How to Visit the Giant’s Causeway

Boy climbing on the basalt rock formation at Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland
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Do not miss the Giant’s Causeway when you visit Northern Ireland. You’ve likely seen the photos of or played it as a Natural Wonder in Civilization 6, but being there is much cooler. Formed by giants…or cooling lava…either way, the tens of thousands of basalt columns are a blast to explore.

The Legend of the Giant’s Causeway

Legend says that the Giant’s Causeway was formed when Northern Ireland’s resident giant, Finn McCool, got into a beef with his Scottish rival, Benandonner. Benandonner threatened Ireland so McCool decided to show him who’s boss. He tossed chunks of the Antrim Coast into the sea and formed a walkway (or some might say a Giant’s Causeway) to Scotland.

A close-up of the top of the basalt columns at Giant's Causeway in Northern Island. Most of the columns are hexagonal, but all with a slightly unique shape.
Isn’t it cool how each column has its own unique shape?!

Bad news for McCool. Turns out Benandonner was HUGE and McCool fled back to Ireland as quick as he could. Terrified that Benandonner was hot on his feels, the panicked McCool didn’t know what to do. Lucky for him, his quick-thinking wife, Oonagh, had a plan. She disguised him as a baby and tucked him into the cradle.

When Benandonner arrived and saw how huge McCool’s baby was, he didn’t dare hang around to see how big McCool was. Now it was Benandonner’s turn to flee. He was smart enough to tear up the stone path on his way back to Scotland, leaving only the Giant’s Causeway on the Ireland side and Fingal’s Cave on the Scotland side.

Pink crocs in the bottom of the photo reach out to a distant Scotland across the sea from the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.
Batty takes in the view of a distant Scotland (the vague shape on the horizon, not the super close green land mass)

Science suggests that this is not the real story and that the hexagonal columns formed 60 million years ago from cooling molten lava. About two-thirds of the Giant’s Causeway is actually underwater. Similar sites exist throughout the world, but the Giant’s Causeway was special enough to earn UNESCO World Heritage status in 1986. Science rules, but the legend has pizazz.

Close-up of the tops of the basalt columns at Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. Some columns have humped (convex) tops and some have concave tops filled with small pools of water.
When the molten lava cooled, the lava fractured vertically (to form columns) and horizontally to form humped or dipped tops. This is called “ball and socket joint.” We liked how the concave tops collected little pools of water.

How to Visit the Giant’s Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway lies on the northern coast of Northern Ireland, the Antrim Coast. It is a popular stop on the appropriately named Causeway Coastal Route, but is worth a day trip even if you skip the rest of the route. You can get right up and on top of the Giant’s Causeway, so budget enough time to explore. We recommend 1.5 to 2 hours.

A girl stands on top of the basalt columns at Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.
Batty and Falcon loved climbing all over the different formations.

Free vs. Visitor Experience

We were confused when we first arrived at the Giant’s Causeway. We had dreamt about the scones at the Giant’s Causeway ever since National Trust Scones completed her scone journey at the Giant’s Causeway café. Eager to stave off our afternoon hunger, we attempted to enter the café. Foiled! The Visitor Center is only accessible to people with paid Visitor Experience tickets. The gift shop, café, and educational exhibits are cut-off from the non-fee paying visitors.

Herein lies the confusion. You can visit the Giant’s Causeway for free. You cannot visit the Visitor Center and its amenities for free. That requires purchase of the Visitor Experience. The Visitor Experience includes parking, guided tour or hand-held audio guide, access to the Visitor Center’s educational exhibits, the shop, and cafe. Personally, I don’t understand why you keep people from spending money in your shop and cafe, but that’s how it is.

If you choose to buy the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Experience, we recommend that you pre-book online. This will guarantee you a parking spot. Prices change with the season. Current peak season prices are £15.00 for an adult and £7.50 for a child. Family discounts are available.


If you opt for the Visitor Experience, then you get to park in the lot right next to the Visitor Center. The parking attendants will ask you for your booking proof. You can pre-book on the National Trust official site. National Trust members are free, but should still pre-book to ensure parking.

