Galway, Ireland is my favorite place. It’s filled with warm and welcoming locals, beautiful music, good food, and is right on the water. When I’m there it feels like home. I love discovering its hidden gems, wasting away a day (and night) listening to the buskers in the street and the music in the pubs, and taking long walks along Salthill Road. The great thing about Galway is it’s easy to enjoy its charms for free (or cheap). My favorite things to do in Galway are all free, with the exception of food and a pint! There are plenty of activities no matter the weather and I find it beautiful whether the skies are grey or blue! Many people spend about two days here before moving on and while everything I have listed below could easily be accomplished in that time frame, I highly suggest extending your stay and really soaking up the lively atmosphere of Galway.
And just a heads up, there are some affiliate links in this post, which means if you decide to make a purchase, I will earn a bit of income, at no additional cost to you!
Walk Along the River Corrib and Explore Galway’s Canals
Sunny days in Galway are the best for walking along the River Corrib. There’s really not much “to see” per se, but it’s just a lovely walk. If you start at the long walk, pass under the Spanish Arch and head in the direction of Galway Cathedral it’s about a half a mile. From Galway Cathedral you could wander around Nun’s island, exploring the canals and checking out the beautiful homes on your way towards exploring Galway’s West End. You’ll see quite a bit of Galway on this walk!
Explore the City’s Medieval Remains
See if you can find Lynch’s castle on shop street and the window from where Judge Lynch hung his own son! His son had murdered the sailor who hit on his girlfriend and no one else could carry out the penalty. A bit less grim is the Spanish Arch – one of the few remaining pieces of the medieval wall that once surrounded Galway. And there is a doorway to the home of one of the original Galway families in Eyre Square.
PS: I made it easy for you to to plan your epic Ireland adventure with this Ireland itinerary planner.
Check Out Galway Cathedral
Galway Cathedral was built in 1958 from the remaining stones of the prison that once stood where it stands today. This makes it the last stone cathedral built in Europe. The artwork inside boasts a large crucifix mosaic and three large rose stained glass windows. John F. Kennedy visited the church just before his assassination and they added artwork to pay respect to him and his support for the cathedral. Can you find it? It is free to enter, but there is a suggested donation of €2. Don’t plan to visit when a service is occurring unless, of course, you are participating and not looking for the mosaic of JFK!
Explore Galway’s West End
Across the river from the Latin Quarter, you will find Galway’s West End. The West End is home to a few of my favorite places in Galway. Nova, an awesome gay bar where on a Wednesday in May 2015, I danced the night away with locals in celebration of Ireland’s vote to support gay marriage. The Secret Garden Tea Shop and the delicious restaurant, Kai Cafe are also located here. The West End has a more local vibe than the Latin Quarter and is worth a stroll through!
Go on a Pub Crawl
Pub culture is alive and well in Galway! It’s definitely worth it to spend a day or two checking out the traditional Irish pubs. I love that the pubs are filled with locals and tourists alike coming together for good craic. Each one has its own unique style, my two favorites are Tig Coili and O’Connor’s.
People Watch (or work) in Cafes
The cafes are another excellent option for a drink, a treat, people watching and WiFi. There are quite a few cafes in Galway and I did my best to try them all.
Listen to Trad & The Buskers
Galway is the heart of Trad (traditional Irish music) and it’s played in just about every pub and on the streets of Galway. The pubs are a fun place to listen to music with a pint in hand.
But heading out on the street is a musical delight as well. The Buskers (street musicians) are insanely talented musicians and artists. Many times I just sat on the ground across from them listening to their music. Two of my favorites are Katie O’Connor and Paul Taylor (who made it to the live rounds of the Voice Ireland)
Shop for Food & Crafts at Galway Market
If you happen to be in Galway on a weekend visit the market that takes place on Church Street, just in between the back to Tig Coli and St. Nicholas’ Church. The Saturday market is more food based and you’ll find everything you need to have a picnic or create a healthy hostel dinner. Be sure to stop by the stall with the barrels of olives and sauces to pick up their pesto garlic hummus – it’s amazing!
