The Giants Causeway is one of Northern Ireland's most iconic coastal areas and for good reason. The geological features found here are truly unique and the coastal cliffs that frame the area make it one of the most beautiful places I encountered during my travels across the Emerald Isle.
According to legend, features unique to The Giants Causeway were formed when the giant Finn MacCool created the steps so he could cross into Scotland and accept a challenge to fight the giant known as Benandonner.
After visiting the area myself it's easy to see how the beauty and unique geological features found here were swept into Irish lore.
This was one of my favorite stops during a ten day road trip across Ireland and is something every traveler should include on their itinerary.
In this post I'm going to cover everything you should know before exploring The Giants Causeway area including the best time of day to visit and which trails to follow to ensure you take in all of the epic coastline views!
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Where is the Giants Causeway located?
The Giant's Causeway is located along the northern coast of Northern Ireland, in County Antrim. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is situated about 3 miles (5 kilometers) northeast of the town of Bushmills and approximately 60 miles (97 kilometers) from Belfast, the capital city of Northern Ireland.
If you're adventuring north from Dublin, you're looking at a little more than a three hour drive to reach this area. For anyone taking this route, be sure to consider visiting the Dark Hedges along the way. The Dark Hedges are an iconic Game of Thrones filming location that has recently been popularized by the hit series.
The Giant's Causeway is a popular tourist destination on the Causeway Coastal Route, a scenic drive that showcases the stunning natural beauty of this area. In fact, I recently ranked this region as one of the most beautiful Ireland landscapes you'll encounter during your travels.
Where is the best place to stay for visiting the Giants Causeway?
During my visit to Northern Ireland I stayed about 20 minutes west of the Giant's Causeway in the town of Portstewart which served as a great home base for exploring this area. This coastal town is known for it's beautiful promenade, golf courses and harbor.
I stayed at the Cul-Erg House & Kitchen Bed and Breakfast which I really enjoyed. The B&B is run by a super friendly couple (I met the gentleman) and the accommodations were very reasonably priced. Breakfast is included in your stay and I was able to grab free parking on the street.
Other nearby options include the town of Bushmills and Portrush. Bushmills is the absolute closest option to the Giant's Causeway while Portrush neighbors Portstewart to the east.
You won't go wrong with any of these options, but Portstewart and Portrush have the added perk of being situated directly on the water. If you prefer a slightly larger town with then check out hotel options in Coleraine to the south, although it is slightly further away.
If you're still looking for accommodations in the area you can find great deals on hotels near the Giant's Causeway here!
What is the story behind the Giants Causeway?
The Giant's Causeway is an intriguing geological formation comprised of around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, which were created by an ancient volcanic eruption approximately 60 million years ago.
However, the site is also steeped in myth and legend, with the most famous story being that of the Irish giant Finn MacCool.
According to the myth, Finn built the causeway to reach Scotland and challenge Scottish giant, Benandonner.
When Finn realized that Benandonner was much larger than he anticipated, he fled back to Ireland, and his wife disguised him as a baby. Upon seeing the size of the "baby," Benandonner assumed Finn must be enormous and in turn, fled back to Scotland.
When Benandonner fled back to Scotland it is said that he destroyed much of the causeway in his wake so Finn could not return to challenge him. Thus leaving us with the iconic rock formations we see today.
What to expect when visiting the Giants Causeway?
This stop along Northern Ireland's Causeway Coastal Route is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country and for good reason.
The basalt columns here were like anything else I've seen in my travels. And while the rock formations you'll find at the Giant's Causeway are quite unique to this location, you'll still enjoy a backdrop of traditional Irish coastal cliffs and rolling green hills.
The combination of these natural features, set against the Atlantic Ocean, makes for an incredible experience.
For my visit I had spent the morning exploring Carrick-a-Rede which is just a 15 minute drive down the road. From there I drove west, past the causeway, to my hotel accommodations in Portstewart.
I was planning to have my car parked near the Giant's Causeway Visitor Center about 90 minutes before the sunset was scheduled so that I could enjoy some beautiful light as I hiked the area.
Along the way I made a quick stop to enjoy views at the Megaheracross viewpoint and to photograph Dunluce Castle with my drone. The viewpoint is along the main road so if you punch the name into your GPS you should find it easily.
For Dunluce Castle, if you arrive earlier in the day you can walk around it. When I arrived in the evening it had already closed, which was fine for me since I could still get to drone shots I was after.
After wrapping up at Dunluce Castle I continued on to the causeway car park. Most of the spaces were roped off since the site was technically closed for the day, but there were still parking options and arriving after hours means you don't have to pay for parking!
