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Galway is a seaside town that often takes a backseat to Dublin when people think of visiting Ireland despite its abundance of unique shops, restaurants, and landmarks. The area is packed with attractions, from the centuries-old Spanish Arch to the medieval Lynch’s Castle in the city itself, so it’s worth a visit to explore all the fun things to do on Ireland’s west coast.

Late Evening Sunlight on colourful houses.Galway City, Ireland.
Photo credit: Luca Fabbian/ Shutterstock.

Eyre Square is a great place to people-watch, and Quay Street is a great place to hear live music any night of the week. There are also plenty of nearby attractions that are popular to visit, such as Connemara National Park and the Aran Islands. It’s the ideal place to spend a few days of your trip, whether you’re in the mood for a lively time or a relaxing stroll along Salthill Promenade.

1. Explore the Spanish Arch’s History

One of your first stops when you visit Galway should be the Spanish Arch. Dating back to 1584, this archway protected citizens and facilitated commerce within the Galway city center. Its worn limestone will transport you back to when Spanish ships would unload their cargo in Galway Bay.

Galway, Ireland - April 24 2022: Spanish arch the surviving part of old city walls in the city of Galway
Photo credit: puntacristo / Shutterstock.

The area around the Spanish Arch has also become a popular meeting place, making it an exciting stop. Local artists, musicians, and shopkeepers give the neighborhood a lively atmosphere, and there’s always some event.

Insider Tip: The Galway City Museum is close, and I recommend going there when visiting Galway to get further context about the Spanish Arch.

2. People-Watch at Eyre Square

Eyre Square is one of the best places to people-watch when you need a break in Galway City. This public park is a social hub where locals and visitors hang out during the day. It’s conveniently located in the heart of the city centre and is surrounded by historical landmarks, cafes, and various shops, so you’re always in the center of the action.

Eyre Square in Galway, Ireland. Galway will be European Capital of Culture in 2020.
Photo credit: Anton_Ivanov /Shutterstock.

Like the Spanish Arch area, Eyre Square often hosts events and gatherings that make it fun to hang out in. The square itself has a rich history, and it even features a bronze statue of writer Pádraic Ó Conaire and the Browne Doorway, a 1627 architectural piece relocated from a home to the park.

3. Visit Kylemore Abbey

You won’t want to miss Kylemore Abbey if you’re going to be in the Galway area. The Benedictine monastery in Connemara’s beautiful surroundings shows an intriguing glimpse into the past. It was constructed as a castle in the nineteenth century but later converted into an abbey and used as a women’s boarding school. The Gothic Revival construction style is one of the reasons it’s one of the best things to do in county Galway.

Kylemore Abbey, beautiful castle like abbey reflected in lake at the foot of a mountain. Benedictine monastery founded in 1920, in Connemara, Ireland.
Photo credit: Dawid K Photography /Shutterstock.

You’ll want to visit the Victorian Walled Garden if you have time. The six-acre garden has been restored to its former glory and has numerous flower beds and vegetable gardens. There’s also a small but mesmerizing neo-Gothic church that gives you a peaceful area to reflect on the estate.

4. Stroll Along Salthill Promenade

Walking along the Salthill Promenade is perfect when you need a break from the main part of the Galway city centre. This walk goes for about 2 miles along the shores of Galway Bay and has stunning views of both the water and the distant hills of the Burren in County Clare. Many locals take their morning or evening strolls here and listen to the waves hit the shore, so why not join them?

Empty wooden benches by the ocean. Salthill promenade, Galway city, Ireland. Nobody. Dusk, cloudy sky.
Photo credit: mark gusev / Shutterstock.

There are also various cafes and ice-cream shops along the way, which is convenient for grabbing a hot coffee in the winter or getting ice cream in the summer.

Insider Tip: A local tradition is kicking the wall once you get to the end of the promenade, so remember to tap it once you get there.

