My greatest regret during my visit was that I did not spend more time in Galway. But I had no idea this city is considered (by some) the culinary capital of Ireland. I should have tacked on a few more days but I really had no idea there would be so many things to do in Galway.
You should not skip this city in Ireland. It’s a complex juxtaposition of a glorious medieval city with rich history and a modern university town with lots of students, buskers and musicians.
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You’ll have to pardon my own traveler prejudices. I was raised Catholic. I spent time as a not-very-good altar server. Also, I have spent the last ten years, mostly in Latin America. I am so tired of visiting churches. And while I know there are some interesting churches or cathedrals in Galway, I just wasn’t interested seeing in Galway.
With only 24 hours in a city I do not want to spend my time in a place of worship. However, if you do, you should check out the Galway Cathedral, Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas.
Here’s a full list of churches and cathedrals in Galway.
Ancient and cosmopolitan, Galway is a city I know I’ll come back to…especially as I discovered it has an amazing international oyster festival.
Galway City Essentials
These Galway travel tips may seem so basic, but when I arrived I had a mental lapse wondering the simplest things like, does Galway use the Euro?
Let’s just get the essentials out of the way.
The Republic of Ireland vs Northern Ireland: Make no mistake, these two regions are separate countries. However, they co-exist on the island of Ireland.
Yet, don’t stress. If you’re visiting both you do not need to worry as both countries issue 90-day visas.
Currency: The Euro €
Language: You’ll get by with English, although many of the locals speak both English and Irish.
Weather: They say in Galway you cannot forget your umbrella nor your sunglasses as one minute the sun is out and the next it’s raining. This was true as we explored Galway in one day.
Packing Tip: The city is easy to explore by foot but you’ll need good walking shoes. It’s a relaxed university town so leave the heels at home.
Best Things to Do in Galway in One Day
It’s an easy train ride from Galway, but be sure to buy your ticket in advance as there are plenty of commuters.
When you arrive it can seem overwhelming, you may want to see it all…
But first coffee…
Best Coffee in Galway City
I need coffee (and an afternoon tea) to power through a day of non-stop sightseeing.
A great first stop is to begin with Irish craft chocolate at Hazel Mountain Chocolate and Coffee. Pop in here and grab a coffee to go.
9 Middle St, Galway City, Ireland
Art lovers will appreciate the craft shop/coffee house at Coffeewerk + Press. Family owned the art shop has been around over 50 years but the coffee house is a new addition.
It’s a great place to grab a cup and see both international and local artisan work. And the coffee to-go is in a cup with artwork as well.
4 Quay Street, Galway City, Ireland
Want to support an independent shop that’s committed to the community? Urban Grind was one of the first coffee shops in Galway that offered more than just traditional drop brew.
If you need a bit of sustenance before heading out for the day there is an in-house bakery to boot.
8 William Street West, Galway City, Ireland
Take a Galway Walking Tour
I’m not going to lie. My idea day visiting a city is pretty much just eating and drinking. But I must admit that every time I take a walking tour to learn more about the city I am happy I did it.
After arriving I immediately met up with Galway Walking Tours. Don’t frown upon a tour as a touristy thing to do in Galway. It’s a fantastic way to learn a lot in a short period of time and to get your bearings. Plus you can grill the tour guide on all the best local tips for things to do in Galway.
I loved this two-hour tour because your guide knew how to blend the right amount of history with quirky facts to keep me interested
Most importantly, he kept referencing a map so that we understood just how small and walkable the city is. This is SO important in a medieval city where it would be easy to get lost.
A few things you’ll want to hit on a walking tour in Galway:
The Spanish Arches
Although there are only two medieval arches yet it is still one of the most important attractions in Galway. At nearly 500 years old, the Ceann an Bhalla, or front wall, are where the failing invading Spanish were sentenced to death.
Although Galway started off as a meager fishing village it grew to become an important port ruled by 14 merchant families/clans enclosed in a walled city. Without a tour, you’ll miss all the local references to these families, who are known as the Tribes of Galway.
While the city of Galway doesn’t have majestic grand castles, it does have one in the centre with interesting history. Located on the famous Shop Street, Lynch’s Castle, now a bank, would be easy to walk by without ever knowing it was an important landmark.
This gothic limestone castle was once the family home of the Lynches – one of the 14 Tribes of Galway.
Legend says in the late 1400s magistrate James Lynch’s son killed a visiting Spanish man in jealousy over a woman. The Mayor was known as a hardliner when it came to criminals, and so for his son he could not show mercy and he was sentenced to death.
