Galway Races: Ireland’s Biggest Horse Racing Festival

Updated On: November 07, 2023

The horses take off at the Galway track

Horse racing has had a long tradition in Galway. It is also the largest of the horse racing festivals in Ireland and one of the most known tracks in the world. Race week in Galway is a time where tradition meets sport, and the admirers of this lovely event come together to watch it all unfold. 

While the first recordings of racing in Galway date back to the 13th century it wasn’t until the 1860’s when the Galway Races really made a name for themselves. The track, located in Ballybrit, opened its doors to 40,000 onlookers on the 17th of August 1869. It is said that the turn out was so unexpected that guests were camping in the park of the town centre. Ever since the races began, they have been a huge attraction for locals and tourists alike. Today, the races take place over the course of 7 days. With each day having a theme and a packed itinerary, Race Week, as it is nicknamed by the Galweigans is the perfect time to visit the rainy West of Ireland. 

Race Week: The Events and Themes

Ladies all dressed up at the Galway Races
Image Credit: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The first race of opening day begins in the afternoon. However, you could spend your whole Monday at the track. There is much to do and see before and after the races. First there are all of the people dressed to the nines, there are great places to grab a bite nearby and of course, there is a lot of betting going on. A favourite part of the Galway Races (beyond the races themselves) is all of the different people you get to meet! People from all over the world gather to watch their preferred horse. On the first day of the races, mingle and make for the rest of the week! 

The second round of races goes underway on Throwback Tuesday. The races begin again in the afternoon, with many in attendance. The themes of each of the days responds to the type of races being held. Every day is a day to dress up and watch carefully as the races proceed. Make sure to also hop into the city centre after for a bite to eat and a few pints.

Plate Day, also known as one of the biggest races of the week. Taking place on the 3rd day of Race Week,  it is a race that runs deep in the tradition and history of the Galway Races. The Galway Plate, recognized as The Blue Riband race, is one of the most televised and media frenzied days. 

Thursday is Ladies Day. If you could tell by the title this day is for the women to get extra dressed up with their pastel and floral dresses and of course, you cannot forget the hat. This day is about showing off, and the horses do that as well. Rather than races, the competition on Ladies Day is more focused on the showing and jumping competitions that take place. 

Friday the competition heats up with the races beginning at 4PM and the biggest race of the evening The Guinness Galway Blazers Handicap Steeplechase at the forefront. This race is over a 2 mile long course. Friday is also a day of competition for the women who attend the race. Operating out of Athlone, there is a contest to see who is the “best dressed” lady in the crowd. Every day is a day to dress up, however, you might just win some cash for this reward! 

The last two days of races filled the racecard and some lucky winners will win a good amount of prize money. There is also a competition for the patrons of the races on the last day. Each year a business donates a raffled type prize. For example this year, 2021, the price includes an all paid vacation for four people to Majorca. This is a great way for people to win even if they took some losses betting on horses all week. If you’re looking to make race week a little vacation, Galway has much to offer in the way of pubs, restaurants and hotels. Below is a guide on where to stay and where to spend your evenings after the races. 

Where to Stay

The Hardiman hotel in Galway City
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Galway is home to some great hotels. In fact, some of these hotels like the Connacht Hotel and the G Hotel are sponsors of the Galway Races. The Connacht Hotel is located on the Old Dublin Road, which is just a 15 minute walk or less than 5 minute drive from the city centre. This hotel is equipped with a pool, game room, and restaurant/bar. It is also an ideal spot for those commuting to and from the race track daily as it is right on one of the main roads heading in and out of Galway. The G hotel is similar, however, it is a bit closer to the city centre. The G hotel offers a pool, and gym and has an array of different room styles. Both of these hotels are great for those who want to stay close to the track rather than the city centre. 

As for those looking to stay where there is more of a hustle and bustle in the city centre, there is the Hardiman. Located just at the bottom of Eyre Square this gorgeous hotel overlooks the entire square and more. This hotel is a landmark of Galway and has some pretty spectacular history attached to it. Established in 1852, it was only open for a few years before the races began. Today, it is a pillar of the Galway Victorian age and a magnificent place to stay. 

Where to Eat

The biergarten at An Pucan in Galway
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As far as West Coast towns go, Galway has some great restaurants, takeaways, and most importantly… great pubs. Galway is often a tourist destination, regardless of the Galway Races Festival. Therefore, the sheer amount of pubs and places to eat will knock you off your feet. Firstly, there is the award winning King’s Head Pub. This ancient pub offers a look into the history of Galway. Built in the 13th century, the Kings Head transports you back to a medieval life. Not only is the pub small, and covered in stone it also serves some of the best food and pints in all of Galway. There is no wonder as to why this pub is top rated. 

If the weather is a bit nicer, Galway is also home to some great biergartens. Try An Pucan for great food and a great outdoor atmosphere. Not only is there coverage for most of the biergarten (this is good considering the Galway weather) and heaters, but An Pucan is beautifully decorated to feel like you’re inside a tropical greenhouse. Their food menu has everything from oysters and mussels to burgers and irish favorites like bangers and mash. You can book a table at An Pucan for you and all your friends via their website

If you decide to attend the Galway Races, know that you’re in for much more than just a week watching horses. The Galway Races are all about tradition and flair. It is a great time to dress up and spend a few days reminiscing in a beautiful past-time that has carried on for hundreds of years. 

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