The 20 best things to do in Galway – A guide to County Galway

Updated On: August 04, 2022

Eyre Square Galway City - Things to do in Galway

When visiting any location you want to make the most of your time doing the best things the place has to offer, and Galway is no exception. At Connolly Cove we are experts at all things travel on the island of Ireland and around the world.

Having lived in Galway I can confidently say that this list encompasses the best things to do in Galway all year round. For a seasonal guide of the best festivals and events in Galway we also have you covered!

Things to do in Galway #1. Visit the Aran Islands

One of the most underrated things to do in Galway is to visit the many islands in the county. The Aran islands are a brilliant day trip and are just a ferry cruise away. Enjoy the journey across the waters by looking at Irelands rugged West Coast; you may even spot seals or a friendly dolphin on the way!

The Aran Islands are comprised of 3 individual islands, from largest to smallest they are: Inishmore (Árainn / Inis Mór), Inishmaan (Inis Meáin), and Inisheer (Inis Oírr).

Why not purchase a Aran sweater from the original source. The world famous sweaters made from sheep’s wool are comfy and water proof – essential for Irish weather! Originally worn by Aran fishermen and farmers to keep dry while braving the elements, they are highly functional yet fashionable; a timeless classic and staple of many wardrobes.

The Island is part of the Gaeltacht, that is the regions of Ireland where Irish is the primary language. Fear not however, locals are also fluent in English. The Gaeltacht regions are some of the best places to experience traditional Irish culture, from trad sessions, GAA clubs and beautiful scenery.

Like the Burren in Co. Clare, the Aran islands has a diverse range of flora and fauna, and a long growing season due to its temperate climate. Due to its unique climate, the islands have a range of arctic, Mediterranean and alpine plants, with the limestone landscape further supporting the wide range of floral growth.

Did you know? The annual Red Bull cliff-diving world championships are held on Inis Mór every year!

Things to do in Galway #2. Wild Atlantic Way Tour

The Wild Atlantic Way stretches along the Western coast of Ireland, beginning in the North in Co. Donegal and continuing down along the coastal counties (including Galway), ending in Cork.

These counties have been exposed to the harsh erosion of the Atlantic Ocean and so the rugged coast has been shaped by ferocious waves creating many beautiful geographical landmarks in the process.

If you are looking for a road trip during your stay in Ireland, then the Wild Atlantic Way is the perfect adventure. You’ll take in amazing landscapes intertwining with the Atlantic ocean, with coastal tourist towns scattered along your journey, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see Ireland as it really is, and was, as we seek to preserve our landscape and tradition.

The Wild Atlantic Way makes up one of three touring regions in the Republic of Ireland, the other two are Ireland’s Ancient East and the Hidden Heartlands.

Touring the Wild Atlantic way is one of the most exciting things to do in Galway and Ireland as a whole.

Things to do in Galway #3. Visit Connemara

There is plenty to do in Connemara, from visiting the picturesque town of Clifden nestled between the 12 Bens mountain range and the Atlantic Ocean to exploring the countryside. A tourist friendly town with many restaurants, pubs and places to stay, Clifden is worth a visit if you are in Connemara.

If you fancy a challenge why not climb the Twelve Bens?

Connemara National Park is the main attraction in Connemara and has a rich history.

Things to do in Galway #4. Salthill

Enjoy the view from Galway Bay, or take the plunge off the Black Rock Diving Tower! Salthill is only 2.6km from Eyre Square the city centre, yet you’ll feel the noise of the city disappear as you enjoy watching the waves wash along the shore.

With so many great pubs and restaurants along the promenade, you can easily spend the day at Salthill. During the summer the beach can be busy during the day, but it is also a popular spot for morning walks and sea swimming all year round!

One of the most relaxing things to do in Galway is to spend some time at Salthill

Things to do in Galway #5. Kylemore Abbey

Situated in Connemara, Kylemore Abbey was built in 1868 as a romantic gesture by Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from London who purchased the land for his wife Magaret after travelling there in the 1840s during their Honeymoon.

Taking a total of 100 men and 4 years to build, Dr. Henry definitely raised the bar for romantic gestures over 150 years ago!

The building was sold to another wealthy family before being purchased by Belgian nuns whose original abbey was destroyed during WWII. They converted it into an abbey and remained a Catholic school for girls for 90 years as an international boarding school and day school for locals.

