just a three-minute walk from the Causeway.
Visitors receive free parking, use of a barbecue, and an outdoor terrace to enjoy.
Booking.com lists a single room with a shared bathroom at £29 per night, including a continental breakfast.
Address: 11 Priestland Road, Bushmills, BT57 8QP, United Kingdom
While a little further (4.5 miles) from the Giant’s Causeway, Portcaman House is centrally located in Bushmills village. If you’d like a more sociable, busier atmosphere, Portcaman House balances centrality in Bushmills with proximity to the Causeway.
The hotel offers free parking and wifi, alongside a packed lunch service upon request.
Booking.com lists a king double room for one guest at £75 per night, including a complimentary breakfast.
Things to do near the Giant’s Causeway
Of course, there are lots of other attractions near the Giant’s Causeway, so carve out some spare time when visiting. Here’s a selection of the best things to do near the Giant’s Causeway.
Old Bushmills Distillery
Whiskey lovers, listen up. The Old Bushmills Distillery is the home of Bushmills Whiskey – possibly the most famous tipple across Northern Ireland.
The distillery was granted its license in 1608 and has been producing ever since. Now, you can tour the distillery and experience the iconic whiskey history in person.
*The Distillery closed to visitors over the pandemic. It is worth ringing ahead to see if it is open when visiting**
When you picture a castle, you likely envision a medieval fortress. Scrap that image. Instead, picture crumbling ruins of an ancient Gaelic Kingdom.
The ruins of Dal Riada date back to (at least) the 5th century, far pre-dating the mostly 13th-century castles around the UK. Dunseverick Castle has had some important visitors over its years, and rumour has it that St Patrick blessed the building when visiting in the 5th century.
To visit, park at the Dunserverick Castle car park and make the short walk to the ruins.
Be warned: the Carrick-a-Rede bridge goes through frequent closure and re-opening periods. However, even to visit without crossing, the flimsy-looking rope bridge is a sight to behold.
The rope bridge was made and erected by local fishermen over 250 years ago. The bridge connects the mainland with the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede, which was a prominent place for the fishing industry. The Salmon Fishery on Carrick-a-Rede island is even older than the original bridge, estimated to be over 400 years old.
To visit, park by the Weighbridge Tearoom and walk the 20-minute path to reach the bridge.
Game of Thrones fans, you may recognise Ballintoy Harbour from Theon’s arrival at the Iron Islands. The harbour was a popular set in the acclaimed series and definitely a spot to tick off while visiting the Giant’s Causeway.
After appreciating being on a real-life set, you can take a kayak tour of the Causeway coast, take a dip at the Ballintoy Secret Beach, or grab a bite to eat at Roark’s Kitchen.
The Dark Hedges
Another Game of Thrones set location; the Dark Hedges make up the famous road of curved beech trees. You’ll likely recognise the Dark Hedges from pictures online, and the shadowy effect of their growth creates a compelling, mythical effect.
The Stuart family planted the trees in the 18th century as an impressive avenue to their mansion. However, nowadays, the trees attract thousands of tourists in their own right – so why not join the crowds.
To visit the Dark Hedges, visit Bregagh Road (otherwise known as the road to King’s Landing) by car or tour.
The Giant’s Causeway is easily one of Northern Ireland’s most famous and well-visited attractions. Been before? Feel free to drop any recommendations or extra tips for future visitors below.