5. Hike at Connemara National Park

Connemara National Park is the perfect place to go on an adventure when you’re looking for active things to do in Galway, Ireland. About 3,000 acres of mountains, bogs, heaths, and forests make up this huge natural reserve, so you have plenty of room to explore. No matter how much or how little experience you have with hiking, you’ll find a trail that suits your needs at this park.

The hiking trail at the top of Diamond Hill in Connemara National Park, Ireland. Behind, the sun plays with the clouds reflected in the sea.
Photo credit: LOUIS-MICHEL DESERT /Shutterstock.

Insider Tip: Start your day at the tourist center, where employees can help you pick hikes based on your physical ability. Even if you’re hiking solo, you won’t be alone, as the area is very popular with locals and visitors.

In the off summer months, it’s nice to stop along the way and enjoy a picnic lunch. Connemara National Park has snow-covered landscapes are particularly stunning in the winter, and then you can head back to your Galway bed and breakfast to relax.

6. Admire Galway Cathedral

Make time to visit the Galway Cathedral if you enjoy both history and architecture. This is a popular stop in Galway due to its Renaissance, Romanesque, and Gothic influences, even though it was only dedicated in 1965. The room’s grandeur is stunning, with a high domed ceiling, minutely crafted mosaics, and lavish marble floors.

Galway, Ireland - 29th July, 2018: Bridge crossing over towards Galway Cathedral in the city of Galway, Republic of Ireland.
Photo credit:gabriel12 / Shutterstock.

The stained glass work is also a huge draw here, as visitors can see the telling of biblical tales with vivid colors that really light up on a sunny day. The Cathedral’s location next to the River Corrib is also a beautiful place to take a few moments to reflect.

7. See Lynch’s Castle

Lynch’s Castle is in the heart of Galway and is a relic from the city’s medieval past. The renowned Lynch family once resided in this 16th-century limestone tower, which is now a bank but still retains its historical splendor. It’s famous for being the former home of one of the 14 “Tribes of Galway,” which dominated the city during its glory.

Lynchs Castle in Galway in Ireland.
Photo credit: yykkaa / Shutterstock.

The Fitzgeralds of Kildare and the Lynches of Dublin, two illustrious Irish dynasties, have their coats of arms displayed on the building’s front. A substantial extension was added in 1808, and a carved entryway was added in 1933.

8. Shop in the Latin Quarter

The Latin Quarter is the best place to go shopping in Galway, as there are tons of stores, museums, and restaurants in this concentrated area. Many visitors love walking around on the cobblestone streets and passing by the vividly colored storefronts, especially when they’re spending one day in Galway.

 People enjoying bars and Restaurants on Quay street in the popular Latin quarter area of Galway city at night.
Photo credit: gabriel12 /Shutterstock.

Shoppers will find everything from chic boutiques to cozy bookstores in the Latin Quarter. This is also the place to get one-of-a-kind items from local artists, such as jewelry, home decor, and clothing. There are many fun pubs to stop in after for fish and chips or a pint of Guinness.

9. Tour Dunguaire Castle

Seeing the historic Dunguaire Castle is a must for anybody visiting Galway. Located on the southeast coast of Galway Bay, this tower house from the 16th century offers breathtaking vistas and is packed with fascinating historical information.

 Dungaire Castle, Galway Bay, County Galway, Ireland.
Photo credit: Paolo Trovo / Shutterstock.

Exhibits at Dunguaire Castle delve into local literature to paint a vivid picture of the 20th-century Celtic Renaissance. When you’re done, unwind in the adjacent cafe serving tasty regional specialties. You should plan your summer vacation around the medieval feast if you happen to be in County Galway then.

10. Meet Sea Creatures at Galway Atlantaquaria

The Galway Atlantaquaria is the national aquarium of Ireland and one of the top things to do in Galway if you’re interested in seeing the underwater world. Situated in Salthill, it’s a fun outing for families and ocean enthusiasts.

