The Giant's Causeway on the north coast of Northern Ireland is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland and for very good reason. Its beautiful and unusual geography of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns and a view across to Scotland (on a fine day) make it a fabulous day trip. Located about 5km from the town of Bushmills, it is an easy drive if you have a vehicle and there are many day tours from all major points in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Almost every tour in/to Northern Ireland will include a stop.
Budget travellers can choose to bypass the Visitor's Center and go directly to the site without paying a fee. There is a fee when entering through the Visitor's Center. From the parking lot, visitors can choose to walk down the path, take a shuttle bus, or walk along the clifftops pathways. There are over 8 km of trails, many are very steep. Sensible walking shoes are a necessity.
The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal, although there are also some with four, five, seven or eight sides. The tallest are about 12 metres (39 ft) high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 28 metres (92 ft) thick in places.
The topography here and across the channel at Fingal's cave on the Scottish island of Staffa, inspired the legend of the Irish giant, Fionn mac Cumahill (Finn MacCool). According to the legend, One day he was walking the shore when he looked across at Scotland to see another Giant.
Finn decided to build a bridge across the water so he could confront the Scottish giant. He gathered the rocks, carefully shaped and stacked them.
Fionn crossed and, hiding behind some rocks in Scotland, he was shocked to realize that the Scottish giant was three times his size. Fionn skedadalled back across the water. The Scottish giant caught a glimpse of the fleeing Fionn and followed across the causeway.
Fionn rushed home and hid in the bedroom as the Scottish giant politely knocked on the door. Fionn's wife answered the door and explained that Fionn was not home, but kindly invited the Scottish giant to sit and enjoy a cup of tea before he returned home.
Unfortunately, it was at this moment that Fionn let loose a terrific sneeze. The Scottish giant burst into the bedroom to discover Finn wearing a baby bonnet and gurgling like a wee babe.
The Scottish giant did some quick calculating and realized if this was the size of the babe, then the father would be much bigger than himself. The Scottish giant ran back to Scotland, In his haste, his steps broke through the causeway.
Other natural features inspire more chapters to the legend of Fionn MacCool, including his loyal companion Humphrey the Camel. At the end of the walkway down the hill, visitors can see Humphrey sleeping on the beach.
Another rock formation is said to be Fionn's Granny climbing the hill. Some stories say Fionn turned her to stone to prevent her from drinking and carousing with men. (She's on the left, stooped and petrified)
Many day trippers will return to the parking area by walking up the roadway or catching the shuttle. (Tickets available at the Visitor's center) Those with more time and stamina can follow the lower walkway along the coast.
About halfway to the point is the 162-step Shepherd's Steps, leading to the clifftop path or back to the parking area. In the years prior to this area becoming a UNESCO and National Trust site, shepherds let their sheep roam through the winter. When it came time to gather them, some would have made their way down to the shore. Prior to the steps being built, shepherds needed to carry them up the hill. The stairs apparently made the job much easier.
The walk along the top offers spectacular views and a brisk, gusty wind. The coastal walk is a little more protected.
After enjoying the scenery and fresh air, I recommend a stop in The Nook, a cute little pub right beside the parking area.
It's always a warm and welcoming atmosphere with hearty food, crisp ciders, and a good selection of draught beers.
To fully explore the entire site, visitors will need at least 3 or 4 hours, however the main causeway area can be done, using the shuttle, in about an hour. My first visit was with a tour group and we were given about 90 minutes, which suited most of the group well. On subsequent visits, I had rental vehicles and stayed for at least 4 - 5 hours walking every trail and cliff possible.
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