How to Make the Most of Your Time in Galway

July 22, 2013 by

Europe, Things to Do, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Some say name Galway (Gaillimh in Irish) is derived from the Irish word gaill, meaning “foreigners.” The Anglo-Normans settled here, and there was a huge trade industry in wine, spices, fish, and salt with Portugal and Spain, making Galway one of the more international Irish ports. The name still translates well today—you’ll find a large Spanish population working and studying English in the Galway city environs, as well as other expats from North America, South America, and beyond. As a traveler, you’ll have no difficulty fitting into this expat-friendly place.

Galway city, despite its tiny population, is a busy little place with a big student population thanks to the National University of Ireland. But you’ll find folks from all walks of life here, even families and older professionals. There’s a certain energy you figure out as soon as you arrive—people are out to have fun, and they do it well.

You can imagine this welcoming vibe draws people in and keeps them around for a while. The crime rate is low, the pub scene is loud, and the proximity to some of Ireland’s most stunning coastline tourist hotspots makes it a pretty great place to set up shop for as long as you like. Here’s how to make the most of your time in Galway.

The sights

Galway's Spanish Arch

Galway’s Spanish Arch. Photo credit: Irish Jaunt via Flickr.

The Spanish Arch and the medieval wall are likely the most popular and recognizable attractions in Galway. While not a great deal is known about these structures, the Spanish Arch is considered an extension of the medieval wall and was likely used as a passageway for ships to do their trading. Nowadays it’s a popular hang out for the locals who lounge around on the grass, beating bongo drums or just hanging out.

Just next to the Arch is the Galway City Museum, which gives a good account of the city’s history and its citizens’ daily lives over the years.

Also nearby is the Salthill Prom, a walk that extends from the edge of the city along the Salthill area. You’ll get some colorful city views of the downtown area, including its old storefronts, and some sparkling ocean views, too.

Finally, one of the best ways to get to know the city is to simply wander the downtown core. Many of the cobblestone streets are pedestrian-only, and you’ll find musicians flaunting their talents, pubs overflowing with merrymakers, independent boutiques manned by friendly staff, and restaurants of every variety. Check out Eyre Square especially, the main area that basically doubles as a park where people sit and relax and take it all in. It also has several works of sculpture art and historical remnants, including Browne’s Doorway—literally the doorway of a 1627 home belonging to a city merchant, destroyed during a carpet-bombing raid.

Browse tours in Galway

The nightlife

Tigh Neachtains

Tigh Neachtains. Photo credit: Irish Jaunt via Flickr.

You’re probably going to spend a lot of time in the pubs and restaurants of Galway city, and you should feel absolutely no shame in doing so. Galway has by far some of the best nightlife opportunities in Ireland, and you’ll be seriously impressed by the options available for such a small place.

Tigh Neachtains was the first place I ended up when I visited. The building is pretty decrepit, with crooked floors and low ceilings, but it’s the real deal. You may find political messages written on the bathroom stalls, and the booths where you sit for a pint. Sometimes friendly characters will show up to perform songs on the rusty old piano about war heroes with their legs blown off. Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce the name too easily—several of the pubs around here have Irish names.

The Salt House Pub was the first place my Irish Couchsurfing friend took me on a night out. An intimate setting where you can often find a solid trad session, there was also an unexpected hipster audience. The Crane, however, might be the best place for live traditional music. It’s the kind of place where you may get “shushed” for being too loud while the band is playing. People come here for the music, and they intend to enjoy it.

Roisin Dubh, despite its Irish name, actually has a pretty great dance floor and a massive rooftop deck. Massimo, a restaurant by day, also flips into a nightclub in the evenings.

To eat

McDonagh's fish and chips

McDonagh’s fish and chips. Photo credit: Irish Jaunt via Flickr.

As you can imagine, Galway also has a booming restaurant and café scene. The area is known for its great pub food options and ethnic foods, thanks to its varied population.

McDonagh’s Fish and Chips is where you go for (you guessed it) fish and chips, and most all the bars serve pub food throughout the day. This is particularly useful for those of you who are trying to whet your hangovers.

For something a little more upscale, try Ard Bia Nimmo’s, known for its locally sourced foods and fresh produce. The Quay Street Kitchen also features many traditional Irish dishes, and they’re known for their amazingly upbeat service.

For some international flavor, try Da Tang Noodle House, La Fine Bouche, or Venice Café Restorante. Coffee lovers should hit up Kai Café + Restaurant, or Galleon Café and Restaurant in Salthill.

Trips from Galway

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey

Galway makes a great jumping off location for when you’re ready to explore outside the city.

You’re just within a short day drive to Connemara, an area north of Galway where you can get your nature fix. Its landscape ranges from the Twelve Bens mountain range framing sparkling blue lakes, to the many white-sand beaches on the Atlantic Ocean. Dogs Bay Beach and Silver Strand Beach are both popular for weekend getaways.

If you’re in Connemara, you can hike, bike, fish, and even golf. And, of course, you might want a photo op with Kylemore Abbey.

The Aran Islands are also doable by day-trip, and several tour operators sell bus/ferry combo tickets out of Galway. The attraction of these islands is that all its citizens speak Irish as their first language, and the culture and traditions here are very much as they were hundreds of years ago.

If you’re pressed for time, just opt for the Inishmore trip, which is the easiest of the islands. You can rent a bicycle and hit the trails along the barren karst coast of the Atlantic. You can hit up Kilmurvey Beach, as well as Dun Aengus, a prehistoric fort dated from the Iron Age. It sits on a 100-meter cliff dropping into the ocean, with views of the rock-face that rivals the Cliffs of Moher.

If you have a bit more time, stay overnight and explore the other two islands, Inishmaan and Inisheer. Fewer tourists go here, so you’ll have some peace and quiet, and more opportunity to hang out with the locals.

Read more about things to do in the Aran Islands

 – Candice Walsh

, ,

2 Responses to “How to Make the Most of Your Time in Galway”

  1. Kevin Says:

    For visitors, the best thing about Galway is that you can walk everywhere. As soon as you arrive, enjoy a walk through the city streets. There, you’ll find lively pubs, independent shops and winding cobblestone streets packed with students, artists, writers and craftspeople. You may even hear Gaelic spoken. For a day trip, take a ferry to the island of Inis Mor. You’ll return refreshed by the ocean air and Inis Mor’s breathtaking scenery. Oh, and be sure to wear sunscreen on the island, no matter how chilly it is. (Just trust us, okay?)

  2. deppest lake Says:

    I ahve to say I didn’t find much to do inside the city of Galway, except drinking beer, but it was a great starting point to guided tours all around the area. Conemara was amazing! don’t miss out…