Ulster is the most northern of all of Ireland’s ancient kingdoms and is where you’ll find incredible landscapes and cities steeped in intrigue and mystery.
It’s also where you can find Giant’s Causeway; easily one of the most famous landmarks in Northern Ireland and the UK, which rightly deserves a place on your bucket list.
If you want to walk in the path of giants, here’s everything you need to know about the legend of Giant’s Causeway and how to get the most out of a fabulous Giant’s Causeway day trip.
Finn McCool & The Legend of Giant’s Causeway
We visited Giant’s Causeway as part of an epic day trip from Dublin and our tour guide told us all about Finn McCool and the Giant’s Causeway legend.
It goes a little something like this…
“There was once a great Irish giant called Finn McCool who was most feared by his Scottish enemies.
One day, Finn built a causeway across the sea from Ireland to Scotland. Each six-sided cobblestone fit together perfectly and could easily take a giant’s weight if needed.
He then shouted a challenge to a famous Scottish giant named Benandonner also known as ‘The Red Man’. He challenged the Scot to cross the causeway and fight him.
However, as Benandonner crossed the causeway, Finn McCool realised how much bigger the Scot was and so he ran back to his home town of Fort-of-Allen in County Kildare. But Benandonner kept on chasing him – all the way to McCool’s hometown.
McCool, realising he was wrong to pick a fight with the Scot would not answer the door and asked his wife to do so for him instead. But Finn’s wife, Oonagh was a smart giant. She shoved McCool into the bath and threw some large sheets over him.
Upon opening the door to Benandonner, Oonagh exclaimed: “Sure it’s a pity but Finn is away hunting deer in County Kerry. Would you like to come in anyway and wait? I’ll show you the Great Hall so that you can sit down after your journey.”
After showing Benandonner around their house and cooking him dinner, Oonagh asked Benandonner: “Would you like to say hello to our baby?”
Benandonner noticed the “cot” and the sleeping “baby” inside it and he suddenly felt very afraid.
He thought: “My goodness, if this is the size of the baby, what size must the father be?” and decided it was time to go back to Scotland and avoid fighting with McCool.
Finn leapt from the bath and chased after Benandonner to banish him from Ireland. Whilst passing Portadown in County Antrim, Finn scooped a large clod of earth out of the ground to throw at the retreating Scot.
A hole formed where he grabbed the clod of earth, which filled with water and is said to have become the largest Lough in Ireland: Lough Neagh. As for the clod he threw, it missed its target and landed in the middle of the Irish Sea, henceforth known as the Isle of Man.
Both giants swore to one another that they should never speak again. And so each demolished the causeway leaving ragged ends in both Ireland and Scotland; each of which you can still see and visit today.”
Travel Truthbombs: How Giant’s Causeway Was ACTUALLY Formed
Although Giant’s Causeway gets its name from the legend above, there is a whole load of science behind how it was actually formed.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica and the BBC, the 40,000 large basalt columns that make up the Giant’s Causeway were formed around 50-60 million years ago when molten lava cooled rapidly when it reached the sea.
The hexagonal shape and different heights of the columns were created because the lava ebbed, flowed and cooled at different times and speeds.
And that’s about as much science as you’ll be getting from us today. But this Guardian article dives deeper into how Giant’s Causeway was formed in case you want to put your nerd hat on for a few more minutes.
Giant’s Causeway Tips & Things To Know
From finding out how to visit Giant’s Causeway without paying to when it’s best to visit to avoid crowds, our Giant’s Causeway tips below are well worth knowing…
1. You don’t have to pay to visit Giant’s Causeway
One of the biggest mistakes tourists make when visiting Giant’s Causeway is thinking that it costs money to see it.
There is a visitor centre here but don’t make the mistake of joining the queues that naturally form inside.
These queues are for people interested in paying for the ‘Visitor Experience’, which includes an audio tour to learn more about the history of Giant’s Causeway and how it was formed.
But if you’re just interested in seeing the causeway, walking across it, taking photos and hiking nearby then don’t make the mistake of paying.
You don’t even need to go into the visitor centre if you don’t want to!
There is an archway next to it that you can walk through, which will take you straight down the road leading to the stones.
2. Parking your car can be tricky at Giant’s Causeway
There is a large car park next to the visitor centre but it’s reserved for those paying for the ‘Visitor Experience’.
If you want to visit Giant’s Causeway for free then you’ll need to park your car elsewhere or get there another way.