Locals could not watch this happen so as his son walked to the gallows they created a mob to protect the young man from his disastrous fate.
Yet the Mayor stuck to his principles and he would not jeopardize his notorious disciplinarian reputation. They returned home and he hung his son outside a window on their family home. Their coat of arms is still on the building, and the family name is the source of what we know as a lynching.
Lynch’s Castle 40 Shop Street, Galway, Ireland
See the Fastest Flowing River in Europe
When our guide was excited about sharing the smallish Corrib River May being the fastest flowing river in Europe it felt similar to me sharing Nova Scotia has the highest tides in the world.
It’s a fact locals take pride in, but really it doesn’t mean much to visitors. However, the walk along the river is lovely, even in cool weather. If you need to get away from the crowds this is where you’ll find locals.
Ireland’s Most Famous Ice Cream
Murphy’s Ice Cream is known to have the best ice cream in Ireland. Not only does it use incredible Irish dairy but it also has quirky flavours. Stopping in for a cone of the Irish Brown Bread Ice Cream aka soda bread, is well worth it.
12 High Street, Galway H91 DC8W, Ireland
Pronounced “air”, Eyre Square has been around since the 17th century and is in the central area of Galway City. The official name is John F. Kennedy Memorial Park who spoke there in 1963 and there is a small monument to him there. But locals continue to call it Eyre Square.
This is a great spot to people watch. There are hotels, shops and pubs surrounding the park that aren’t tourist traps. In December there is a Christmas fair and Spring brings lots of wonderful flowers. Best of all, there’s no shortage of benches.
In addition to the JFK monument, check out the Browne doorway which was the entrance to a magnificent Renaissance mansion. There’s also a fountain with a Hooker (famous Galway boat) reflecting Galway’s past as an important port.
If you’re visiting on the weekend this is the best spot to buy crafts, paintings, souvenirs and best of all – food! There are lots of stalls that will shuck local oysters on the spot along with pastries and other food vendors with local and international options. Personally I’d start with the oysters
Its open Saturdays and Sundays on Church Lane next St. Nicholas’ Church, where Columbus apparently went to pray before his voyage to the New World.
I was more taken with Sheridan cheese across the street. You can pop up to the second level to buy wine by the glass and snacks – seriously worth a visit.
In summer it’s also open on Fridays and mid-December it has a Christmas market every day.
Best Seafood Restaurants in Galway for Lunch
Galway is THE place to try seafood. Sure Irish lamb and other meats are fantastic but really this is a port city. Try to order seafood every opportunity you have
Brasserie on the Corner
This is a good low-key pub, especially if you’re traveling with a group. It has a very large menu and friendly staff that will assure you are happy with your meal.
Portions are large so don’t go overboard by ordering a cup of chowder before your fish and chips order as you can’t possibly eat all of it.
I spied someone else starting with a seafood platter with lots of different typical Irish seafood dishes on it. This would be a great appetizer to share.
Brasserie on the Corner
Corner of Eglington & Mary Street, Galway, Ireland
Perhaps one of the most famous seafood restaurants in Galway. The great thing about this spot is that you can choose how formal you’d like your meal.
Head to the right if you would like full table service and more upscale seafood options. Or if you want to pop in, order Irish fish and chips with a side of mushy peas at the counter and eat with locals you can sit on the left-hand side.
22 Quay Street, Galway
Stroll the Latin Quarter
This wasn’t what I expected at all because it feels far from Latin, except that everyone is here and there is great energy.
There are lots of wonderful shops, buskers and tons to keep you busy on this medieval street. I have a feeling I’d hate this street in the summer as everyone would be on it. But in autumn the Latin Quarter in Galway is quite lovely.
Galway City Museum
I’m not a huge fan of museums as I believe culture is on the street. But this museum is free so why not pop in!
Next to the Spanish Arches, the Galway City Museum is the most important modern museum in Galway. It opened in 2007 and continues to be a free museum, welcoming over 200,000 people a year to share the city’s history and culture.
Archeological and history fans will love visiting the traditional “hooker” sailboat and medieval collections that include weapons and armour.
There are a number of photos and exhibitions that share the story of Galway throughout the years. Don’t miss the Great Mace, which is an incredible display of silver work from 1710.
Galway City Museum
Spanish Parade, Merchants Rd Lower
HOURS Tues-Sat 10am-5pm (open Sundays 12pm-5pm Easter-September)
Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop
Ireland still embraces independent bookstores and this one is very impressive.