Dingle Aquarium,Ireland.The shark species that we have here at the aquarium are Sand Tiger Sharks (Carchariaus taurus). They can grow up to 3 metres and weigh between 100-150kg.
Photo credit: Izahaak / Shutterstock.

There are numerous local marine species among the many on display at the aquarium. Visitors will see everything from native sharks to gentle seahorses. Take advantage of the touching pool to feel a starfish or another marine invertebrate for a unique experience. The massive fin whale skeleton is another popular attraction.

11. Visit the Hall of the Red Earl

The Hall of the Red Earl is one of the most prized archaeological discoveries in Galway City. This historical landmark, which had been forgotten for generations before being uncovered in 1997 during construction, gives visitors a glimpse into what life was like in 13th-century Galway.

Eyre Square, Galway City, Ireland
Photo credit: NujMan/ Shutterstock.

The Earl’s Hall, the de Burgo family who commissioned it, and the historical setting of the time are all explored in depth through informative panels and exhibits. The objects on display, unearthed during the excavation, provide an in-depth look at the culture of the time.

Insider Tip: Make sure to take the time to read all the different signs to learn more about this time period and what you’re looking at.

12. See St. Nicholas’ Church

St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church is a historical attraction that dates back to the 14th century. It’s a living testament to Galway’s historical fabric, as it’s the largest medieval parish church in Ireland still in use today. The church is known for its elaborate carvings and stained glass windows that let in a rainbow of light and color.

Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas in Galway.
Photo credit: yykkaa/ Shutterstock.

This is the perfect location to take a break from exploring Galway City and find one of the more peaceful things to do in Galway Ireland. In addition to the church, there’s also a garden outside where you’ll find both locals and tourists taking time to relax.

13. Enjoy Music on Quay Street

Local musicians hold impromptu performances on Quay Street, bringing the city to life with music that makes you want to clap your hands and tap your foot. Listening to music ranging from traditional Irish music to modern pop is a common pastime for tourists in Galway, Ireland. There are even whispers that an undiscovered Ed Sheeran got his “Galway Girl” inspiration from busking in this area.

Touristic area in Galway, Ireland. Galway will be European Capital of Culture in 2020.
Photo credit: Anton_Ivanov /Shutterstock.

After a long day of sight-seeing, head to one of Quay Street’s many pubs or restaurants and relax with a meal while taking in the background music. It’s an ideal way to end a day exploring Galway City.

14. Ferry to the Aran Islands

The Aran Islands can be reached by ferry and make for a great day trip if you want to do something unique. A popular way to explore the island is by renting bicycles so you can go at your own pace. Dun Aonghasa is a prehistoric hill fort set on the edge of a 100-meter-high cliff and worth stopping at during your adventures.

Inishmore, Aran islands, county Galway, Ireland - 18.06.2021: Aran Island express approaching harbor.
Photo credit: mark gusev/ Shutterstock.

Another must-see place is the Worm Hole, which is a beautiful rectangular pool at the foot of the cliffs. You can also explore the islands at your own pace while horseback riding, taking in the beautiful scenery and historic sites.

The Aran Islands are a fantastic destination for anyone curious about Ireland’s past and present. The locals welcome visitors to come and learn about their culture and language from them.

15. Visit the Cliffs of Moher

One of the most common activities away from your visit in Galway City is going to the Cliffs of Moher. You can take a tour from Galway, or you can rent a car and drive yourself.

These stunning cliffs soar to a maximum height of 214 meters above the Atlantic Ocean. Walking along the clifftop trail, which stretches for kilometers and offers endless views, is one of the best ways to understand how vast the area is.

Cliffs of Moher Tourist Attraction in Ireland
Photo credit: Bencemor / Shutterstock.

There are multiple vantage points to stop at that are strategically placed observation decks along the cliffs. Keep in mind that the trails aren’t always smooth, so sturdy shoes are a must on your Ireland packing list.

