From a colorful bay to a captivating bar scene – not to mention great day trips – Galway is the perfect spot to experience quintessential Ireland. Here are five of my favorite spots!
If you want to experience some quiet, peaceful, small-town Irish charm, then the city of Galway’s not the place for you. But, if you’re looking for bustling streets, loud (dance-inducing) music, and a lively Irish atmosphere, add Galway to your list.
Galway is the largest city in western Ireland. Within its walls, Galway boasts old, historic churches, cobblestone streets and bridges, along with bars blasting Irish tunes and the famous, picturesque Galway Bay, lined with houses every color of the rainbow.
Beyond its own tourist offerings – of which there are many – Galway is a popular hub for travelers en route to the Aran Islands, Cliffs of Moher, Connemara and other western Ireland gems.
Given the fact I’ve been to Galway more than once (and plan to go again!), it’s pretty obvious this city is high on my Ireland list, and a place I’d recommend to any Wanderlost traveler!
In Galway, strangers pass each other with smiles, and whether it’s pouring rain or summer sun, Galway’s omnipresent cheer remains, well, cheery.
Around the clock, Galway is filled to the brim with happiness, and nowhere is this liveliness more present than the winding, cobblestone Quay Street.
As one of Galway’s main and most historic streets, Quay Street is a must-see for visitors. Each and every Quay Street block boasts colorful shops, a variety of bars and eateries, and catchy Irish music that draws you in all hours of the day.
Quay Street is also a great place to grab your claddagh ring souvenirs, because Galway City is where the world-renowned claddagh design originated in the 17th century.
If all that claddagh shopping left you thirsty (or, more bluntly, if you need a beer STAT), then head on over to The Quays pub at the north end of Quay Street. Whether day or night, the fun doesn’t discriminate in this pub. Although this one’s on the beaten path, The Quays offers a unique experience each time you go.
Galway Bay and Salthill
Confession time: I have a major, major problem whenever I visit Ireland.
I eat a lot of soda bread, and I drink a lot of beer.
“But wait, what’s wrong with that?” you may ask. Nothing, in theory, until I put on a pair of non-leggings (yes, real pants, ugh) and realize my zipper is laughing in my face, and my button … well that’s an entirely separate battle.
So last time I visited Galway, I changed things up. I brought running clothes and decided to see the exterior of the city in my Asics. Despite the many times I got lost, it turned out to be one of the best decisions I made because I had the chance to explore Galway Bay and Salthill in the wee hours of the morning.
Galway Bay begins in southern Galway, just past Eyre Square, with the iconic row of multicolored waterfront houses. This portion of Galway Bay is, of course, beautiful, but it’s also the end point for many tourists — and that’s a big, big mistake.
Follow along Galway Bay outside the city limits and into Salthill, and you’ll uncover entirely new Wanderlost adventures. In my case, it was stretching next to the ocean, running on the Salthill sand and taking every twist and turn possible to explore this new terrain.
Of course, my detours tend to turn four-mile jogs into seven-mile Everest-like expeditions, but per usual, it was worth it, because I fulfilled my adventure needs and found a way to fit into my pants – zipper, buttons, and all!
Cliffs of Moher Day Trip
Wanderlost travelers, I’ll warn you — the Cliffs of Moher are not off the beaten path; they’re without a doubt the most popular tourist attraction in Ireland. But they’re popular for good reason.
At nearly 400 feet above the Atlantic, the Cliffs of Moher make up one of the most breathtaking scenes in all of Ireland. Waves crash wildly at the cliffs’ bases, while flocks of birds perched inside caves and atop rock formations (this includes puffins – my favorite!) get some quiet shut eye until the tourists leave them be.
Oh, and did I mention there are puffins? Because there are … and I love them …
While technically not in city limits, the Cliffs of Moher are easily accessible from Galway. You can take a full-day tour bus that picks you up from downtown Galway; this is the most popular option.
Or, you can take the public transit bus from Galway out to Doolin, and see the Cliffs of Moher from the ocean. This option takes more effort, but is so, so worth it. The ocean provides breathtaking views of the 400 vertical feet of cliffs, and after the boat ride, you’re free to explore the small, quaint and entirely off-the-beaten path town of Doolin.
Connemara National Park Day Trip
Sometimes, no matter how hard you fight it, the only reasonable way to see a city is via bus. [Insert long, sad sigh here.]
This was Connemara for me. I’d heard the “Hills of Connemara” song over and over while studying abroad in Ireland, so I promised myself on Ireland trip two I’d make it out there.
And I did. By bus. [Insert second long, sad sigh here.] Now, I don’t hate everything about tour buses — I like getting from point A to point B — but I get a slight “caged animal” feel when I’m flying past beautiful countryside that needs to be explored.
But I digress. Back to Connemara.
I took a tour bus from downtown Galway through the hilly Connemara countryside, filled with daunting grey rain clouds just ready to burst, and lush, deep green landscape, muted slightly by lack of sunlight. Despite the on-and-off rain, the hills of Connemara were exactly what I hoped they would be.
The main stop on our tour was Kylemore Abbey, a former castle turned Abbey set at the base of the Druchruach Mountains in Connemara. The 10,000-acre Abbey and accompanying gardens are currently owned by the Irish Benedictine Nuns, who purchased the property in the 1920s after their Belgian Abbey was destroyed in World War I.
Entrance to the Abbey is about 12 euro, but absolutely worth it for the chance to wander through the exquisite Victorian gardens.
Was the bus tour worth it? Sure – I got to see the captivating Connemara landscape and a stunning Abbey I wouldn’t have witnessed otherwise.
But I can say with certainty, my next trip to Ireland includes renting a car and staying at a B&B nestled among one of my favorite Irish songs – the Hills of Connemara!
Salmon Weir Bridge
While perhaps not a “must,” one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon Galway is watching the fishermen at the Salmon Weir Bridge. In spring and summer, you can lean over the bridge to watch the fish themselves, and during the off season … well … there’s not as much going on. But either way, a great little stop!
Know before you go
I’m sure this is pretty obvious given my “must-do” write up, but here goes: Galway has an impeccable bar scene. With live music, generous pours and nonstop dancing (in that order), it’s easy to get carried away …. which of course, isn’t a bad thing, unless you have an early bus to catch. Especially if that bus takes you on a 2+ hour curvy, bumpy public transit ride to Doolin.
Let’s just say I discovered the hard way that Advil, Gatorade and pretzels are a dire necessity to have on hand for those experiencing all the gaiety and greenness Galway has to offer.
Are you a frequent Galway traveler? Share your must-sees below!