Ireland has arguably some of the most beautiful landscape in Europe. Numerous cities in Ireland have so much to offer between their rich history and deep-seated cultural traditions. One great example of a city with plenty to offer visitors, is beautiful Galway. This post will be a little longer and more detailed than most of my others, since I’ve been fortunate enough to call Galway home for the last 4 years.
Where Is Galway?
Galway City is located within County Galway, (one of the 26 counties that make up The Republic of Ireland) on the west coast of Ireland, right on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, an area which is known as Galway Bay. With the beautiful Lough (lake) Corrib flowing down from the north through the center of Galway and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, the city’s prime location made it an ideal shipping and trading location. Founded by fourteen merchant families, these families helped build the infrastructure of Galway and became known as the 14 tribes of Galway. Galway is the fourth largest city in Ireland, and has a population of approximately 70,000. Galway is known for its inclement weather. I can almost guarantee it will rain if you visit, so come prepared with rain proof gear.
How Do I Get To Galway From Dublin Airport / Dublin City?
Dublin Airport offers two bus services, Citylink and GoBus which operate just a few steps outside of Terminal 1 in Dublin Airport and they run almost 24 hours per day. Getting into the overnight hours the busses run less frequently running every 2 to 3 hours, but during they day they run almost every hour. The trip from Dublin to Galway by bus will take about 2 hours 30 min to 3 hours on a direct bus, and if you are unlucky enough to get on to a commuter bus which makes numerous stops in small towns along the way, it will take you approximately 4 to 4.5 hours. Just make sure you ask the driver when you get on the bus if it is direct to Galway and you should be fine. The cost of the trip is €15 ($20) from Dublin Airport, or if you are already in the city, you can pick up the bus along Aston / Crampton Quay (Quay is pronounced key) for €10 ($14). There are two ways to get a discounted ticket, one is being a student and having a valid student ID on you, and the other is by buying a round trip ticket instead of a one way. These busses drop you off in the Galway Coach Station just opposite of the Tourist Office about a 3 minute walk from the center of town which is Eyre Square.
From the center of Dublin you can hop on the train at Heuston Station and take the train over to Galway. The train times vary depending on the day of the week and time of year but its a comfortable option as well, costing you around $45 for a one way ticket. More information about the train can be found on the Irish Rail website. The train drops off at the same location the Bus Eireann busses do, in the Céannt Train Station in Galway.
How Do I Get To Galway From Shannon Airport?
Although Shannon is closer to Galway, only about 1.5 hours drive, it is a less traveled route, therefore has fewer busses running back and forth to Galway. The bus picks up just outside of the airport and as I mentioned takes approximately 1.5 hours to get up to Galway. The bus you are looking for is run by the company Bus Eireann and the cost is €15 ($20) one way for an adult. As I mentioned above, there are discounts for students with valid student IDs and for purchasing a round trip ticket instead of a one way. This bus drops you off at the Galway Train Station (which is also a bus station for Bus Eireann busses) and is located at the bottom of Eyre Square in the center of town.
Accommodation Options In Galway
Hostels – $15-40 a night
If you are looking to do a budget conscious trip here, there are numerous hostels located all around the city, some in prime locations right in the city center or just a few minute walk away. Their prices range anywhere from €15 for shared rooms, to €45 for private rooms per night.
Bed & Breakfasts – $50-100 a night
Personally I would recommend the local Bed & Breakfasts. There are a plethora of B&B’s to choose from and they are located just on the edge of the city center, only about a 10 minute walk away. Staying at one of the B&B’s not only helps the local patrons of the city, but it also gives you a first hand experience of one of the most well-known aspects of Ireland, the hospitable and friendly nature of the people. The prices are excellent, ranging anywhere from €30 to €60 per night and that almost always includes breakfast.
Hotels – $100+ a night
There are a number of choices for you to pick from when coming to Galway as to where to say. There are numerous hotels which are 3 and 4 stars and their price ranges will be anywhere from €115 to €175 per night, will almost always include breakfast, and if you search around, will sometimes include an evening meal with a two or three night booking.
