When road tripping along the rugged landscape of County Antrim, you will find Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and most visited attraction, the Giant’s Causeway. It truly is a natural wonder. But, depending on when you go, your Giant’s Causeway visit can be amazing or average. We will share how to visit the Giant’s Causeway with insider tips for how to avoid the crowds, where to find the best places to stay, and what you will actually see when you make a stop at this awe-inspiring destination along the Causeway Coast.
If you’re planning a visit and want to make the most of your trip guide to experiencing the Giant’s Causeway like a pro, you have come to the right place. We have visited the Giant’s Causeway three times on organized tours and independently. We’ve marveled at its unique basalt columns at sunrise, sunset, and everywhere in between. So, are you ready to fall in love with the Giant’s Causeway like we did? Let’s go!
Tips for Visiting the Giant’s Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway never ceases to amaze us, its basalt columns look like perfectly placed stepping stones leading out to the water’s edge. However, one of our Giant’s Causeway visits was less than stellar due to crowds because we visited at the wrong time of day. So, to help you avoid making the same mistake we made on our first visit, we will share the best ways to visit the Giant’s Causeway from out other experiences exploring the North Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a magical landscape steeped in myth and beauty. Known for its unique basalt columns formed by ancient volcanic fissure eruptions, the Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland’s most popular attraction. It is truly incredible and lives up to the hype.
Where is the Giant’s Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway is located in County Antrim on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, about 60 miles from Belfast. The best way to reach this iconic landmark is by car, offering the flexibility to explore at your own pace. Check for Rental Car Prices here.
Driving from Belfast takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes via the M2 and A26, leading you through some of Northern Ireland’s most picturesque landscapes. It is just 2.5 miles north of Bushmills Village and 1 hour and 20 minutes from Belfast.
Public transportation options include train services from Belfast to Coleraine, followed by a connecting bus to the Causeway. There is bus service from Balintoy Village.
If you don’t have a car, you can join a guided tour from Belfast or Derry/Londonderry, which often includes other attractions along the Causeway Coast.
The best time to visit The Giant’s Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway is open year-round, so you can visit anytime. However, the best times to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site are the shoulder seasons of spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November).
During these months, visitors can enjoy mild weather and fewer crowds. Temperatures during these seasons average a comfortable 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F), ideal for walking and photography.
While the summer months (July and August) promise warmer weather, with temperatures ranging from 15°C to 20°C (59°F to 68°F), they also bring the peak tourist season, resulting in larger crowds and longer wait times.
The winter months, though less crowded, can be challenging due to colder temperatures, around 5°C to 8°C (41°F to 46°F), and shorter daylight hours.
Best Time of Day to Visit
The best time to visit the Giant’s Causeway during the day is at sunrise or sunset. The Visitor Centre is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily, but you can visit outside of opening hours.
To truly appreciate its splendor without the crowds, aim to visit either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. We visited both times in different years and times of year, and both times, we had it virtually to ourselves. Plus the softer light made for stunning photographs as we enjoyed quieter moments while roaming the site.
We walked down at sunrise well before the visitor center opened and could hike all over the weathered rock formations, taking in views from different angles. By the time the buses started arriving, we had our fill and went back to the hotel for breakfast.
We did the same thing at night. Once the buses left, we walked down to watch the sunset with a group of two other people. When you are along the Giant’s Causeway, it is truly magical.
The one time we were on a bus tour, we arrived in mid-day, and it was chaos.
Many people visit the Giant’s Causeway on a road trip around the Causeway Coast or as part of a day tour from Belfast. The guided tours and bus tours stop at the Giant’s Causeway starting at 10 am, so if you can get in before that, you will have a better time.
What is the Giant’s Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway is a unique natural phenomena of exceptional beauty easily making its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was formed 60 million years ago during a volcanic eruption and it is truly a wonder of the world. There are more than 40 thousand basalt columns that are perfectly stacked, creating what looks like a giant set of interlocking bricks leading out to the sea.