If you don’t want to buy the Visitor Experience, then the closest parking is £10 at the Causeway Coast Way car park.

Getting from the Visitor Center to the Giant’s Causeway

Shuttle Bus

A wheelchair-accessible shuttle bus runs every 15 minutes from the Visitor Center to the Giant’s Causeway. The bus costs £1 per person or £2 return. The Visitor Experience ticket does not include the shuttle bus.

Hiking Trails

The Blue Trail follows the same route as the shuttle bus. It is the way most people visit the Giant’s Causeway. From the Visitor Centre, the paved “trail” (it’s really a road with a footpath) heads downhill for 0.8 miles (1.28 km) to the Giant’s Causeway. The Blue Trail is too steep for wheelchairs, but is fine for strollers.

A view of the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland from the Blue Trail. A number of people are clambering over the rocks.
A view of Giant’s Causeway from the Blue Trail. You can see how large and spread out the area is. You can also see that it’s a popular place to visit.

The Green Trail is a wheelchair and stroller accessible route along a clifftop above the Giant’s Causeway. The 2-mile (3.2 km) trail has views down to the Giant’s Causeway and across to Scotland.

The Red Trail and Yellow Trail are for people with more time and looking for more views. The Red Trail is a clifftop walk with views down on the Giant’s Causeway. At the end of the Red Trail, you can head down the 162 Shepherd’s Steps to link up with the Blue Trail for the trip back.

A man at the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland stands on the Giant's Gate with the Giant's Chair behind him.
The Giant’s Chair looms over the Giant’s Causeway. You can access the top of the Giant’s Chair from the Red Trail or Yellow Trail.

The Yellow Trail is a longer 1.8 mile (2.88 km) section of the Causeway Route. This trail is intended to be a cliff walk, not a shoreline walk. If you want to go down to the Giant’s Causeway, you need to take the Shepherd’s Steps down to the Blue Trail. Otherwise, this is an out-and-back trail.

A view looking west at the cliffs near the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. You can walk the Yellow Trail along the cliff tops.
A view looking west at the cliffs near the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. You can walk the Yellow Trail along the cliff tops.

For more information about these trails, see the National Trust webpage and clicks on “Things to see and do” for trail information.

A trail map for the Giant's Causeway area
This map shows the four different hiking trails.

Our Visit

We visited the Giant’s Causeway in May 2023 as part of a Coastal Causeway Route day trip from Belfast and then onwards to Dublin. Lucky us, we had beautiful sunshine! We arrived mid-afternoon (see earlier sad tale of missed scones) so crowds were at peak levels. If you want fewer people around, I suggest staying nearby and coming in the early morning or early evening. The coastline is open from dawn to dusk. Portrush is nearby and has a variety of accommodation and a great beach. We decided not to pay for the Visitor Experience and used the Blue Trail to access the coastline. We explored the area (including the walk up/down) for about two hours.

Small plants grow in the cracks between the basalt columns at Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.
I loved all the tiny plants eking out an existence in the cracks and gaps between the columns.
Two children stretch their arms up to show how tall the Giant's Gate is at the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland
Walk through the Giant’s Gate to get a side view of the basalt columns. Also, another tiny pink plant at the top!

Top Rated Giant’s Causeway Tours

If you don’t want to hassle with parking, driving, and tickets, a tour is an easy way to visit the Giant’s Causeway. You get experienced commentary, entrance fees included at sites, and no worries about parking hassles. Belfast is the most common starting point for these tours, but there are tour options from Dublin if you’re up for a long day.

This highest-rated tour from Belfast includes numerous Coastal Causeway Route stops, including Giant’s Causeway and Dunluce Castle. For the Game of Thrones fans, you may prefer a GoT-focused tour that includes the Giant’s Causeway.

Other Things to Do Near the Giant’s Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway is easy to combine with other Coastal Causeway Route sites such as Dunluce Castle or Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The Bushmills’ Distillery is just a short drive away. Belfast is only a little over an hour away. If you’re looking for ideas, check out our favorite things to do in Belfast in one day.

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