*For all three of the accommodations options I mentioned, the prices do change during busy season, so book in advance for lower rates.*
Whats The Best Way To See The City?
Galway is a very small town and frankly, it is hard to get lost. I would highly recommend walking throughout the city as the best way of seeing everything. Walking not only gets some exercise in, but it helps you slow down and appreciate everything you are seeing, and also alleviates the burden of worrying where you are going to park a car or lock up a bike. However if you are not a fan of walking, there are places you can rent a bike and pedal throughout the city. I would also inform anyone who wants to do a day long bike tour, there is a very well-known bike tour that goes up through the Connemara area just north of Galway City, which is a great tour for bike enthusiasts.
There are two other motorized options to seeing the city and one of them is a Segway tour that operates just outside of Eyre Square. You can hop on the Segway and follow a tour guide throughout the city and I believe you can also rent one and venture out on your own. Finally there is a tour bus that does the traditional hop on hop off driving tour of the city with the driver speaking into a microphone describing the sites, but in a city so small, why bother paying for this when you can walk through the city easier than you can drive through it.
What To See In Galway?
Starting in the center of town there is a large green known as Eyre Square. This famous square is officially named Kennedy Park after John F. Kennedy. This was done in 1965 as a tribute to the late president who had given a speech there in June of 1963, shortly before he was assassinated in September of that year. There is also a stone memorial to Kennedy on the east side of the park with a quotation on the top and a silhouette of his bust on the front of it. Although the park was renamed, it is almost exclusively referred to as Eyre Square. Situated beautifully with trees and green grass, this central location is a great place to walk around or sit and read during the (occasional) sunny days that occur in Galway. At the top of Eyre Square there are 14 poles which, during the spring until the fall, proudly wave the flags embroidered with the names of the 14 founding tribes of Galway. Just behind these flags, is yet another tribute to one of the tribes, a doorway which is known as the Browne Doorway. This doorway was the original entryway into one of the homes of the Browne family which lived not too far from Eyre Square. Being the central location of the city, you can easily navigate your way around from here, which leads me to the next place to see in Galway.
Shop Street / Quay Street
From the north west corner of Eyre Square you can walk briefly down Williamsgate Street which will lead you to a pedestrian only street known as Shop Street. (Keep in mind the streets in almost all of Ireland are very poorly marked and if they are marked, it is with a sign posted on the side of a building at the corner of the street or on a large rock located at the corner of the street). You will recognize Shop Street by the Brown Thomas store located on your right, and the life-size bronze statue of Oscar Wilde and Estonian writer Eduard Wilde, sitting on a bench just a few steps down Shop Street. This street is the center of Galway, housing all of the main shops, bars, pubs, restaurants, and tourist / souvenir shops. You will find many local privately owned shops which carry a great collection of hand-made goods like knit sweaters, carved Connemara stone, photographs, as well as the more typical tourist items like shot glasses, hats, shirts, and of course items with the Guinness logos all over them. There are some great stores located here, well worth a walk through for anyone visiting the city. About half way down the street, it forks and moving to the left continues the local shops but the street changes names and becomes Quay Street. Following Quay Street down to the end, you will arrive at the next stop, The Spanish Arch.
The Spanish Arch
Finding yourself at the end of Quay Street, if you cross the road and walk towards the river bank, you will see a large stone archway to your left which is known as The Spanish Arch. Built in 1584 it is one of the oldest structures in the city and was once used to protect Galway’s quays (pronounced keys which is another word for a wharf or harbor where ships dock). This historical structure is located right on the banks of River Corrib, just where it flows out from Galway Bay into the Atlantic Ocean. It is a beautiful place to walk or sit and relax and it is only enhanced by this beautiful historic piece.
