We absolutely love Galway.
Galway is a bustling Irish city that is rich in history. Its thriving university contributes to the vibrant atmosphere, while the city’s welcoming character and intimate feel add to its appeal. It’s also especially beautiful, with cobblestone streets, medieval buildings, and a rapid river running through it, that spills out into the Irish Sea. It really is as charming and enticing as it sounds.
If you are reading this article, you likely already know that Ireland is an incredibly special place to visit. Each destination on this island country has its own unique appeal. But I want to share with you how particularly charming Galway is for those who travel to the west coast of Ireland.
Just 2 ½ hours on the motorway from Dublin, Galway delivers the convenience of a city with 80,000 people, with a distinct charm, all its own. It offers a great traditional music scene, a beautiful setting, fantastic food, cozy pubs and great places to stay. We have stayed in Galway for several days each time we visited Ireland, and it yields new riches every single time.
These are 10 great reasons we think you will love including Galway on your itinerary when you visit Ireland.
1) Galway makes a terrific home base for day trips
One of the best aspects of Galway’s location is that you can set up your home base there for several nights, and take amazing day trips in the region. Then you can return to Galway for dinner and a good night’s sleep at the end of your day of touring.
Galway is located right on the coast, in the center of some of the most incredible places to visit on Ireland’s western shore. From Galway, you can travel north to Connemara National Park, Kylemore Abbey, and the Quiet Man Bridge, the setting for the 1950 film “The Quiet Man” starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. On another day, you can go south and east to experience the unique rocky landscape of The Burren and gaze at the beautiful Cliffs of Moher.
The captivating Cliffs of Moher
The captivating Cliffs of Moher
Galway is also a great gateway to the Aran Islands. To get there, you can take a passenger ferry year-round from Rossaveel (weather permitting), which is about an hour west of Galway. Cars are not allowed on the ferry, but you’ll be able to enjoy the wild, rugged landscape and easy pace of island life by walking, biking or taking the local bus. Be sure to note the time the ferry returns to the mainland, or choose to spend a night and experience the islands with those who live there. Be sure to make it to Dún Aonghasa on Inis Mor. The views are stunning from this ancient stone fort perched on a cliff 300 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.
2) There are Great Places to Stay in Galway, Ireland
Whether you would like to stay in a traditional hotel, Bed & Breakfast, hostel, or AirBnB, you’ll be able to find what you are looking for in Galway. If you want to stay in County Galway but go a little further out from the city, you can even find a beautiful castle where you can rest your head for the night!
I was a hotel, restaurant management major in my university days and really do love every kind of accommodations. But when I’m in Ireland, my favorite places to stay are almost always B&Bs. It is here that you will likely receive a warm Irish welcome, loads of local recommendations offered with a fantastic accent, perhaps a dram of Irish whisky, a comfy warm bed, and a full Irish breakfast in the morning. That will likely include fried eggs, rashers (a fattier, better version of Canadian bacon), sausages, grilled tomatoes, baked beans and Irish soda bread toast, among other greasy and delicious items. There are lots of B&Bs to choose from in Galway!
The accommodations that will be perfect for you depends on your budget, your travelers and the dates when you’ll be in Galway. One of the services we provide at Euro Travel Coach is finding just the right lodging for our clients. Some of our very favorite B&Bs in town include the following:
Corrib House Tea Rooms & Guest Accommodations right in the heart of Galway City,
St. Jude’s Lodge which is a traditional B&B with a fantastic staff, great location and amazing breakfast, and
Marless House in Salthill where Mary and Tom will welcome you to their lovely home. It’s a bit further out from the center city, but a wonderful walk, and well worth it.
3) Galway is a Foodie’s Paradise!
There really is an amazing food scene in Galway. It’s true, you will find a lot of potatoes as you travel throughout Ireland, but the restaurant scene here is on par with the best. Galway offers fantastic restaurants offering a wide array of options for every palate as you meander the cobblestone streets of this charming town. From Michelin-starred restaurants, to slow food options focusing on local provenance, to pub grub to tapas, the city is full of possibilities.
I highly recommend the seafood. Perched on the edge of the bay, Galway has access to the freshest fish you can find, and today’s restaurants do it justice all over town.
Know that you can spend as little or as much as you like, and dine for a quick bite or enjoy a multi course meal. So there are lots and lots of options, but I want to highlight just a few.
A few years ago, Greg and I took some students to Ireland on a study abroad trip over spring break. One of our students got sick and getting her the care she needed was a bit stressful. When we reached our hotel in Galway, and we knew she would be OK, we were ready to relax and enjoy a nice meal to celebrate Greg’s birthday. We chose Oscar’s Seafood Bistro and we could not have been more delighted. They made the evening special. We enjoyed the quaint setting, the catch of the day, beautiful scallops and lovely wine. We rarely return to the same restaurant because we like to explore the options, but the next year we came back to Oscar’s for another great seafood meal.
