People locally know that there is Free Entry to the Giants Causeway, whereas most tourists think that it is exclusively a paid tourist attraction. Hence we see it as a bit of a tourist trap. However, the so-called admission charge isn’t for access to the actual coastline and the picturesque basalt columns, but for the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Experience, and what many assumed as the visitor centre car park. But this is not true as, for years, the National Trust staff have been ‘helping’ people park before directing visitors towards the visitors centre which is the paid attraction. Otherwise parking is free at the Giant’s Causeway and the visitor centre can be bypassed without paying a penny.
Entrance Fee for Giants Causeway Visitor Experience?
So there is free entry to the Giants Causeway, whereas there’s a charge of around £11.50 to the Giants Causeway Visitor Experience. And while I do support the National Trust (who own the visitor centre) and their efforts in maintaining the old estates and stately homes and whatnot, I’m not fussed about them occupying public coastlines and trying to charge the locals to access them. Paying to see our own coastline.
However, I would consider that the annual National Trust membership will near pay for itself on a visit/tour of Northern Ireland where the Causeway Coast attractions alone (Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede Ropebridge, the Portstewart Strand and Mussenden Temple) take a fair chunk. Not to mention all the other tourist attractions in Northern Ireland and here we share our favourite National Trust Attractions in Northern Ireland.
So Annual Membership may be a worthwhile option instead of paying for each of the individual attractions, and it means no queueing, easy parking at tourist attractions, etc. Annual Membership also includes all of the UK so the cheaper Scottish NT membership will cover Northern Ireland.
There are of course reasons and benefits for the Visitor Centre, where the fee includes access to the centre’s exhibits, as well as a free audio guide that leads you along the coastal route. It does not include the shuttle bus to and from the famous basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway (1km) which costs £1 per person per way. So it’s up to you to decide.
Where to Park for the Giant’s Causeway?
Parking can be hard to find at times (it’s a busy attraction) and there will always be a risk of parking fines on the nearby roads. However, there are a handful of alternative parking options nearby, using local cafes and businesses, where free parking is found at the Nook Cafe, the Causeway Hotel, and, maybe Finn McCool’s Hostel and B&B. But you should at least buy a scone or a pint. The surrounding fields will also open for parking during the busier months of the year when the on-site parking is pretty much full.
Alternatively, there’s also a car park at the Giant’s Causeway Station (£6.00 per car) and many visitors will bundle their visit to the Giants Causeway with the Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills Railway (currently closed). This is a tourist attraction in itself, which leaves from nearby Bushmills (Adult Tickets: £5.00).
Anyway, here’s a quick Google map showing the various businesses and car park options for Free Entry to the Giants Causeway.
To Pay or Not to Pay at the Giant’s Causeway?
Being Ripped Off: I should point out that we mistakenly paid through the visitor centre before, knowing no better at the time, and by the timestamps on our photos, we were in and out of the visitor centre in roughly 2-minutes. We just walked through, were handed the audio guide at the far doors, and were out again. I don’t remember using the audio guide either, but we were obviously stuck carrying them, and we walked the 1km distance each way. So it wasn’t money well spent (£34.50 for 3 of us) to park a couple of metres closer. And this is why we are making others aware of what is essentially a tourist scam.
The National Trust Car Parks: These days we just use our Annual Membership with the National Trust, and make decent savings, given we are out and about a lot. So more recently we arrived at a busier time, when the main car park was full, so we were directed to leave the car park, and drive up the road a bit to a second National Trust Car Park on the left. Here we had to wait for a space to open and then walk a bit to find the visitor centre. Meanwhile, most cars were opting for the surrounding fields which (I’m guessing) local farmers open as car parks for a tidy profit in the summer months. We’ve been a bunch of times now but are still to use the Visitor Centre facilities (other than photo-ops).
Local Parking: We did once use the ‘Free Parking for Patrons’ at the Nook Cafe, as we did have plans to eat on this visit anyway. So we called in for coffee and scones, costing around £7 each (it’s a bit expensive – but kind of tasty), so we really didn’t find huge savings here either. We then crossed the car park from Nooks and bypassed the visitor centre as we usually do. I guess we probably have parked for free at Nook Cafe (but sounds risky), or the Causeway Hotel, and cars were literally parked/abandoned along the smaller lanes near the entrance.
What Time is the Giants Causeway Open (Opening Hours)?
This can also be a bit misleading, as the National Trust Visitor Centre always dominates search results on the Giants Causeway experience, and they have their own opening times. So many people expect the Giants Causeway to open and close at the same time as the visitor centre. In fact, as public land, I would guess that the Giants Causeway is pretty much open to the public indefinitely, including through the night, but I can see little reason for anyone to be there in the later nighttime hours.
To be fair, the National Trust does list the times for both the visitor centre opening from 09:00AM to 17:00AM, and the coastline is open from ‘dawn to dusk’. Meaning that it should be possible to see the Giants Causeway at sunrise and sunset on any given day and through the earlier and later daylight hours. You do get guys in their bibs trying to hurry people out after sunset, but there’s no rush, and you probably don’t need to listen to them.
Obviously, the shuttle bus service (£1 each way) does not operate outside of visitor centre hours, which means walking to-and-from the main tourist stretch by foot, which is only a short walk anyway.
Anyway, during our later sunset visits, we did hear a whistle, which may have been a signal for the last bus or something as National Trust staff were watching from the main path. But there was otherwise no urgency for anyone to leave.