You should also check out the visitor center, which features displays about the geology, flora, and fauna of the cliffs. For those who get hungry, there’s a cafeteria available.

Insider Tip: Between April and July, more than 20 different species of seabirds, including puffins, make their nests in these cliffs, making it a bird watcher’s paradise.

16. Discover Menlo Castle’s Ruins

Menlo Castle is a medieval fortress perched on a cliff above the peaceful banks of the River Corrib, not far from Galway City. The wealthy Blake family lived there in the 16th century; in addition to their wealth, they were known for throwing lavish May parties that became an integral part of the country’s culture. They built a new, even more magnificent mansion in the same grand Jacobean style as the original tower, which further enhanced the estate’s regal air.

Menlo Castle Galway.
Photo credit: E. McA/ Shutterstock.

The castle met a tragic end in 1910 when a fierce fire engulfed it, leaving behind only the ivy-covered walls that stand today. Joggers and walkers are now drawn to the area around the ruins because of their haunting and natural beauty there, despite the tragedy that occurred there.

17. Learn at Galway City Museum

Galway City Museum is a must-see for history buffs thanks to its extensive and varied collection of historical artifacts. The city’s prehistoric era and maritime past are both thoroughly explored when visiting.

Galway city museum: exhibitions, history, attraction, science, cultural and arts activities. Close to Spanish Arch.
Photo credit: ArtemiPhoto / Shuttertock.

The Galway Hooker, a replica of a traditional Galway fishing boat, is featured in one of the museum’s most visited displays. In addition to displays on Galway’s role in the American Revolution and World Wars, this one gives visitors a look at what it was like to live in the city during those tumultuous times.

The museum regularly features changing exhibitions that shed new light on Galway’s history, culture, and contemporary life.

Insider Tip: The hands-on components of the Sea Science exhibit make it a hit with kids. The top floor has beautiful views of the Claddagh Basin and the boats that pass through it.

18. Explore Lough Corrib

Lough Corrib is located in the center of Galway County and is the second largest lake in the Republic of Ireland. It’s a popular spot to visit due to its intriguing natural splendor and historical significance. The lake is famous for its abundance of trout and salmon, and locals and visitors alike often try their hand at fishing. For those who want to be on the water, going kayaking is a fun, slow way to explore the area.

Boats at the Lough Corrib, County Galway, Connemara, Ireland.
Photo credit: Greg Fellmann / Shutterstock.

Scenic boat trips are also available on the lake, giving visitors the chance to see the entire area in a quicker time while also learning from the guide about what they’re looking at.

In addition to water activities, you can spend a day hiking the trails near the lake to explore the meadows and forests. Galway is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life, and there are many different species of birds that nest in the area. Ancient castles and ruins can be seen sporadically along your route in this beautiful part of County Galway.

19. Take an Atlantic Boat Tour

A boat tour on the Atlantic is the best way to take in Galway’s stunning natural beauty and coastline. There’s nothing like the smell of salty air as you get onboard, and the guide will provide educational facts during the ride.

Corrib Princess cruise ship passing Menlo castle. Warm sunny day. Travel and tourist industry. Blue cloudy sky. Tourist sightseeing beautiful Irish scenery.
Photo credit: mark gusev / Shutterstock.

While every boat tour is unique, many of them head south to the Cliffs of Moher to give riders a completely different view than from when visiting them on land.

Insider Tip: Ireland is also known for dolphins that playfully swim alongside boats, so you might see a few if you’re lucky (summer is a great time to see them out).

From strolling through the Latin Quarter with its brightly colored buildings to hiking around Connemara National Park, there are many things to do in Galway, Ireland. This city has plenty in the way of food, shopping, traditional Irish music, and history, so it’s worth stopping at during an Ireland trip.

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Marissa Pedersen

Marissa Pedersen runs the website Wander Around Ireland, which is geared towards tourists taking their dream trip. Since that first visit, she has returned to Ireland multiple times and plans to continue exploring this enchanting country every year.

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