We’ve driven the Galway part of the Wild Atlantic Way many times over and for a good reason – every meter of the road brings you closer to traditional villages and beaches full of fantastic sea stacks.
When we agreed to spend Valters 40th birthday in Galway, I knew we’d enjoy the time spent there but didn’t quite expect the weekend to be such a perfect way to become more deeply acquainted with this part of Ireland.
Although the sun never made an appearance and the gusty winds had knocked off all the leaves from the trees we were stupefied with the splendour we encountered there. We were grateful for a chance to discover a different side of Ireland that won us over many times before.
Galway is a beautiful city, and for a change, it was refreshing to enjoy somewhat loose planning and let the cobbled streets lead us wherever they wish.
Galway is Irelands fifth-biggest city and was set to be the European Capital of Culture in 2020. It’s also one of the most popular day trips for anyone visiting Emerald isle as venturing beyond Dublin’s walls right across the country to explore it will enable you to see the variety of the island.
Ireland travel guide: 11 fun thing to do in beautiful Galway city
Colourful even on a cloudy day, Galway – known as “The City of the Tribes” – is bursting with charm, art, local legends and music. Are you making plans to visit Ireland and take a trip to the wonderful West? A visit to Galway should definitely be on anyone’s travel list.
And once you visit, you’ll see for yourself that it’s pretty hard not to fall under Galway’s spell. Here you can relax at Eyre Square, wander around Galway University grounds, go on brewery tours and step inside Lynch’s Castle (now AIB Bank), situated between Shop Street and Abbeygate Street.
In this blog post, we would like to share some of the best things to do in the city whose trade and politics was once controlled by 14 families.
#1. Wander around the Latin Quarter
Situated on the left bank of the River Corrib, Latin Quarter, a hook-shaped district of cobblestone streets, is a popular place to grab a bite, capture colourful facades or just simply stroll through it. In the lively Latin Quarter, you’ll find cities best-known pubs, affordable, yet a tad noisy travellers hostels, independent stores and various attractions.
Galway’s Latin Quarter is a cultural part of the city, and its little side streets are great for a little wander while you enjoy the street artists, known as buskers, play fantastic music. The main street is called Quay Lane, and you can’t beat the amazing energy bouncing from the area. Take time to chill out with a pint in one of the outdoor seating areas and enjoy people watching.
#2. Take a boat trip
If you ever get a chance to see the coast from the water, take it, an aquatic perspective of the city and its surroundings will leave a lasting impression. Jump on the Corrib Princess for a very scenic 90-minute cruise on River Corrib, take in the sights, take notes on how to make Irish coffee and learn the history on Blake Castle.
The Corrib Princess operates from May to September, offers knowledgeable captain, heated indoor cabin for those rainy days, a venue for a private party and full catering facilities.
Prices for the river cruise are Adult €17, Family (2 Adults and up to 3 Children under 14) €40, Student / Senior €15.
#3. Go on a hunt for the best Irish arts and crafts
Some of the city’s best handmade crafts can be found in a handful of shops. Either you are looking for quirky jewellery, Aran sweaters, artisan brews or the famous Claddagh Ring, Galway has it all.
Check out the beautiful Wooden Heart shop, packed full of wooden toys, books, incredible dollhouses and early learning toys. Make your way to Galway’s Farmers Market located by St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church for vintage jewellery, a great variety of food, handmade soaps and rare books.
Don’t forget to sample an award-winning Galway Hooker – a beer brewed using only malt, hops, yeast and water. Stop at Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold to learn the story behind the ring and travel to Roundstone Music and Craft Shop, located in Roundstone and run by master craftsman Malachy Kearns that makes one-sided drum known as the Bodhrán (Bow-Rawn).
#4. Walk around the Salthill promenade
Salthill and its beautiful promenade where during the summer months you can see locals jumping off of BlackRock Diving Tower is a lovely seaside town situated 10 minutes away from Galway city.
To reach the Salthill Promenade travel southwest of the city centre and you’ll find lots of restaurants, cafes and plenty of beaches to enjoy. On a clear day, it’s possible to see the peaks of Connemara and an outline of The Burren.
Galway Atlantaquaria, run by the National Aquarium of Ireland, is located in Salthill too. It’s a small but very decent aquarium where you can see lots of sea animals such as the Stingray, blowfish, flatfish and sharks.
#5 Visit Charlie Byrne’s Bookstore
If you are a fan of independent bookstores, where the rooms are stacked floor to ceiling with books, then you have to pay a visit to Charlie Byrne’s Bookstore.