The Kylemore Abbey estate includes large walled Victorian Gardens. Since the 1970s they have been open for public tours and nature walks for the flower garden and kitchen garden.

With multiple tours and history talks daily, wholesome Irish food and a gift shop alongside breath-taking views of Connemara, Kylemore Abbey is an achievement of brilliant architecture that not only incorporates but compliments the landscape around it.

Things to do in Galway #6. Killary Fjord 

Why not take a boat tour of Killary Fjord, Ireland’s only glacial Fjord. Fjords are formed when glaciers extend below the current sea level. The result is a narrow inlet of water that is lower than sea level bordered by steep cliffs.

Take a tour and admire the spectacular views of Connemara while listening to the natural and social history of the Fjord and the ancient mythology of the waters. The 90 minute tour culminates at the mouth of the Fjord, where Killary harbour meets the Atlantic ocean. This is one of the best things to do in Galway for keen explorers!

Things to do in Galway #7. The Claddagh

Known for its colourful houses, the Claddagh is a notable area found where the River Corrib meets Galway Bay. Originally a fishing village, the Claddagh or ‘an Cladach’ in Irish means ‘the shore’

Originally residents sailed on the famous Galway Hooker boats. A walk along the Claddagh is one of the most common things to do in Galway on any visitors bucket list!

The Claddagh, Galway city
Panorama of the Claddagh in Galway city, Ireland.

The Claddagh is also the homeplace of the Claddagh ring a famous piece of Irish jewellery. The ring is thought to have been created by Richard Joyce a member of one of Galway’s 14 tribes. Joyce left Galway in 1675 serving as indentured servant in the West Indies. His ship was captured by pirates, and he was sold to slavery to a goldsmith in Algeria. There Joyce learned his trade and when he was released and returned to Galway, he brought with him the first Claddagh ring, which he would give to his future wife.

In the past Claddagh rings were use as engagement rings as well as coming of age gifts, traditionally when a daughter turned 18. The Claddagh ring is an abstract design made up of 3 elements; two clasped hands holding onto a heart with a crown on top.

The hands symbolise friendship, the heart love and the crown loyalty; the perfect romantic gift for a partner. Traditionally the way the ring is worn can have different meanings.

If the ring is worn on the right hand with the heart pointing towards the finger tips, the person is single. If the ring is worn on the right hand with the heart pointing towards the chest, the wearers heart belongs to someone else..

If the ring is worn on the left hand pointing out towards the finger tips, the wearer is engaged. Finally if the ring is worn on the right hand with the heart pointing towards them, they are married.

Some rings from the Claddagh Jewellery shop in Galway cities shop street.

Things to do in Galway #8. Corrib Princess Boat Trip on the Corrib river

If you want to sight see around Galway and Lough Corrib in style, why not take the luxurious Corrib Princess Cruise ship tour?

History Buffs will love sailing down the same river that Vikings, the Celts and Victorian Steamboats once relied on. The tour guide will tell you all about Galway’s greatest families who lived in castles along the river as well as Celtic mythology and the origins of Galway.

The corrib princess sails to Lough Corrib, Ireland’s largest lake and an area of conservation where you will be able to see magnificent swans, herons and salmon in the crystal clear waters. Swans and salmon are recurring themes in Irish mythology; swans symbolise love and fidelity in stories such as the Children of Lír, and the salmon of knowledge, which we summarise in our ultimate guide of Irelands’ most ancient supernatural races, the Tuatha de Danann, is one of the most well known Celtic legends.

A popular activity for private staff night outs and group celebrations, the boat offers coffee and confectionaries as well as a range of wines and local craft beers available from boat’s bar so you can sit back and enjoy the view.

Sightseeing is one of the best things to do in Galway. There is so much beautiful nature and interesting historical landmarks to be discovered!

Things to do in Galway #9. Pub Crawl

Galway has no shortage of pubs in villages and towns as well as its capital city. If you are in the city for a special event or celebration, you may find yourself on a pub crawl.

An Irish tradition around Christmas time, you can visit the many pubs in the city at an time of the year, whether you prefer to sit outside and listen to the buskers play on shop street during the Summer or warm yourself by the fire and listen to the trad session inside on cold evenings.

