If you’re looking for tips on what to do in Galway Ireland you’re in the right place. As the fifth largest Irish city and with a complex history dating back 800 years, there sure is plenty of things to do in Galway Ireland.
You may have heard Galway referred to as ‘The City of 14 Tribes’. This is because for over six centuries there were 14 merchant families who controlled the political and social life of the city. That is until the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland.
What To Do In Galway Ireland
An ancient harbour located on the enchanting west coast of Ireland, Galway is the beating heart of the surrounding County which takes its name from the city.
Full of life, music fills the brightly coloured bustling streets night and day, whether seeping through the doors of its many pubs or being belted out by the talented street performers that are a central and charming feature of Galway.
It’s rich history is evident in the buildings and historical Galway points of interest that are liberally dotted in every nook and cranny. And though it’s a modern city, there’s a firm connection to the tradition it’s built on.
Galway has become an incredibly popular destination for visitors from within Ireland as well as further afield, but it manages to wear its high tourism levels seemingly effortlessly.
Though it definitely feels “touristy”, it’s justifiably so as Galway certainly has plenty of reasons why visitors should come here. And there’s still an overwhelmingly traditional atmosphere that makes it feel like the real thing rather than an appropriation of it.
Best Things To Do In Galway Ireland
In this guide we’re going to run you through all our top recommendations for what to do in Galway Ireland, the best hotels in Galway City and lots of helpful travel tips to help you plan your trip.
Eyre Square & Kennedy Park
This centrally located square has existed in one form or another for a few hundred years and remains a focal point in the city centre.
It was officially renamed John F. Kennedy Memorial Park in honour of the American president who made a speech here in 1963, but it’s still referred to by many people by its former moniker, Eyre Square.
It’s surrounded by pubs, hotels and shops on all four sides, and has a number of landmarks within its walls.
There’s Browne Doorway, a medieval house front that was moved here to be put on display, a water fountain statue of a Galway sailboat or ‘Hooker’ that represents the city’s connection with the sea and a bust portrait of Kennedy himself.
Oscar & Eduard Wilde Statue
This one had me puzzled when we came across it. Because although I’m very familiar with the famous Irish playwright and poet Oscar Wilde, I was completely ignorant as to who the mustachioed guy sat next to him on the bench was.
Having done a bit of research I’ve discovered that there’s quite a simple and slightly strange story behind it.
The statue was gifted to Galway by the Estonian City of Tartu and Eduard Wilde was a celebrated Estonian novelist who apparently had a similar wit to Oscar Wilde.
Despite being alive during the same period, the two never met, and I’m not even certain they were aware of each other’s work. The meeting depicted was imagined by the sculptor and the original statue is in Tartu. But Estonia was keen to gift a replica to Galway.
The Lynch family was one of the 14 founding tribes of Galway, and at one time the most powerful force in the city.
This town castle that bears their name dates back over 500 years and was once the family home. It now forms part of the busy Shop Street which is lined with really colourful and old looking buildings, but the architecture definitely stands out.
The four storeys are decorated with intricate gargoyles, coats of arms and fancy arches and window openings. It’s now a bank which seems a shame for such a historically significant building, but it does mean that you can still go inside and see it from another perspective.
Even though the window itself isn’t much to look at, the story behind it and its legacy is almost beyond belief so it’s well worth seeking out.
James Lynch was the magistrate at the time and had a fierce reputation for being a strict disciplinarian. But when his son murdered a Spanish merchant who was staying with the family in Galway for being a bit too amorous with his girlfriend, he was left in a difficult position.
To keep his integrity intact, he took on the task of handing out a suitable punishment and shockingly hung his son from the window of the family home.
It was this incident where the term “lynching” actually came from. Probably not the proudest legacy, but definitely a lasting one.
St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church
We stumbled across this church whilst exploring the streets that go off in all directions from Shop Street and were taken straight away with its striking architecture.
Incredibly, it’s been in continuous use since it was built in 1320 and has a fascinating history, having been used by Christopher Columbus as his place of worship during a stop off he made in Galway.
Spanish Arch & Galway City Walls
Curiously, the Spanish Arch is actually two arches that stand at the site of the former harbour next to the river. They both used to be part of the ancient city wall, parts of which can be seen still standing at various points throughout the city.
These are a well-preserved reminder of the illustrious trading city that Galway once was, with the name coming from the Spanish merchants that used to dock here to trade their various exotic goods.
Galway Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas
I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the best named cathedral in the world. But even better than the name is the beautiful architecture both inside and out.
For both a cathedral and a building in Galway, it’s a relatively new build having been completed in 1965. But what it lacks in historical significance it makes up for in sheer splendour.
The stone building is one of the main landmarks on Galway’s skyline, and the green domed roof can be seen from quite a distance. It’s for sure one of the best things to see in Galway City.
Its cavernous interior is intricate and magnificent and the dome takes on different colours from the inside, it was pink whilst we were there in the late morning sun. When considering what to see in Galway Ireland this magnificent cathedral just has to be on the list.
Fun Things To Do In Galway Ireland
Eglinton Canal & Corrib River Walks
Galway has a number of short waterside walks which run along the Eglinton Canal and the Corrib River. They’ve got stunning scenery and are easy to get to from the city centre.
If you have time we would definitely recommend checking a portion of both out for the views and fresh air.
Salthill Promenade & Beaches
Stretching 2km along the coast, the now modern area of Salthill used to just be a fishing village. And the Irish for Salthill is ‘Bóthar na Trá’, which literally means ‘the road by the sea’.
On a clear day you can see both the Aran Islands and The Burren in County Clare from the Salthill beaches. If you don’t want to walk all the way there’s a tram line running down there.
Blackrock Diving Tower
An iconic structure along the Salthill Promenade, the Blackrock Diving Tower is a popular summer spot. A diving board has been there in some form since 1885 and was originally a male only swimming spot. Women weren’t allowed to swim there until the 1970’s.
So if it’s warm enough get you can get some sea swimming in.
Shop Street & Quay Street
Leading on from Quay Street, the aptly named Shop Street is the main shopping street in Galway, but it’s not your run of the mill modern shopping district.
The best way to observe this street is to look up as you walk down it’s cobblestones because the architecture is ancient, colourful and varied. It’s pedestrianised so you don’t have to worry about being run over as you’re staring upwards!
Part of Galway’s Latin Quarter, this area of the city is alive with the sound of music and a must for your itinerary of things to do in Galway City.
There are brilliant buskers at regular intervals down the street, performing a soundtrack of both traditional Irish and modern music. Towards the bottom end of Shop Street there are also a number of cafes, pubs and bars making it the busiest street in the city.
Galway Pub Culture
Watching some traditional Irish music with a pint of Guinness is a rite of passage when you visit Galway. Most of Galway’s watering holes have live bands playing daily. In fact, often two or three times every day.
There are many popular pubs that are renowned for their music but our favourites were the Taafees Bar at the bottom of Shop Street, the An Pucan pub on Forster Street and Tigh Neachtain on Quay Street.
All have live bands on from around 5.30/6pm and 8.30/9pm, serve good food and a great pint of Guinness (it really does taste better in Ireland). You’re guaranteed a friendly welcome and there’s a great mix of locals and visitors.
The River Corrib flows from nearby Ireland’s largest lake Lough Corrib, through the middle of the city and into Galway Bay. It’s only 6km long and is actually one of the shortest rivers in Europe, but because of this it’s also one of the fastest flowing rivers in Europe.
If you fancy seeing Galway from a different perspective, one of the most popular things to do in Galway is take a trip on the Corrib Princess River Cruise.
Along the way you’ll pass beautiful scenery dotted with historic castles. Then owing to the more than 1000 islands in Lough Corrib you’ll get to witness a haven of marine and wildlife species. It’s also highly rated as one of the great things to do in Galway for couples.
More Things To See In Galway
Galway City Museum
Located just beside the Spanish Arch, stopping by Galway City Museum is one of the top things to do in Galway. It’s free to enter but closed on Mondays. Centered around the history of Galway City, there are also lots of modern exhibitions too.
Another place in Galway that is named after one of the 14 tribes. Kirwan’s Lane in the Latin Quarter of the Galway City is a medieval lane with some fabulous examples of 16th and 17th century architecture.
There’s cute craft shops, stylish cafes, great restaurants and of course some good old classic Irish pubs.
This bustling street market is one of the highest rated attractions in Galway and has been a trading centre for centuries. Stalls sell fresh produce, locally produced crafts and a huge variety of mouthwatering home cooked food and are usually open everyday.
Galway Food Tour
Another way to experience Galway Market and the best food on offer in Galway is to take a Galway food tour. Sourced and produced locally you’ll try things like oysters, cheese, sushi, crab & of course whisky.
If you like your whisky and are on planning on visiting more places in Ireland than just Galway, the Jameson Experience in nearby County Cork is a must.
Hall of the Red Earl
Once completely covered over and built upon, this archaeological site is a very important piece of Galway City history. It was once the main building in Galway performing the functions of tax office, courthouse and town hall.
But after being seized in the 15th century by invading tribes it become abandoned and forgotten about until major excavation work uncovered it in 1997. It’s open for visiting Monday to Saturday and is free to visit.
Free Galway Walking Tour
There are a couple of great walking tours in Galway. First up, Tribes Tours of Galway is a good shout. They also do a pub crawl.
But the Galway Civic Trust also run free walking tours departing from The Hall of the Red Earl on Tuesdays and Thursday at 2pm June – September.
Hop-On Hop-Off Bus
Or if you’re not feeling like Galway sightseeing on foot, there’s also the option of the Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing Bus Tour. There’s 8 different stops and a ticket lasts 48 hours, plus there’s an onboard commentary in 6 different languages.
Galway Day Trips
Cliffs of Moher & The Burren
Visiting this natural and rugged part of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way coastline is a must when deciding what to do in Galway. The Cliff of Moher run for almost 14km reaching a highest point of 214m. From the top on a clear day you can see Galway Bay and the Aran Islands.
Formed millions of years ago, next door the karst Burren landscape feels otherworldly. It has a wildly diverse ecosystem with over 80 ancient tombs scattered across it. The silence will likely be like nothing you’ve experienced before, it’s a great Galway trip.
Another of the popular things to see in Galway is to take a boat trip out into Galway Bay to the Aran Islands. Known for their ancient sites there are a number of points of interests, including a prehistoric fort, a natural pool and medieval church ruins.
It’s a full day trip that will first take you along the Wild Atlantic Way to see the moon like landscape of The Burren and the mighty Cliffs of Moher. Then on a boat cruise to Inisheer Island so see the dramatic coastline from another angle, watch out for dolphins too.
Connemara National Park & Kylemore Abbey
If you have the time, another of the fun things to do in Galway is take a trip to Connemara National Park and Kylemore Abbey.
It covers nearly 3,000 hectares of seriously picturesque mountains, bogs, heaths, grasslands and woodlands. From the Connemara visitor centre there are a number of scenic hiking trails including vistas from the 400-metre high Diamond Hill.
While driving along the Wild Atlantic Way through Connemara, County Galway, you can’t fail to notice the grand and majestic Kylemore Abbey. You can go inside and learn about its history of tragedy, romance and spirituality.
Unique Galway Attractions
Galway Fisheries Watchtower Museum
One of the newest Galway attractions, this museum was only opened in in 2015. After falling into despair for many years, it was restored to its former glory and now features a small museum detailing the rich history of river fishing in Galway city.
Situated on a rocky outcrop on the opposite side of Galway Bay, Dunguaire Castle is around a 40 minute drive from Galway City. There is a direct public bus too running into the nearby village of Kinvara, but be mindful they are non too often.
Dunguaire Castle was built in 1520 by the O’Hynes clan it’s seen its fair share of warring clans and sieges. It’s a beautiful buildings and a fascinating insight into Irish history.
Take A Segway Tour
If you’re looking for a unique but fun thing to do in Galway, this might be right up your street. You’ll take a spin along the Salthill Promenade, The River Corrib and through the Claddagh.
Your experienced guide will provide full training and tell you all about the local history of the area along the way in this increasingly popular Galway activities option.
Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop
If you’re a bit of a bookworm, you will absolutely love this suggestion on our list of things to do in Galway Ireland. An institution on the Galway highstreet, Charlie Byrne’s bookshop in a maze of over 100,000 books. You could lose yourself in here for hours.
Sitting just 1km off the coast of Galway City, this small island is actually connected to the mainland by a man made causeway so you can walk all the way out there. It’s the home of the some sewage works. But don’t let that put you off, the views are spectacular.
More Places To Visit In Galway
If you’re after something a little more on the unusual side of places to visit in Galway, this should tick the box. Built in 1569, this now abandoned 16th century is so completely overgrown with vegetation that it kind of just blends into the scenery.
You’ll find Menlo Castle on the banks of the Corrib River just a short walk from Galway City. Owned by the Blake family, it was destroyed by a fire in 1910 which also sadly took the life of their daughter Eleanor. Her body was never found.
Situated just 3 miles from Galway City, this enchanting woodland is the great thing to do in Galway for nature lovers. It can be quite muddy when it rains. Which let’s face it is more often than not in Ireland. So you’ll need appropriate footwear.
If you don’t have a car, there’s plenty of public bus lines that head down that way.
A symbol of Irish heritage, the famous Claddagh ring actually originated in Galway. In the nearby neighbourhood going by the same name, which was once a fishing village.
At the Claddagh museum and workshop you’ll discover the legend of ring and may even see some being made. It’s open everyday and admission is free.
National University of Ireland
Ranking amongst the top 1% of universities in the entire world, the National University of Ireland was founded in 1845 and has a prestigious history. It’s a beautiful building set along the banks of the River Corrib, don’t miss popping in a having a wander around the grounds.
Known as the festival capital of Ireland, one of the best times to visit Galway is when a festival is on. Galway Jazz Festival, Galway Film Fleadh, Galway International Arts Festival, Galway Oyster Festival, the city has so many festivals.
For what’s on in Galway festival wise you can check the Galway Tourism Events Calendar.
Where To Stay in Galway Ireland
If you are visiting around the time of one of Galways many festivals do make sure that you book your accommodation in advance.
Because while there are quite a lot of options the best ones get snapped up quickly.
Affordable Luxury: The Galmont Hotel & Spa
Overlooking Galway Bay and just 200m from Eyre Square, this Galway hotel has a great location.The large rooms have luxurious beds with Egyptian cotton sheets and goose feather pillows.
There’s onsite parking, a spa, a bar with a waterfront terrace plus an excellent breakfast. Guests reviews say that staff go above and beyond and that it’s a perfect place to relax.
Mid-Range Budget: St. Judes Lodge B&B
Situated in Galway city centre, within a 5-minute walk of Eyre Square, this Galway B&B is expertly run by two brothers. Spotlessly clean, lots of additional home comforts and a delicious breakfast.
All rooms have WiFi, cable TV, an en-suite bathroom and tea/coffee making facilities. If you want a more local and personal experience in Galway this is your spot.
Cheap & Cheerful: Kinlay House Eyre Square Hostel
Centrally located on the corner of Eyre Square, just a minutes walk from the coach and train station this award winning hostel has a mixture of both private and dorm rooms.
The common room has a pool table and a TV, there’s fast WiFi and the shared kitchen is well equipped. Plus the price includes breakfast, free luggage storage, printing and city maps.
How To Get To Galway
Galway Ireland Car Rental
One of the best ways to travel around Ireland is by car. Because it gives you the flexibility and independence to stop off wherever you like. We always find that Auto Europe has great car rental deals with lots of different vehicle options.
If you are hiring a car to travel around Ireland, you’ll find our ultimate Ireland road trip guide helpful for your planning.
Flights to Galway Ireland
If you’re arriving from overseas, the closest airports are Shannon and Knock airports at around an hour’s drive away. Ryan Air have some great deals arriving into Knock Airport from the UK and Europe.
If you’re travelling from further afield, Dublin is the largest airport. It’s not too far away either at around 2 hour 30 mins drive. We always use Kiwi.com to compare find the cheapest flights.
Galway Bus or Train Travel
There’s also a great cross-country bus and rail service running between all of Ireland’s cities. We always like to use Omio.com to compare the best prices and travel times.
Recommended Ireland Guide Books
More Cracking Places In Ireland
If you’re spending a while travelling around Ireland, you might find this blog posts helpful too:
- Your Complete Guide To Killarney
- Why Include Sligo On Your Irish Itinerary
- All The Best Things To Do in Derry
- Weekend Guide To Dublin On A Budget
Ireland Travel Insurance
Even though Ireland is one of the safest countries in the world, we don’t recommend travelling anywhere without a good quality travel insurance in place.
Our go to travel insurance provider is World Nomads. They have a no bullshit approach to policy wording & you can even buy a policy even if you’ve already set off on your travels.
Get a no obligation quote here:
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Travel lover, professional writer and football (soccer) obsessive, James loves nothing more than getting outside and exploring little known corners of the globe. He’s also very partial to a drop of Guinness.