Between March and October, a park and ride service operates every 20 minutes from Bushmills Village, which is about 2 miles away from Giant’s Causeway.
If you’re joining a coach tour from Belfast or Dublin then you obviously don’t need to worry about parking. The coach will drop you off near the visitor centre car park and you can either walk down to the stones or catch the special bus laid on by the National Trust.
There are also various bus, walking and cycle routes you can use instead to get to Giant’s Causeway. Take a look at all of your options here.
3. You can walk to the stones from the visitor centre or catch the National Trust bus
It takes around 20 minutes to walk from the visitor centre down to the stones. This is via a concrete road, which slopes down the hill and around the corner.
But there is also a regular bus from the visitor centre to the stones, which costs just £1 each way.
If you’re able to, we’d recommend walking down to the stones as you can get some great views and photos along the way and then you can hop on the bus later on if you want to avoid walking uphill on the way back.
4. Don’t forget to flash your National Trust card!
If you’re a National Trust member, then you can get tickets for the Visitor Experience for free and you can even catch the bus to/from the stones for free as well.
You just need to show your National Trust card at the visitor centre and to the driver on the bus.
5. Try to visit Giant’s Causeway in the shoulder seasons for less crowds
As you might expect, weekends and throughout the summer are very popular times to visit Giant’s Causeway.
So you’ll have more luck with seeing the stones with fewer crowds if you visit on a weekday and in the spring, autumn or winter. We actually think mid- to late spring is a great time to go as you might still get lucky with nice weather but see far less people than in the summer.
Between 11am and 4pm are also popular times to visit, so you can also avoid crowds by timing your visit for outside of these times too.
We visited on a Friday at the end of April, and despite getting there at around 12.30pm, there were only a few couples and families dotted around the stones here and there. So it certainly didn’t feel crowded or busy when we visited at all.
6. Take advantage of various Giant’s Causeway walking trails nearby
Although most visitors head straight for the famous basalt columns and leave afterwards, those of you in the know (and who have time in your itinerary) can embark on one of four Giant’s Causeway walking trails nearby – for stunning views and picturesque landscapes.
The trails are colour-coded and range from the easy blue trail to the challenging yellow trail:
- Blue Trail – Easy 0.8 mile walk taking around 25 minutes. This trail leads directly to the stones and is the most popular Giant’s Causeway walking trail.
- Red Trail – Moderate 2 mile walk taking around 1.5 hours. This is a cliffside trail allowing you to admire the views and stones from above. You can also merge with the blue or yellow trails as well.
- Green Trail – Moderate 2 mile walk also taking 1.5 hours. This trail offers yet more cliff-top views and is one of the less common walking trails to follow, making it more tranquil than some of the others.
- Yellow Trail – Challenging 1.8 mile hike taking around 30-40 minutes. This is another cliff-top trail, which merges with both the blue and red trails in part. There are inclines and rugged paths on this route making it more challenging.
You can find out more about each of these trails (including walking directions) on the National Trust website.
What To Wear When Visiting Giant’s Causeway
You should also consider wearing layers such as a jumper, cardigan or fleece, which you can easily take off or put back on as and when you need to. UK weather is known for being unpredictable and this is especially true near the coast and at Giant’s Causeway.
Even if you’re not joining one of the nearby walking trails, you should still wear comfortable flat shoes as the stones are uneven and you may need to walk from the visitor centre down to the stones. Comfortable walking boots are best but a decent pair of trainers will also suffice.
Giant’s Causeway Day Trip Itinerary
Although you could easily spend 3-4 hours at Giant’s Causeway itself (especially if you wander along one of the many coastal walking routes nearby), it’s also possible to combine Giant’s Causeway with other incredible attractions in and around County Antrim in Northern Ireland.
Here’s what a full Giant’s Causeway day trip itinerary could include…
The Dark Hedges
Thanks to the Game of Thrones, The Dark Hedges along Bregagh Road is now a very popular tourist site.
This is where you can see twisted and gnarled trees, which have grown into an archway shape across the road.
They’re just a short 25 minute drive away from Giant’s Causeway and where we recommend starting your day because you’ll find less tourists here early in the morning.
Since we visited, you can no longer drive through the hedges but you can park nearby and walk through them, which is better for snapping photos anyway.
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
From the Dark Hedges, parking for the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge is around twenty minutes away.
This unique National Trust site will see you walking along a coastal path towards the bridge complete with stunning views, before crossing a rickety old rope bridge connecting two sections of the Northern Irish coast.
