Galway is a beautiful coastal city in western Ireland. Sometimes called the City of Tribes, this small urban hub is a popular tourist destination that offers much for travelers to enjoy. From cultural institutions to historic sites to excellent day-trip opportunities, Galway truly has it all.
Here are the best things to see and do on a trip to the area, plus great options for eating, drinking, and shopping in this city on the Emerald Isle.
Experience The Cultural Heart Of Ireland
There’s a reason that Galway is called the cultural heart of Ireland: It has much to offer visitors in terms of music, film, theater, and the arts.
First up, travelers should stop to watch the city’s renowned buskers, or street performers. Some focus on traditional Irish music, others play with fire, and yet others perform contemporary songs or play musical instruments. You’ll find them in the main tourist areas of Galway, especially in Eyre Square, near the Spanish Arch, and by the waterfront. You can also experience local music at the popular The Crane Bar on Sea Road or Tigh Neachtain’s on Cross Street.
Galway, a UNESCO City of Film, is home to Ireland’s best film festival, the Galway Film Fleadh, which is held each summer. The city boasts a number of noteworthy theater companies, too, like the Tony Award-winning Druid Theatre and the national Irish-language theater, An Taibhdhearc.
Galway was the home base of the world-famous writer James Joyce, who was descended from one of the original 14 merchant tribes that ruled the area. Today, the city’s literary heritage is celebrated at The Kenny Gallery, a large art gallery and bookshop.
Marvel At The Museums
Galway features a number of museums that might be of interest to tourists to the area.
The first is the Galway City Museum, housed within the Spanish Arch. This spot is considered one of the top free attractions in all of Ireland. It’s known for its exhibits highlighting the culture, sea science, history, and archaeology of Galway and welcomes more than 200,000 visitors each year.
The Nora Barnacle House Museum, the former home of James Joyce’s wife and muse, is another popular Galway attraction. This quirky spot claims to be the smallest museum in Ireland and can be accessed for about 2 euros.
Galway’s National University of Ireland location is home to a few museums as well, including a geology museum and a computing museum. Additionally, there’s a Zoology and Marine Biology Museum that houses a collection of more than 500 specimens, including some of Charles Darwin’s.
The Galway region offers some fun outdoor activities for those seeking an active trip.
The River Corrib, one of the shortest in Europe, flows from Lough Corrib through Galway and into Galway Bay. Lough Corrib is the largest lake in Ireland and features more than 1,000 islands that can be explored via kayak. To kayak in the city itself, check out the offerings at Corrib Canoe, which can be customized for beginner participants. Swimming, sailing, and rowing are other warm-weather options, especially at the nearby Salthill Beach.
Visitors can also get to know the city by attending one of its numerous sporting events. Depending on the season, Galway has a ton of local sports options. First and foremost, Ireland loves soccer, so it’s no surprise that Galway is home to the Galway United FC, a member of the League of Ireland. Hurling is another popular activity and can be experienced at the Gaelic Games. One of Ireland’s four professional rugby franchises is also based in Galway. This team, Connacht Rugby, competes in the European Rugby Champions Cup and Pro14 league.
Visit The Must-Sees
A handful of the city’s most popular sights are worth a look.
One of these is the aforementioned Eyre Square, officially called John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, which is located in the city center. The lovely urban park contains numerous public art installations and lots of green space.
The Galway Cathedral is another must-see, with its imposing gray walls and photogenic location on the canals of the city. Other noteworthy churches in the area are Claddagh’s Saint Mary’s Church and the Collegiate Church of Saint Nicholas, which was founded in 1320.
Galway is a university town, so it makes sense to check out the campus of the National University of Ireland, Galway. The school ranks among the top 1 percent in the world and is adjacent to the scenic River Corrib.
Be sure to stop by the Spanish Arch, which used to be part of the city wall and was built in 1584. It is near the famous postcard image of Galway, the long walk of colorful homes along the bay.
Take A Day Trip Or Two
As a large Irish city, Galway is the perfect base for exploring the island. There are a number of solid day-trip options from the area, but three stand out.
First, there are the Aran Islands. Some of the world’s most scenic and remote islands, these three rocky outposts are home to a small Gaelic-speaking population. They sit just outside the mouth of Galway Bay and can be accessed from either Doolin or Galway via ferry. The trip takes about 40 minutes from Galway and 15 minutes from Doolin. The Aran Islands are famous for their sturdy wool sweaters, fishing opportunities, and rustic charm.
Next is the second-most-visited tourist site in all of Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher. These jaw-dropping cliffs skirt the sea of County Clare on the Wild Atlantic Way. Most boat tours of the area depart from Doolin, which is an hour away from Galway. The cliffs can also be enjoyed from the top, but just be careful not to get too close to the edge, since the wind is strong and the land can shift. You can walk the mostly flat coastal trail for a less strenuous viewing experience. Sunset is perhaps the prettiest time of all to see this stunning landmark.
The geologically remarkable area known as The Burren is another great day-trip option from Galway. The Cliffs of Moher actually form the western boundary of this area. Some travelers think the region resembles the rocky surface of the moon. It’s the only landscape like it on Earth, and both alpine and Mediterranean plants can flourish there. The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher are UNESCO-recognized sites.
Eating And Drinking In Galway
Ireland’s fifth-largest city is home to a robust food and beverage scene.
Travelers should be sure to experience Galway’s lively pub culture at The Kings Head; this historic watering hole, located in a more-than-800-year-old building, is open seven days a week and offers tasty pub grub and local brews. For a great craft cocktail spot, thirsty tourists should check out Seven in the Latin Quarter, which is known for its unbelievable gins and tonic with special tonic options and garnishes. Beer lovers should visit The Salt House, which features options from the local Galway Bay Brewery, including 23 craft beers on tap that rotate seasonally.
Galway is a foodie city that’s home to a handful of Michelin-recommended spots. My favorite is Ard Bia, housed within the Spanish Arch. The mussels appetizer is the best I have ever tried, the local goat cheese is superb, and the homemade sage gnocchi does not disappoint. Plus, the wine list is phenomenal and includes some unique orange wine varietals. Save room for dessert, since the dark chocolate mousse with roasted figs is truly out of this world. For those looking to experience this gem at a lower price point, consider a breakfast, brunch, or lunch experience.
To combine sightseeing with food and drink, look into the offerings of Galway Food Tours. From the signature 2-hour culinary walking tour to the whisky-specific experience to the sweet-tooth tour, there is something for everyone.
Shopping In Galway
Galway is a great place to pick up souvenirs from the Emerald Isle. Perhaps its best-known export is the charming Claddagh ring. This emblem of love, loyalty, and friendship originated in the oldest part of Galway, the nearby fishing village of Claddagh.
Travelers should be sure to check out the Galway Market on Saturdays and Sundays. This street-shopping experience on Church Lane has been in existence for centuries, and you can purchase fresh local foods, handmade crafts, and even artwork. Bibliophiles shouldn’t miss Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop. Many local souvenir shops are sprinkled around the city center and sell items like Irish wool sweaters, trinkets, jewelry, postcards, and more.
Visitors on an extended holiday in Galway could consider a number of other attractions and excursions. The best of these is Connemara National Park, a 1-hour-and-30-minute drive from Galway. One of Ireland’s six national parks, it features a tea room, walking trails, wildflowers, intriguing geological features, mountains, a visitor center, and more.
Galway has so much going on, from sightseeing and upscale dining to local pubs and outdoor activities. Don’t miss it!