Do you plan vacations around UNESCO World Heritages Sites? It’s not a surprise. This list includes some of the most culturally and physically amazing places in the world. Italy, China, and Spain are each home to more than 40 sites—it’d almost be hard not to see one during your visit. But Northern Ireland, a country you’re considering for your next trip, has only one spot on the list. Don’t let that deter you. The single location is well worth the detour.
More than 40,000 basalt columns dot the northeastern coast of Northern Ireland. Giant’s Causeway look like stepping-stones that lead from the foot of a cliff out into the sea until they disappear. Scientists estimate that the mostly hexagonal columns are the result of a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago. According to legend, a giant tried to walk across the sea to Scotland without getting his feet wet. Regardless which version you believe, Giant’s Causeway and the surrounding Causeway Coast are stunning.
After driving to County Antrim and parking, a shuttle will take you the last mile toward the sea. Along the way, you see unusual plants like frog orchids and vernal squills. Seabirds consider the protected area a haven. Fulmars, redshanks, and guillemots vastly outnumber people. While the dark lava starts to look like actual columns as you get closer and closer.
Carefully walk out onto the slippery rocks. See the Giant’s Eyes, the Honeycomb, and the Chimney Stacks formations. Small waves crash and spray. See Port-na-Spania, the spot where the 16th-century Spanish Armada Girona crashed against the rocks; its gold and jewels were only recovered in 1967. Walk up the wooden staircase to Benbane Head—the country’s northernmost point—for a breathtaking view of the coast. Then return to see the Giant’s Boot and the Wishing Well. While taking photos, you get soaked by a sudden swell.
Now wet and chilly, you’re ready to leave Giant’s Causeway. Drive three miles to the little town of Bushmills. A tour and a tasting of single malts at Old Bushmills Distillery should warm you up quickly, even if it’s not on the UNESCO list.