A handpicked selection of the best things to see in Galway City and the surrounding area, for the perfect stay in this gorgeous corner of the West of Ireland.
I first hear about the city of Galway when my best friend moved there for a school semester.
She went knowing little about it (it was before the web, I think all we had was a brochure with a couple of photos!) but she came back with memories for a lifetime.
Galway in her words was a dynamic, fun, interesting University City with art, history music and scenery to wow the most jaded of travelers.
Indeed, Galway is all of this. Since that time far away in the past, I have found myself in Galway several times and I have always found it just as magical as my friend said.
These are my favorite things to do in Galway.
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The best things to do in Galway City
Galway is a university town in the West of Ireland, on the coast of the County by the same name, County Galway.
It is one of the most popular places in Ireland for visitors and a fun city with a lot to offer both within the city limit and outside.
Its long history gave the city interesting and beautiful landmarks, while the university makes it a dynamic and fun place, with a lovely mix of people.
The best things to do in Galway city tend to tap into these two souls, making Galway perfect both for the culturally curious traveler and the student!
Take a walk down Galway’s colorful city center
I always love to start my day in Galway with a walk around its historical center and its colorful buildings.
I start my walk from the seafront and then allow myself to get lost along the small streets and shops in the area of Quay street and shops street.
This area is closed to cars and really pleasant.
The streets here are touristy, and bursting with people in summer especially, but they have lovely colorful facades, many independent shops and a plethora of tea rooms and pubs that make them hard to resist.
It is a small enough area and you don’t need a special itinerary to take it in: just take a walk and peek into any shop you see that piques your interest.
Many have lovely handmade stuff and not on the main street type of shops: last time we went, we spent hours in a shop called ‘wooden heart’ and got charmed by their woodwork but this is only one of the many independent retailers you will find in the city.
If you are looking for something to buy that will remind you of Ireland or a special present for someone, this is the perfect place!
Admire the Spanish Arch
The city dates back to medieval times: originally a small fishing village on the river Corrib, Galway got city walls in the XIII century and quickly became an important trade center thanks to its dynamic port.
The city walls are still partially visible and their most impressive remain is the Spanish Arch. It sits where the River Corrib enters into Galway Bay and was built in 1584 to house the soldiers in charge of guarding the city.
It is one of the main landmarks in Galway city and one easy to see since it is right between the coast and the main street – an easy stop on your Galway itinerary!
A cool way to discover Galway City center and all it has to offer both in terms of history and food is to join a walking tour.
Have a cup of tea in one of Galway’s city center cafes
Galway city center has many lovely cafes where you can indulge in the quintessential Irish comfort moment: a cup of tea and cake!
You will be spoilt for choice is Galway both when it comes to establishments and food on offer but, if you can, go for Irish specialties such as scones or Irish apple tart: they the perfect accompaniment to your tea break!
Take a walk in the University grounds
In the XIX century, Galway also acquired a University, still one of the most important in the country and a lovely place to explore if you fancy a walk in relaxing and beautiful surroundings
NUI Galway campus is vast, green and beautiful and it is open to visitors who can explore it following the university campus trail (have a look here) which offers paths to walk and even cycle!
Enjoy one of Galway’s’ many pubs
Galway has many pubs and one of my most distinctive memories of my first weekend here was listening to live music in one of them. It was my first time with live Irish music and there was so much joy in it, I still remember it so many years later!
Traditional music, however, is not the only thing you find in Galway.
The choice of pubs is huge and you can go as traditional or as modern as you want: you can find an excellent list of options with photos and info so you ca pic your favorite here.
Take a stroll along the Salt Hill promenade
Salthill Promenade is one of the most famous attractions n Galway and a wonderful place for a walk. About 2 miles long, the promenade follows the seafront it is just a walk, so it is suitable for all levels of fitness, and it offers wonderful views of the Bay.
It is a great place for an afternoon walk and has many restaurants and cafes for a pick me up on the way.
Visit the city’s museums and churches
Galway has some nice museums worth visiting and perfect for the not-so-rare rainy day in the city.