The basalt columns were formed during the eruption when the flowing lava crashed into the waves of the sea. As the ocean cooled the lava, it turned them into volcanic stones. There are similar basalt columns worldwide, including in Iceland and across the sea; you can visit the Scottish Island Staffa Flow (Isle of Staffa) to see Fingals Cave, which is another amazing sight that was formed by volcanic activity.
Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre
The Giant’s Causeway is run by the National Trust, which is an organization that promotes the preservation of natural and architectural wonders. They have created a Visitor Center to enhance the visitor experience with interactive displays and an interpretation area that blends seamlessly with the landscape.
If you have a National Trust Membership, entrance is free. Most tourists obviously won’t have a membership, so let’s go through the coasts.
If you stay at the Causeway Hotel, you can also visit the Giant’s Causeway for free.
Prices vary, with current entrance fee rates at £13.50 for adults and £6.70 for children, offering value for those interested in learning more about the geological and mythological background of the area. National Trust members can enjoy free entry and parking. Prices change at peak season.
The Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre opens at 10:00 am and closes depending on the time of year, anywhere from 5 pm to 9 pm. But you can visit it alone and walk down anytime if you stay at the Causeway Hotel. From the parking lot, you will walk through a tunnel taking you to the Blue Trail which is a half-mile walk downhill.
Driving and Car Park Locations
If you are not staying at the Causeway Hotel you will need to pay for parking or you can walk. Some of the guest houses near Giant’s Causeway are not too far away as well. There are some good hiking trails to the Giant’s Causeway as well and if you are up for a hike, you can walk from Dunserverick Castle or Portballintrae.
If you are driving, you will need to purchase a parking ticket. Using the car park closest to the visitor centre costs £13 per person, adding up quickly. The cost for parking is £13 per adult in the car. £32.50 for a family and £6.50 for children.
That makes The Causeway Hotel an even more desirable option. When you stay here, parking and entrance is free.
There is another car park along the Causeway Road, The Causeway Coast Car park costs £10 and is an easy walk to the visitor centre.
When you purchase a ticket online, it includes parking, a guided tour, and audio guides. You also have access to the Visitor Centre, the exhibition, café and souvenir shop.
We realize that most people will not want to drive on the other side of the road and there are plenty of guided tours from Dublin, and Belfast. Plus, if you book a tour, you won’t need to worry about any of these costs as they will all be included. Here are a couple of guided tours that we recommend that also explore more of County Antrim and Northern Ireland.
This full-day guided tour is highly rated and takes you along the Causeway Coastal Route to see the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle, The Dark Hedges, and Giants Causeway.
Giant’s Causeway Walking Trails
Blue Trail – This is the common trail that is along the paved road leading to Giant’s Causeway from the Visitor Centre.
Green Trail – This is a 3.2 km (2 miles) hike that takes 1.5 hours. This trail starts at the Causeway Hotel and follows the path toward path towards Runkerry Head. This trail is suitable for people with disabilities and is wheelchair friendly. It is also kid-friendly for buggies. This trail takes you out to see the Portcoon Cave, 150 yards long and 40-foot high, sea cave.
Red Trail – The Red Trail is a moderate trail that takes about 1.5 hours. It starts at the Giant’s Causeway visitor’s centre and goes along the top of the cliffs.
Yellow Trail – The Yellow Trail is a challenging hike, that begins at Runkery Head and ends at Hamilton’s Seat. The trailhead is accessible near the village of Portballintrae and goes past the Causeway Hotel and Visitors Centre. You’ll meet up with the Blue Trail and can go down to the Giant’s Causeway or stay high to continue on the Yellow Trail. There are sheer cliffs on this path, so be careful.
Where to Stay at the Giant’s Causeway
We highly recommend spending more time at the Giant’s Causeway than just on a quick day trip. The reason being is that if you join a tour, you will arrive at the Giant’s Causeway at midday with all the crowds. On two of our visits, we stayed at the Causeway Hotel and could walk down to see the Giant’s Causeway at sunrise and sunset. During these times of the day, we had it all to ourselves.