The Sunday market is craft based. Local artisans set up shop to sell photography, jewelry, hand painted items, among other crafts. Each day there are food trucks as well! Definitely not to be missed!
Eat Traditional and International Food
If you’re not a do it yourself meal kinda gal, no worries, Galway has a great food scene. Everything from traditional, to pub food, to international – you can find it here. Shop street has many traditional cuisine offerings, but if you wander along the side streets, you’ll find Tapas, Italian, Pizza, Sushi, and Mexican – to name a few. You’ll definitely be able to find something to suit your appetite. To get you started, check out Kai Cafe & Restaurant, The Pie Maker, and McDonagh’s (fish & chips).
Walk Along Salthill Prom
Join the locals for a walk, jog, or bike ride along Salthill Prom. From the City Center to Blackrock Diving Pier, it’s about a 3-mile walk (6 miles round trip). But it’s lovely on a sunny day. Along the way you’ll see the homes of the Long Walk from across the River Corrib, you’ll pass the large green fields of South Park, a famine memorial, and you’ll eventually come to Blackrock Diving Tower. You don’t have to go all the way, but it’s well worth a bit of a journey on a clear day as across Galway Bay you’ll be able to spy the Aran Islands. There are also benches along the way and a few cafes and pubs you can pop in to. But you should totally do your best to make it to Blackrock pier (you can always take the bus back, there’s a stop right next to the tower).
Jump Off Blackrock Diving Tower
Back in the day, like the 1880s, there used to be just a diving board from the edge of a rock into the water. Today, there is a three-tiered diving tower with stairs leading into the water on the first level, a diving board on the second, and two platforms on the top. Apparently in the summer and when it’s high tide, the pier is packed with people jumping in. I was just amazed to see so many people swimming on an October afternoon.
Sure it was a sunny, but it’s still the Atlantic ocean – that water is cold! But, as I sat there taking photos and watching the sunset, people kept coming and jumping into the water. Coming out covered in goosebumps to tell me it was incredibly refreshing and made them feel better. Can’t knock that. In fact, I noticed people swimming all along the coast and I considered joining in, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Also – an epic place for sunset, if you didn’t catch that.
Learn about Galway’s History at the Galway Museum
I don’t normally visit museums, because they usually cost money and I forget what I learned about relatively quickly. They’re also usually super crowded which is just not my scene. But, it was a rainy afternoon in Galway and I learned that the museum is FREE! So, I took a break from pubs to learn a little bit more about the history of this city I love.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from a free museum, but it’s really well done. Each of its three floors has a specific focus. The first floor describes the early years of the tribes that settled in Galway. It pays homage to the city’s fishing past with a full-sized hooker hanging in the stairwell as you head to the second floor. There I learned that Galway had a successful soccer team for quite a few years! It also details the Easter rising, the wars, and local heroes. The top floor was unexpected, it’s like a mini marine life knowledge center. Which makes sense considering the location of Galway and its fishing history! Definitely worth a visit on a rainy day when you just can’t drink one more Guinness.
People Watch in Eyre Square
It’s hard to miss Eyre Square (aka JFK Memorial Park as he gave a speech here during his visit…and they seriously love him) as it’s located right next to the bus station, the shopping center, and popular pubs. It’s a lovely park that is excellent for catching some rays on a sunny day. You could take your food from the market here for a picnic and a bit of people watching. That medieval doorway I mentioned earlier is located here. On the door, you’ll find 14 flags each representing one of the original Galway families.
Pick up a Book at Charlie Byrne Bookstore
Don’t you just love the smell and feel of a real book? I travel with my Kindle because I don’t have enough space to carry the books I want to read. But walking into Charlie Byrne’s bookshop made me want to buy a bigger backpack and fill it with books! It’s huge and has about 5 rooms filled from the floor to the ceiling with new and used books on any subject you can dream up!
