Ah, Galway! Its a perennial favorite of travelers and the city that every says is a “must visit” on any trip to Ireland. Dan and I have been twice, first in the Spring in 2012 and most recently, for Thanksgiving in 2017.
My thoughts on Galway; it does not live up to the hype. Gasp, I know! Now, Galway is a really adorable town. Its quaint, the people are generally nice, and its very easy to navigate. Its also a good place to start or end an Ireland adventure. However, I totally disagree with those who say Galway is the best town in Ireland – just not true in my opinion! If I were planning your trip, I would recommend spending two full days and three nights in Galway – one day for travel, one day to see Galway, and one day for a day trip! Three nights are also key, as the pubs are really fun!
While I do not think Galway is Ireland’s best city – I actually prefer Dublin (which many people think is crazy!) – it certainly has its charm. Galway is a university town and the crowd is young and fun! Since its small, Galway is a great city in which to get your European bearings and and great place to explore and get lost (because you really can’t!). One my favorite things to do in Galway is listen to all of the street performers, who are actually really good!
What To Do In Galway!
While there are no crazy sites that you “can’t miss,” one can easily spend a day exploring Galway!
Eyre Square. Eyre Square is one of the main square in Galway and should certainly be seen (or passed through) by all visitors! Its quite big, the host of many fairs in Galway (including their Christmas market), and flies the flags of the original 9 tribes of Galway. Its pretty interesting and a gathering place in the city. Allow 10 minutes to explore Eyre Square. Good shopping and lots of pubs are located around Eyre Square.
Next, the churches – St. Nicholas church and the Galway Cathedral. Both churches are worth a quick stop, especially if you have not traveled much in Europe (European churches start to run together…) or are particularly into churches. There is also a small market next to St. Nicholas’ Church on Saturdays from about 10 – 2. I recommend checking it out if you are in town – and definitely have a complete crepe from Yummy Crepes. Absolutely delightful for €7,00.
The Spanish Arch & The Long Walk. In reality, the Spanish Arch, the last remnant of Galway’s old city walls, is not that exciting (and there was an infestation of rats in that area a couple years ago…) nor that big, but its is worth a quick stop, especially on your way to the Long Walk. On that note, the Long Walk is a walk along the River Corrib that overlooks some of the prettiest colorful houses. Its in the cover photograph and its featured at the end of Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl music video. And yes, I know Ed Sheeran is not Irish.
Thomas Dillion Calddagh Shop & Museum. Ok, so this is probably only of interest to people who are into Claddagh rings – aka the iconic Irish rings made up of two hands holding a heart (see the below picture). Thomas Dillions store has a free museum on the Claddagh and sells Claddagh rings at various price points. The lower end rings start about about $60 USD.
The Pubs. The pubs in Galway are particularly fun and there is often live music playing, especially in the evening! And they are as much of a site as the churches or Eyre Square. Go during the day if you want to sit and enjoy a conversation with your travel companions. Go in the evening if you are looking for a rowdy atmosphere with live music (the live music is usually only at night). On particularly nice days, a few pubs have outdoor seating, which is quite the treat. Some of my favorite pubs in Galway are An Pucan, Taffe’s, and Tig Coli.
Day Trips From Galway!
Galway is a great place from which to do day trips. I recommend picking one so that your entire vacation is not day trip after day trip, but you can really do as many as you want. There are a lot of tour companies that offer pre-packaged tours from Galway. I recommend pre-booking in the high season (summer months) as these tours book up. However, its best if you can cancel, as most day trip from Galway are best seen in good weather!
Dan and I have done a day trip from Galway to the Cliffs of Moher. The drive takes about 2 hours by bus (depending on traffic) and will often stop at the Burren, another interesting site in Western Ireland. The Cliffs of Moher are totally awesome and completely worth the two hour bus ride; however, the are best seen in sunny weather!!
Galway also offers frequent day trips to the Aran Islands and Connemara. Unfortunately, I have not done either of these day trips!
Where We Ate In Galway!
As I mentioned, definitely the crepes at the Saturday market. Absolutely delightful! Another of our favorite places in Galway is Ard Bia at Nimmo’s. Ard Bia is a homey/hipster restaurant just next to the Spanish Arch. Reservations recommended for dinner.
This time around I also particularly enjoyed Coffeewerk + Press – a coffee shop and gallery that Dan and I feel in love with! We went everyday!
The Dough Bros. I know, I know…pizza in Ireland? Well yes, the Dough Bros makes excellent pizza and they have a great story!
Getting To Galway!
Bus: Many buses terminate in Galway, whose main bus station shares a building with the train station right off of Eyre Square. There is a second bus station (across the street) for tourist buses (i.e. day trips). You can walk most places in Galway from the train station, but taxis are usually waiting out front.
Train: A train arrives almost hourly from Dublin in Galway’s tiny train station, which shares a building with the bus station. There is a small snack stand in the train station, a few chairs, and a self-serve ticket machine. Be sure to get there at least 20 minutes early. People generally line up about 10 minutes prior to boarding, which usually starts 20 minutes prior to departure.
Air: The closest international airport is Shannon airport, which is about a 90 minute drive from Galway (again, depending on traffic). Be sure to leave plenty of time between Galway and the airport! Also, the Dublin and Shannon airports have US Customs pre-clearance, meaning that US-bound travelers clear US Immigration and Customs in Ireland and de-plane in the US as if on a domestic flight. Three hours is still more than plenty of time to accomplish this, but know what you’re in for! Also, after US pre-clearance in either airport, shopping and food drops off dramatically!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Galway: Galway tourism website. A good place for information on local events!
Irish Rail: Irish rail. The place to buy your train tickets.
Bus Eireanne: Irish bus service; a much more extensive network than Irish Rail.
Jurys’ Inn Galway: Quay St, Galway, H91 E8D7, Ireland. Big box hotel in an excellent location. A good choice for Americans who are not big into traveling. Make reservations in advance through their website.
Galway Tour Company: Popular tour company based in Galway. Tours can be booked in advance or once in Galway.
Thomas Dillion Claddagh Shop & Museum: Quay Street, Galway, Ireland. Open Monday – Saturday 10h – 17h, Sunday 12h – 17h. Entrance free. Claddagh rings start around $60 USD.
Ard Bia at Nimmo’s: Spanish Arch, Long Walk, Galway, H91 E9XA, Ireland. Open daily 10h – 15h and 18h – 21h. Reservations recommended for dinner.
Coffeewerk + Press: 4 Quay St, Galway, Ireland. Open daily 9h – 18h.
The Dough Bros: 1, Cathedral Building, Middle St, Galway, Ireland. Open daily 12h – 21h. Reservations not required.
An Pucan: 11 Forster St, Galway, Ireland. Open Monday – Thursday 10h30 – 23h30, Friday & Saturday 10h30 – 2h and Sunday 12h30 – 23h.
Tig Coli: Mainguard St, The Latin Quarter, Quarter, Co. Galway, Ireland. Closed Saturday. Open Sunday – Friday 10h30 – 23h, later on Friday.
Taffe’s: 19 Shop St, Galway, Ireland. Open daily 10h30 – 23h30, with longer hours on Friday and Saturday and shorter hours on Sunday.
ON A BUDGET
For a super popular European country, Ireland is surprisingly inexpensive (at the moment – that was NOT the case when we visited in 2008). Galway is even cheaper than Dublin and is a good option for budget travelers. Be on the lookout for hostels, student deals and tours and free sites, which is almost everything in Galway!