The Causeway Hotel is the closest hotel to the Giant’s Causeway located directly at the visitor’s centre. But there are plenty of BnBs around the area and other hotels in Bushmills which is just 2.5 miles away. You can then easily drive to the Giant’s Causeway for sunrise or sunset. See reviews on TripAdvisor and Check prices on Booking.com
The Causeway Hotel has a bar and restaurant so you don’t have to leave at all and can spend maximum time at the Giant’s Causeway. The rooms are pretty basic, though, and need an update. What the rooms lack in ambiance is made up for in its location.
The Bushmills Inn is another great option located in town. We ate here and had an amazing meal. It dates back to 1600 and was a coaching inn at the time. It has been completely renovated and the rooms are now a 4-star luxury. If you want something more upscale and don’t mind needing to drive to the Giant’s Causeway, this is a great option. See reviews on TripAdvisor and Check Prices on Booking.com
Giant’s Causeway History – The Legend
Inside the visitors center, there is a gift shop, a snack bar, and a coffee shop. There is also a film about the legend of the Giant’s Causeway involving the Irish Giant Finn McCool and the Scottish Giant Benandonner.
Before science, it was believed that the Irish giant Finn McCool made the Giant’s Causeway to create a bridge to Scotland to challenge his rival. Legend says that rivals Fionn Mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) of County Antrim in Ireland were constantly bickering with the Scottish Giant Benandonner.
One day Finn McCool decided to build a bridge to cross the sea and challenge Benandonner to a fight. It’s an easy legend to believe, as each stone seems to be placed there for a purpose. Read the full legend at The Legend of the Giant’s Causeway – Do You Believe?
The Actual History of the Giant’s Causeway
Formed over 60 million years ago due to intense volcanic eruptions, the Causeway is famous for its 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, creating a natural phenomenon that has intrigued visitors for centuries.
This blend of geological wonder and mythical tales, coupled with the site’s breathtaking natural beauty, makes the Giant’s Causeway a pivotal subject of study for geologists and a must-visit destination for tourists worldwide.
It is Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. Whether you’re drawn by the allure of its ancient origins or intrigued by the enchanting stories passed down through generations, the Giant’s Causeway offers a unique window into the past, making it an essential part of Northern Ireland’s cultural and natural heritage.
Mobility and the Giant’s Causeway
For those with mobility issues, there is a bus that you can take down and up to the Giant’s Causeway from the visitor’s center. They also have wheelchairs and scooters available to borrow at the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre. Note that they are available on a first come first serve basis. The bus costs
Things to do Near the Giant’s Causeway
After the morning visit, there are plenty of things to see and do nearby. Giant’s Causeway is located along the Causeway Coastal Route, and it is one of the most spectacular road trips on earth.
What to See and Do
Beyond the awe-inspiring basalt columns, the Giant’s Causeway area is rich in attractions worth exploring:
- The Visitor Centre: Start your visit here to delve into the Causeway’s fascinating geological and mythological stories.
- The Shepherd’s Steps: Challenge yourself with a climb up these steep steps to be rewarded with panoramic views.
- The Giant’s Boot: Discover this curious rock formation that, according to legend, belongs to the giant Finn McCool.
- Dunluce Castle: A short drive away, the ruins of this medieval castle offer a glimpse into Northern Ireland’s storied past.
- Bushmills Distillery: No trip to County Antrim is complete without a visit to the world’s oldest licensed distillery, offering tours and tastings.
Dunluce Castle is a lovely stop located just 10 minutes from Giant’s Causeway. The ruins sit high on a cliff and are one of the most picturesque castles in Northern Ireland.
Make sure to continue driving west to stop at the viewing platform just a short distance further. This just opened this year, and there are two fantastic lookouts where you can see Dunluce Castle on one side and the high sea cliffs of Northern Ireland on the other.