The Galway Museum
Walk through the archway of the Spanish Arch and immediately to your left you will find the Galway Museum. Constructed in 2006 it is a new building that was meant to show the history and significance of Galway. Inside you will find some excellent exhibits on historical artifacts, influential people of the city, and the history of the arts in Galway, along with many other revolving exhibits.
Tuesday – Saturday: 10am – 5pm
Sunday – Monday: CLOSED
The Galway Cathedral
Following the water and walking up-stream, you will walk along the River Corrib on a beautiful walkway which will lead you to the enchanting Galway Cathedral. Having only been completed and then dedicated in 1965, the cathedral is the newest in Europe. It’s beautiful dome extends almost 150 feet into the air. In a city of small stature when it comes to tall buildings, has also become a very noticeable and appreciated piece of the horizon of the city. I would highly recommend stopping in to take a look at this gorgeous sight and appreciate its impressive architecture and design.
In order to get to the Cathedral, you need to cross over the Salmon Weir Bridge which is a small but amusing tourist attraction during the summer months. In June and July, the salmon that were born up-stream in the River Corrib, return to spawn every year and stopping on this bridge during the summer months and looking over the edge, you will often see schools of salmon swimming up the stream, as well as many fishermen in the water.
St. Nicholas Church
The Church of St. Nicholas is located just off of Shop Street in the center of the city. It was built in 1320 and is the largest medieval church still in every day use in the country of Ireland. It is also said that Christopher Columbus stopped here to pray in 1477 before one of his long sea voyages.
The Galway Market
On one side of the historic St. Nicholas’s Church is Mainguard Street which is a branch off of Shop Street, also in the center of town. This street holds one of my favorite gems of Galway which is the Galway Market. Evey Saturday (and some merchants return on Sundays as well) the Galway Market boasts some of the finest hand-made crafts and some of the most delicious foods that I have had in this city. Made up of local merchants, these people come once a week to this location and set up small kiosks or tarp covered shops in this tiny alley to sell their goods. From hand carved wood, to gorgeous photographs of Ireland, to delicious foods (in particular one of the most incredible donuts I have ever tasted at Boychik Doughnuts) such as oysters and other sea foods caught that same day, this market is a must see if you happen to be here on a Saturday or Sunday. Although it is busiest from spring until fall, there are still brave merchants who still set up shop during the winter months, but those are limited and also trumped by the setup of the Galway Christmas Market on Eyre Square during Christmas time. Highly recommend stopping here and having a walk through.
National University Of Ireland Galway (NUIG)
Although this may not be on the top priority of things to see in Galway, it is still a nice walk to take from the city center, and if you are at the Galway Cathedral, then NUIG is just around the corner. One of Ireland’s most respected institutions, NUIG has students from all over the world attending and its combination of classic architecture and contemporary architecture makes for a beautiful walk through the campus.
The Sportsground is located just outside of Eyre Square, away from the center of the city, on College Road. This stadium houses the Greyhound racing, but mainly is the home to the Connacht Rugby Team. If you are here during rugby season, which goes from roughly August to May, I would encourage you to pick up some tickets and stop in to see the match. Even if you do not understand the rules of the game, the atmosphere alone will make up for it and I am sure it will not be too hard to find some of the locals to help break it down for you. Tickets aren’t too expensive and can be purchased on game day for anywhere between $20-45 each.
Salthill is a section of Galway, about a 3 mile walk from down town. There are quite a few attractions down in this area and it can also be a beautiful walk going down there as you can follow the promenade or “the prom” as it is affectionately known to the locals. The prom is simply a sidewalk stretching all along the water for quite a few miles that has beautiful views of the ocean. Towards the beginning of Salthill, along the prom, you will find the Galway Aquarium, which is very small and as I understand not the most productive use of your time. Following the prom you will come upon a few small beaches along the water, and no doubt see many people swimming along the prom as well at almost any time of year. Coming to the end of the prom you will arrive at Blackrock. This is a diving platform popular with many of the locals and children, but be warned, although the Irish make it look easy to swim in that water, it is mighty mighty cold. If you want a bit of good fortune as well, it is tradition to walk the prom and kick the wall when you reach the end of it for good luck.
