Heading to Ireland and wondering if Galway is a worth a visit while you’re there? You’re in the right place. I’m a world traveller who is so glad that I built Galway into my itinerary while I was in Ireland. Little did I know, Galway and the surrounding area has more to offer than I realized.
Is Galway worth a visit? YES. Galway has many festivals and events, there’s a lot of street music, medieval architecture and traditional Irish pubs. Of all the places I visited in Ireland, Galway had a charm that other cities didn’t. It had a cheerful atmosphere that I’ve never really experienced in any city. For that reason, I’d say Galway is well worth a visit.
Is Galway Worth a Visit?
Galway is worth a visit for two main reasons:
- There is no other city quite like it in Ireland. Its the smallest of the four main cities, and the downtown is very compact. Its the festival capital of the country and has an atmosphere than can’t quite be pinpointed anywhere else in Ireland or the world
- The surrounding areas of Galway (the Burren, Aran Islands, Connemarra) are breathtaking and worth adding to your itinerary in Ireland.
Wondering what there is to do in and around Galway, and what makes it so special? Look no further.
Things to See and Do Right in Galway
Here are things to do right in the city of Galway
1. Take a stroll through Quay Street
Quay street is the main strip of Galway and where all the ‘action’ is. It’s impossible to not be in a good mood walking down Quay street – it just seems so traditionally Irish in its mood. There are traditional Irish pubs and restaurants, quant boutique stores to shop in, and buskers- people playing live music on the streets. It has a cheerful vibe, and it was one of our favourite parts about visiting Ireland.
Here are some unique notable shops and small businesses to check out on Quay street:
- The Wooden Heart, a shop that makes sustainable, high quality wooden toys for children (perfect place to find a special gift)
- Aran Sweater Market, held in a historic stone building, you can find knit items for women, men and children that are based on designs inspired by the Celts, who arrived on the Aran Islands in 2,000 BC
Pro Tip: The ‘Quay’ in Quay street is pronounced “KEY”
2. Visit the Spanish Arch
Talk a 3-minute walk from Quay street in downtown Galway to see the Spanish Arch, which was built in the 1500s, but is an extension of a Norman town wall from the 1200s which was built as protection from the Irish. Needless to say, The Spanish Arch is a fascinating historical gem.
The Spanish Arch is located right on The Docks, which is Galway’s commercial harbour. Events are held at this harbour and its also a good spot for photography. It has colourful buildings and a marina.
3. Spend time in the Latin Quarter
Sometimes referred to as the Spanish Quarter. Similar cheerful vibe to Quay street. There is colourful street art, street music and some shops. The Latin Quarter is a short (5 minute) walk from Quay street, and The Spanish Arch.
Similar to Quay street, you’re also likely to see buskers in the Latin Quarter. Busking is a traditional Irish practice and Galway is one of the best cities to experience it in.
3. Try some Traditional Irish Food
There are few great restaurants in Galway to enjoy traditional Irish food. Traditional Irish food includes strew, beef, lamb, mashed potatoes and is often enjoyed with a pint of beer. Vegetarian dishes often include salads with goat cheese made in Ireland.
Traditional Irish restaurants you can find in Galway:
- Murty Rabbit’s. Founded in 1872, Murty’s serves delicious chowder and calamari, some great vegetarian options as well
- An Pucán. Enjoy traditional Irish music, and a comfort meal in a cozy setting. There’s a kid’s menu, dessert menu and a few vegetarian options
- The Quay Street Kitchen, makes excellent fish and chips, and stew
5. Galway City Museum
The Galway City Museum is the best museum in the area, and probably takes a couple hours to get through. You could spend a couple hours learning about the archaeology, history and culture of the area. The museum is kid-friendly, and uncrowded and can be seen in about an hour.
There are some interesting exhibits written in both Gaelic and English. Entrance to the Galway City Museum is free, but donations are appreciated (the suggested amount for a donation is 5€ .)
Things to Do Near Galway
Galway makes a great home base for exploring the west coast of Ireland. Here are things to do within a an hour or two of Galway city
6. Explore Castles
One of my favourite thing about travelling in Ireland, and especially in the Galway area was exploring medieval castles. There are two of them less than a 45 minute drive from Galway city.
Castles within driving distance of Galway City:
- Oranmore Castle (23 min)
- Dunguaire Castle (37 min) *Many tours you book out of Galway often include this castle
- Kylemore Abbey (1 h 09 min)
7. Explore Caves in The Burren
The Burren is a natural landscape to visit in Ireland to simply take in and enjoy the views. The name Burren means “rocky place” in Irish. The Burren has a landscape that is unique to the rest of Ireland. Limestone rock covers much of the surface of the land, and there are rivers that flower underneath the rock. There are also unusual plants that grow in the Burren that can’t be found anywhere else.
The Burren has its own National Park where you can go hiking, and there’s also one of the oldest caves in Ireland- Ailwee Cave. Don’t forget to visit the Doolin Chocolate Shop while you’re there!
The Burren from Galway: about an hour, or book a tour there.
8. Visit The Village of Cong
Cong is a small quaint village that makes for a perfect afternoon visit. The main attractions are the Ruins of Cong, which are nearly 1,000 years old. Cong was famous for a long time because of a 1950s classic called The Quiet Man starring John Wayne being filmed here. You can still see Quiet Man statues throughout the village.
