Visiting the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland

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Last month I had the opportunity to visit a site that I had only recently learned about, from a children’s book, of all things: The Giant’s Causeway. Located at the northern tip of Northern Ireland, I never even considered that I’d get to see this remote natural wonder, apart from TV or the internet. This is why you always say “yes” to spontaneous travel if you can.

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Basalt columns at Giant's Causeway

Getting there

My short Ireland trip consisted of two days in Dublin and two days in Belfast. Visiting Giant’s Causeway was our plan for the first afternoon of Belfast, so we made the drive up, which took about 2 hours.

So, if you’re driving, it’s 1-2 hours from Belfast and 3-4 hours from Dublin. If you haven’t rented a car, the Giant’s Causeway website provides good information on other modes of transportation. You can always take a group coach tour departing from Belfast or Dublin.

Two days in Dublin, Ireland – more from The Voyageer

Visitor center

When you arrive in the visitor center you can opt for a self-guided tour via an earpiece, or you can join one of the guided tours (both are included with admission). You’d also do well to read up on the rock formations by perusing the exhibits on geology and geography in the center before heading out. There is also a large projector showing an animated version of the giant’s folktale you can familiarize yourself with before taking the tour. Lastly, there is an excellent cafe which makes for a good stop to warm yourself up after two hours in the wind.

Giant’s Causeway Guided tour

Be sure to check the weather report and dress appropriately, because you will be out in the elements basically the whole time.

Let me be clear: Since it’s a natural wonder, It is possible to visit the Giant’s Causeway for free. However, I think it is a richer experience with a guided tour and I’m glad I paid for it.

If you speak English and can handle a leisurely walk down a somewhat steep hill, taking the tour from one of the site’s knowledgeable guides is definitely the way to go. Maybe I’m just an American simpleton, but learning about stones and lichen was much more compelling coming from a local with an Irish accent. The tour takes about an hour and ends up at the famous hexagonal rock formations where you can spend as much time as you like. Then, you can walk back up the hill or pay £1 to ride back up in a shuttle like I did.

If you don’t speak English, the self-guided audio tours are offered in 8 other languages: French, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Russian, Japanese, and Mandarin.

More natural formations: Bryce Canyon National Park’s famous Hoodoos in Utah

Natural formations

I’m not a geologist, but I can give you a top-level overview of how the amazing hexagonal rock formations came about. These basalt columns were pushed out of the earth by volcanic activity. There is a lot of thermal, volcanic activity in this part of the world; think about the geysers in Iceland. Interestingly, there are basalt columns like this in Iceland and Scotland, all of similar origin, all of which were probably formed around the same time.

I was so excited that we were able to walk on the columns and experience them in a physical way, instead of viewing them from a tram or from behind a rope.

Basalt Columns at Giant's Causeway

Also in the area

There are plenty of other things to do up in the Giant’s Causeway area, so you can make a day of it. There is the famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, Dunlulce Castle ruin, Bushmills Distillery, and Game of Thrones sites, to name a few. Note the opening hours for the month you will be visiting; we arrived a bit too late to see more than the Giant’s Causeway, but it was still worth it.

Stay the night nearby (booking.com)

All photos by Staci Jackson and Rachel Christensen for The Voyageer.

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