We have already listed our favourite pubs in Galway city in another article on the site; the 25 best pubs in Galway city, so you can read our list to find the pubs you want to visit the most during your stay!

Things to do in Galway #10. Live music – pubs, busking & concerts

Continuing on from our last suggestion, one of the best things to do in Galway is to fully embrace the music scene. With the International Arts festival as well as gigs in various pubs, Galway city welcomes established artists and helps emerging performers to grow. The pub scene offers live bands, DJ’s as well as trad sessions.

One of the simplest things to do in Galway can be the most rewarding; there is something special about walking down shop street listening to the various buskers; from talented musicians, to covers of your favourite tunes as well as original songs, each experience is a little different.

The black box theatre and Leisureland host a range of larger concerts for famous Irish musicians and international acts too; simply put you can find every type of music to suit your taste in Galway, from intimate pub performances to large scale concerts.

Things to do in Galway #11. GAA match at Pearse Stadium

If you’re a sports fan, or GAA diehard, you should always check to see if there are any GAA matches in Pearse stadium or other GAA stadiums in Gaway.

Galway are recognised as a competitive team in both Gaelic Football playing in the All-Ireland final as recently as 2022 and the senior men’s hurling team winning as recently as 2017.

The GAA – comprising of Gaelic Football, Ladies Football, Hurling, Camogie, Handball and Rounders- is a very important aspect of Irish identity. It brings community together and is passionately followed by fans. If you want to experience real Irish culture, a GAA match is a great place to start!

Galway Hurler’s Homecoming, highlighting the great GAA atmosphere

Things to do in Galway #12. Shop street

Shop Street is the main shopping area in Galway. It is a pedestrianised street, rich in history with family run businesses that have ran for centuries as well as the modern establishments you would expect to see.

Many pubs and restaurants are found along shop street, as well as clothing stores, book shops and gift shops. Shop Street also contains one of central Galway’s best preserved ancient buildings, Lynch’s Castle which features further down on the list!

A live performance of Galway Girl in Shop Street

Shop Street diverges into many other streets that are also retail focused and part of the charm of the city is exploring the smaller streets and finding your favourite pubs and cafés.

One of the most common things to do in Galway for locals, is annual Christmas shopping on shop street. Don’t leave it too late however as it will get busy!

Things to do in Galway #13. The Latin Quarter

With over 50 places to eat, 15 bars, accommodation options, the Galway City Museum, theatres and more, the Latin Quarter is a must see when you’re in Galway city.

A part of Galway overflowing with culture and music, the Latin Quarter embraces the old while also incorporating the new. From cocktail bars to some of the best pints of Guinness in the county as well as live music in every shape and form, the Latin Quarter is a place to relax and enjoy yourself.

Times seems to move a bit slower here as everyone is simply enjoying themselves sitting outside pubs listening to buskers or watching a live performance inside!

As you know there are so many things to do in Galway during your stay, but the Latin Quarter should definitely be at the top of your list!

Things to do in Galway #14. Eyre Square

Located in the heart of Galway City, Eyre Square is the main park in Galway.

In the park you will find many public art pieces and a few statues, including two notable monuments, the Galway Hooker statue and and the Browne Doorway.

The Galway Hooker statue represents the sails of the traditional Irish boats used by Galwegians for fishing.

The Browne Doorway is the freestanding entrance to the former Browne house which stood in Eyre Squares spot over 100 years ago, a nod to the city that once was.

Eyre Square Galway City - Things to do in Galway
Eyre Square Galway City – Things to do in Galway

In 1965, Eyre Square was renamed “John F. Kennedy Memorial Park” in honour of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 visit to the park before his death, though it is still more commonly known as Eyre Square.

Eyre Square transforms into Galway’s Christmas Market during the winter months, and is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Galway during the festive season.

Things to do in Galway #15. Galway Public Art

When walking through Galway city you may notice many statues, public art, graffiti, plaques and memorials. Each add a little bit more character to the city with their own story to tell or memory to preserve. I’ve decided to add a few of my favourites, excluding the aforementioned structures in Eyre Square.

Oscar Wilde & Eduard Vilde

One of the most iconic and instantly recognisable statues in Galway is found on William street, which connects Shop street and Eyre Square. The statue depicts Irish writer Oscar Wilde and Estonian writer Eduard Vilde engaging in conversation.