The main road that runs through Salthill is known as Upper Salthill. Along this road you will find some great restaurants and pubs as well as a few casinos if you are interested in gambling. Although keep in mind these are not full casinos, they are simply slot parlors with the occasional roulette wheel. Golf For those of you interested in golf, you are in the right place. Ireland boasts some of the most beautiful, and difficult, golf courses in the world. Although none of the extremely notable courses are in the immediate area, there are still some excellent courses around the city, or a short drive away. Coming to the end of the prom also brings you to the beginning of the Galway Golf Club, Blackrock. This 18 hole par 70 course provides some gorgeous views along the water as you test your skills. This is the only golf course within the immediate area. If you have a car, you can also try out the Galway Bay Golf Resort in Renville Village, Oranmore, which is a 18 hole par 72 course, also along the water. This course is approximately 30 minutes away from Galway. Finally about 30-45 minutes away farther inland you have the Athenry Golf Club which is also an 18 hole par 70 course.
Places To See & Tours To Take Outside Galway
Because of the fantastic location of Galway, there are some of Ireland’s biggest tourist attractions that are easily accessible through day trips from Galway. I’ll give a brief description of each as they are all great trips to take.
The Cliffs Of Moher & The Burren
Located in County Clare approximately 1.5 hours south of Galway, The Burren is a one of a kind landscape that dates back many thousands of years. Steeped in history and archeological finds, you pass through this unique landscape on your way to one of the most breathtaking sights in the entire country, The Cliffs Of Moher. These cliffs rise up to a staggering 700 feet at their highest point, and are one of the most magnificent sights I have seen in all of Europe. I would recommend the cliffs as the #1 tourist sight to see if you are venturing to Ireland, they are truly one of a kind. Tours leave daily for the cliffs from the Coach Station in Galway opposite of the Tourist Office and are run by a variety of companies. Average cost for a day tour that leaves at 10am and returns at approximately 6pm is €25 ($35).
The Aran Islands
The Aran Islands are a cluster of islands off the coast of Galway. Rich in Irish tradition, it is one of the few places in Ireland that predominately uses the Irish language. But don’t worry, everyone speaks English as well. In order to get to the islands you need to stop by the Aran Islands Ticket Office which are located in a few spots in the city, one just outside of Eyre Square on Forster Street, and one down Shop Street, along with a few others. Tickets to go to the islands are €45 ($60). The tour consists of an approximately 45 minute bus ride to the Aran Island Ferry, which then takes approximately 40 minutes on the water to bring you the 9 miles out to Inis Mor which is the biggest of the 3 islands. With a population of less than 850 this 31 square mile island is like stepping back in time. With such amazing sights as the Cliffs of Dun Aengus (300+ foot cliffs which you can lay at the edge of and look over) it is definitely a must see if you are in Galway. This tour leaves Galway at 9:30am and returns as late as 7pm depending on traffic.
Connemara & Kylemore Abbey
Just north of Galway is a beautiful area known as Connemara. This rugged and hilly landscape is a gorgeous sight to behold as you drive through it to arrive at the esteemed Kylemore Abbey. This beautiful castle was built in the late 1800s and provides some gorgeous architecture as well as pristine views of the lake it is set on. Although this is one of the more low-key day trips from Galway, it surely does not lack in beauty. This tour also leaves at 10am and returns to the city around 6pm at a cost of €25 ($35).
Stop In To Some Great Pubs For Great Pints
Ireland is of course known for its pubs as well. As much as Americans or any other culture tries to emulate the atmosphere of a traditional Irish pub, they are one of a kind, and you have to take the time to experience them while you are here. Although this review is certainly long enough, I will not go into a long description of each pub, but simply list some great pubs you should try if you are in Galway
- Tig Coilis – Known for its traditional Irish Music, this is my personal favorite pub in the city. It has black and white photographs coverings the walls of family members and friends of the owner. Such a cool touch.