To head directly for the basalt columns just walk the main paved road down towards the water and you'll be there in about 20 minutes. But if you do that you'll miss out on some of the best views of the coastline!
Instead, head up the stairs (or around the back side of The Causeway Hotel) where you'll find a sign pointing you towards the green or red trails. The green trail leads away from the basalt columns while the red trail leads you high above them.
The views from the red trail were spectacular and I'd highly recommend doing this leg during your visit. It will add a bit of elevation gain to your stroll but the added distance isn't that much more than the paved road (blue path) that leads directly down.
By the time I got down from the cliffs to the basalt columns the sun was fully setting against a clear sky and the colors were incredible. I had around 30 minutes to wander around the basalt columns and take some photos while enjoying one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever experienced.
I was extremely lucky with how clear the weather was, but not everyone will be. The rocks here can be slippery when wet so wearing hiking boots or footwear with good traction will make this part of your experience more enjoyable.
And you can't travel all the way to the Giant's Causeway without climbing out on the rock formations!
How much does the Giants Causeway cost?
While there isn't a fee to access the Giant's Causeway itself you'll likely need to pay for parking and to access the visitor center if you'd like to incorporate that into your visit.
If you're interested in checking current prices or booking your visitor center ticket in advance you can do so at the official National Trust Giant's Causeway website.
As a pro tip, if you arrive late in the evening (for sunset like I did) then you'll avoid paying for parking. Arriving late in the afternoon / early evening also helps you avoid peak crowds and competition for limited parking spaces.
The tradeoff of arriving late in the day is that the visitor center will be closed. However, sitting on the rock formations at Giant's Causeway during sunset was one of my favorite memories from this trip and well worth skipping out on the visitor center experience.
If you're looking for free activities to do during your trip to Ireland, don't sleep on the country's amazing beaches. Be sure to read about my time exploring Dog's Bay Beach in Western Ireland for an idea of what to expect!
Is there a guided tour option for visiting the Giants Causeway?
Yes, there are guided tour options available for visiting the Giant's Causeway. The National Trust offers guided tours led by experienced staff who provide insights into the geology, history, and legends of the area.
Access to the National Trust tours are included in the standard admission fee. It's important to note that guided tours are subject to availability, arrival time and weather conditions, so it's a good idea to check with the visitor center upon arrival. This option makes sense if you don't need transportation to the area.
If you're hoping to visit the causeway from Dublin or Belfast, but don't have your own transportation, working with a tour company is the best way to go. You can browse Giant's Causeway tour options here.
While these are both great options, I'd still lean towards being in the area for sunset if you have your own transportation. You won't be able to do this if visiting with a tour operator or trying to time your experience within visitor center hours.
Are dogs allowed at the Giants Causeway?
Dogs are welcome to explore the Giant's Causeway with you during your visit. Not only are they allowed on the rock formations and trails, but the visitor center is also dog friendly.
Just keep in mind that some of the trails are narrow and exposed to drops and a lot of the terrain surrounding the rock formations is uneven and could be difficult for your pet to navigate.
Are there bathrooms at the Giants Causeway?
There are public restrooms available at the Giant's Causeway Visitor Center. These facilities are clean and well-maintained by National Trust staff.
It's important to note that there are no restroom facilities along the coastal path or near the basalt columns, so plan accordingly!
If you plan to hike and hang around for sunset you could easily be in the area for two or three hours.
Do I need any special hiking gear for the Giants Causeway?
Visitors planning to use the main paved road (the blue trail) to access the basalt columns won't need to think about hiking gear.
Meanwhile, the short green trail leads guests away from the rock formations, but offers amazing views of the surrounding cliffs, especially at sunset. I spent some time walking out this way before heading out on the red trail and really enjoyed it.
If you have an appetite for a little bit of hiking, I'd suggest taking the red trail around and down to the basalt columns. There are a few amazing lookout points along this trail and it will eventually lead down to the water.
The red trail was a bit buggy so if you have bug spray I'd pull it out for this one. Hiking boots are a nice to have as well since you'll encounter some steeper sections of trail.
There are also some longer trails originating in this area that follow the coastal cliffs if you're hoping to do a day hike along the coast.
For anyone planning to do some longer hikes during their trip to Ireland be sure to check out my beginners day hike checklist to make sure you don't forget anything! That list would serve you well if you plan on hiking Croagh Patrick near Westport during your travels.
How long is the Giants Causeway walk?
The main walking route from the visitor center to the causeway itself is approximately 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) each way. It will take most visitors 20-30 minutes worth of walking in each direction.
How long does it take to visit the Giants Causeway?
Most visitors spend between 2 to 3 hours at the causeway site, which allows enough time to explore the coastal path, walk amongst the basalt columns, and hit the visitor center.
