A first-time guide to Galway

With its tangled lanes lined with colorful shopfronts curving around Galway Bay, compact Galway is one of Ireland’s most picturesque cities. Bolstered by an energetic student population, it’s also one of the island’s most vibrant, with musicians striking up in its atmospheric pubs and busking on its streets, a seafood-driven culinary scene, a jam-packed calendar of events and a bohemian soul.

If you want to dive deep into Galway, here’s everything you need to know. 

When should I go to Galway? 

July and August bring long days that are perfect for exploring, but the high season also brings higher accommodation prices. And while these may be the summer months, the sun is never a guarantee in Ireland.

The shoulder season months of April, May, September and October are great times to visit, with fewer crowds. These months can even see stretches of exceptional weather ⁠— perhaps even warmer and sunnier than in summer in some years. As always in Ireland: prepare for rain and celebrate when the sun is out.

The winter months can be cold, wet and dreary. It’s not the ideal for visiting, but if you happen to be in Galway in these months, don’t fear ⁠— just pack well for the weather and expect to while away the long, dark evenings with some live music in the pub. 

A large parade float of a spooky man floats above Galway in a Halloween parade.
The Macnas Halloween parade is an incredible artistic spectacle © Niall Carson / PA Wire

Galway is festive any time of year but especially during its annual celebrations (when you’ll need to book accommodation well ahead). Standouts include late April’s poetry- and prose-filled Cúirt International Festival of Literature; May’s Galway Theatre Festival, mid-July’s Galway Arts Festival and Ireland’s leading film festival, the Galway Film Fleadh. Horse racing and high fashion at Galway Race Week starts on the last Monday in July, and late September brings the long-running Galway Oyster & Seafood Festival. At Halloween, spectacle theatre company Macnas hosts an exceptional parade that features elaborate floats and giant sculptures. 

How much time should I spend in Galway?

It’s worth spending a night or two in Galway on any trip to Ireland. Two days is enough time to wander the colorful streets in search of seafood, pints, and the local culture. Base yourself in Galway for a few days and add in a day trip to Connemara, the Burren or the Aran Islands.

If you’re driving the Wild Atlantic Way, Galway is the largest city on the route. Stop in and enjoy the selection of pubs and restaurants before getting back on the road for more rural stretches.  

People walking along Shop Street, with colorful shops and bunting, in Galway during the day
Galway’s small central core is easily walkable and Shop Street is an essential stop © powerofforever / Getty Images

Is it easy to get to and around Galway?

Galway is easily reached by train and bus from Dublin. If you want to get to Galway from any other city in Ireland, a bus is your best bet ⁠– check out routes and schedules at Bus Éireann and City Link. 

Once you’re in Galway City, the central core is very walkable, and rambling ⁠(and pub-crawling) around Eyre Square and Shop Street is part of the Galway experience. Local buses provide decent connections around the city and you can even hop on regional buses into Connemara and visit towns like Clifden. 

Top things to do in Galway

A man with long hair drinks a pint of Guinness outside a blue pub.
Tigh Neáchtain’s is an iconic Galway pub and the perfect place for a pint © Piero_Facci / Shutterstock

Head to the pub for Guinness, whiskey, and live music 

Galway is famed far and wide for its pubs, most of which are just a crawl from the next. Join the friendly locals as they bounce from place to place, never knowing what fun lies ahead but certain of the possibility. A brilliant starting point is Tigh Neáchtain (or just Neáchtain’s – pronounced “nock-tans”), a bright-blue-painted 19th-century treasure that attracts all walks of life beneath its low ceilings and on its tree-shaded terrace.

Pints of “the black stuff” (Guinness) are popular, of course, but be sure to look out for Galway Hooker Irish Pale Ale, a local success story brewing locally for over a decade. If you’re after whiskey, see the specialists at laid-back Garavan’s.

Galway’s pubs heave with live music. You’ll hear high-spirited traditional tunes featuring any combination of instruments – fiddle, tin whistle, bodhrán (goat-skin hand-held drum played with beater), guitar, banjo, squeezebox, and more – pouring out from inside. It’s possible to catch a seisún (pronounced “seh-shoon”) virtually every night of the week. Cherry-red-colored Tig Cóilí is a fantastic place to catch live music, as is the two-storey Crane Bar.

If you like your music a little less traditional, bands of all genres get their break at legendary venue Róisín Dubh, which also hosts comedy. Bierhaus and The Blue Note host DJs that draw in a cool local crowd. 