Bushmills is Dave’s favourite whisky, and we always stop to pick up a bottle of their signature 16-year-old. You can do a distillery tour and it is highly recommended. Even if you don’t do a tour, you can get into the grounds for a peek and into the gift shop to purchase a bottle or two. Bushmills Distillery is located in Bushmills Village and is just a five-minute drive from Giant’s Causeway.
The Dark Hedges is 20 minutes from Giant’s Causeway and they are the most photographed place in Northern Ireland. The Dark Hedges are located on Bregagh Road near the town of Ballymoney in County Antrim. It is lined with 90 beech trees forming an arch all the way along the road. It was used as The King’s Road in Game of Thrones. Note: Some Dark Hedges have been cut down due to deteriorating conditions, but there are still many standing. Read more: The Dark Hedges of Northern Ireland – Tips to Visit and What you Need to Know
Carrick a Rede
The Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge is another amazing stop that is located just 15 minutes from Giant’s Causeway. It was once a dangerous bridge to cross only used by fishermen, but today it has been restored and tourists can walk across this suspension bridge for unparalleled coastline views.
The Giant’s Causeway and the Causeway Coast are extraordinary places to visit. Spending time in this part of Northern Ireland will create memories to last a lifetime as you explore one of the most beautiful coasts in the world. Read more about the Causeway Coast at: The Ultimate Causeway Coastal Route Itinerary, Northern Ireland
Giant’s Causeway Belfast Tours
You can book day tours to the Giant’s Causeway from Belfast if you aren’t doing a self-drive around the Causeway Coastal Route. This highly rated tour takes you to see famous sights along the Antrim coast before reaching the Giant’s Causeway. Places you’ll see en route to the Giant’s Causeway are Cushendun Caves, Carnlough Harbour, and the Dark Hedges. Learn about the history from live commentary on board.
Another excellent option for a tour from Belfast to the Giant’s Causeway is this popular Game of Thrones Tour. You’ll enjoy the beauty of the Antrim Coast before hitting the world-famous Giant’s Causeway. During this guided day tour, you’ll stop at places like Carrickfergus Castle and the nine Glens of Antrim before seeing the coastal town of Ballycastle. It’s then time to see HBO’s Game of Thrones filming locations like Magharmorne Quarry, which is the location of Castle Black and the Dark Hedges, to see King’s Road.
Tours to the Giant’s Causeway even be booked from Dublin. This highly rated tour is the perfect day trip for people with limited time but who still want to enjoy some of the top Northern Ireland destinations when they visit Ireland. Visit the Dark Hedges, Dunluce Castle, and Giant’s Causeway, and spend some time in Belfast on a guided tour from Dublin.
- Admire the formations of the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Head to Portaneevy View Point to see the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
- Marvel at the stunning scenery of the Antrim coastal route
- Hear stories of folklore and history with a few myths and legends too
- See some of the Game of Thrones sites throughout the day
Other Places with Columns in the World
A quick Google search will show you that there are dozens of hexagonal columns around the world. We noted Iceland and Scotland, but they can be found from Mongolia to Thailand. Ones that we’ve seen with our own eyes are Iceland, Namibia, Australia, and California. We even recently saw incredible formations in Santiago Chile.
If you aren’t driving, this is a good day tour that includes visiting the top attractions on the Causeway Coast including Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce Castle and the Dark Hedges.
Visit RentalCars.com to see prices for car rentals from Dublin or Belfast.
Resources for Planning Your Trip to Northern Ireland
- Things to do in Belfast, Northern Ireland
- 27 Best Things to Do in Northern Ireland
- A Game of Thrones Tour of Northern Ireland
- The Dark Hedges of Northern Ireland – Tips to Visit and What you Need to Know
- The Ultimate Causeway Coastal Route Itinerary, Northern Ireland
- Things to do in Derry – Londonderry, Northern Ireland