Most travelers brave long bus rides and crowded car parks to see the magnificent Giant’s Causeway. Many are unaware that a more scenic option exists: The Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills Railway.
Departing from the historic town of Bushmills, this train takes visitors on a two-mile journey along the windswept Northern Irish coast before dropping them off just down the hill from the National Trust Visitor’s Center at the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site. Through bucolic hinterlands, past sandy beaches, even intersecting a golf course, the charming trip is arguably the ideal way to arrive at Northern Ireland’s sole UNESCO site.
The railway—or tramway, to be more accurate—is smaller than your average train, built to the Irish narrow gauge specification of three feet (0.915 meters). The tram is made of a custom diesel locomotive and three passenger coaches designed to recreate the passenger experience of the Causeway Coast’s long-abandoned hydro electric tram.
The original Giant’s Causeway Tramway opened in 1883, shepherded by railway and engineering enthusiast William Traill of Ballyclough. Hailed as the world’s first commercially run hydro-electric powered tram system (though supplemented with steam engines), the tram served as a passenger link between the towns of Portrush and Bushmills, and later extended to Giant’s Causeway. Time and technology evolved the system, with live rail succumbing to overhead electric wire in 1899 and steam haulage ending in 1916. The tramway ran for 65 years, finally shuttering in 1949.
Resurrected in 2002, the current tram serves the Northern Irish coast’s booming tourism industry. Passengers board at Bushmill’s on a simple platform, but the Causeway end of the line features a proper station, as well as workshops, carriage sheds and signage reminiscent of the original tram. Although the original steam locomotives are no longer in service, train enthusiasts can ask for a view of the old machines in the nearby carriage shed.
Know Before You Go
Saavy visitors can use the free (and under-used) car park at Bushmill’s to journey to Giant’s Causeway while avoiding the traffic jams and full lots of the Visitor’s Center. The Causeway station also has a car park that charges £8.00 per car per day. Although visitors can walk to the stones of the Causeway for free, the Visitor’s Center charges a fee, though the National Trust will charge a discounted rate to those with a train ticket.
The Giant's Causeway and Bushmills Railway runs four times daily in the Summer and Friday through Sunday in September and October.
Should you miss the last train, there is a walking trail located behind the Bushmills Distillery, that partly traverses through the Bushmills Golf Course. For a more scenic excursion, trek along the beach that runs parallel to the pedestrian path. It's a distance of three miles and would take nearly an hour to ramble.