There are many things to see and do on a visit to Northern Ireland, but the Giant’s Causeway is by far the most popular tourist attraction, and this strange and beautiful site should feature on every visitors “to do” list. Located on the northeast coast, about two miles from BushmillsVvillage, eleven miles from Coleraine, and thirteen miles from Ballycastle, the Giants Causeway is a The National Trust.
Visitors can reach the Giant’s Causeway by car on the B147 Causeway Road and there is onsite parking available. To travel by public transport, trains operate between Belfast or Londonderry to Coleraine, and then take the Ulsterbus Service 172 to the Giant’s Causeway. For the more energetic there is a National Cycle Network which runs round the coast from Newry to Ballycastle via Belfast and Bangor, and for those who wish to walk there is the Causeway Coast Way, a thirty three mile stretch of coastline which begins at Portstewart and ends at Ballycastle. Visitors travelling by public transport, bicycle or on foot receive a “green discount” at the Visitors Centre.
The Causeway is formed from about 40,000 interlocked columns of basalt, the result of ancient volcanic eruptions during the Tertiary Period some 62 to 65 million years ago. The columns vary in size, the tallest being about 39 feet high, and are mostly hexagonal although the shapes and number of sides vary. The tops of the columns form stepping stones which start from the foot of the majestic cliffs and wind along the shoreline before disappearing into the sea. Across the sea at Fingals Cave on the Scottish Island of Staffa, there are similar columns which were formed as part of the same volcanic eruptions and lava flow. This has probably contributed to one of the legends of the Giant’s Causeway’s creation, that of Finn MacCool and the Scottish giant Benandonner and their battle across the sea.
There is no charge for accessing the Giant’s Causeway, and it can be visited anytime, day or night, by a public right of way. The walk down to the Causeway takes most people about ten to fifteen minutes, and due to the nature of the site it is not really suitable for people with mobility difficulties. As an alternative to walking down to the Causeway, a frequent shuttle bus operates which charges £1 for adults and 50p for children each way.
There is a recently built, state of the art, Visitor Centre which does charge admission, currently £8.50 for an adult and £4.25 for a child (free for children under five). The Visitor Centre opens at 9 a.m. and closing time varies according to the time of year, 9 p.m. in July and August, 7 p.m. in April, May, June and September, 6 p.m. in October, November and December and 5 p.m. in January, February and March. The last admission to the Visitor Centre is an hour before closing time.
The Visitor Centre itself is worth seeing although it receives mixed reviews with regard to price, layout and content. A modernistic, eco and carbon friendly building which is mostly underground with a grass roof which blends in perfectly with the landscape. There are practically no right angles within the building, almost everything inside, including the walls and displays, follows diagonal lines. The Centre was finished in 2012 and includes interpretation areas, exhibitions and displays, and a cafeteria and gift shop.The shuttle buses and footpath to the Causeway stones commence at the Centre.
As well as the Visitor Centre and the Giant’s Causeway itself, the area is also host to a range of flora and fauna, including some strange types of fungi (Dog’s Vomit Fungus being one of the weirder ones), Skylarks and Eider Ducks, Butterflies and also Basking Sharks can sometimes be seen from the cliff tops on a calm day at sea.
Some common sense precautions should also be taken when visiting the Giant’s Causeway. As with the rest of the British Isles, Northern Ireland can have some fairly unpredictable weather, even during summer months, and particularly in coastal areas. It is important to remember that the surface of the stones can be slippery, especially in wet weather, and sensible footwear and clothing is essential. Coastal winds can be chilly, even on an otherwise warm summer day. Children should be kept under close supervision at all times, and dogs should be kept on a leash. Visitors should also be mindful of rock falls which happen frequently on the cliffs and sudden, unexpected waves breaking on the rocks and should keep to the footpaths, observing all safety and information signs.
Finally, be sure to take a camera with you. The Giant’s Causeway is an area of great natural beauty, and will provide visitors with some wonderful photographs to show family and friends back home.