The Giant’s Causeway is one of those impressive landmarks in the world that is absolutely worth going out of your way to see while in Ireland.
The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage Site over 60 million years old and probably the most popular tourist attraction of Northern Ireland.
It’s described perfectly by CNN’s John Sutter, as below:
A golf course green canyon wall slopes into a set of volcanic rock formations that are completely surreal: Near-perfect hexagon tubes are stacked next to each other like puzzle pieces.John Sutter, Source
As history records show, the formation of this magical landmark is due to the aftermath of a volcano erupting and cooling with over 40,000 basalt columns. Legends of giants “striding over the sea” to Scotland have been inspired by these unique formations.
If you’ve ever been to Iceland, the Giant’s Causeway looks incredibly similar to Reynisfjara, a famous black sand beach on the southern coast.
Getting to the Giant’s Causeway
While I used Dublin (Republic of Ireland) as a base for a day trip to this iconic location, it’s important to note that it’s in Northern Ireland (the region which uses the £ and not €).
Others tend to stay in Belfast (also Northern Ireland) and day trip via bus or train. The most economical (and best option) is always renting a car and driving to it yourself, especially if you’re staying in Ireland for a week or more and want to go at your pace. Educate yourself beforehand about renting a car in Ireland here.
I ended up going with a Grayline shuttle rather than an organised tour because it was cheaper, but you also get what you pay for.
I was gutted that I missed the Belfast Titanic Experience (a £120 million investment) AND didn’t get all the knowledge and history behind where the heck we were going. If you’re interested in a comprehensive day tour of all these highlights, look into Viator’s option. [2020 edit: I ended up going to the Titanic Experience museum with a friend a few months later when I went back, and it was incredible. Highly recommend!]
The Dark Hedges
Belfast flew by as a glimpse out of our windows, and we endured a 3.5-hour ride straight to The Dark Hedges in Ballymoney, part of the infamous Kings Road where Arya Stark escaped from Kings Landing in Game of Thrones.
I should preface that I’ve never had an interest in GoT (sorry), but this was still an impressive sight to see. The tall, ominous trees reminded me of Mirkwood Forest or something from Snow White.
The trees were planted back in the 18th century by the Stuart family as a welcoming gesture to their Georgian mansion (Gracehill House). The house is privately-owned and operates as a bar/restaurant, wedding venue, and golf course, so you can technically pay a visit if you’d like.
Everywhere you looked, you were surrounded by lush greenery and sheep (isn’t that an accurate representation of Ireland anyhow?). Irish countryside is just as beautiful as Scottish and English countryside.
Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
The next main stop along the route is Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. It was originally built by fishermen in 1755 and spans only 20 metres long, but still an absolutely impressive landmark.
The bridge links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede (hence the name), and the views around it are sheerly breathtaking (especially if you visit in the spring or summer). However, be mindful that queues to cross it will be twice as long in the summer, sometimes as long as two hours.
The bridge only accommodated eight people at a time, and the “bridge monitor” monitored this by yelling at anyone who stopped to take photos. I luckily walked across the rickety bridge as swiftly as I could with my GoPro and selfie stick (don’t laugh, since at least I have photographic evidence) and got some beautiful shots.
We didn’t have blue skies and stunning turquoise water below us, but we still got a less-crowded experience and a lot of wind. It was probably the shortest rope bridge I’ve ever crossed, but there are marvelous views of Rathlin Island and Scotland from the bridge that make it extremely worth your time.
The Main Attraction: Giant’s Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway is stunning beyond words. Aside from its panoramic views of the coastline surrounded by towering stone walls and red rocks, it’s a historic site that should be appreciated.
The hexagon-shaped brown and grey stones served as stepping stones and were raised as tiers in some areas (one point was called the “Wishing Chair”). To put it lightly, everything seemed magical here.
All the walking trails along the coast were extremely simple, so never fear! The Red Trail yields a gorgeous aerial view of Giant’s Causeway, the mouth of the ocean, and the road below. In comparison, it was like the Pacific Coast Highway of Ireland.
The one downside to a tour is the fact that you have to run like a chicken with your head cut off trying to admire the scenery as well as get all your photos and videos in. I’ve never enjoyed the pressures of time constraints, so I’d still recommend renting a car over a tour or Grayline.
A Quick Photo Essay
One of the girls on the tour was a young Chinese exchange student studying in Germany who took it upon herself to ask if we could be each other’s photographers for the day.
Thanks to her, I have a lot more photos of myself in the scenery rather than just a ton of bad selfies. She was one of those gems who framed me in front of the entire landmark. So thank you, Rebecca!
When traveling alone, it might seem like a lucky dip trying to ask others to take your photo for you. There are many online sources nowadays, like this service that allows you to hire local photographers for set rates.
Our last photo stop was Dunluce Castle, which was used as the House of Greyjoy in Game of Thrones.
The castle has some spooky history involving a banshee and the castle kitchens being enveloped by the sea during a stormy evening in 1639. Regardless, it’s still a beautiful medieval castle that will thrill any history enthusiast.
Our visit was unfortunately timed poorly since the castle was already closed when we arrived in the evening. Most tours probably throw this in as a quick photo stop due to time constraints, which highlights another reason why you should just go at your own pace with a rental car.
The ruins of the castle were stunningly set against the sunset on the north Antrim coastline. I think it wins top prize for the best coastal views out of all other castles I’ve seen.
Whether you choose to visit Giant’s Causeway as part of a day trip tour or on your own, you’re bound to be rewarded with rich, historical experiences. The landmarks along the way will leave you breathless and more in love with Ireland than when you first arrived.
And remember, there’s more to Northern Ireland than just the Giant’s Causeway, Dark Hedges, Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, and Dunluce Castle. Check out these helpful sources when planning your Northern Ireland trip.
This post was written in 2017 and updated in 2020.
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