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Visiting the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland

According to legend, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was a footbridge between Ireland and Scotland, built by the warrior giant Fionn mac Cumhaill and destroyed when his opponent Benandonner fled back home. Under an undulating series of cliffs are towering walls and a seaward staircase fashioned by nature out of gray basalt, some 37,000 hexagonal columns in all. Frankly, while visiting Giant’s Causeway is well worth your time, remember that photographers hired by the Tourist Board have a knack for taking dramatic snapshots with impossible hues. Lovely as this place is, it is not the eighth wonder of the world.

purple hues of sunset over the coastal area of Giant's Causeway in Ireland
Sunset over Giant’s Causeway. Photo © Aitormmfoto/iStock.

On arrival you can either take the cliff route (part of the 10-mi/16-km Causeway Coast Way) to the right or head down a paved road straight to the sea and rock formations. This is, of course, where all the other tourists go (many of them on a shuttle bus called the “Causeway Coaster”; it’s only a five-minute walk from visitors center to causeway, and most of those on the bus aren’t handicapped or elderly—for whom the shuttle was no doubt intended). The gorse-lined cliff path is easy and dramatic but far less popular. After a mile or so a rather precipitous wooden staircase will bring you down to the paved shore path, or you could keep walking and turn back later.

Walkers and cyclists get free entry, but the admission charge is £9.50 per person (yes, per person!) to park in the official lot. This includes a guided walk and admission to the exhibition in the brand-new visitors center, but it is still ridiculously high. It seems even the National Trust can’t resist price-gouging on occasion. And don’t waste your money at the visitors center tearoom; get thee to The Nook, a fantastic 19th-century schoolhouse-turned-restaurant just beside the Giant’s Causeway entrance.

The visitors center (2 mi/3.2 km north of Bushmills on the B146, tel. 028/2073-1855) also serves as a tourist information point. Hours vary seasonally (10am-6pm daily July-Aug., 10am-5pm daily Mar.-June and Sept.-Oct., 10am-4:30pm daily Nov.-Feb.).

footpath winding along the coast of the ocean in Ireland near Giant's Causeway
The footpath along the coast near the Giant’s Causeway. Photo © lucafabbian/iStock.

Accommodations Near the Giant’s Causeway

Backpackers will appreciate Finn McCool’s (32 Causeway Rd., tel. 028/2073-2011, dorm beds £18-20, private rooms £55) for much more than the two-minute walk to the Causeway entrance. This hostel offers a hot breakfast included in the price, DIY barbecue facilities, and a scenic view from every room (though none are en suite). You can rent a bicycle (£12/day), golf clubs, or fishing equipment. Pick up groceries in Bushmills on your way out. Travelers who’d ordinarily stay at a budget B&B might want to reserve one of the double rooms here.

Otherwise, Ardtrabane House (66 Causeway Rd., tel. 028/2073-1007, £89/70 pp with/without breakfast) is equally convenient: You can walk to the Causeway, thereby saving the £9.50-per-person parking and admission fee, but that convenience is unfortunately reflected in the price. You do get a warm welcome, comfy digs, and a big breakfast (be it pancakes or the full fry).

As you would expect, the Causeway Hotel (40 Causeway Rd., tel. 028/2073-1226, B&B £35 pp, s £50, lunch £6-11, dinner £8-15) offers unbeatable views of ocean and causeway. The atmosphere may be downright stodgy and the staff not particularly welcoming, but the location is reason enough to stay here. Even if you’re staying at the hotel, though, you should take your lunch, tea, and dinner at The Nook (48 Causeway Rd., tel. 028/2073-2993, food served 10:30am-8:30pm daily, lunch £4-7, dinner £8-14), an excellent pub-cum-restaurant in a converted schoolhouse just across the road from the hotel and Giant’s Causeway visitors center. The menu offers creative and traditional dishes using only local produce (though no vegan dishes apart from the side salad, alas), and the barstaff are pleasant and attentive. You can eat on the original slanted desks beside an open fire (but be careful your dishes don’t slide off); the back room, brightened with white Christmas lights, has glass-fronted cupboards filled with vintage toys. You can get a cup of gourmet coffee here, too, sipping it as you muse over whatever memories are brought to mind by the 1980s and ’90s pop tunes playing on the stereo.

See more of the area near Giant’s Causeway with a one-week Northern Ireland road trip.


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