During my visit at sunset the visitor center was already closed. However, I still spent north of three hours in the area hiking the green, blue and red trails while also taking a bunch of photos with my camera and drone.
Don't forget to budget some time for sitting out on the rocks and watching the ocean waves crash into the basalt columns!
Is there a restaurant at the Giants Causeway?
The best food or drink option in the immediate area is probably The Causeway Hotel which is situated near the visitor center. Here you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner or a drink.
If you're looking for convenient places to stay when visiting the Giants Causeway, The Causeway Hotel is a great option. Who wouldn't want this beautiful coastline just steps from their room?!
Other nearby options for food and drinks include the visitor center and town of Bushmills.
What is the best time of year to visit the Giants Causeway?
The spring and summer months (April to September) generally offer warmer weather, longer daylight hours, and more frequent guided tour options than the fall or winter months.
May and June are the months with the least rainfall in Ireland so they make for great months to visit the Giants Causeway, road trip around the Emerald Isle and to experience other outdoor activities.
Sunset will occur quite late (between 9pm and 10pm) if you visit during June. These long days provide tons of sunlight for exploring Ireland's natural landmarks. Just be mindful that if you're a photographer it means you'll need to be out exploring late into the evening to catch the best lighting conditions.
I visited Ireland during the last week of May, into early June. We were fortunate to go ten straight days without a single drop of rain which is practically unheard of here!
If you need help planning your trip abroad be sure to check out some of the resources available on my blog. There's a guide to planning travel abroad along with my complete list of cheap airfare hacks to help you save money!
What is the best time of day to visit the Giants Causeway?
Early morning and late afternoon are generally considered the best times to visit, as the site is less crowded and the lighting during these times (especially sunset) is great for photography.
Visiting during these times also allows you to avoid the peak tourist hours, which typically occur between 11 am and 3 pm. This midday window is when tour buses from the major cities tend to arrive.
If you plan to spend time at the visitor center just be sure to time your visit with National Trust operating hours by checking in advance.
I lucked out with great weather during my trip to Ireland, but that isn't always the case. I'd be sure to check the weather forecast the day of your visit and factor any rain or fog into your timing.
Do I need a reservation to visit the Giants Causeway?
While you don't explicitly need a reservation to visit the Giant's Causeway, it is highly recommended that you book your tickets in advance, especially during peak season or if you are visiting with a group.
By purchasing your tickets online ahead of time, you can avoid potential lines at the ticket booth and ensure a smoother, more enjoyable experience.
If you plan on visiting the area through a tour company it's even more advisable that you book your activity far in advance since these tours tend to sell out in advance.
How do I reach the Giants Causeway?
The Giant's Causeway is located on the north coast of Northern Ireland, near the town of Bushmills in County Antrim. This area is also known as the Causeway Coastal Route which is one of the most scenic drives in Northern Ireland. It definitely competes with the road trip across the Dingle Peninsula for my favorite drive in Ireland.
If you've rented a car you'll have about a 1-hour drive from Belfast or a 3-hour drive from Dublin. There is parking available at the visitor center, with a parking fee included in the cost of admission.
If you're still trying to nail down a vehicle reservation, be sure to use a service that lets you compare rental car prices across different companies to ensure you get the best price.
Alternatively, you can book a guided tour from either city that will include transportation to and from the causeway. You'll face a similar drive time as if you had your own vehicle, but you'll also need to allow for time to get to and from the tour meetup location if you utilize this option.
Is the Giants Causeway safe for children?
The Giant's Causeway is generally safe for children. The main visitor area and pathways near the visitor center are well-maintained and generally safe for families.
The main paved road that leads down to the rock formations is suitable for small children. Some of the hiking trails that weave through the surrounding cliffs have exposed drops so I'd suggest avoiding these if your children aren't experienced with this type of hiking.
A large portion of the rock formations should be safe for children to navigate as well, just be mindful that they do lead directly into the Atlantic Ocean.
Is visiting the Giants Causeway worth it?
Visiting the Giant's Causeway is absolutely worth it, as it is one of Northern Ireland's most iconic natural attractions. The evening I spent exploring the causeway cliffs easily competes for most memorable experience during my road trip across Ireland.
While it's really difficult for me to pick just one location as my favorite from this trip, the causeway is easily up there with the likes of Cliffs of Moher, Skellig Michael Island and Slieve League competing for best activity.
I also put together a video highlighting the most beautiful Irish landscapes that I encountered during my trip that's on my YouTube channel. It includes plenty of footage from the Causeway Coastal Route, but also other parts of the island like Benbulben located in County Sligo.
Hopefully this post covering the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland proves helpful to you while planning your trip across the Emerald Isle!