Our very first trip to Ireland was just as using the internet for researching trips was becoming more important. In other words, it was a long time ago, and I got most of my information from guidebooks. I’m not even sure how I ran across a piece that described Moran’s Oyster Cottage as one of their favorite places, but I was absolutely determined to go there. The article I read said their smoked salmon was like velvet in your mouth.
We didn’t have a car on that trip, and it’s not an easy place to get to without your own transportation. We ended up taking a cab, and then calling another cab to take us back into town. Moran’s is about a 25 minute drive southeast Galway, right on the water. It is absolutely worth the drive to get there. We’ve been back multiple times.
This charming spot is an oversized, thatched-roof cottage that sits right on the banks of the Dunkellin River where they source their oysters, every single day. It is a family-run restaurant where the seafood chowder, spectacular oysters, Irish lobster, and of course the smoked salmon, are the stars of the show. I am literally salivating as I write this. I can’t wait to go back.
I want to highlight one more place to dine in Galway. There are just so many choices! The next time we travel there, I really want to eat at Ard Bia at Nimmos. We are always looking for favorites frequented by the locals, and this is one of those places. Ard Bia is unpretentious, while taking advantage of its great location by the River Corrib. Try to get a seat by the window if you can. They highlight the abundance of local produce in Galway, and change the menu daily depending on what is fresh. I can’t wait to try it, maybe for Sunday brunch!
4) There are Interesting Sights You’ll want to Visit In TOWN
Just wandering around Galway and soaking up the atmosphere is a great way to spend an afternoon. That said, I also love to explore churches and museums, and there are a number of these in Galway. They are especially good places to visit in town if it happens to be a rainy day, which can happen pretty often in Ireland. The following are some of my favorite sights to visit in Galway City. As an added bonus, these are all free! Of course, donations are always accepted and appreciated.
In a country where you can visit churches that were founded nearly 800 years ago, Galway Cathedral is quite new. Completed in 1965, this stone cathedral has beautiful mosaics instead of stained-glass windows. The architecture is quite modern and includes an intricately decorated dome and spectacular Romanesque arches.
You’ll find Galway Cathedral a bit north of the city center, on the west bank of the River Corrib. It is usually open during the day from 8:30 to 6:30, but do check the times if you want to visit during the holidays.
Spending time in the Galway City Museum offers a great introduction to the area’s history. The museum is centrally located, just behind the Spanish Arch (which we’ll talk more about later). Many of the exhibits are interactive and the focus is on the history of Galway from prehistoric times to the 20th century. It covers topics from archaeology to oceanography, with Galway as the backdrop. You can even see a full-scale Galway hooker up close. No, this is not what you think – an Irish hooker sailboat is a traditional fishing boat used in Galway Bay. They are quite beautiful and this is a chance to see one up close.
If you enjoy visiting historic churches, you will love Saint Nicholas’ Collegiate Church. This beautiful structure is the largest medieval parish church in all of Ireland that has been in continuous use since its completion in the early 14th century. It is said that Christopher Columbus prayed here when he visited Galway in 1477. Cromwell’s troops also used the church as a stable for their horses in 1652 after the siege of Galway. You can blame this use of the building for the fact that many of the carved figures in the church no longer have heads or hands. Nevertheless, the interior is well-preserved and it is a great place to contemplate the lives that have been nurtured here over the centuries.
Saint Nicholas’ Collegiate Church is on the east bank of the River Corrib. If you go on a Saturday or Sunday, (plus Fridays in July and August) you can also stop by the Galway Market, which has operated here for centuries. The market sets up right outside the church and you can find everything from oysters to art.
5) You Can Enjoy a Stroll through Medieval Galway with its Spanish Arch
I never get tired of wandering through Galway’s Latin Quarter, along the cobblestone streets in the old center of the city. As you are strolling, I highly recommend ducking into Murphy’s Ice Cream. Murphy’s is made in Dingle with milk from cows from County Kerry. If you include Dingle in your itinerary, then you are probably already familiar with Murphy’s. If not, this is your chance to taste some of the best ice cream in the world. Murphy’s is located in Dingle, Galway, Killarney and Dublin, so I suggest you duck into Murphy’s in each of these cities (if they are on your itinerary) as you tour around Ireland.
Enjoy your ice cream as you stroll from the Latin Quarter to the Spanish Arch. You’ll pass many of Galway’s favorite bars, pubs, cafés, art galleries, restaurants and shops. If you are looking for classic Irish arts and crafts, you’ll be able to find them here. You’ll also enjoy the buskers and other entertainers along the way.
Close to the Galway City Museum you’ll see the arches that still survive from the Ceann an Bhalla, or Front Wall. Really two arches, this is known as the Spanish Arch. It is believed to be part of the defensive walls of the city. The Spanish Arch was built in the 16th-century to provide protection for the ships that came in with products from Spain.
6) People Watching in Eyre Square is the Best
Eyre Square is a great place to watch the people of Galway, both locals and visitors alike. This area was once the town green in front of the old gates of the city, and was used for traditional markets. It was re-landscaped about 20 years ago and is now Galway’s main public space.
