Galway is a city that’s guaranteed to steal your heart. Stroll along Salthill Promenade, look out over Galway Bay, and the Aran Islands will appear on the horizon as specks of rugged isolation in the Atlantic Ocean!
Among the cobbled, medieval streets of the Latin Quarter, you’ll find colorful boutique shops next to centuries-old pubs (yes, you can stop in for a pint of Guinness!), where raucous evenings of live music and free-flowing beers fuel one of Ireland’s liveliest cultural districts.
Known as The City of Tribes for its Gaelic past, you can dive into history at the Galway City Museum, explore ruined castles on a cruise along the River Corrib, and uncover the city’s Latin connections at the Spanish Arch.
With so many things to see and do in Galway, we won’t be surprised if you don’t know where to start. That’s why we’ve compiled our list of the best things to do in Galway for you. Stick to these fun and unique Galway bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an exceptional time exploring this quirky Irish city!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Galway
1. Delve into local history at the Galway City Museum
It’s great to learn more about a city’s history when you first arrive at a new destination, and Galway is no exception! This is a city that’s steeped in heritage and tradition, and you can delve into its past with a trip to the Galway City Museum.
This is easily one of the best things to do in Galway, with over a thousand objects on display across the museum’s three floors and seven permanent exhibitions. The exhibitions cover history, natural history, geology, archeology, culture, politics, and more, so you’ll leave with a well-rounded view of Galway that’s taken you back to the prehistoric era!
The seven sections include the Medieval Stone Collection. This unique display of stones, carvings, bricks, and rocks dates back to the medieval period and tells of buildings and houses that no longer exist in Galway. The stone collection was the original collection and formed the basis of the museum when it was first opened.
Moving on, the DJ Murphy Collection is where you’ll find a fascinating collection of old farming instruments that tell the tale of Galway’s important agriculture traditions. The Galway Militia Artifacts are a collection of military objects donated by the Connaught Rangers, including many relics from the First and Second World Wars.
The Claddagh Collection explores the history and legacy of the Claddagh, the original fishing village from which Galway developed, while a separate exhibition shows what life was like in the 19th and 20th centuries. There’s also a detailed maritime exhibition, as well as photographs and art collections that offer visitors an insight into Galway’s past.
2. Admire the remains of the famous Spanish Arch
One of the most iconic Galway sightseeing attractions is the Spanish Arch, which you’ll find conveniently located next to the Galway City Museum.
As a place where history is preserved and remembered, the museum simply had to be built next to one of the most historic sites in the city, which is why the two places of interest are found side by side on the Spanish Parade.
The Spanish Arch is next to the equally historic Caoc Arch (although the Spanish Arch gets all the fame), both of which represent the last remaining archways that were part of an extensive wall that once surrounded Galway. This section of the wall was built to defend the old fish market and Galway’s quays, which were found on the River Corrib and date back to the 16th century.
The arches are two of the oldest structures left in Galway, and they are a great place to visit if you’d love to have a feel of what the city used to be like many centuries ago.
3. Join a walking tour of Galway
A walking tour is one of the best things to do in Galway, as you stretch your legs, explore the city on foot, and immerse yourself in the local history, traditions, and culture.
There’s plenty of choice for walking tour fans in Galway, with several local tour operators providing regular guided walks through the city. One of our favorites is the free walking tour offered by Tribes Tours of Galway, where you only pay what you feel the tour was worth at the end.
This walking tour takes you to the city’s main sights of interest, starting in Eyre Square, which is Galway’s main public square. From Eyre Square, you’ll walk the route of Galway’s old medieval walls, learning about the city’s history as you see medieval sights like the Spanish Arch and Lynch’s Castle. You’ll visit Galway’s churches, walk through the Latin District, along Quay Street, and much more.
Of course, the local guides will also show you the tastiest places to grab a bite to eat, the coolest music venues, and the best pubs to spend the evening drinking local brews!
4. Marvel at the stone architecture of Galway Cathedral
Galway Cathedral is one of the city’s most dramatic architectural sights, and it’s highly regarded for its unique stone design.
Although the cathedral (officially, it’s named the Cathedral of our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas) has the look of a medieval church on the outside, you’ll be surprised when you learn that it only dates back to the 1950s. Construction started in 1958, and Galway Cathedral was consecrated and opened for worship in 1965.
The stone design is rather unique for a modern church, while the grand dome and the spires were a tribute to the Renaissance styles of old. The style blends old and new, and Galway Cathedral is often called “Europe’s last great stone cathedral.”
You’ll love the artwork and mosaics that decorate the inside of the cathedral. Take a walk through the church, and you’ll be astounded by the colors and the graphic religious icons that line the nave and sit above the altar.
With a total height of 44 meters, Galway Cathedral is one of the tallest buildings on the city’s skyline, and you can’t miss its prominent position on Gaol Road, the former site of Galway’s prison.
5. Soak up the cultural atmosphere in the Latin Quarter
The beating, vibrant heart of Galway is the Latin Quarter, where you’ll find pubs, bars, shops, live music, and so much more!
