It begins with a tale of two giants. One Irish, one Scottish.
The Irish giant, Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCoul to most people), gets wind one day that a great Scottish giant has challenged him to a fight. In most versions of the legend, Finn accepts the challenge, and builds a great causeway across the Northern Channel between (Northern) Ireland and Scotland so that the two giants can meet (without getting their feet wet).
But Finn then hears of how big and powerful the Scottish giant is, and decides to try and trick him instead. Finn has his wife Una disguise him as a baby and place him in a cradle. When the Scottish giant catches sight of Finn — believing Finn is out and that this huge baby belongs to him — he decides that Finn must indeed be a giant among giants and flees back to Scotland, destroying the causeway behind him.
Today, the remnants of this tale can be found in strangely-shaped basalt columns found both at Fingal's Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa, and identical columns disappearing into the sea off the northeast coast of Northern Ireland.
In Northern Ireland, it's known simply as the Giant's Causeway.
This UNESCO World Heritage site has always been in my peripheral vision; always been a place that I was interested in someday visiting. And so, when the opportunity arose to pop up to Northern Ireland after deciding to spend some extra days in Dublin back in October, I took it.
Arriving at the Causeway, I initially wasn't sure what to expect; I couldn't even see the stone columns from the (very modern) visitor's center, and was at first even a bit lost as to which direction to walk in. But, when I eventually decided to just head downhill and follow the shuttle buses ferrying tourists to and from the visitor's center, I was eventually rewarded with this site:
In reality, the 40,000 or so basalt columns were formed millions of years ago during an ancient volcanic eruption (those similar columns in Scotland are actually from the same lava flow). The columns — most hexagonal in shape — formed naturally as the lava cooled, dried, contracted, and eventually fractured.
What's left today is like a huge playground constructed by Mother Nature.
For nearly an hour, I ,too, hopped around atop the oddly-shaped stones, playing a weird game of stair-step hopscotch and feeling like a little kid again.
Even if you're not feeling very child-like, I guarantee that a visit to this unique spot will put a smile on your face.
Just look out for any wandering giants…
Practical Tips for Visiting Giant's Causeway
Giant's Causeway is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland is becoming more and more popular with tourists. I therefore recommend visiting either early in the day or later in the evening in order to avoid the worst crowds.
Your visit will start at the fancy new Visitor Center, where you can find interactive exhibits, a cafe, and a spot where you can get tickets and pick up an audio guide for the Causeway.
From the visitor center, you can get to the Causeway itself two ways: either take a shuttle down to the main part of the rocks (it's about 1 pound per ride), or head up to do the cliffside walk first, which will eventually lead down to the Causeway. I highly recommend the second option, as you'll be hiking down most of the way. Plus, the views from above are really incredible.
How long do you need? You need *at least* 2-3 hours to see Giant's Causeway, but half a day to fully enjoy it.
How much does it cost? Tickets to the Causeway are 9 GBP for adults, and you are encouraged to book ahead (you'll get a timed entry ticket), as the site is very popular and they do limit how many people are at the Causeway at any time.
Can I book a tour? If you don't want to drive yourself, you can book Giant's Causeway day trips from both Dublin and Belfast, which often include stops at other nearby sites, too. Check these ones out:
- Giant’s Causeway Day Trip from Belfast
- Giant's Causeway Day Trip from Dublin including Belfast
- ‘Game of Thrones' and Giant's Causeway Full-Day Tour from Belfast
Is the Giant's Causeway a spot YOU would like to visit?