In a labyrinth of cosy rooms, you’ll be able to find any genre imaginable and all for very affordable prices. Wandering through the shop is one of the best free things to do in Galway as there are well over 100,000 second-hand, new and bargain books.
There are so many books that in facts they are even stacked at the entrance of the shop making look more appealing. It’s easy to get lost browsing the shelves for a couple of hours, and it’s impossible to leave empty-handed as some of the books cost as little as 3 euros, a must go for a book worm!
Address: The Cornstore, Middle St, Galway
#6. Pay a visit to Galway City Museum
Founded in 2006 and located beside the Spanish Arch Galway city museum is well kept and comprehensive and is a great place to spend an hour or two during a visit to Galway.
The entry to Galway City Museum is free to enter for anyone who is interested in cities history, and it also makes for a great place to hide from unexpected rainstorms.
Various exhibitions are laid out trough the museums three floors, each dedicated to different subjects such as cities prehistoric pats, artwork and marine life. There’s even a Galway Hooker for anyone to admire, the Williamites Wars and Maritime Wrecks off the coast of Ireland all covered it great detail
Opening hours | Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am -5pm (12pm on Sundays)
#7. Snap a photo of Fishery Watchtower
Built in 1852/53 by the Ashworth Brothers, Fishery Watchtower is one of Galway cities landmarks. The yellow tower’s purpose up until the 1970’s was to keep an eye on the fishing boats operating on the river. Nowadays, you’ll find a small museum with exhibits telling the history of Galway’s fishing heritage.
Address: Wolfe Tone Bridge, Galway
#8. Admire Galway Cathedral
Designed by J.J.Robisnon and built in the 1950’s Galway Cathedral, the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven, is one of the youngest stone cathedrals in Europe. Located in a part of Galway City known as Nun’s Island, Galway Cathedral is one of the city’s largest buildings, and its dome can be seen for miles around.
Initially, the location of the city prison, the cathedral houses impressive dome, stone walls and beautiful rose windows by George Cambell. The floor of the cathedral is made from Connemara Marble, and the light flowing through the windows create a wonderful atmosphere.
The cathedral is open to the public and free to visit. Opening hours for visitors are from 8:30am – 6:30pm and if you wish you can join the daily mass to hear one of the finest pipe organs in the country.
#9. See the Spanish Arch
Dating back to pre-medieval times, the Spanish Arch are two remaining arches on the Ceann a Bhalla. Located on the left bank of the Corrib River, right beside Galway City Museum, it’s one of Galway’s historical gems that used to house soldiers who manned cannons on the roof. The simple arch, once partially destroyed by the tsunami in the 1800s was originally constructed by William Martin and built in 1584.
#10. Go on a day trip
Road trips in the West is always a very good idea as this part of Ireland is renowned for their wonderful scenery. Travelling to Galway and not taking advantage of nearby world-class attractions would be a foolish thing to do.
You can book an organised tour or be adventurous and go for a self-drive tour. Galway is perfectly positioned for some great day trips, and some of the best include the astounding Cliffs of Moher, beautiful Connemara, remote Aran Islands, Kylemore Abbey and Burren National Park.
Some of the best scenic drives we would recommend:
Inagh Valley to Killary Harbour
Sky Road, Clifden
Leenane to Drummin
Bearna to Lettermore
#11. Visit Galway for Christmas magic
You’ll love seeing Galway dressed up for Christmas season looking stunning with beautifully decorated shop windows and twinkling street lights. The annual Christmas Market in the main event taking place at Eyre Square with traditional carousel, plenty of market stalls, a 32 meter-high wheel, Santa’s Express Train and carol singing on display.
Don’t be put off by travelling to Ireland in winter, even on the coldest and darkest days there’s something to see and do. The weather is wetter and the days are shorter, but there are fewer crowds, and you don’t need to fight your way through the crowds. Always bring plenty of warm socks, water-resistant boots and a warm hat to keep you dry and cosy.
Where to stay in Galway
If you are spending a couple of days in Galway, you need a place to stay. Your accommodation will depend on how you travel. If you are on the road trip around Ireland, then you need a place where you can park a car. Parking in the city centre is expensive, so its best to find a hotel or other accommodation with free parking.
On our last trip to Galway, we decided to splurge out a little bit and stayed outside the city in a hotel with fantastic ocean views because it was Valters 40th Birthday trip. We ended up choosing the Connemara Coast Hotel for a relaxing family break and couldn’t be happier to recommend it to anyone.
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Now, over to you!
Have you been to Galway? Let us know in the comments below!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Galway and have travel-related questions!