I recently spent a week in Northern Ireland, hopping from its capital city of Belfast to its western city of Derry and seeing the country’s stunning nature in between. This includes one of the country’s most prized possessions, something that shouldn’t be missed. In fact, it was the main focus of our trip: how to visit the Giant’s Causeway.
I think we can all agree that a holiday to Ireland is always a good idea. This small nation has the perfect balance of city and country, of relaxation and adventure, familiarity and intrigue. And even if you want to spend your entire time in a city, you can do it. It’s nearly impossible to get bored using Dublin or Galway or Cork as a base, spending each night tucked into the booth of a cozy pub, sipping a dark stout as the rain dances on the windows.
But it’s not quite the same in the North.
In Northern Ireland, although the cities have their history, culture, charm, and appeal (and yes, there are pubs there too!), it’s really all about the nature. In fact, a big part of the experience includes some outdoor adventure, be it big or small.
The coast alone is worth a visit, with old castle ruins sitting atop cliffs jutting down into the sea, white beaches that stretch far and wide, green mossy hills matched with red stone, and foamy waves that leave a salty sea spray attached to your skin. It’ll make for the perfect holiday, especially if you visit the Giant’s Causeway.
Because, to visit the Giant’s Causeway is to experience folklore and unique nature … all in one. It’s an area of basalt columns, some red and some gray or black, resulting from a volcanic eruption. Forming a hexagonal shape, most of these columns appear arranged into little hills, while others dramatically jut out of the sea. You can walk across, but although the stones continue under the sea, you’re stopped by the powerful waves.
Unless you’re a giant.
According to legend, it all starts with the meeting of two giants, an Irish one called Finn McCool and his Scottish nemesis. I won’t ruin the story for you, it’s best heard as you meander down the path to the rocky shoreline, the wind carrying you along.
How to Visit the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland
1 | Rent a car
Most likely you’ll be coming from one of the cities (or even from Dublin) which makes renting a car fairly convenient. It’s really the best option if you’re looking for the most independence to truly soak up the beauty of the coast. If you can afford a car rental (and conquer the intimidation of driving on the other side of the road), it’s worth it.
But I get it, when it’s all said and done (adding insurance, parking, petrol), it comes at a high price tag. It’s not always an option for one person, or even for a couple like us. That’s why we opted for public transportation.
2 | Take the bus
If you use the trusty interwebs to search a route by bus, it may leave you puzzled by a dramatic schedule of several changes and ridiculously long travel times. But if you ask for details from someone local, you’ll get a better guide, plus a glowing recommendation to, indeed, visit the (wee) Giant’s Causeway.
The process is easy. You can buy an iLink public transportation card that covers the different travel zones in Northern Ireland. If you’re starting in Derry, you just need one zone. In Belfast, you’d need a card for all five zones (so this option is best from Derry). For one zone, the pass is about 14£ each, but covers all buses and trains for the entire day. For us in wintertime, a train from Derry to Coleraine, followed by a transfer to a bus, gave us quite the show along the coast, and dropped us right in front of the visitor centre for the Giant’s Causeway.
It’s a simple, easy, and really affordable option. The train takes about 35 minutes and the bus about 20 more. Try to spend at least 2 hours at the Causeway and time your bus back to Coleraine to include a bit of time to enjoy the little town, creating a perfect way to visit the Giant’s Causeway.
3 | Take a tour
There are tour people and there are anti-tour people. I understand both sides. Taking a tour is extremely convenient and you don’t have to worry about any logistics or directions. You get to your destination, you enjoy it worry-free, and you return back to your starting point happy and sleepy. But tours are expensive. And, sometimes, crowded with extra-needy tourists. You don’t have the same freedom – your time is dictated by a strict schedule – and it can be difficult to enjoy the scenery while shoved into a crowded coach.
And with any tour, you must take into consideration the fees that are not included. For example, taking a tour to the Giant’s Causeway suggests a reasonable price tag of about 30€. Not too bad, plus you get to see more: Bushmills Whisky distillery, Carrick-a-Red rope bridge, Dunluce Castle, and/or the Dark Hedges. But keep in mind that some (or all) of these sights on the itinerary cost more. Meaning your 30€ tour just doubled in price, not including lunch. But it does include the convenience, and probably a lot of witty commentary from your Irish driver.
4 | Hire a black cab
If you’re looking for a tour experience in a more intimate setting, you can also hire a black cab to take you. From Derry, it’s about 25£ per hour. Driving to visit the Giant’s Causeway, and to return, is about two hours. Add in an hour for walking and you’re already at 75£. But if you can split the cost with a small group, you end up with a cheaper option than a tour but with a private guide.
In the end, we chose to take the train and bus from Derry because it was the most affordable for our budget, and it gave us more freedom than a tour. And we really liked it! We got some beautiful views of the coast and were back in Derry in time for another delicious dinner.
Have you been to the Giant’s Causeway? What did you think?