Often called the eighth wonder of the world, the Giant’s Causeway is a one-of-a-kind natural rock formation that truly captures the imagination. It doesn’t take much effort for children to imagine the striding giant who purportedly left these immense stone footprints in the sea off of Northern Ireland.
A World Heritage Site, the Causeway consists of roughly 40,000 tightly packed basalt columns that extend for 5km (3 miles) along the North Antrim coast. The tops of the columns form a dense honeycomb of stepping stones that sprawl outward from the cliff foot and eventually disappear under the sea. They’re mostly hexagonal, about 30cm (12 in.) in diame-ter, and some are as tall as 12m (40 ft.). How did they get there? Scientists estimate that they were formed 60 or 70 mil-lion years ago by a series of volcanic eruptions and cooling lava. In the surrounding cliff faces, you can see dark stripes of volcanic basalt interrupting the sheer red rock.
But all that is the scientific explanation. The ancients, on the other hand, believed the rock formation to be the work of giants. Another even more romantic legend claims that the Causeway isn’t natural at all, but the handiwork of Finn MacCool, the great Ulster warrior and commander of the king of Ulster’s armies, who built it as a highway over the sea to bring his girlfriend from the Isle of Hebrides.
Tourists have come here to marvel over the Causeway since the late 17th century. For many years, visitors were forbidden to walk out onto the stones, or had to pay extra to do so; thankfully today they are open to the public. Watch your footing as you scamper over the uneven surface, traipsing from stone to stone. You’ll spy delicate flowers and mosses growing in the crevices, and all sorts of seabirds nesting in the nearby cliffs.
To reach the causeway, follow the path from the visitor center’s parking area. Along the way you’ll pass plenty of other extraordinary volcanic rock formations, amphitheaters of stone and striated columns and formations with such fanciful names as Honeycomb, Wishing Well, Giant’s Granny, King and His Nobles, and Lover’s Leap. From the causeway, a wooden staircase climbs up Benbane Head and travels back along the cliff-top walking path, where you’ll get spectacular views of the North Antrim coast.
Train buffs, of course, will want to get there via the charming red narrow-gauge Giants Causeway and Bushmills Railway, which runs for 2 miles along the coast from the town of Bushmills out to the Causeway; it runs weekends in spring and fall and daily in summer.