What makes the Giant's Causeway a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

Paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling of the Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre, one lantern for every natural World Heritage Site in the world
Published : 16 Apr 2020 Last update : 15 Apr 2022

Monday April 18 is World Heritage Day and the Giant’s Causeway is Northern Ireland's only UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site - a status that brings with it recognition of the landmark’s global importance.

This World Heritage Day we are celebrating our status as the only Natural World Heritage Site on the island of Ireland with a spectacle of light. Paper lanterns, one for every Natural World Heritage Site in the world, 217 colourful globes are displayed from the ceiling of the Visitor Centre.

One of our European Solidarity Corps volunteers, Salomé Bigot has hand-painted the names of each Natural WHS on each of the delicate paper lanterns, chosen to represent the fragility of these special places and the care needed to look after them.

Our volunteer Salomé, who hand-painted the names of all 217 World Heritage Sites onto the paper lanterns to celebrate World Heritage Day 2022
Our volunteer Salomé Bigot with the colourful paper lanterns for World Heritage Day
Our volunteer Salomé, who hand-painted the names of all 217 World Heritage Sites onto the paper lanterns to celebrate World Heritage Day 2022

The colourful lanterns have been grouped by continent and are hanging from the ceiling throughout the Visitor Centre. Visitors are encouraged to find a site they have visited and share their photos with us on social media and tag #WorldHeritageDay.  

Only countries that have signed the World Heritage Convention, an agreement to protect heritage sites, can be including on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. However, in order to be listed, the site must meet at least one of the organisation’s strict criteria. The Giant’s Causeway meets two.

Beautiful – and important

The Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast is not only beautiful, (and therefore of huge aesthetic importance) but the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns are also testament to a major stage in the earth’s development.

When the UK government joined the UNESCO scheme in 1986, they pledged to protect the natural and cultural heritage of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Giant’s Causeway was the only natural phenomenon granted World Heritage status that year (although the tiny Scottish archipelago of St Kilda was deemed to have mixed – both natural and cultural -- importance.)

Subsequently, a World Heritage Site management plan was put together by local authorities and charities, addressing the conservation requirements of the site and visitors’ needs in terms of access and information.

Since 2005 the UK’s largest conservation charity, the National Trust, has been the sole guardian of sections of the Causeway Coast World Heritage Site, including its crown jewel, the Giant’s Causeway.

The charity works to protect, manage, and ensure the integrity of this phenomenal natural landscape in line with UNESCO’s requirements, safeguarding its status and future.  


The Causeway achieved the international recognition of World Heritage Status in 1986; 25 years after the National Trust took over caring for the site in 1961-2. A basalt block commemorating the designation was unveiled by Magnus Magnusson in April 1987:

A basalt block commemorates the designation of the Giant's Causeway as a World Heritage Site

The Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site extends approximately 3km from northeast to southwest and 0.5km from northwest to southeast at its widest. It occupies approximately 70ha of land and a further 160ha of sea – so it includes much more than the famous ‘stones’ alone.

World Heritage Site Status is not the only international recognition given to the Giant’s Causeway. It is also a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under European law. SACs are strictly protected under the European Union’s Habitat’s Directive.

Not only that - the Causeway is also a nationally recognised Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI), a regionally important National Nature Reserve (NNR) and it lies within the Causeway Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Added together these ‘designations’ mark out the Giant’s Causeway as the most precious and protected place in Northern Ireland.

As a conservation charity, we are custodians of the site. We protect and care for places so people and nature can thrive. By supporting our work you help to make sure the Giant's Causeway is protected for future generations to enjoy. 

Enjoy clambering over the Giant's Causeway rocks
A child enjoying climbing over the Giant's Causeway
Enjoy clambering over the Giant's Causeway rocks