Northern Ireland's only UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Giant's Causeway is a mass of almost 40,000 mostly hexagonal pillars of volcanic basalt, clustered like a giant honeycomb and extending hundreds of yards into the sea. This "causeway" was created 60 million years ago, when boiling lava, erupting from an underground fissure that stretched from the north of Ireland to the Scottish coast, crystallized as it burst into the sea. As all Ulster folk know, though, the truth
is that the giant Finn McCool, in a bid to reach a giantess he'd fallen in love with on the Scottish island of Staffa (where the causeway resurfaces), created the columns as stepping-stones. Unfortunately, the giantess's boyfriend found out, and in the ensuing battle, Finn pulled out a huge chunk of earth and flung it toward Scotland. The resulting hole became Lough Neagh, and the sod landed to create the Isle of Man. In the peak summer months it can be very busy—get there early or leave your visit until late afternoon, when it's generally quieter.
To reach the causeway, you can either walk 1½ km (1 mile) down a long, scenic hill or take the Causeway Coaster minibus. A popular option with many visitors is to take the 20-minute walk downhill to the main causeway and catch the shuttle bus back uphill. Small children need to be properly supervised.
A good place to start is the sparkling Giant's Causeway Visitor Experience, made of locally quarried basalt from the very same lava flows that formed the causeway. The glass front ensures spectacular coastal views, and the building is sunken into the ground, blending so effectively into the landscape that the indigenous grasses on the roof restore the natural ridgeline and provide a habitat for wildlife.
Inside the building, a stunning exhibition, complete with the 21st-century commercialization of Finn McCool, is made up of five parts: coastal map, geological history, people and their stories, natural life, and the power of the landscape. Guided one-hour tours of the stones are included in admission price, and visitors are issued a hand-held device with recorded snippets of oral history. Tours leave every hour during the day. You can also take a self-guided geological tour that outlines the timescale of the site and helps differentiate the rocks. Kids love the center, so make sure you allow enough time on your visit to let them take in everything.
Outside, be aware that not all stones are created equal. Be sure to take a seat in the "Wishing Chair" and also look out for the "Giant's Boot," "Camel," "Harp," and the "Giant's Organ" pipes. Heading west, keep an eye out for Port-na-Spania, the spot where the 16th-century Spanish Armada galleon Girona went down on the rocks. The ship was carrying an astonishing cargo of gold and jewelry, some of which was only recovered in 1967. Beyond this, Chimney Point is the name given to one of the causeway structures on which the Spanish fired, thinking that it was Dunluce Castle, which is 8 km (5 miles) west.
You can park at the center—the fee is included in the admission price—or use the park-and-ride service between Bushmills and the causeway. Visitors who opt for the park and ride, or who arrive by public transportation, save £1.50 on the standard adult admission price (£3 per family) as part of a Green Travel Admission Ticket. Booking online far enough in advance to receive email confirmation of your date and time slot is recommended and saves you £1.00 on the adult admission price.
44 Causeway Rd., Bushmills, Co. Antrim, BT57 8SU, Northern Ireland