Located just up from the Latin Quarter, there are interesting works of art, a bust of John F. Kennedy (Ireland was his ancestral homeland and he visited in 1963), and flags bearing the family colors of the 14 Tribes of Galway. These were the families that controlled trade and politics in Galway from the 13th to the 19th centuries, and the reason Galway is often referred to as the “City of Tribes.”
My very favorite way to enjoy this lively town square is to grab a fish & chips from McDonagh’s, find a park bench around the square, and sit and enjoy my greasy goodness while people watching. It’s a great way to spend a casual outdoor lunch hour while soaking in some of Galway’s great atmosphere and character.
7) It’s Only a Short Walk to Salthill for Beaches and a Diving Platform
It is a spectacular 2-kilometer walk from the edge of Galway to Salthill. Along this promenade by the sea, you’ll enjoy the picturesque coastline of Galway Bay, with amazing views toward the Aran Islands.
If you are there in the summer months, you might want to dive off the Blackrock Diving Tower. On one of our study abroad trips to Ireland, my students were desperate to jump off this diving platform as soon as they heard about it. But it was March, and once they got there, they changed their minds and decided to return another time, when the water would be warmer. But it’s fun to see this diving tower where people enjoy plunging into the crisp waters of Galway Bay. It’s an iconic structure, and one that you won’t want to miss when you are in Salthill.
8) You’ll Find Great Craic in Galway’s Pubs
Craic is an Irish term for news, fun, lively conversation, gossip and entertainment. When you are looking for good craic, you’ll be sure to find some in Galway’s pubs. Galway has an incredible pub scene, with amazing live music. You would be remiss if you did not spend your evenings in Galway enjoying some traditional Irish music sessions. You’ll enjoy the craic, the Guinness and the music.
We recommend walking through the city and listening and finding your own preferred pubs, but you won’t go wrong with Tig Coili, The Crane Bar, and The Roisin Dubh (Black Rose in Gaelic), known for its live music scene. You’ll have fun exploring and discovering your own favorites, but these are some of ours.
9) It’s a Short Drive to Dunguaire Castle
On our first trip to Ireland back in the 90’s, I remember being surprised by how many castles there are, all over this island country. One of our traveling companions said “you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a castle around here.” I’m not sure why that is a phrase, but it has always stuck with me as we travel around Ireland.
Dunguaire Castle is one of the most picturesque castles in all of Ireland, and it is only a half hour drive from Galway, on the south side of the bay. This 16th-century tower house is surrounded on 3 sides by water, and is everything you think of when you imagine an Irish castle. There is a 23-meter tower that is circled by a stone wall that dates back to 1520. It was restored in the 1920’s by Oliver St. John Gogarty, who hosted some of Ireland’s literary greats including W.B. Yeats and George Bernard Shaw. I have to say that it is a bit touristy, but also kind of fun to attend a “Dunguaire Castle Banquet” in the summertime. This is a chance to dine on medieval-style fare and be entertained by performers dressed in period costume who may share some of the poetry of these legendary authors.
10) Galway has a Terrific Christmas Market
If you happen to be in Ireland as the Christmas holidays approach, you won’t want to miss the Galway Continental Christmas Market. Christmas Markets in Europe are so much fun and Galway’s is one of the best in the country. In the US, we mark the Christmas holiday as beginning after Thanksgiving, but Europeans don’t wait to start celebrating. Christmas markets begin mid-November and carry on until just before Christmas.
In 2019, Galway’s Christmas Market featured over 50 wooden chalets in Eyre Square and more than 650,000 visitors were there over a four-week period to enjoy the holiday festivities. You can expect a wide variety of entertainment, local crafts, artisan food products, the German Bier Keller, Santa’s Grotto and more. This is pure family fun and you won’t want to miss it if you are in Ireland at this special time of year.
Bonus: Galway is home to the Claddagh Ring
You may be familiar with the Claddagh Ring, a traditional Irish ring with great meaning to those who give it, and those who wear it. The ring shows two hands holding a heart that wears a crown. The hands on the ring represent friendship, the heart represents love, and the crown represents loyalty. The design of the ring, and the story behind it, originates from the Irish fishing village of Claddagh (which means “shore”), in Galway. It became particularly popular in the 1800s when Queen Victoria started wearing one. The ring also symbolizes pride in one’s Irish heritage.
The original maker of the Claddagh ring is Dillon of Galway. Now known as Thomas Dillon’s, they are the oldest jeweler in Ireland. They have been making the Claddagh ring since 1750 and even hold a Royal Patent. You can visit them when you are in Galway and learn even more! If you own a Claddagh ring made by these jewelers, you own an original.
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Betsy Ball – Betsy is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group trips to Europe. She is a passionate and culturally curious traveler who thoroughly enjoys sharing her love for exploring Europe with ETC clients. Prior to founding ETC, Betsy taught International Business at Tarleton State University in Texas (part of the A & M System) where she led study abroad trips to multiple European countries and other worldwide destinations. She retired from teaching two and a half years ago and now travels 9 months of the year in Europe. She has a degree in hotel, restaurant management from Michigan State University and an MBA from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She also holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.
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