Cong from Galway: 45 minute drive, or book your day tour here.
9. Go hiking at Connemarra National Park
Connemarra is a stunning location for hiking; with mountains and lakes. If you’re looking to be surrounded by gorgeous natural landscapes, then this is the place to go.
There are hikes ranging from easy to more challenging. If you’re in Ireland with kids, Ellis Wood Nature Trail, and Strauffonboy Trail are the easiest hikes – only 0.5 km long (only 1/3 of a mile). If you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge, but nothing too intense, then check out the 3km (1.8 mile) Lower Diamond Hill Loop.
Connemarra from Galway: 1h 20 min drive, or book your 1-day tour here.
10. Catch a sunset at the Cliffs of Moher
Cliffs of Moher is the top tourist attraction in Western Ireland, and a UNESCO World Heritage sight. There are walking trails to walk along the cliffs to get glimpses of the north and southern views from different points of view, so you can get many spectacular photos. Your visit will also include entrance to O’Brian’s Tower.
O’Brian’s Tower was built by a local MP in the 1800s in order to impress English tourists who often visited the area to see the cliffs. From the Tower, you can see the Aran Islands, the mountains in the ring of Kerry, and the Twelve Bens in Connemara National Park off in the distance, and of course you can get a better view of the cliffs from up there too. It’s lovely inside, with a fire often going, so you can warm up if its a cold day.
If you’d like to see the Cliffs of Moher at sunset, you’ll need to be there pretty late if its in the summer. In June and July, the sunset times are around 9:40 and 9:50pm. One option would be to stay nearby.
Cliffs of Moher from Galway: 1h 30 min drive, or book your day tour here.
Fun Fact: Cliffs of Moher was a filming location for a scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and The Princess Bride!
11. Take a ferry to the Aran Islands
The Aran islands are still the true ‘old Ireland’ in many ways – Irish speaking, stunning landscapes and otherworldly terrain. Aran Islands are famous for their distinctive design knitted items, (which are sold in that store on Quay street I mentioned above). You’ll be amazed by the ancient buildings and breathtaking views.
Most international tourists miss the Aran Islands, making it definitely an ‘off the beaten path’ activity.
Aran Islands from Galway: The main ferry port is in Rossaveel, 45 mins from Galway City, but there is also a ferry port in Galway that can take you to the main Aran Island. Read my post on How to Get to the Aran Islands from Galway.
Fun fact: Aran means “mountain of strength” in Irish
Where to Stay in Galway
There are a few places to stay in Galway, that fit different budgets.
- Budget: Snoozles Galway City Centre – for an affordable price, wake up to a complimentary breakfast and be only steps away from the heart of town
- Mid Range: The Western Hotel– Great breakfasts, and gourmet 3-course meals offered on site for dinner.
- Luxury: Jurys Inn Galway – stay in spacious rooms overlooking the Spanish Arch, and only 10 minutes way from Galway’s shopping district. Wake up to a quality buffet breakfast each morning
How To Get to Galway
There are multiple ways to get to Galway city from Dublin. Its roughly a 2-hour drive and you’ll pass lots of beautiful scenery on the way.
- Rent a car and drive there. There are numerous car rental companies to rent from, including Enterprise and Hertz, and also some smaller companies too. These rentals would be picked up from the Dublin airport.
- Take the Irish train, the budget and green option
- Take a tour to Galway from Dublin that also includes the Cliffs of Moher and Wild Atlantic Way
- Take a chauffeur service straight from the Dublin Airport to Galway
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about visiting Galway.
Why is Galway so famous?
Galway is the 4th largest city in Ireland (after Dublin, Cork and Limerick) and considered to be the festival capital of the country. Its quaint downtown and lively atmosphere make it an enjoyable place to spend time.
Is Galway or Dublin better?
Dublin is a larger city, with many beautiful sights and things to do. However, Galway is smaller, quainter and more connected to Ireland’s culture.
What does Galway mean in Irish?
Galway comes from the Irish word Gaillimh, which means “stony.”
Is Galway worth visiting in Ireland?
Galway is well worth a visit, because its the most beautiful city in Ireland. Being the third largest city in the country, it has a medieval city centre with cobbled streets, lots of street music and a lively atmosphere. Its also the festival capital of Ireland. The International Arts Festival is held every summer in July.
What is the best month to visit Galway Ireland?
The best months to visit are June and July, when the weather is warmest. June and July in Galway have a high of 17-19° (62-66 °F), which means its quite chilly throughout the rest of the year. That being said, June and July are also the most popular months to visit.
How many days in Galway is enough?
One to two nights in Galway should be enough time to explore the city only. If you want to see the surrounding areas, such as Connemara, The Burren or Cliffs of Moore, then you will need 3-4 nights in the area.
Is Galway too touristy?
Galway is popular for tourists, both Irish and international. Like any popular city, it has its peak touristy times. July is the most popular month to visit tourists.
Is Galway Worth a Visit? Final Thoughts
Galway is a 2-hour drive from Dublin, and has a population of about 80,000. It’s a also student town, as the University of Galway, and the University Hospital nearby. It’s considered one of the most “Irish” places to visit in the country, because of its culture and charm. Whether you’re in Ireland with kids or travelling solo, you’ll be glad you visited Ireland’s most beautiful city.