Ever since I first visited Ireland in 2004 I have wanted to get to the north to see the Giant’s Causeway. Even though my husband was born and bred in Dublin he had never made the 3 hour journey to the north due to growing up during ‘The Troubles’. A visit to the north wasn’t super high on his list which meant it has taken me 12 years of visiting Ireland to finally get there.
Days before our departure friends began to tell us that we shouldn’t get our hopes up, it wasn’t that impressive. I started to worry that I’d been building it up all these years even before the popularity of Instagram photos luring people places. However, after visiting it, I have to say it was spectacular, and totally worth the wait to do it with my rock climbing obsessed 5 year old.
The Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage site, placing it in the same ranks as the California Redwoods, the Grand Canyon and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The Causeway is a spectacular rock formation on the northern coast of Ireland composed of closely packed hexagonal stone columns. Science tells us that these basalt columns were formed by volcanic activity in the area more than 60 million years ago. Irish legend tells us that these were built by Finn McCool, an Irish giant who was creating a bridge across the sea to his most fearsome enemies, the giants of Scotland.
Regardless of which theory you believe, seeing the Giant’s Causeway in person is magnificent. Perhaps the perfectly sunny, beautiful day played a hand in my love of it. Whatever it was, I was spellbound and could have stayed for hours had our initial visit not coincided with dinner!
Hiking the Giant’s Causeway
There are two different trails leading down to the Giant’s Causeway, the lower blue trail and the upper red trail. Neither trail are particularly difficult, mostly only providing different views. For our first visit, we chose to go the easiest way on the blue trail which is essentially a sidewalk leading down to the rock formations below. It is a gentle slope down for about 15 minutes (1 km). Keep following the road until it dead ends into the causeway or where you see the masses of people.
On our second visit to the site we chose the red path. If you only have time for one path and have small children in tow, the blue path is the way to go. For people with older children or those who like a bit more adventure, take the red trail down and the blue trail back up. The red trail is not difficult except near the end when you have to descend 162 steep uneven stairs. Eek! For us it was fine on a clear dry day, but it could be very slippery on a typically wet Irish day! The view from the top is beautiful but is not a must see if you don’t want that added stress.
Spend as long as you can down at the rocks. We had a great time hanging out, exploring and climbing for a few hours.
Regardless of which trail you start with, remember to pick up your audio tour on the backside of the visitor center if you want more information about everything you see along the way. The audio guide is quite informative and entertaining even for children. There are several different programs to chose from – a child friendly guide, a geology guide and more. Note that the guide markers are only on the blue trail, but the sections can be listened to in any order going down to the causeway or on the way back up to the visitor’s center.
For those with mobility issues, there is a bus that will take you down and back up for £1.30 return or £1 each way.
For photography buffs, the light at the causeway in late afternoon, nearing sunset is the best. We had hoped for a beautiful foggy morning view as well, but it was clear. In the morning, the light does not reflect off the stones as it does in the late afternoon. For photography sake, the late afternoon is great, however, for photos with no people, early morning is fantastic. We had a good hour or more completely to ourselves when visiting at 7:30 am in early June.
Where to Stay
If you can, I recommend booking a room at the Causeway Hotel. The Causeway Hotel is run by the National Trust and is the only hotel that is directly adjacent to the Giant’s Causeway. It is literally steps away from the Visitor Center and a short stroll away from the Causeway itself. Additionally, with your stay, you receive free admission to the Visitor Center which includes your audio guide.
Staying on site means you get to spend more time at the Giant’s Causeway and can visit at the start of the day as well as the end to see it with the least crowds (if this is important to you). The hotel itself isn’t anything amazing in terms of family friendly amenities, but it’s grand as the Irish say and will do you fine for a nights stay. The rooms are spacious with space to spread out, they have coffee/tea making facilities in each room and as a bonus, breakfast is included in your room rate, making this hotel quite economical.
Have you been to the Giant’s Causeway? Were you impressed or underwhelmed? Share your tips below.
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