- O’Connells – Great beer garden out back.
- The Quays – Great for live cover bands at night
- O’Connors Famous Pub – Located in Salthill, it is a pub with decor like no other, definitely have to stop in here and see it.
- Tigh Neachtains and The Crane – Two separate bars both known for great pints and good traditional Irish music.
If you like microbrews try: The Cottage, The Oslo Bar, The Salt House
What Is The Best Time Of Year To Visit Galway?
This is the million dollar question. Some argue that no matter when you come, summer or winter you will get the same rainy weather with one being just a little colder than the other, and there is a grain of truth to that. The nicest months to come are the summer months from May to September but keep in mind these are also the peak tourist seasons so you will be paying a premium for tickets, more than likely $1,000 AND there is no guarantee that you will have bright sunshine every (or any) day for that matter. Anytime from Late September to mid / late March is more or less off-peak season and you can get tickets for much cheaper, around $500-700 depending on where you are flying in from. The weather during the summer is arguably nicer, but you can still get brisk (but decent) weather in the Oct area or in and around the March / April area. Keep in mind that Galway is on the water and although the air temperature may say one thing, it will feel colder due to the moisture in the air and the sea breeze.
Galway is rich in tradition and a few of those traditions manifest in festivals that occur annually in the city. If you find yourself there during the month of July, you are in for a treat since the city is buzzing with events. Starting the month off is the Galway Film Festival or the Film Fleadh (pronounced fla) which is Irelands film festival. This Film Fleadh is getting more and more notoriety and is being recognized by more and more people across the globe, including some of the cast of the hit show Game Of Thrones that has come to it in recent years.
Following the film festival is the equally well known Galway International Arts Festival (GIAF). Artists come to Galway from all over the world to showcase their beautiful, intriguing, and thought provoking works. In July 2014, one of the many artists that Galway was fortunate enough to welcome was, Kurt Perschke and his creation, The Red Ball Project. Unique and fun exhibits like this pop up all over the city as Galway becomes a center for creation, culture, and intrigue.
The month of July rounds out with the biggest and most extravagant event that comes to Galway each year, Race Week. Horse racing is big in Europe and even bigger in Ireland. With the Galway Racetrack not too far from the city center, Galway becomes the center of the horse racing universe in Europe for 7 consecutive days of races. This tremendous event brings well into the tens of thousands of people to Galway and is absolutely a sight to see. Essentially it is the Kentucky Derby for 7 straight days. Keep in mind if you are going during this time, you need to make hotel reservations almost ONE YEAR in advance due to the popularity of the event, and expect to pay extraordinary premiums to stay in any hotel in the city.
Finally the events calendar is rounded out with the Galway Oyster Festival in September. If you are a lover of sea food, this is the place to be.
Learn The Lingo Just a little something to make you laugh, you have a few new words to learn coming to Ireland so you can make sense of what some of the fantastic friendly people here will say to you.
- Slainte (pronounced slan-cha) means health in Irish and is often said as cheers when drinking.
- Craic is pronounced crack and is used to mean fun, as in “Whats the craic” = is there anything fun going on / whats up. Keep this in mind because if someone asks you this they are not asking for drugs.
- Rakes means a lot of, as in there are rakes of people in the streets.
- Quay is pronounced key and is a wharf or harbor area of a bay.
- Fir is the Irish word for men and Mna is the Irish word for women, this comes in handy when you get to some pubs and it is only those words written on the bathroom doors. This is an important one to learn.
- Pint is a pint glass of beer, if you ask for just “a pint” you will almost always get a Guinness by default, however if you ask for a glass of beer, you will get smaller glass aka a half pint.
Final Thoughts As I can imagine, you can probably tell my great sense of pride for my heritage, the country it hails from, and particularly Galway. Everywhere has its own form of beauty, and as with Galway or any location around the world, I would encourage you to travel and see it for yourself. This city is rich with history, friendly people, great atmosphere, great food, and breathtaking sights. Silante!
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