Although the two men appear to be talking in a relaxed manner, the two writers of the same generation never actually met as far as we know. The statue was gifted to Ireland by Estonia when they joined the EU in 2004.

Cathal Ó Fríl Sculpture

The Cathal Ó Fríl Sculpture or ‘The Big Yellow Thing’ as it is more fondly called by NUIG students is located outside of the James Hardman library on the university campus.

Equality Emerging

Located across from Galway Cathedral, the Equality Emerging statue was created by John Behan in 2001. Inspired by the work of Eddie Higgins and Nuala Keher who founded Equal Ireland the statue depicts a female figure emerging through a wall.

The wall represents the barriers many people face to achieve equality in all aspects of life, from relationships to education, job opportunities and healthcare. The figure has only partly emerged from the wall, signifying that the progress we have made for equality is good, but we need to do more if we want to achieve true equality

Will you stop for a picture at any of these landmarks? Spotting murals and other art forms in a city can be one of the most enjoyable free things to do in Galway if you are on a budget!

Things to do in Galway #16. Galway Cathedral

Galway Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Galway. The Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas as it is more formally known, is one of the most impressive buildings in Co. Galway.

Éamon DeValera lit the sacntuary candle for the first time in the cathedral in 1965.

One of the best things to do in Galway for art history and architecture lovers is to visit the Cathedral. Visitors are welcome to come by and admire the detailed interior. Mass is also held every day if you wish to attend.

Things to do in Galway #17. Galway City Museum

One of the best free things to do in Galway on a rainy day, Galway City Museum is located beside the Spanish Arch, on the Spanish Parade, Galway, H91 CX5P.

Opening hours for the Galway City Museum are from 10am – 5pm from Tuesday to Saturday, you can book a ticket on their official website.

Galway City Museum has three floors of galleries housing long-term and temporary exhibitions. These exhibitions explore themes of archaeology, history and sea science with a particular focus on Galway

The museum also collects items to preserve and show Galway’s history and heritage. Collections include the oldest known Claddagh Ring, which once belonged to its creator, Richard Joyce

Things to do in Galway #18. Spanish arch

One of Galway’s most iconic historical monuments, the Spanish arch was built in 1584 as an extension to the 12th century city walls.

Originally known as Ceann an mBalla (the head wall), somewhere along the way the, walls became known as the Spanish arch, thought to have originated from the Spanish traders and Spanish Galleons that docked here.

Today the Spanish arch is a popular landmark and meeting place for young people on sunny days.

Drone Footage of the Spanish Arch.

You can learn more about the Spanish arch at Galways tourism website.

Things to do in Galway #19. Lynch’s Castle

One of the most enjoyable things to do in Galway is to observe the seamless blend of architecture; from ancient castles to modern architecture. The oldest building still in commercial use in Ireland, Lynch’s castle is an operating AIB bank in Galway city.

The four story high building was built in the 1500s as a castle for the Lynch family, one of the 14 Tribes of Galway. The building has been beautifully restored to its former glory, and showcases its history inside.

Things to do in Galway #20. Afternoon Tea at Ashford Castle

Ashford castle is a Medieval and Victorian castle that has been turned into a 5 star luxury hotel, near Cong on the Mayo-Galway border, on the Galway side of Lough Corrib in Ireland.

The Castle featured in John Ford’s 1951 movie The Quiet Man starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Many other celebrities and famous people have stayed at the castle, including Oscar Wilde, John Lennon, Brad Pitt, Robin Williams, Pierce Brosnan and Princess Grace. Even famous Irish golfer Rory McElroy got married at the castle in 2017.

While staying at the castle will not be an option for many due to the cost, you may like to go to afternoon tea on the grounds. Costing €69 per adult and €28.75 per child it is still quite expensive but if you want to treat yourself in a luxurious castle, this may be right up your aisle!

Bonus: Attending the many festivals and events around is one of the best things to do in Galway. Why not read our list of the best festivals and events in Galway to find out what interests you including the Galway races and the International Arts Festival

Have you enjoyed our article on the best things to do in Galway? let us know the best thing to do in Galway in the comments below!

We have plenty of other travel guides such as the best natural wonders in Dublin City, and10 charming towns to visit in Ireland, or why not explore the Giants Causeway, or even the Cliffs of Moher along the Wild Atlantic Way!