Depending on your interests you can visit the Claddagh Ring Museum, the Galway City Museum, free and one of the most popular attractions in Galway or you can explore Galway’s collegiate church, St Nicholas, one of the best-preserved medieval churches of its kind in the country.
Explore Galway’s wonderful Christmas market
Ireland may not immediately come to mind when you think of Christmas markets in Europe however, Galway has a lovely one that attracts people from all over.
If you find yourself in Ireland in December, this is a really fun stop for adults and kids!
Things to do in Galway with kids
Galway is a welcoming, family-friendly place that you can easily enjoy with small children.
The city center and the Salthill promenade and both nice with small children but if you are looking for things to do in Galway with kids that go beyond city exploring, these are some of your favorites.
Take a cruise on the Corrib Princess
Water is one of the most distinctive traits of Galway city and a fun way to enjoy the city river, lake and coastal location is to hop on board the Corrib Princess, an all-weather boat that offers a scenic cruise of the area.
From the Corrib princess, you will see lakes, nature and castles, all without having to move a step!
Atlantiquaria, Galway’s Aquarium
Another fun thing to do in Galway with kids and one that is perfect on a rainy day is visiting Atlantiquarua, Galway’s aquarium.
You can visit the Aquarium at your own pace or join the several activities for kids regularly running both indoors and outdoors. The official Aquarium website is here
Brigit’s garden (outside Galway city)
Brigit’s gardens is a wonderful family-friendly attraction in Galway perfect for families with kids of all ages.
It is an open-air heritage center with several gardens, a nature trail, a fairy fort, thatched roundhouse and crannog, and the largest calendar sundial in Ireland!
The place is wonderful for a day in nature but what makes it even more special is the symbolism it accompanies it he four gardens are named after Celtic festivals and follow the cycle of the Celtic seasons: Samhain (the start of the Celtic calendar on the 31st of October), Imbolc, the start of Spring, falling on St Brigit’s day, the 1st of February, Bealtaine, May Day, the start of the warmer half of the year and Lughnasa in early August, the start of the harvest season.
The mix of beautiful nature and symbolism makes these gardens perfect for adults and kids. The lovely cafe on site helps too! Find info and how to get there here
The best things to do in Galway (County)
County Galway is one of the most scenic in Ireland and one you use as your home base for a full trip without running out of things to do.
If you are short on time, however, these are the best things to do in Galway to try and add to your Ireland itinerary!
Visit the Aran islands
The Aran Islands are 3 small islands off the Galway coast and they are absolutely wonderful to visit.
They are served by regular ferries, in the good season, and they are lovely for tourists as they mix remote beautiful scenery, traditional Irish hospitality (Irish spoken here) and history: the Aran Islands have an unusually high number of historical sites, considering how small they are!
The islands are different from each other and offer different experiences to visitors.
I loved spending the night on the smallest one, Inis Oir (there is very little here beside a lovely pub where we listened to traditional music and beautiful views of the Cliffs of Moher); Inis Meain is the less visited of the 3 but offers great diving opportunities and cultural courses such as poetry and dance and Inis Mor, the biggest island, has the biggest number of historical sites.
You can find information about each of the islands and how to get to the one of your choice here
Sky Road and Clifden, Connemara
Immediately to the North of Galway lies Connemara, one of the most scenic regions in the whole of Ireland and withing this stunning area, lies a particularly stunning drive, the so-called Sky Road.
The sky road is a16Km circular route near Clifden and it is part of the Wild Atlantic Way. The scenery here is simply amazing as the upper road gives expansive views over the countryside and the coast.
Clifden is itself a lovely town, perfect for a stop.
Kylemore Abbey, Connemara
Kylemore Abbey is one of the most famous and most visited attractions in Ireland and one that lies within easy reach from Galway.
Located in Connemara, you can reach it by car or joining one of the many day tours from Galway serving the area. Have a look at what they include here
Where to stay in Galway
Galway has many lovely hotels and guesthouses to choose from however, it is a popular place and advanced booking is recommended at pretty much any time!
With the kids, we stayed in The Maldron hotel which was nice and practical but you can find more options in the deals finder below: just out your dates in for the best deals.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of the best things to do in Galway and it helped you plan your trip here. Safe travels!