Visiting the mystical Giant’s Causeway had been on our bucket list for a frustratingly long time given the fact it is, in reality, so close to home. It felt like one of those places we always want to go to but far away lands always seemed to tempt us in other directions.
We had travelled over to Ireland for the first time last year but only explored Dublin. We hadn’t planned on heading over this way again any time soon but when we ended with tickets to see Dropkick Murphy’s in Dublin on Paddy’s day we jumped on the chance to make this dream come true and also see much more of the Emerald Isle – We didn’t leave disappointed!
Since I saw them in photographs as a child I had wanted to see the Giant’s causeway, in fact Ireland itself always had a mystical pull, although it took 26 years before I would step foot for the first time on the land of my ancestors. Sometimes as travellers the places closest to us are the ones we find the hardest to get around to seeing. I think this is maybe a combination of wanted to visit somewhere totally alien to our own culture and also taking our own backyard for granted. Both Belfast and Dublin take only half an hour by plane to reach from Manchester – it takes me longer to get to work!
So there it was then, we had a chance to go and see more of the Ireland we fell in love with last year, and not only that but head up to Northern Ireland to and see the contrasts which make this island so fascinating and also troubled. A massive part of the beauty of the island of Ireland is not only it’s historic cities but it’s wild and untamed countryside and coast.
During our time exploring the unique city of Belfast
we wanted more than anything to get out and see the Giant’s causeway. Tours from the centre are plentiful and also reasonably priced too. We usually hate tours but the Giant’s Causeway is in quite a remote location meaning public transport, although doable, is not really a viable option when pushed for time. However if you can afford to rent a car out that is a great way to visit this area at your own pace.
Eventually we decided to take the “Stones and Thrones” tour which also included a trip over to the amazing Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge
as well as many of the breath taking filming locations dotted around this region use in “Game of Thrones”.
This was a great compromise for us as it meant we could really take advantage of paying for a tour which we wouldn’t normally do. Going to this many places and in such rural spots would have been impossible on public transport so we felt me made the most of it and saw a hell of a lot!
This ancient place was formed between 50 and 60 million years ago, the layered basalt columns created during intense periods of volcanic activity in the region. The molten rock was forced through the chalk which makes up the surrounding cliffs and formed a lava plateau which upon cooling cracked and fractured. This resulted in the characteristic polygonal columns millions flock to see every year. The varying sizes of the columns is a result of uneven cooling speeds of the lava.
The Giant’s causeway is part of a greater volcanic plateau know as the Thulean Plateau formed all those millennia ago and was estimated to stretch over 700,000 sq miles. During the formation of the Atlantic ocean this was broken up and as a result similar formations can be found in Scotland, Greenland, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Island. Fingal’s cave in Scotland in particular is one we would also love to visit.
The giant’s causeway became Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO world Heritage site in 1986 and is a protected as a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The site has proven popular with tourists for hundreds of years with the 19th century seeing a real peak in interest until modern day. In the 1960’s however the National Trust took over care of the Causeway and returned it to a less commercialised centre for tourism in the region.
The legend of the Giant’s Causeway:
Well, the history of all those volcanic eruptions is all well and good but how about the real story of how the Giant’s causeway came to be! The myths and legends which surround this place really are part of what makes it even more special and gives it that air of mystery and magic.
The story goes that the Irish giant Finn MacCool (Fionn Mac Cumhaill) was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Being just across the waters of the North Channel Finn accepted the challenge and built the causeway so the two could meet.
As part of the Gaelic mythology of both Scotland and Ireland there are then of course two conflicting stories of how exactly the fight went down! In one story Finn beats Benandonner. However the more popular tale says that upon building the causeway and seeing the size of Benandonner as he approached Finn realised is was much bigger than him.
His cunning wife disguises him as a baby and tells Benandonner that Finn will be back shortly. Upon seeing the size of his “baby” Benandonner considers how much bigger it’s father must be and fleas back to Scotland, ripping up the Causeway so Finn couldn’t follow him !
Our amazing visit!
We were totally guilty of bigging up our trip to the causeway, so much so that I actually felt a mixture of excitement but also nerves as we pulled into the car park! I had heard several reports from different people, some exclaiming their joy at finally experiencing such a magical place, others saying they were overwhelmed by a bunch of overcrowded rocks!
