The first time you see it, you think there's no way it can be real. The otherworldly rock formations of The Giant's Causeway look like something out of a movie set. In fact, they have been a set location for the hit show Game of Thrones and the movie Dracula Untold. The Giant's Causeway, located in County Antrim in Northern Ireland is a formation of interlocking, basalt columns that have an unusual, geometric shape, or rather shapes. The columns are usually perfect hexagons, but you can also find pillars with anywhere from four to eight sides. "Formed 50 to 60 million years ago, during the Paleogene Period, the Giant’s Causeway resulted from successive flows of lava inching toward the coast and cooling when they contacted the sea. Layers of basalt formed columns, and the pressure between these columns sculpted them into polygonal shapes that vary from 15 to 20 inches (38 to 51 cm) in diameter and measure up to 82 feet (25 metres) in height. They are arrayed along cliffs averaging some 330 feet (100 metres) in elevation." -Encyclopedia Britannica So, now that we've covered the sciency stuff, we need to talk about the really cool, totally true legends of The Giant's Causeway. From Wikipedia "According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The story goes that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), from the Fenian Cycle of Gaelic mythology, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. In one version of the story, Fionn defeats Benandonner. In another, Fionn hides from Benandonner when he realises that his foe is much bigger than he. Fionn's wife, Oonagh, disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the 'baby', he reckons that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow. Across the sea, there are identical basalt columns (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at Fingal's Cave on the Scottish isle of Staffa, and it is possible that the story was influenced by this." The Giant's Causeway was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986, and in 1987 it was named a National Nature Reserve. It became a tourist destination in the 1800's and a magnificent new visitor's center was opened in 2012, making this a must see, bucket-list vacation spot.
Now might be the best time ever for making plans to pack your bags and head to Ireland. September ends the high travel season and autumn in Ireland has a multitude of special charms besides just the cheaper rates and sparser crowds. The Emerald Isle has always been a dreamy location for travelers. Whether researching ancestry at the National Library of Ireland, enjoying important sites of European history like Brú na Bóinne, or crawling through the pubs of Dublin, Ireland embraces its visitors with a hearty pint and a slap on the back. Tourism to Ireland increased to more than 1.2 million visitors last year, a jump of 100,000 from the year before. Just this summer the nation was ranked #11 in a poll conducted by the Reputation Institute. The survey measured the public's perception based on effective government, appealing environment, and advanced economy. People seem to love the Ireland of lore, but very much respect the Ireland of today as well. What to do when you get there? You can hit the main tourist attractions (kiss the Blarney Stone and have a pint at the Guinness Storehouse, anyone?), but you'll enjoy a more authentic Ireland if you pack your boots and seek out some villages and their people off the typical tourist path. There are plenty of attractions where you will wait in line and drop a pretty Euro just to get in, but there are also dozens of free attractions all over the island if you know where to look. Independent.ie offers a great list of places to go--from the well-worn favorites to the quieter, quainter stops that may give you memories that few other tourists in Ireland take home. Go see the dolphin in Dingle. Grab your jacket and seek high adventure in Donegal. Saddle up to ride a Connemara pony. Try to figure out the mystery of the standing stones in County Tipperary. Kayak down the Blackwater for a completely unique view of the countryside. Visit Huntington Castle's dungeon where the Temple of Isis celebrates the female aspect of divinity. What are you waiting for? Write your own list, pack your bag, and enjoy your own taste of Ireland.