It has well over 100,000 books within its labryinth of rooms organized by categoy. You can find both new and used books as well as many on sale.
Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop
Open Monday-Saturday 9am-6pm, Sundays 12-6pm
The Corn Store, Middle Street, Galway, Ireland
Claddagh Ring Museum
The most famous ring in Ireland with two hands holding a heart with a crown. You can visit the original shop which continues to operate today. Dillon and Sons is a small shop, and you can walk through to see their wee museum.
Along with photos and articles you can see some of the first Claddagh rings as well as the world’s smallest, which sits on top of a pin with a magnifying glass to confirm it’s actually a ring.
It’s free to visit and if you’re looking for a special souvenir this is the place to buy it.
Dillon and Sons
1 Quay Street, Galway, Ireland
Open daily 10am-5pm
Aperitivo At Sheridan Cheese
Yes there are lots of great pubs in Ireland, but I think this is a lovely spot for a late afternoon drink and bite to eat before you head to dinner.
Sheridan Cheese is on the lower level, and is the most famous cheesemonger in Ireland. Above they have a quaint wine bar with small bites of food and fondue. I can’t imagine you’ll get better fondue elsewhere.
Sheridan Cheese and Wine Bar
14 Churchyard St, Galway, H91 X2R5, Ireland
Prefer beer over wine? This is one of the best spots to discover craft beer in Galway. Yes there is more to beer than Guinness in Ireland.
Galway Bay Brewery owns pubs in both Galway and Dublin, but its home is Salt House, which is just over the Claddagh river.
They offer an impressive 25 beers on tap and 150 in bottle. And if you really want to dive into the Irish craft beer scene ask about their weekly ale
Raven Terrace, Galway, Ireland
Open Monday-Thursday 1-11.30pm, Fri-Sun 1pm-12.30am
Dinner at the Best Restaurants in Ireland
What impressed me most about Galway was that I ate the best meal in 2019 in this city.
It has a very minimalist, nordic feeling and yet is casual enough that you see locals there in jeans. It’s all about the food here.
It is considered the best in the country and works with local producers to “capture the feeling and magic of the west of Ireland.”
When I ate the squid noodles with shiitake and egg I actually sighed…the flavours were so rich they reached your core.
This restaurant really captured the spirit I felt in Ireland, a sincerity and closeness in the community. But it also shone a light on local product that was so strong you could not help but see that Ireland has a strong tradition but also modern future.
I don’t want to pontificate too much but just to say this is also an example of a restaurant that’s been around for 5 years.
It’s not the newest hot restaurant but it is the best – which I think is unique in that the Ireland food scene understands you need a few years to build a strong voice. In an age where diners are chasing the next hot spot this was really refreshing.
I loved everything here and would happily recommend it to anyone I could.
Geata Na Cathrach Fairgreen Road, Galway, Ireland
Located on the River Corrib next to the Spanish Arches is a small assuming restaurant that is known as one of Ireland’s best restaurants.
It feels homey and quaint, like you’ve stepped into someone’s cottage. Albeit a cottage with incredible fine dining using local Irish ingredients.
You’ll need reservations here. So book well in advance
Spanish Arch, Long Walk, Galway, Ireland
After Dinner…Best Pubs in Galway
It may be tempting to go to bed after a great meal. But one of the best things to do in Galway is visit its renown pubs that have excellent pints and perhaps even better musicians.
Remember in Ireland you go to the bar to order. Don’t sit at your table like a duff and wait for a server.
Located off Eyre Square, we popped into this historical building that feels like a maze with different rooms and outdoor seating for smokers.
A true local joint, it was chilly so I ordered a hot port, which has lemon and spices. A perfect after dinner drink.
8 Eyre Square, Galway, Ireland
Tigh Neachtains aka Naughton’s Bar
Claiming to have the best Guinness in the city, if you’re going to try a pint this is the place. Or if you’ve tired of beer there are over 130 whiskeys to sample at the bar.
Like many Irish pubs it also has small rooms so if it looks busy from the outside don’t be intimidated as there may still be space.
It’s lovely in the colder weather with fireplaces in the rooms.
17 Cross Street, Galway, Ireland
One of the most famous pubs in Galway for live music. Pop in around 8:30-9ish and you’ll find it busy with locals.
You’ll also find most live music spots have a set around 5:30ish if you can only visit early.