Paying great homage to the country’s literary history they have loads of books on Irish history and sections dedicated to Irish authors. Of course, they also have new Bestsellers as well. If the 5 rooms of books aren’t enough for you, the hallway outside of the shop is lined with used books for 2-3 euro. This shop is definitely worth a wander on a rainy day.
Learn About the History of the Claddagh Ring from Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold
Pay a visit to the oldest makers of the traditional Claddagh ring. They’ve been in business for over 200 years and still make the famous Claddagh ring. Traditionally, it’s used as an engagement ring, but I bought one for myself, ‘cause why not? The silver rings, without any stones, are not too expensive. But, they also create more elaborate, engagement style Claddagh’s as well. The coolest part about these rings is on the inside is stamped with TD Original. This way you know it’s legit! The back room has a small history of Thomas Dillon and how the ring came to be – as well as a ring the size of a pinhead.
Take in a Festival or a Horse Race
Galway is a city of festivals. They celebrate their music, food, pride, and horses! It seems as if there is a festival going on year around! And I seem to just miss them by a few days. I need to get better at planning! The Galway Races and Oyster festival are high on my list. What festival would you attend?
There are plenty of things to do in Galway and I hope you fall in love with the city!
There you have it, my favorite things to do in Galway, that are mostly free – with the exception of feeding yourself, the odd pint and if you attend a festival. Now that you’re excited to visit, you need to know how to get there and where to stay right? Check out the FAQs below for that information – I’ve got you covered.
I just really want people to see and fall in love with Galway. It’s an amazing place that I hope you add to your Ireland itinerary!
Galway, Ireland FAQ
How to Get to Galway
The closest airport to Galway is Shannon. A bus ticket with bus Eireann costs 10 euro and can be purchased on arrival at the kiosk in Shannon Airport. The kiosk is red, says bus Eireann and is basically right where you exit from customs. It takes about two hours to arrive at Galway Bus Station, which is across the street from Eyre Square.
By Bus from Dublin and Cork
The Citylink bus service has a direct service from Dublin and Cork. You can check the timetables here.
Bus Eireann offers services to and from Galway to smaller cities, such as the Cliffs of Mohr, Doolin, Dingle, and Ennis. Check their website or speak with them at the bus station for more information. They’re incredibly helpful!
I would love to rent a car and drive around Ireland, one day. That day hasn’t come yet, but it is very common and everyone in Galway seemed to have cars. Most accommodations offer parking, but be sure to double check when booking.
Places to Stay in Galway
I recommend staying either in Galway city center or in the Salthill neighborhood. There are a wide range of places to stay in Galway to suit any budget. There are budget hostels, boutique hostels, AirBNBs and of course plenty of hotels and B&Bs.
On my first trip I stayed at an amazing Airbnb just around the corner from Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh shop, it’s called the Zen Den. If you can get it, the people are incredibly friendly and the location can’t be beat!
I also stayed at Kinlay Hostel on my first visit, but it’s way too big for my liking, although the location is great. My recent trip, I stayed at the Nest Boutique Hostel in Salthill. Yes, it’s a hostel with dorm and private rooms, but it has all of the amenities of a hotel. And it’s located right near a bus stop that will take you to the city center or it’s about a 20-minute walk. I highly recommend it.
For a full list of accommodations check out Booking.com where you can filter your search based on your budget and the location.
Day Trips from Galway
Galway is a great place to base yourself to explore the West side of Ireland. You could easily do a day trip to the Cliffs of Mohr, the Aran Islands, Connemara, Cong, Kylemore Abbey and the Burren from here. I did a few by bus and there are plenty of tour companies that run daily trips to these destinations (sometimes multiple stops in one day). Of course, if you have a car you can easily accomplish these day trips!