By this point in the trip I was suffering badly from blisters and the idea of the half mile walk down to the coast wasn’t a pleasant one. Instead we hopped on the bus with the grannies and ended up giving ourselves a good 20 mins more exploration time too! Upon stepping off the bus our first reaction was “wow!!
Finally seeing a place for the first time you have dreamt about seeing for years is quite an overwhelming experience. To see it, to be able to touch it, climb on it and really explore it’s details was quite amazing. It really is great when you can really interact with a place and not just see it from a distance, jumping from column to column and feeling the spray from the incoming waves on our faces just made the experience that much more thrilling.
Sure, it was quite crowded and we had hoped to be able to see the stones in a quieter and more contemplative environment if we are honest. But it comes with the territory of being so popular, and how could be begrudge all these other people seeing such a magical place too. We reasoned that later on the year the place would be even more packed and earlier rough and cold, so our timing wasn’t too bad. Although if you can take a car yourself going early in the morning or staying late for sunset would be perfect.
What I had never realised before was how stunning the surrounding areas of the causeway are, the mountainous peaks and numerous stacks disappearing out to sea make this area just breathtaking. It is truly a must see and a quite incredible sight to see with your own eyes!
One of my favourite things was how the stacks just disappeared beneath the sea, the water lapping over them it makes you wonder just how much we can’t see. As you stand on areas of the causeway you feel like you are looking down on a true wonder of nature, others you could hide away in and get a rare moments peace to take it all in.
Our only complaint would be that we didn’t get as long to visit this enchanting place as we would have liked! We had just over an hour exploring the stones but could have easily spent a whole afternoon here. There are trails all over the area which go up the cliff sides further along the coast which we would have been amazing to walk.
We did feel a little rushed and always had the time in the back of our minds but that is partially the sacrifice we knew we would have to make by taking the combined tour. In the end the fact that we got to see some other amazing places too did make up for that on balance.
A truly wonderful place in a country filled with beauty around every corner, if you ever get the chance make sure and pay the Causeway a visit!
The Giant’s causeway is FREE to visit and don’t be told otherwise! The visitors centre however is not but truthfully it isn’t worth the cost. The reason you visit is to explore the stones themselves, cut through the tunnel to the right of the centre and the causeway is a 15 minute walk down the specially created roadway.
There is also a bus which runs up and down here for £1 each way for an adult, 50p for a child, national trust members and Northern Ireland Senior Citizens with a pass travel for free. (We ended up taking the bus to give us just that bit more time down there, plus I had some crazy blisters going on!)
Stones and coastal path open daily from dawn until dusk.
visitor centre opening hours:
January: 09:00 – 17:00
February – March: 09:00 – 18:00
1 April- 30 Sept: 09:00 – 19:00
October: 09:00 – 18:00
November – December: 09:00 – 17:00
Closed 24th, 25th, 26th December
Prices: (The site is FREE to visit)
If you must visit the centre then the prices are below, but the site itself is FREE and the visitors centre is optional! (UPDATED MAY 2018)
Family: £22 (2 Adults + 3 Children under 17 years – under 5 years free)
National Trust Members Free
Check here for up to date prices: www.giantscausewaytickets.com, also booking online before is cheaper.
Location / Directions
2 miles from Bushmills. 11 miles from Coleraine, 13 miles from Ballycastle.
Drive time – Belfast 1 hour 25 minutes, Londonderry/Derry 1 hour 10 minutes, Dublin 3 hours 45 minutes.
Park and Ride:
Available from Bushmills village, March to October, this service operates approximately every 20 minutes.
Map and Sat Nav locations:
Visitor Centre C944439; postcode BT57 8SU
Park and Ride C94104 41034; postcode BT57 8SE
Regular services available, some of these are seasonal.
Ulsterbus Service 172; Goldline Service 221; Causeway Rambler Service 402; Open Top Causeway Coast Service 177; Antrim Coaster Service 252.
Regular services from Belfast or Londonderry/Derry to Coleraine then change to bus connection – Ulsterbus Service 172.
So, another amazing place ticked off the bucket list. Have you ever visited and did it live up to your imaginations?
Check out the rest of our Irish trip:
See more from this country: