Galway is a vibrant and colourful harbour city in the west of Ireland. With a population of only 80,000, its small size works in its favour, as the city is very walkable and welcoming.
You will quickly realise that there is no need to rush around from A to B in Galway, as the lifestyle here is all about sipping a locally brewed pint, admiring the scenic views across the bay, and digging in to some delicious fresh seafood. That being said, there are plenty of interesting historical attractions and cultural events to keep you occupied. The vibe in Galway is safe and relaxed, and the increased student population keeps the city lively and youthful.
If you’re visiting north-west Europe, you should absolutely consider a stop in Galway. The city is only a two-and-a-half-hour train or bus ride west of Dublin, the capital of Ireland. To get you inspired and excited, here are 17 of the best things to do in Galway, Ireland.
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The Renaissance-style cathedral on the west bank of the River Corrib is one of the largest and most remarkable structures in Galway. Officially named the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and Saint Nicholas, you can see why it’s more commonly known as simply the Galway Cathedral.
Construction was only completed in 1965, making it the most recent stone cathedral built in Europe. The inner sanctuary is phenomenal, with various statues, mosaics, and mesmerizing stained glass windows.
There are a series of summer concerts held here during July and August. Avoid entering the cathedral during mass, unless you intend to participate, of course. Admission is free, although a small donation of €2 is encouraged.
The 16th-century Dunguaire Castle is a spectacular structure along the southeastern shoreline of Galway Bay. In the early 1900s, the castle was purchased by Irish poet Oliver St. John Gogarty and became an infamous meeting area for other literary figures like George Bernard Shaw and W.B. Yeats. The castle was sold again in 1954 and underwent restoration, evolving into a fascinating and educational site for tourists.
In addition to a tour of the castle, your visit will include folklore entertainment and a delicious medieval banquet. You’ll be served traditional Irish dishes like soda bread, locally sourced salmon and chicken, and leek and potato soup. Vegetarian mains are available as well. If your time is limited, you can walk around the castle grounds at no cost. Unfortunately, the castle is only open to visitors from April to October.
Galway City Museum
A fun, free and informative thing to do on your trip is to visit the Galway City Museum. The engaging and interactive exhibits are perfect for getting to know the Republic of Ireland.
Across the museum’s three gallery floors, there are seven permanent exhibitions and two temporary displays. Excavated and well-preserved artifacts provide insights into how people lived in the prehistoric and medieval periods in Galway. You can also learn about Ireland’s involvement in the Great War. The Wild Atlantic exhibition is unlike anything else in the country, showcasing interesting facts about Galway’s coastline and marine life.
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday and guided tours can be arranged free of charge. If there’s something in particular you are interested in seeing or learning about, tailored tours are available with advance notice. Otherwise, there’s an hour-long general tour of the current exhibitions or a short, 20-minute introductory tour.
For a memorable night out, Quay Street is the place to be. This pedestrian street is packed full of lively bars and popular restaurants. During the daytime, you’ll see shoppers weaving in and out of the eclectic stores.
The buzzing atmosphere here can’t be beaten. Settle in at a pub with a pint of Guinness, listen to live Irish music, and meet some new people from all around the world. If things are a little too crowded on Quay Street, find a cosy bar along nearby Cross Street, High Street or Middle Street.
Connemara National Park
Located in the very west of County Galway, Connemara National Park is one of six wilderness regions in Ireland. The 20-square-kilometre park with a diverse range of bird species can be yours to explore for the day. So, why not take a short journey from the city to discover the natural wonders of the area?
On the way to Connemara, admire the stunning coastline of the Wild Atlantic Way. You’ll stop by smaller villages like Inverin and Roundstone, and see other beautiful sights like the Twelve Bens Mountains and the Derrigimlagh Bog. On this nine-hour tour, you’ll also have the option to visit Kylemore Abbey, a magnificent marble and limestone castle built in the 1860s. Your knowledgeable guide will entertain and accompany you, providing you with interesting commentary throughout the day.
The Spanish Arch is a famous seaside landmark in Galway and a popular meeting spot for locals. This arch and the adjacent Caoc Arch are all that remain from a former city wall on the Ceann an Bhalla. They were constructed in 1584 on the east bank of the River Corrib to protect the city’s quays. Although partially destroyed by a tsunami in 1755, the Spanish arch remains safe to walk under.
Conveniently located by the Galway City Museum, it’s a nice place to hang out by the water. There are many cool eateries around as well, and you’ll usually hear a busker playing some music.
Another great hangout spot in Galway is Eyre Square. On a warm day, you’ll find the lawns packed with locals out soaking up the sun. Located in the heart of the city, the public space next to the Galway railway station dates back to medieval times. Although the official name for the park is now the John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, most people still refer to the area as Eyre Square.
The park was redeveloped in the mid-19th century in a Georgian design style. Within the centre is a fountain with a bronze statue depicting Galway hooker fishing boats. You’ll find the city’s largest shopping mall here, aptly named the Eyre Square Centre, as well as tourist information towards the lower end. Seasonal events take place in the square as well, so you might be lucky and wander into a weekend market.
A breathtaking area to get out and explore is the Barna Woods. The woodland haven is only five kilometres from the centre of Galway and is a must-visit for nature lovers. The woods grow the last natural oaks in the west of Ireland and are considered a Special Area of Conservation. Go for a relaxing walk amongst the towering trees, take in some fresh air, and appreciate the beautiful greenery.
