Galway is a proudly preserved city, keen to keep many of its traditions alive – that’s why you’re likely to overhear many a conversation conducted in the native tongue. But it’s also a cosmopolitan place, with a thriving university community and a busy calendar of festivals celebrating local and international art and music.
Theatre-goers are spoiled for choice, and there’s a range of museums from the Galway City Museum to the tiny former home of Nora Barnacle, wife of James Joyce – one of Ireland’s most famous sons. Dine in a chic restaurant celebrating local organic cuisine or steal into one of the welcoming pubs the city is so famous for, hopefully timing your visit with some impromptu traditional music. You can seek out some calm inside the imposing domed cathedral or take a windswept stroll along the prom at Salthill.
In short, Galway is simply bursting with personality. We’ve gathered a list of unique things you can do here to make the most of it.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
When it comes to accommodation in Galway, visitors have plenty of choice. Most of its hotels are either budget or mid-range, but there’s also a small sprinkling of more upscale options too. If you’re looking for a room in the centre of Galway, close to the city’s main attractions and places of interest, check out our editor’s selection, which you can read here.
1. Claddagh Ring Museum
From the street outside, Dillon and Sons looks like an ordinary shop, but inside tells a rather different story. Nestled at the back of this well-known ring-maker’s store is one of Galway’s most unique attractions – Claddagh Ring Museum, quite possibly Europe’s smallest museum – which proudly houses some of the very first claddagh rings created up to 350 years ago. Among the highlights are what is said to be the world’s smallest claddagh ring, which sits atop a tailor’s pin. The museum is visited by a healthy sprinkling of tourists and locals each week and is free to enter.
LOCATION 1 Quay St HOURS Daily 10am-5pm
2. Galway Arts Festival
Widely considered one of Europe’s leading arts festivals, Galway International Arts Festival is an all-embracing event featuring a hugely diverse programme of events and performances spanning every artistic genre you can imagine. The festival packs in over 200 shows over 14 days, with no space or venue in the city left going unused, whether its buzzing galleries, intimate theatres or outdoor performances. Visitors can expect an eclectic mix of artists with death-defying stilt walking stunts, surreal giant puppets, and monsters in the sky all a regular fixture. Quite simply, you don’t know what you’ll stumble across walking through Galway’s cobbled streets during the Arts Festival.
LOCATION Black Box Theatre, Dyke Road DATES 17-30 July
3. Galway Walking Tour
When it comes to getting to know a city, there’s no substitute for local knowledge. And few people are as intimately acquainted with Galway’s cultural, social and physical history as Fiona Brennan. A hugely experienced Failte Ireland approved Local Tour Guide, Fiona runs regular walking tours of Galway that takes visitors on a potted journey in the footsteps of the city’s medieval history. Among the landmarks you’ll visit are the Spanish Arch, the Collegiate Church of St Nicholas, Lynches Window and Eyre Square, while numerous colourful Galway characters of yesteryear will be brought to life by Fiona’s wide-eyed tales. Walks take approximately 90 minutes.
4. Town Hall Theatre
For a unique and quintessentially Irish cultural experience in Galway, the Town Hall Theatre is as good as it gets. One of Ireland’s most well-known and popular cultural venues, Galway’s Town Hall Theatre is at the heart of the city’s recreational life. Spread across three separate venues – a 400-seater Main Auditorium, a smaller 52-seater Studio Space at Courthouse Square and another nearby performance space on Dyke Road – the theatre hosts a diverse programme of events and performances throughout the year, spanning theatre, concerts, musicals, dance, film and comedy, ensuring something for every taste.
LOCATION 1 Courthouse Square
5. Galway City Museum
Located behind the famous Spanish Arch, Galway City Museum is one of the city’s most popular cultural attractions and welcomes over 200,000 visitors per year. Spread over three floors are a wide range of exhibitions on subjects as diverse as archaeology, history, science and arts – all related to Galway city and its hinterland. Highlights include the Galway Civic Sword which dates from the Charter of King James I in 1610, and the Great Mace, a stunning piece of ornamental silver-work crafted in Dublin in 1710. Additionally, the museum is home to two iconic symbols of Galway: the original statue of Padraic Ó Conaire carved in the 1930s to commemorate one of the greatest modern writers in the Irish language, and a traditional Galway Hooker sailing vessel, the Máirtín Oliver, which was made especially for the museum in 2006 and hangs theatrically in its atrium.
LOCATION Spanish Parade, Merchants Rd Lower HOURS Tues-Sat 10am-5pm (open Sundays 12pm-5pm Easter-September)
6. The Corrib Princess
This 90-minute cruise transports passengers from Woodquay in the heart of Galway along the majestic River Corrib and onto Lough Corrib, the Republic of Ireland’s largest lake. Along the way visitors get to enjoy the unsurpassed views that – in the eyes of many – make this the most spectacular waterway in Ireland. Castles and other places of historical and cultural interest will also be passed en route, all of which can be observed from the vessel’s sun deck. For refreshments there’s a bar onboard too.
7. Salt House
Lesser known in Galway is its craft beer scene – and at the heart of this burgeoning cottage industry is the Galway Bay Brewery, which owns 10 pubs across Galway and Dublin. Its flagship venue is Salt House, a friendly craft-beer palace that serves as a refuge for beer-lovers tired of the same old tastes and flavours. Nestled across the bridge to the banks of the Claddagh river, Salt House has been holding court since 2008, offering up to 25 beers on tap and 150 in bottle, and a cask engine that pours a new real ale every week. It also boasts a uniquely Irish pub setting – small, cosy and atmospheric – plus regular live Bluegrass sessions.
LOCATION Raven Terrace HOURS Mon-Thurs 1pm-11.30pm; Fri-Sun 1pm-12.30am
8. Brigit’s Garden
Set within 4.5 hectares of woodland and wildflower meadows, Brigit’s Garden is one of Galway’s most scenic spots and ideal for a family day out. Its features include a nature trail, ogham trees, children’s discovery trail, living willow play area, an ancient ring fort, roundhouse and the largest calendar sundial in Ireland. Visitors can explore the four gardens, each representing one of the Celtic festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasa. Additionally, there’s a garden café offering excellent cuisine made with organic ingredients fresh from the gardens whenever possible.
LOCATION Pollagh, Rosscahill OPENING HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-5.30pm
9. Aran Islands
One of the most popular excursions from Galway is the Aran Islands, which offers spectacular views of the Connemara coast, Twelve Pins mountains and Cliffs of Moher. The islands are also an archaeological goldmine, with ancient forts such as Dun Aonghusa on Inis Mór and Dún Chonchúir on Inishmaan home to some of the oldest archaeological remains in Ireland. If brave enough, you can trek out to the Serpent’s Lair on Inis Mór – a hidden worm hole at the base of a 27-metre cliff. Numerous companies provide shuttle services from Galway to the islands throughout the year.