This is a fun way to start your day and only takes around 90 minutes of your time to visit.
Continuing west along the coastal roads for around 20 minutes from Carrick-a-Rede, you’ll come to Giant’s Causeway; the crown jewel of this day trip itinerary.
You’ll want to spend at least 2 hours here and around 3 – 4 hours if you also want to take in the views from the coastal walking trails nearby.
As per our tips above, you can either park up and walk down to Giant’s Causeway from the visitor centre or use the park and ride service from Bushmills.
Don’t leave County Antrim without a quick photo stop at Dunluce Castle, which is around 15 minutes away from Giant’s Causeway.
This medieval clifftop castle was first built in the 1500s and was once the political home of the Earls of Antrim.
You can pay a few pounds to walk around the castle ruins or you can snap a quick photo of it from the road if you don’t have much time left.
Although Belfast is not in County Antrim, a lot of Giant’s Causeway tours and day trips (especially those coming from Dublin) include Belfast within the itinerary to help break up the drive on the way back.
Belfast is around 1.5 hours from Giant’s Causeway and is a small city, so you can get away with spending just 1-2 hours wandering around if you just want to get a feel for the city.
But perhaps one of Belfast’s biggest draws is the Titanic Museum where you can learn more about how this infamous ship was built, how it sank and you can even see Titanic’s sister ship SS Nomadic, which was the last White Star Line ship to be built.
How To Visit Giant’s Causeway As A Day Trip From Belfast
As Giant’s Causeway is only around 1.5 hours (roughly 60 miles) from Belfast, it’s really easy to see the famous basalt stones as a quick day trip.
You could drive yourself or join one of many coach tours that depart from Belfast.
We like to use Get Your Guide for all our tours as they offer fair prices and plenty of choice, while their cancellation policy is awesome! You can cancel your trip up to 24 hours before without incurring any fees.
Giant’s Causeway Tours From Belfast
Sound good? Here are a few Giant’s Causeway tours from Belfast that come highly rated by hundreds of other travellers:
- Giant’s Causeway and Game of Thrones Day Tour
- Giant’s Causeway and More: Luxury Coach Tour from Belfast
- Giant’s Causeway and Rope Bridge Tour from Belfast
How To Visit Giant’s Causeway As A Day Trip From Dublin
Although Giant’s Causeway is around 3-4 hours away from Dublin (roughly 160 miles away), it’s certainly possible to do it as a day trip.
We did it ourselves as an addition to our Dublin itinerary, and although it was a long day (7am-8pm), it was great to be able to see it as we didn’t know when we’d next find ourselves on the Emerald Isle again.
And as someone else was driving, we could relax and sleep in the coach on the way back when we needed to.
Currently there is no hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland so you won’t need to show your passport. But you will need to quickly get used to the different currencies in play – Euros in the south, British Pounds in the north.
Giant’s Causeway Tours From Dublin
Here are some more Giant’s Causeway tours (this time from Dublin) that come highly rated by hundreds of other travellers:
- Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge Tour
- Giant’s Causeway and Game of Thrones Tour
- Full-Day Scenic Tour of the Giant’s Causeway
Where To Stay When Visiting Giant’s Causeway
If you’d rather spend longer at Giant’s Causeway and make it the focus of your trip to Northern Ireland, then there are various hotels and B&Bs dotted around the Giant’s Causeway site to make it easy for visiting and exploring the local area.
Here are a few suggestions of where to stay when visiting Giant’s Causeway, which come highly rated by lots of travellers:
- Causeway Hotel: Charming 3-star beach hotel within a 15 minute walk of Giant’s Causeway and offering free wifi, free parking and a free cooked-to-order breakfast every morning | Check Prices | Read Reviews
- The Bushmills Inn: Cosy 4-star hotel offering free wifi and parking in the village of Bushmills (roughly 2.7 miles from Giant’s Causeway) | Check Prices | Read Reviews
- Bayview Hotel: Upmarket 4-star oceanfront hotel with restaurant, wifi and free parking within Portballintrae (roughly 3.5 miles from Giant’s Causeway) | Check Prices | Read Reviews
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading all about the Giant’s Causeway legend and how to visit this incredible landmark as part of an epic day trip.
Is there anything else you want to know before visiting Giant’s Causeway? Or do you just want to tell us what you thought of this blog post? We’d love to hear from you so feel free to jot down a few notes in the comments below…
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