The 16th-century Menlo Castle is a fascinating attraction off the beaten path. A fire at the castle in 1910 tragically took the lives of three people and completely destroyed the contents inside. It has been abandoned ever since and its exterior walls are now almost completely covered in ivy. In fact, it is so overgrown that it can sometimes be difficult to spot the castle from a distance as it blends in with its natural surroundings. Yet, this aspect makes it stand out amongst other historic attractions and offers a unique and scenic location to take photos.
The ruins are located near the National University of Ireland Galway campus, right next to the River Corrib. Menlo Castle truly is a photographer’s dream, and you’ll even find families and students enjoying a picnic here on sunny days. So, pack a blanket, some snacks and your camera and make an afternoon of it.
Galway Arts Centre
The Galway Arts Centre is a cultural hub for both Irish and international visual art. There are wonderful contemporary exhibitions at the West End gallery, with many thought-provoking and eclectic pieces. Visit the space any day except Sunday to appreciate the creativity of Galway’s residents.
The centre also runs the intimate Nun’s Island Theatre, which showcases regular plays, performances and unique visual projections. Every Saturday from 11 until 5, the charming Tiny Traders Village Market is held outside the theatre. Stop by to peruse the stalls of handmade, eco-friendly crafts and homemade treats.
The Latin Quarter
Considered by many as the most beautiful and vibrant part of the city, you can’t visit Galway without also seeing the Latin Quarter. The city truly comes alive here and offers everything you’ll need to have a fantastic time out. The area is an artistic collective of family-owned and run businesses, with a colourful array of shopfronts, restaurants and bars to explore.
There are over a dozen spots to eat serving Irish and international cuisines, plus ambient bars and relaxed coffee shops. If you’re searching for the perfect souvenir or gift to take home, you’ll find one-of-a-kind jewellery stores and local clothing boutiques. Even more, you will also spot the Palas arthouse cinema and the Mick Lally and Druid Theatres here. The local buskers will add to the enjoyable atmosphere as you wander through the area at your leisure.
Another abandoned building you can see in Galway is the Terryland Castle. The castle was built in the 13th century at a crossing point along the River Corrib. A fire destroyed most of the building in 1961, though the main structure and outer walls still remain.
There is much mystery surrounding this castle, with archaeologists uncovering human remains and artifacts dating back thousands of years. Although small, a quick visit can be intriguing. Find the castle in the district of Terryland off the N6 near Dyke Road.
You can’t pass up the opportunity to visit the beautiful Aran Islands. This group of three islands off the coast of Galway includes Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer. Their unique environments support a diverse range of flora and fauna that you will soon discover.
On a ten-hour-long tour, you’ll sail across the Wild Atlantic Way on your journey to the islands. Your guide will take you to the inviting small towns of Ballinderreen, Clarenbridge and Kilcolgan, as well as the fishing village of Doolin. You’ll also get the chance to walk along the picturesque Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s best natural attractions.
Galway City Karting
If the weather turns dreary and you are looking for fun things to do in Galway in the rain, Galway City Karting has you covered. Feel like a kid again and go go-kart racing on Galway’s 300-metre indoor track. 15 minutes on the track costs €15, or €25 for 30 minutes. There are 200cc adult karts as well as 120cc junior karts for teens and nervous beginners. The friendly staff will give you a safety briefing before you begin so you can feel confident and secure during your race.
The track is open from midday to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, making it the perfect late-night activity. On weekends, it opens an hour or two earlier but closes at nine in the evening.
Galway’s wonderful aquarium, Atlantaquaria, is found on the Seafront Promenade of Salthill. It’s an enjoyable place to spend a few hours learning about the marine life and feeding the fish. The displays are vivid and captivating, and include a 60-foot skeleton of a fin whale. Families can meet some of the animals up close and hold the starfish and giant spider crabs.
Admission for adults costs €13 with discounts for children, seniors and students, and you are permitted to come and go as you please. There are numerous talks throughout the day if you want to learn as much as possible.
Galway Food Walking Tour
Taste the best of what this city has to offer with a two-hour-long food walking tour. With your charismatic guide, visit nine different artisan food producers and learn about the best local ingredients. You will get to sample a range of different products including cheese, oysters, sushi and stew, as well as some sweet treats for dessert.
Of course, you’ll also indulge in a few Irish beers along the way. Best of all, you’ll receive a complimentary goodie bag to take with you. Anyone with an interest in discovering the local food scene won’t want to miss this tour.
Before you leave Galway, conclude your trip by watching the sunset from the Salthill Promenade. This two-kilometre stretch along the inner north shore of Galway Bay is peaceful and serene, and surprisingly never too busy. Take a quiet moment as the sun goes down to bask in the sea breeze and appreciate the tranquillity of the bay.
Recommended tours in Galway
- Cliffs of Moher Day Trip from Galway
- Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher Day Trip from Galway including Cliffs of Moher Cruise
- Connemara Day Trip from Galway: Kylemore Abbey and Ross Errily Friary
- Cliffs of Moher and Burren Day Trip, Including Dunguaire Castle, Aillwee Cave, and Doolin from Galway
- Galway Food and Drink Walking Tour
- Galway Food Walking Tour
- Galway to Cong Full Day Tour
- Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher Cruise
- Private Oyster Tour and Tasting with Locals by Flaggy Shore
- Galway Pub and Craft Beer Tour
- Galway Cheese Tour and Tasting by an Artisan Cheesemaker
- Irish Whiskey Tour of Galway
- Beach horseback ride along the scenic Wild Atlantic Way, Connemara.Guided 3hrs
- Dunguaire Castle Medieval Banquet