The Latin Quarter is Galway’s cultural center, and among the cobblestone streets of this lively yet historic district, you’ll be immersed in the quirky cultural atmosphere that Galway is famous for. The Latin Quarter is roughly defined as the streets between the Spanish Arch and O’Brien’s Bridge, and it encompasses famous streets like Quay Street, Cross Street, and Kirwan’s Lane.
Shop for traditional woolen clothing, find yourself a few Galway souvenirs, and delve into the medieval history of the Latin Quarter, which (like the Spanish Arch) takes its name from the Spanish and Portuguese influence that the city has long embraced.
After strolling through the cobbled laneways, pop into one of the many restaurants or cafes for a bite to eat (there are no less than 50 to choose from!), and return in the evening to visit one of the 15 bars and pubs, where you can choose from everything from folk music sessions to DJ sets.
6. Discover the story of the Claddagh Rings
If you’re fascinated by Irish history, then you may already know about the Claddagh Rings. This unique type of jewelry originates in Galway, and there’s an intriguing story behind it.
Claddagh Rings symbolize love and friendship, and they are often given as a gift to friends or families. Increasingly, they’ve become a popular symbol of Irishness, too, with many tourists purchasing the rings to represent their Irish ancestry.
Claddagh Rings take their name from the village of Claddagh, which is the original fishing village that Galway was founded upon. You can find them for sale in many of Galway’s jewelry shops, with specialist Claddagh Ring producers attracting a premium for their skilled artisanship.
7. Take a stroll along Salthill Promenade
If you need a breath of fresh air while you’re in the city, then take a stroll along Salthill Promenade. This long stretch of coastline is one of the most beloved places in Galway, and it’s a great spot for an early-morning jog, an afternoon walk, or an evening jaunt.
Salthill Promenade is around 2 miles long, and you’ll have wonderful views of the Atlantic Ocean as you walk along the coast. The walk starts at Claddagh Quays in Galway and leads along the shorefront, through the district of Salthill, toward the iconic Blackrock Diving Tower, which marks the end of the promenade.
If you dare, then you could even try jumping off the tall diving tower and into the cold water of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a rite of passage for locals, and you’ll get serious kudos if you make the dive. Be warned, though, the water isn’t warm and the diving tower is rather high!
If you’re not looking for an adrenaline rush, you might prefer just hanging out at the beach. In the summer, the water is just about warm enough for a swim, and when the sun is out, the short stretches of sand along the promenade can be packed with locals and visitors!
8. Visit the romantic ruins of Menlo Castle
Follow the River Corrib north from Galway’s city center, and you’ll soon reach the romantic ruins of Menlo Castle.
Dating back to the 16th century, Menlo Castle was the traditional seat of the aristocratic Blake family. The Blakes were one of Galway’s richest families, and they transformed the turreted watchtower into a glorious Jacobean mansion over the course of several generations.
Tragically, Menlo Castle was destroyed in a fiery blaze in 1910, and no one has ever lived there since. Today, the ruins of Menlo Castle are covered in green ivy and surrounded by wildflowers, as the old castle stares solemnly across the River Corrib.
The castle ruins themselves are off-limits, but you can follow the riverside trail on the opposite bank (on the university grounds) for the best views of the crumbling building. From Galway, it’s about a 40-minute walk along the river, and it makes for a great short hike from the city!
9. Take the Corrib Princess to Lough Corrib
The Corrib Princess is a local cruise boat that takes passengers along the beautiful waterway that is the River Corrib.
You’ll depart from the harbor at Woodquay, just a short stroll away from the Galway city center. On board the covered river cruiser, you can enjoy freshly poured pints of beer or a glass of wine as you sit back and admire the view.
The Corrib Princess cruises along the River Corrib toward Lough Corrib, passing the university and famous sights like Menlo Castle on the way. Once you reach Lough Corrib, you’ll be cruising across the largest freshwater lake found anywhere in Ireland!
The Corrib Princess offers a fantastic way to experience the beautiful nature that’s so close to Galway. The trips last just two hours there and back, but you’ll feel as if you’re a world away from the city. Cruises run daily throughout the summer months, with at least two departures per day and three departures in the busier months of July and August.
10. Brave the ferry ride to the Aran Islands
If you’d love to step back in time and experience the Ireland of old, then braving the ferry ride to the Aran Islands is one of the coolest things to do in Galway!
Located in the Atlantic Ocean, you can board the ferry at Rossaveal Harbour, cross Galway Bay, and step foot onto one of the three Aran Islands around 45 minutes after departing. The three islands vary in size, but all are starkly beautiful places that are often seen as the last true holdouts of Irish culture and language in Ireland.
The largest island is Inis Mor, which is no more than 8 miles long and 2 miles wide. Inis Mor is known for its ancient forts and ruined castles, the oldest of which dates back thousands of years and the newest of which was raised during English invasions of Ireland in the 16th century. Inis Mor is steeped in stone ruins, and the crumbling legacy of a distant past stands dramatically against the even more distant geological history of the island.