Eat delicious seafood 

Seafood reigns in Galway. Terroir-focused Aniar uses local catches in many of its Michelin-starred multicourse menus. Celebrated seafood bistro Oscar’s is a superb place for Galway Bay oysters. Ard Bia at Nimmo’s serves local flavors like West Coast monkfish with spiced cauliflower and chermoula, or pan-roasted Atlantic hake with leek and fennel orzo, clams, chard and more. West Coast crab (washed down with Galway Hooker) is a specialty of hip Kai. And down-to-earth McDonagh’s is an essential stop for phenomenal fish and chips at its chaotically sociable communal tables.

Learn about the city’s history 

Situated at the mouth of the River Corrib, Galway started out life as a fishing village, Claddagh, and really took off in the 13th century when it came under the Anglo-Norman rule of Richard Óg de Burgh (aka the Red Earl) and its city walls were constructed. It’s likely the Spanish Arch, which protected moored merchant ships from Spain, is a remnant of the medieval walls. Another surviving portion has been incorporated into the Eyre Square Centre shopping mall. Fascinating archaeological finds are on display at the Hall of the Red Earl, a medieval tax office/ courthouse/ town hall whose remains were uncovered by accident in 1997. In 1396, Richard II transferred power to 14 merchant-family “tribes”; the most powerful, the Lynch family, built Lynch’s Castle, Ireland’s finest town castle (now an AIB bank). More recent history – from 1800 to 1950 – is on display at the Galway City Museum, where exhibits include a traditional wooden Galway Hooker fishing boat.

See some theatre 

Galway is famous for its artistic spirit, making it the perfect place to see some theater. The award-winning Druid Theatre group puts on exceptional and ambitious shows ⁠– check out what’s upcoming before your trip. The Town Hall Theatre also hosts plenty of performances, including music, comedy, theater and films. 

People dive from the Blackrock Diving Tower in Galway at high tide.
Dive from the Blackrock Diving Tower, but know that the water is going to be cold © Roy Harris / Shutterstock

Walk the prom in Salthill 

Join the locals getting their 10,000 steps on the prom. This 2km seaside path along the Salthill neighborhood is the perfect place to stroll and take in the fresh sea air. If you’re feeling adventurous, join the brave souls jumping off the Blackrock Diving Tower into the bracing North Atlantic ⁠– just make sure the tide is high. 

Go shopping 

One of the joys of wandering through Galway is stumbling across its small specialty shops selling everything from Irish-made fashion to local art and jewelry – including its Claddagh rings (with a heart, signifying love, between two hands, symbolizing friendship and topped by a crown, representing loyalty), named for the original fishing village. You’ll find jewelry shops producing them include Ireland’s oldest, 1750-established Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold. Other favorites include the warren of book-lined rooms making up Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, plus P Powell & Sons and Kiernan Moloney – both selling traditional Irish musical instruments.

How much money do I need for Galway?

Ireland isn’t cheap, and Galway prices won’t drop much below what you’d find in Dublin. If you’re on a budget, book accommodation well in advance. 

  • hostel room: €40-€60 per dorm bed per night
  • basic hotel room for two: €140-€160 per night
  • self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): €200-€250 per night
  • public transport ticket: €2.70
  • coffee: €3
  • takeaway sandwich: €7
  • dinner for two: €60 – 80
  • beer/pint at the bar: €6

What to pack for a trip to Galway 

Travelers to Ireland will always benefit from packing light layers that suit the changing weather. A proper rainjacket is beneficial as strong winds off the Atlantic can render the highest quality umbrella useless. You won’t regret packing footwear that will keep your feet dry. 

Aerial view of Dun Aonghasa or Dun Aengus , the largest prehistoric stone fort of the Aran Islands.
 Explore the incredible Dún Aonghasa fort on Inish Mór © Shutterstock / MNStudio

The best day trip from Galway

Part of the Wild Atlantic Way, Galway is on the doorstep of some of Ireland’s most spectacular scenery. If you have a car, easy day trips from the city include the evocative Connemara region, with its fissured coastline, undulating bogs, empty valleys and slate-toned lakes (plus peat fire-warmed pubs), along with the plunging Cliffs of Moher and the rocky moonscape of the Burren. 

Without a car, the best option is to hop on Aran Island Ferries at the Galway city docks and jet away to the island of Inish Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands. Once there, rent a bike and feel the freedom of zipping down country roads, stopping to relax on the white sand of Cill Mhuirbhigh beach, scout for cute animals at the seal colony and explore the prehistoric stone fort of Dún Aonghasa. Book a ferry ticket that takes you past the Cliffs of Moher, perhaps the best way to truly get a sense of their scale. 

This article was first published Sep 28, 2016 and updated Jul 3, 2024.

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