Galway Races: Ireland’s Biggest Horse Racing Festival

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Updated On: April 12, 2024 by   Ciaran ConnollyCiaran Connolly

Horse racing holds a storied tradition in Galway, standing as one of Ireland’s most prominent racing festivals and a globally recognized track. The Galway Races represent a time when tradition and sport converge, drawing enthusiasts from around the world to partake in the festivities.

The origins of racing in Galway trace back to the 13th century, but it wasn’t until the 1860s that the Galway Races truly established themselves. The Ballybrit race track first opened on 17 August 1869, to an astonishing crowd of 40,000 spectators. The attendance was so overwhelming that many guests resorted to camping in the town centre park. Since their inception, the races have become a major draw for both locals and tourists, offering a unique blend of cultural heritage and sporting excitement.

Today, the Galway Races span seven days, each themed and filled with a variety of events, making Race Week an ideal time to experience the charm of Ireland’s rainy west. This annual event continues to celebrate the rich history of horse racing in Galway, preserving its legacy as a pinnacle of Irish sport and community festivity.

What to do at the Galway Races

Galway Races Irelands Biggest Horse Racing Festival

Opening Day Festivities

The excitement at the Galway Races kicks off with the first race in the afternoon of opening day, but attendees are encouraged to arrive early and make a full day of it. The grounds buzz with activity as race-goers, clad in their finest attire, gather from around the globe, creating a vibrant atmosphere of anticipation and social interaction. The day offers more than just horse racing; it’s a prime opportunity to socialize, indulge in local cuisine at nearby eateries, and participate in the thrilling pastime of betting. Opening day sets the tone for a week of mingling and making new acquaintances with fellow enthusiasts.

Throwback Tuesday

As the second day of races unfolds on Throwback Tuesday, the excitement resumes in the afternoon. Each day of the races is themed to reflect the nature of the events, adding an extra layer of excitement. Attendees dress elegantly, observing the races intently, making each race day not just about the sport but also a chance to showcase personal style. After the races, the city centre beckons with its array of dining options and lively pubs, perfect for continuing the day’s festivities.

Plate Day Highlights

Known as one of the pinnacle events of the week, Plate Day occurs on the third day of Race Week. The Galway Plate, a race steeped in tradition and history, stands out as the Blue Riband event of the festival, attracting widespread media attention and a large television audience. This day is central to the Galway Races, showcasing high-stakes competition and significant cultural importance.

Ladies’ Day Elegance

Thursday brings Ladies’ Day, a highlight of the week where fashion takes centre stage alongside the racing. Women don their most colourful, floral dresses and statement hats, turning the racetrack into a runway of high fashion and elegance. However, the day isn’t only about the sartorial display; it also focuses on equine grace and skill with show-jumping and showing competitions that test the agility and beauty of the horses, providing a delightful spectacle for all attendees.

Galway Races Irelands Biggest Horse Racing Festival 1

Festive Friday Races

The excitement intensifies at the Galway Races, starting at 4 pm, with a series of races leading up to the evening’s main event, The Guinness Galway Blazers Handicap Steeplechase. This challenging race covers a 2-mile-long course, testing the endurance and speed of the competing horses. Friday not only features thrilling horse races but also a fashionable contest among the attendees. The “Best Dressed Lady” competition is a highlight, where stylish attire could earn you not just admiration but also a handsome cash prize. It’s a day when fashion intersects with sport, adding an extra layer of excitement to the festivities.

Weekend Wind-Down: Prize Opportunities and Social Enjoyments

As the race week approaches its climax, the last two days are packed with pivotal races that could turn the fortunes of many. Significant prize money is up for grabs, heightening the stakes for participants and spectators alike. The final day brings an additional layer of excitement with a patron’s competition, offering lavish prizes donated by local businesses. For instance, in 2021, one of the prizes included an all-expenses-paid vacation for four to Majorca, providing a perfect consolation for those who might not have won big at the races.

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Exploring Galway: Where to Stay and Dine

Galway offers a variety of accommodations, catering to preferences for convenience or city vibrancy. The Connacht Hotel, situated on Old Dublin Road, is a mere 15-minute walk or a short drive from the city centre. Known for its comprehensive amenities, including a pool, game room, and restaurant/bar, it’s an ideal choice for those attending the races due to its proximity to major routes. Closer to the heart of the city is The G Hotel, offering luxurious rooms, a pool, and a gym, perfect for those who prefer a shorter commute to the city’s vibrant activities.

For those seeking the dynamic atmosphere of the city centre, The Hardiman presents itself as a historic and luxurious option. Located at the edge of Eyre Square, this landmark hotel offers stunning views and a rich history, having been established in 1852, shortly before the inception of the Galway Races.

Galway’s culinary scene is as diverse as it is impressive, especially during the race week. The King’s Head Pub, a 13th-century establishment, provides a historical backdrop to enjoy top-notch Irish cuisine and pints. For a more contemporary setting, An Pucan’s biergarten offers a unique outdoor experience with its tropical decor and a diverse menu featuring seafood delights and classic Irish dishes. Booking a table in advance is advisable to guarantee a spot in this popular venue.

The Galway Races not only offer a week of top-tier horse racing but also serve as a celebration of Galway’s rich traditions and contemporary charm. Whether you’re there for the sport, the fashion, or the social atmosphere, it promises an unforgettable experience enriched by history and community spirit.


As the sun sets on another exhilarating week at the Galway Races, participants and spectators alike leave with cherished memories and stories to share. This iconic festival seamlessly blends the thrill of horse racing with the rich tapestry of Galway’s cultural heritage, making it a must-visit event for anyone drawn to the allure of tradition, fashion, and competitive sport. Whether you’re a racing enthusiast, a fashion aficionado, or simply in search of a unique and vibrant social experience, the Galway Races promise a splendid mix of excitement and Irish hospitality, ensuring that every visitor leaves looking forward to the magic that the next year will bring.

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