If you’re visiting Dublin, you will be bombarded with day tours to the best natural attractions nearby: the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway. The entire coast of Ireland and Northern Ireland is gorgeous, so I’m not sure how these ended up becoming the spots to see when you visit but they did. So which is better? Here is a rundown of everything you should know before you decide on visiting the Giant’s Causeway versus the Cliffs of Moher.
They aren’t even in the same country
The Cliffs of Moher are on the west coast of Ireland. The Giant’s Causeway is to the north in Northern Ireland on the other side of the border between the two countries. If you’re only visiting Dublin, you may want to stay in Ireland, particularly because if you’re driving a rental, you may be charged extra to take the car across the border. The Giant’s Causeway is also a much easier stop if you’re already staying somewhere in Northern Ireland like Belfast.
It takes the same amount of time to get to both
Though you might be dissuaded by the fact that the Giant’s Causeway is in another country, the time it takes to get to both the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway is exactly the same from Dublin, a little over three hours. There is no passport control at the border so there’s nothing that’s going to make the drive longer.
The Giant’s Causeway is more expensive… sort of
Tours may or may not include the cost of visiting the natural landmarks, and if you’re renting a car and driving there yourself, you’re definitely responsible for the cost. While both sites are technically free, what you pay for is essentially convenient parking that allows you access to the best parts of the natural sites. The Giant’s Causeway costs 14 euro per person, which also gives you access to the visitor center and an audio guide. The Cliffs of Moher are 8 euro per person (cheaper if you book ahead online). In theory, you can avoid this cost by hiking there or getting dropped off by a taxi or pulling off illegally on the side of the road, but opportunities for this are scarce.
The weather can be pretty unpleasant at both
Ireland stays green because it rains a lot, so it’s likely you’ll encounter an overcast rainy day when you visit and experience bone-chilling wind, especially at the Cliffs where you’ll be at a higher altitude. Check the weather and prepare for rain and cold. If you want to enjoy a pleasant day in the outdoors, then your decision may be based on which site will have better weather on any particular day.
The Giant’s Causeway is a little more interactive
There are several hiking trails at the Giant’s Causeway which allow you to see the site from the water’s edge, from above, and from a few of the peaks in the surrounding areas. You can also climb the impressive naturally-occurring steps, so we found it easy to spend half a day there wandering around. The Cliffs of Moher are a bit more boring since you will only see them from above unless you take a cruise down below them. There are three viewing platforms which are just 10-15 minutes walking from the visitor center. You can still walk past the visitor trail to hike along the edge of the cliffs but if it’s really windy, this is miserable and also dangerous. The downside of walking along the cliff edge is that you lose the impressive view of the cliffs themselves.
The sun will pretty much always ruin your view of the Cliffs of Moher
Regardless of the time of year, chances are you’ll arrive at either of these locations around midday. For the cliffs, this means that the sun’s light will be behind them, making their most iconic view look hazy and dark.
You might see puffins at the Cliffs of Moher, but probably not
Unless you take a cruise, you will be very high along the cliffs, far from where the puffins congregate during some months of the year. The best way to see them is to use the binoculars available at the main observation deck. They typically stay along the cliffs until about midday when they head out to sea. But because of their migration patterns, unless you’re visiting between April and July, that’s irrelevant and there will be no puffins for you to see, except on postcards in the gift shop.
Giant’s Causeway versus the Cliffs of Moher: Verdict
If you have absolutely have to choose one (and you wouldn’t be visiting Northern Ireland at any other point), then I would say the Giant’s Causeway is the clear winner. Because of how many ways you can enjoy the Causeway – beneath it, above it, on it – it feels like you drove 3 hours for a little more than just a view that you’re sick of after 15 minutes. The Cliffs of Moher also have the distinct aura of being a bit of a tourist circus compared to the Causeway where you feel like you can explore more autonomously.
In addition to that, there are some fantastic sights within 10-15 minutes’ drive from the Causeway that are more impressive and fun than its Irish counterparts, like the Dunluce Castle ruins and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge which was visually more striking to me than the Cliffs of Moher. The minor sights around the Giant’s Causeway are almost as good as the main event.
So it’s a good reason to choose it over the Cliffs of Moher, but an even better reason to just visit Northern Ireland if you weren’t planning to already.