Mainguard St, The Latin Quarter, Galway, Ireland
If for some reason you need to eat again before sleeping, yes it can happen after a few drinks. Then head to where the students are – SuperMacs on the corner of Eyre Square.
This popular Irish fast food restaurant started in Galway, so you can consider it a cultural experience.
Eyre Square, Galway, H91 T2CX, Ireland
Day Trips from Galway Republic of Ireland
Have a bit more time? Here are some of the best things to do in Galway outside the city. I compiled this list asking locals what were the things I didn’t want to miss for my next holiday in Ireland.
They say it is the most photographed castle in all of Ireland, which says a lot. This is a stunning 16th century tower house on southeastern Galway Bay, less than an hour outside the city.
Although it was built by the O’Hynes family, it was resorted by writer Oliver St. John Gogarty, who hosted literary giants including William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw.
Today it’s owned by the government and is a public venue with lots of festivals and events throughout the year. Public tours are only available April through September but you can wander the grounds for free to take photos all year round.
Dunguaire Castle, Kinvara, Co. Galway, Ireland
No doubt, this is one of the most popular day trips from Galway City and it can be very crowded with tourists. But sometimes you just have to go see things for yourself.
It’s only a short 40 minute ferry ride from Galway to see the three Aran Islands of Inishmaan, Inishmore and Inisheer. If you thought Galway City looked old, this is stepping back into time even farther.
Locals welcome visitors and there are plenty of archeological remains, Celtic churches and ancient buildings for a full days visit. As well this is the spot to view famous Cliffs of Moher, Connemara coast and Twelve Pins mountains.
It can all be overwhelming and so in this case a day tour is recommended to see the best of everything and also understand its significance.
If you’re visiting independently make sure you avoid crowds and head early to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dún Aonghasa on Inishmore. This is the site at the largest stone forts, built in 1100 BC. Admission is a very reasonable 2 Euros.
Connemara National Park
One of only six national parks in Ireland, it is also the newest having opened in 1980. There’s not much for food lovers but you’ll find lots of birdwatchers as well as archeological fans checking out its prehistoric burial tombs.
Stroll Down the Salthill Promenade
A seaside town so close to Galway that it was immortalized in Ed Sheeran’s song Galway Girl.
It’s has a great 2km (3.2 miles) waterfront path with scenic views and you can also swim in its chilly Wild Atlantic Way waters.
At the end of the walk there is a strange tradition to kick the wall. Why not?
Then head for the real reason you are there, a pint of beer and killer fish and chips.
When is the Best Time to Visit Galway City
Like most places in Europe, I try to avoid all of it in the summer. Sure the weather may be better but it also draws the crowds like the one above.
Visiting Galway in early November was lovely. All the crowds were gone and you just needed a light sweater and jacket…along with the umbrella and sunglasses I mentioned above.
But then again I prefer visiting places in their off season. So for me the best time to visit Galway is in autumn.
Where to Stay in Galway
Mine, close to walk but far from noise.
One closer to Eyre park – don’t get one facing parkside if you’re a light sleeper
The Galmont Hotel & Spa
A modern hotel just half a block from the train station, I loved the proximity of this hotel. It was also next door to Loam.
Rooms are large with great amenities, including a large buffet breakfast. Although I didn’t spend much time there as it was a quick walk to the downtown area.
The Galmont Hotel
Lough Atalia Rd, Galway H91 CYN3 Ireland
The Residence Hotel
Looking to stay in the middle of the action? The Residence Hotel is in the centre of it all in the Latin Quarter on Quay Street. It’s a boutique hotel with lots of interesting upgrades along with Netflix on demand.
Check Room Rates
14 Quay Street Latin Quarter, Galway Ireland
As a student city Galway has lots of great budget hotels. Check out the most highly rated here.
Is Galway Safe?
Ireland as a whole is a relatively safe country. Galway is a university town and so you’ll find a lot of students out in the streets when class is in and tourists around in the summer months.
However, with so much good food and drink even the smallest thing can happen like tripping on the cobblestone and breaking a wrist.
Travel insurance can be incredibly affordable. I’ve used World Nomads many times and it adds a bit of reassurance in case something unexpected comes my way.
Map of Things to Do in Galway Ireland
Pin it For Later: Galway City Ireland
Disclosure: Thanks so much to Ireland Tourism, Failte Ireland and the Restaurants Association for inviting me on their Taste the Island press trip. They did not request that I write about what to do in Galway Ireland but after spending one day here I know I will be back!