Northern Ireland’s most popular natural wonder, the Giant’s Causeway, is often seen as a tourist trap, but it won’t be if you use our tips for a free self-guided visit.
Media outlets worldwide (including us) have listed Northern Ireland’s natural wonder, the Giant’s Causeway, as a “tourist trap” and “overrated” time and again.
Located near the town of Bushmills in County Antrim, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in the North and attracts busloads of tourists and local sightseers, annually.
While entrance to the site is, in fact, free, most visitors pay £11.00 (children five and up £5.50; under five go for free) that offers access to the parking lot, an audio guide, and access to the visitor centre. A bus that shuttles people from the visitor centre to the actual site is also available for £1 per ride.
What many people don’t know, though, is that you can actually dodge this overinflated “tourist trap” and DIY your Giant’s Causeway visit. More so, it won’t cost you a cent!
The Giant’s Causeway
The site sits on the Antrim coast at the North head of the island and consists of around 40,000 interlocking columns of basalt rock. Projecting up from the ocean and land, the columns appear razor cut with definition and precision – almost as if manmade.
The Giant’s Causeway is a result of a volcanic eruption that would have taken place centuries ago, causing the rock surface to form in such a curious way.
With a car, the site is easily accessible; the only issue is parking. Between March and October, a free carpark in the nearby town of Bushmills offers a free shuttle bus every 20 minutes to and from the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre.
Without a car, we advise you to get a bus to the town of Bushmills and hop on the free shuttle between March and October.
Although some forums will tell you to park in the free Bushmills carpark and walk to the Giant’s Causeway (when the free shuttle is not running), this is not advised. The road is narrow with no footpath and blind turns.
If you’re visiting the Giant’s Causeway between September and February (when there is no free shuttle from Bushmills) by car, we have a top tip for you: drive straight up to the visitor centre, and just past it will be the Causeway Hotel.
While the hotel’s car park is intended for guests and customers, a parking attendant will kindly let you know that if you spend £5 in the hotel, you can use the parking lot free of charge.
Water, snacks, or a few pints can be enjoyed in the hotel – perfect for a post-visit stop-off. More so, if you arrive near the end of the day, the attendants are likely to have gone home, if you get what we mean…
Whatever you do, do not park on the roads leading up to and surrounding the Giant’s Causeway. If you’re spotted, you’re likely to end up clamped or fined.
The standard excursion
After surveying the scene at the Giant’s Causeway, we’ve come to figure out why it has gained the unfortunate title of an “overrated tourist trap”.
What it really comes down to is visitors’ experiencing the site by entering via tourist bus, getting on the shuttle which brings visitors to the site, taking a bunch of selfies, and getting back on the shuttle, which returns visitors to the tourist centre.
To be honest, we can agree, when experienced like that, it is an overrated tourist trap; but not if you do it DIY-style!
DIY Giant’s Causeway tour
Once you arrive by the free shuttle bus from Bushmills or blag your way into the Causeway Hotel car park, walk to the left of the visitor centre, which will lead you through a tunnel.
Once you have passed through the tunnel, the exit to the visitor centre will be on your left. Also on your left will be a stairway that leads you to the roof of the visitor centre; this is where the red trail starts.
The red trail leads visitors over the cliffs that tower above the Giant’s Causeway. Panoramic postcard scenes, rural landscapes, bird’s eye views, grazing sheep and wildflowers will pepper the walk which offers tonnes of viewpoints and photo-ops.
The red trail is flat until the end when visitors veer off the path and descend to sea level. 163 steps need to be tackled here and this is the only challenging aspect of the trail. This is more than doable for those of moderate fitness, however.
Once at sea level the path will veer towards the Giant’s Causeway. The site itself is uneven and, at times, steep. There will be attendants on-site but visitors are expected to approach with caution and are not advised to climb or run on the rocks.
Visitors are also advised to exercise caution as rough waves are likely to crash over the rocks.
Please note that this is a natural wonder and visitors should exercise responsible tourism. Remember to leave no trace and respect the site.
Afterwards, head back towards the visitor centre (around one kilometre) on foot, taking the blue trail. There is a gradual incline as visitors reach the centre although the route should be very manageable for someone of reasonable fitness.
For those of you planning a DIY trip to the Giant’s Causeway, here are our top tips:
• Visit on a weekday; it will be less busy and more enjoyable.
• There are public toilets and water at the visitor centre, but not at the actual Giant’s Causeway site.
• Wear comfortable walking shoes.
• Keep an eye on the weather; a sunny day is desired.
• The Giant’s Causeway site never closes, although it is advised that you only visit in daylight.