The Giant’s Causeway and the Causeway Coast

Basalt formation close up

The Giant’s Causeway is the only World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland. It is located on the North Coast in county Antrim and is an area which is covered by approximately 40.000 polygonal columns of basalt. There is a perfectly reasonable, geological explanation for this phenomenon, but this being Ireland, there is a much more interesting yarn spun to explain why it’s there.


The Causeway Coast is beautiful and worth a trip any day, but why is the Giant’s Causeway so important that it was listed as a World Heritage Site?

The guides and locals will tell you that it all has to do with a fight between an Irish giant named Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), a Scottish giant named Benandonner and the basalt formation being a causeway across the water between their respective homes.


Geologists will be slightly nerdier and explain that the peculiar looking rock formations are the result of volcanic activity 50 to 60 million years ago. According to the official UNESCO WHS website, this area was essential to the study and understanding of such volcanic activity:


The Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast is a spectacular area of global geological importance on the sea coast at the edge of the Antrim plateau in Northern Ireland. […]

The property’s accessible array of curious geological exposures and polygonal columnar formations formed around 60 million years ago make it a ‘classic locality’ for the study of basaltic volcanism. The features of the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast site and in particular the strata exposed in the cliff faces, have been key to shaping the understanding of the sequences of activity in the Earth’s geological history.”


As I am neither a geologist nor experienced in telling giant lore, I recommend you visit the causeway and participate in one of the excellent guided tours to learn more.

Here are a few more impressions meanwhile:


The Giant’s Causeway is approximately 100 km north of Belfast. It is easily accessible by either car or public transport. When I visited from Belfast, for example, I caught a train / bus connection in the morning and a bus on the return leg in the late afternoon.


I really enjoyed the day trip – the area is stunning even in rough weather (or especially then, maybe) and the visitor centre and guides are immensely helpful and informative. If you have the time, stay for a couple of days and explore more of the Causeway Coast.

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