You can stay in rustic accommodation on Inis Mor, or in the summer, you can camp out on the island. Spend your days hiking, bird-watching, or just enjoying the remote and isolated nature of the Gaelic-speaking island.
You can also visit the two smaller islands, Inis Meain and Inis Oirr, where you’ll find more crumbling stone forts, isolated villages and hamlets trapped in a time warp, and stunning nature that’s as windswept as it is spectacular.
Ferries depart from the mainland all year round, but remember, the rough seas of the Atlantic are unpredictable no matter the season!
11. Road trip the epic Wild Atlantic Way
Stretching from the northernmost point in Ireland to the southern city of Kinsale in County Cork, the Wild Atlantic Way is Ireland’s longest and wildest road trip route.
This iconic driving route explores the entirety of Ireland’s Atlantic-facing western coastline, and at almost 1,500 miles in length, it’s guaranteed to be an epic trip.
The Wild Atlantic Way passes through Galway, and the city makes a great base for an extended stopover if you’re tackling the entire route. Alternatively, if you’re exploring Galway, then you can take a few days out to see the local highlights on the Wild Atlantic Way.
There’s a lot to see, too, within a one to two-hour drive of the city. To the northwest, you can marvel at the dramatic and windswept landscapes of Connemara National Park.
To the south, a trip to the staggeringly tall Cliffs of Moher is one of the best things to do in Galway. And across the sea to the west lie the remote Aran Islands, which make for a fantastic day trip from Galway when the waves are calm!
12. Join the festivities at the Galway Christmas Market
The festive season is one of the best times of the year to visit Galway, and you’re going to love joining the revelers as the city counts down to Christmas Day!
Galway’s Christmas Market is the focus of festivities, food, drink, and music from around the second week of November through December 23. The market attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, with around 50 or so stalls set up, in addition to the festive events and themes thrown by the city’s regular restaurants, bars, and shops.
You’ll find a large Christmas tree in Eyre Square, where the market stalls will draw you in with their Christmas decorations and dazzling lights. Stock up on Christmas presents and souvenirs before enjoying a mug of mulled wine, a hot pretzel, or a German-style bratwurst.
Like many European Christmas markets, Galway takes inspiration from the best German Christmas markets, and you can find a large Bavarian beer tent serving up hot food and cold beers throughout the Christmas season.
13. Hike the wild landscapes of Connemara National Park
Western Ireland has no shortage of rugged outdoor destinations, but even so, few places can match Connemara National Park for its wild landscapes.
Connemara National Park is vast, with around 2,000 hectares of wilderness to explore. The area is known for its diversity. One minute you’ll find yourself walking through dense woodland, and the next, you’ll find yourself in open grasslands, before wading through bogs and clambering over rocks.
There is a fantastic network of hiking trails that will help you to uncover the beauty of the national park. Connemara National Park is home to some of Ireland’s highest mountain peaks, including the famous 12 Bens, which rise high above the park. Some of the best hikes take you to scenic viewpoints like Diamond Hill and Muckanaght, where you’ll have sweeping vistas across the heaths.
With Galway as your base, you’ll be able to visit much of Connemara National Park on day trips from the city. Head to Letterfrack, and you can find out more about the hiking routes by visiting the national park’s visitor center, where many of the best hikes begin and end!
14. See the otherworldly geology of The Burren National Park
To the south of Galway, in neighboring County Clare, you’ll find one of Ireland’s most fascinating outdoor destinations.
The Burren National Park and Geopark is an otherworldly place that’s known for its karst limestone rock formations, and it’s an excellent place for hiking, mountain biking, and caving.
The first thing you’ll notice when you arrive in The Burren is the distinct lack of trees. The name “The Burren” is derived from an old Gaelic term, which loosely translates to mean “Rocky Land,” but under the surface of the rocks and boulders, you’ll find a unique ecosystem of flora and fauna found in few other places in the country.
The Burren was formed when glaciers melted at the end of the last Ice Age, and below the limestone plateaus is an ancient system of caves and tunnels that were slowly carved out of the rock by erosion. Many of these caves can be visited, and the impressive stalactites of Doolin Cave are a particularly popular destination.
While you’re in the area, you can also visit the Cliffs of Moher to the west, which also form an integral part of the wider geopark.
15. Spend a night at the pub
You can’t leave Galway without spending at least one night at the pub. The pub is an Irish institution, and you’ll be happy to hear that Galway is home to a fantastic choice of pubs, both old and new. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Galway, go to the pub!
You’ll find the best pubs in Galway are focused around either Eyre Square or among the colorful streets of the Latin Quarter. On Saturday nights, one of the liveliest places for a drink is An Púcán, located close to Eyre Square. This pub is always packed, and if you’re looking for a big night out in Galway, it’s a great place to start or end it.
Head to the heart of the Latin Quarter, and you can enjoy a pint at Tigh Neachtain, one of Galway’s most traditional Irish pubs. Then there’s The Kings Head, O’Connell’s, The Crane Bar, The Quays, and many more waiting to serve you Galway’s finest beers!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Galway. What’s your favorite thing to do in Galway?
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