Galway, Ireland is my favorite place. It’s a place where I feel like I can be my truest self, where I feel focused, and energized. Galway makes me feel safe. Galway feels like home. Since Galway gives me all of the feels, I visit… a lot. It’s the city I’ve been to the most on my international travels and it is the next city on my list. I’ve traveled solo there two out of the three times I’ve visited, each time discovering new and lovely things to do in Galway.
Solo Female Travel in Galway
Before we get to all of the fun (and mostly free) things to do in Galway, first let’s talk about traveling solo there as a female. Ireland, on the whole, is regarded as one of the safest solo female travel destinations. Galway is no exception. Not once have I felt in danger in Galway. I frequent the many Galway pubs, stay out well past dark, accept drinks from strangers, and basically ignore all of the standard solo female travel safety rules. Except of course for trusting my gut.
Does that mean that bad things can’t happen in Galway? Of course not. Bad things can and do happen everywhere. I’m just saying that I rarely look over my shoulder when walking by myself and find that if an Irish lad is getting a bit too friendly a strong No will suffice. I’ve found that the people in Galway are incredibly friendly and welcoming, inviting you in for a chat with their group of friends or family while out at a pub or a cafe.
I don’t really think there is a place not to go in Galway. But as always, get a feel for Galway and it’s streets for yourself, before walking alone at night. Make your own judgments based on your experiences there.
Why You Should Visit Galway
Galway is filled with lovely and welcoming locals, beautiful music, good food, and is right on the water. What more could you ask for? It’s easy to waste away a day (and night) listening to the buskers in the street and the music in the pubs, and taking long sunset walks along Salthill Road.
The beauty of 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 things to occupy my time no matter the weather and I find it beautiful whether the skies are grey or blue!
Two Key Phrases to Know Before You Visit Galway
- Craic is a term used to denote having a good time. If you had a good night out with friends you’d say “Last night was good craic”. I’ve never actually used it, but it’s good to know what it is because you’ll hear the Galweans use it frequently. This will save you the confused expression I had on my face during my first 24 hours in Galway.
- Quays is pronounced Keys. Shop street, the main, pedestrian, cobblestone street in Galway is also called Quays. Plus, there is a pub of the same name. Again, save yourself making others confused by your pronunciation of this work…it’s Keys… like car keys.
How Many Days Should You Allocate to Galway
Many people spend about two days here before moving on to explore other beautiful places in Ireland. 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.
Galway also makes an excellent base to explore Ireland’s west side. You could easily take 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 DIY these day trips!
And Finally, Let’s Get to the Best (and Mostly Free) Things to do in Galway
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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 spending a day or two checking out the best pubs in Galway – and I’ve compiled a great list of them that would make for an epic pub crawl! 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 in Galway 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. My favorite, mentioned above, is the Secret Garden Tea Shop located in the West End. They make an excellent matcha latte and have a well-designed interior. It’s an excellent place to catch up on some reading or with a new friend as there is no WiFi – so leave the laptop at home! And bring cash – they don’t accept cards.
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 (a perfect day trip from Galway, by the way!) 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
Where to Stay in Galway
Galway is a small city with plenty of accommodation options for any budget. If it’s your first time in Galway, I highly suggest staying as close to Shop Street as possible so you can be close to all of the Galway attractions.
Airbnbs in Galway
On my first visit, I stayed at the best Airbnb right around the corner from Tig Neachtain (a 120 year old pub). It’s called the Zen Den, the hosts are fantastic, the rooms are large and warmly decorated. If it’s available I highly suggest booking it!
I also saw some great Airbnbs located on the Long Walk while I was planning my most recent trip. But I was on a strict budget and wound up at a much cheaper location that I do not recommend. I wish I just splurged and stayed at one of the options on the Long Walk.
If Airbnbs are your accommodation of choice, you can get 15% off of your booking when you book through this link!
Hostels in Galway
There are a number of hostels to choose from in Galway from budget to boutique. I’ve personally stayed at two on both ends of the spectrum.
On my first visit, I stayed at the Kinlay House which is located just off of Eyre Square. It is a huge hostel with over 200 beds. There is a large kitchen where you can cook for yourself and they offer a wide variety of tours. It’s very budget friendly and social.
On my second visit, I was looking for something much smaller and a bit quieter. I discovered The Nest hostel located in the Salthill neighborhood and I can’t recommend it highly enough. They have a large kitchen and an amazing free breakfast filed with fresh pastries, yogurt, fruit, and cereals. It also offers a coffee shop, is beautifully designed, and has very comfortable beds. It is located a bit away from the city center, but it’s only a 20 minute walk to downtown and there is a bus stop directly outside! I highly recommend staying at The Nest in Galway – you can book through this link.
Hotels and Bed & Breakfasts
Galway has a number of hotels and Bed and Breakfasts to choose from as well. I haven’t had the opportunity to go down that accommodation route yet, so I don’t have any specific recommendations. I will say the Jury’s Inn is very well located and looks beautiful!
You can use the map below to conduct your own search of places to stay in Galway that will suit your travel style and budget.
The Weather in Galway
Each of my visits to Galway occurred in different times of the year, May, October, and January. And each of those visits it rained some days, was sunny others, and other days had a mixture of both. January was by far the coldest, requiring big jackets, gloves, hats, and boots. Keeping in mind that it was winter, I still spent plenty of time outside enjoying the best of Galway.
Before your visit, just check the weather for the overall forecast, but be prepared for a little bit of everything.
How to Get to Galway
From the Shannon Airport
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.
Check out these Ireland Travel Guides for More Help Planning Your Trip to Ireland
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