Galway is known as the city of the tribes and it is the gateway to the West of Ireland. There are a huge amount of things to see and do in this city that is steeped in culture. It’s also conveniently located within a short drive of some of Ireland’s top tourist attractions. Such as the cliffs of Moher, the Aran Islands, and the wild Atlantic way to name a few.
- Bring a raincoat. The west coast of Ireland’s major tourist attractions is called the wild Atlantic way and there is no truer statement for the weather in Galway. No matter what the season. There is always the risk of rain and wind. So, be smart and bring a rain jacket.
- Eat all the seafood in sight – Being a coastal city, the seafood available in Galway and Ireland, in general, is top class.
- Galway city is small in size but packed full of heart. The city is very easy to get around, so once your there put the car keys away and enjoy a few pints in a snug because there’s no driving necessary to experience the city of tribes
Best time of year to visit
Galway is known as a harsh part of the world in terms of climate, but don’t let that put you off visiting this wonderful city. Just come prepared with a rain jacket and a positive attitude and you will see the beauty that this city has to offer. Who are we kidding, you’re planning a trip to Ireland. You must not expect blue skies and baking heat, but if you want the best chance of experiencing Galway on a sunny day. Come in the Summer months.
You can either rent a car and drive to Galway which is a convenient 2-hour drive from Dublin airport or get the train or bus from Dublin to Galway. If your flying to Dublin, be sure to spend a few days there. Check out our article on things to do in Dublin here. These services run multiple times per day and are a very reliable service. Once in the city, you’ll begin to notice that the city is very small and walkable. So, no need for rental cars for the time you’re in the city center.
There are bus services that run throughout but honestly given its size you won’t need to take it. Uber and Lyft aren’t a thing in Ireland. You can use it in the major cities, but the number of drivers that are on it is pretty sparse and you’ll pay the same rate as a normal taxi.
There’s a lot to be seen around Galway and the surrounding counties, so if you want to venture off and explore the cliffs of Moher or the Aran Island. We advise that you rent a car or take part in an organized tour. Several tour operators offer guided tours of these areas, but we at InspoVacay don’t subscribe to these. Rent a car explore for yourself. If you’re set on partaking in a tour we recommend using Wild West Irish tours. We haven’t personally used them, but we have heard good things.
What to Eat
Ireland in general seems to get a bad rep when it comes to food and in our opinion at InspoVacay that is unjust. The country has some of the finest produce, meats, cheeses, spirits globally and there are some top quality restaurants on offer throughout the country.
Galway is no different and has some fantastic spots to sample the best that Ireland has to offer. From boujee Michelin starred restaurants to traditional Irish fare is on offer in this quaint city.
Top foods to sample
- Fish and Chips
This is one of the Irish people’s guilty pleasures. What’s better than white fish covered in crispy batter and some freshly fried chips with a smattering of garlic sauce and ketchup. It’s perfect after a night out or a long walk on the Salthill promenade
- Finest Meats
If there’s one thing Ireland is good at, it’s producing some of the highest quality steaks around. Beef is one of Ireland’s largest exports and there is a reason there is such a demand for it internationally. As the standard is fantastic. Treat yourself to a nice steak dinner one of the nights.
- Smoked Salmon on soda bread with creamy Irish butter
There is a theme here as all of the food recommendations on the list are more based on the produce as opposed to being a dish that originates from Ireland. Smoked on some freshly baked soda bread covered in creamy and salty Irish butter it’s a decadent delight.
Top Restaurants picks in Galway
High Priced Option
If you’re feeling very boujee. Then Loom is the place to be. Loom is a Michelin-starred restaurant and wine bar that serves up dishes that use locally sourced ingredients from the West of Ireland. What ingredients are local to the West of Ireland you may ask? Well, these would be ingredients like lamb, squid, blackcurrant, and ash to name a few.
Loom offers two types of menus for dinner. The first being a 9-course tasting menu that is priced at €78 a 4-course option that costs €58. All of these menus can have a wine pairing added at an additional cost.
If you don’t fancy spending an arm and a leg eating a 9-course meal then we suggest you order from the bar. There is a locally sourced charcuterie and cheese board available for around €20 each, so if you want to experience Loom without the large expense this is your best option.
Ard Bia at Nimmo’s
This is our favorite restaurant in the city. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the week. Ard Bia focuses on locally sourced ingredients that are in season. So, the menu rotates frequently. The last time we visited was around autumn and there were some delicious autumnal dishes like pumpkin risotto and some of the most succulent Hake we have ever had. In Ard Bia’s words, the food their mantra is “Ard Bia has always placed as much emphasis on community experiences and aesthetic stimulation as on serving great food in a fun environment.”
It’s definitely worth stopping off here when you’re in Galway. Did I mention they do a killer brunch?
Low priced Option
McDonagh’s Fish & Chips
Located on lower Shop street just even mentioning the name of McDonaghs brings a smile to our faces. Being a seaside city, Galway has some of the freshest fish on offer. McDonagh’s makes the most of these convenient fresh fish deliveries to produce some of the tastiest fish and chips in the country. As you true fish & chip aficionados know, it’s as much about the batter and the potatoes that are used as it is the fish. When looking for the perfect place for fish & chips. McDonagh’s hits the nail on the head with their delivery of this beautiful dish.
We highly recommend that you get Cod and chips and get a side of garlic sauce. You won’t be disappointed. There are two parts to the McDonaghs restaurant. On one side is the Fish & Chips shop which is more of a fast serve offering while to the right there is a sit-down seafood restaurant. We advise you to go straight to the fish & chip shop side and if it’s a nice day take your food away and eat it on the long walk while taking in the views of the Atlantic.
Things to do in Galway city
Take a stroll along the promenade in Salthill
Located a 20-minute walk from Shop street (the central street in Galway city) is the beautiful Salthill promenade. This beach is a fantastic place to go for a walk in the morning to wake you up from the pints from the night before. The views of the Atlantic ocean are also stunning and if you are feeling super daring, why not take a dunk in the water from the Blackrock diving board.
There are cafes, chippers (fish & chips), and ice shops along this coastal walkway. The perfect mid-exertion reward.
Dance the night away at the silent disco in the Roisin Dubh.
This is one of Galway’s most famous haunts and is known as a great music location with artists from Ireland and abroad regularly playing. If you’re lucky enough to be in Galway on a Tuesday night. Make sure you make a trip to the Roisin to take in the unmissable sight of the silent disco.
The great thing about silent discos is that you don’t need to be at the mercy of the DJ. Just choose the type of music you fancy listening to and dance the night away.
Pub crawl your way around the city
You’ll be amazed at the sheer volume of pubs in this condensed city. Every corner you turn there will be another gem of a pub waiting for, so orchestrating a pub crawl is the easiest of tasks. Some of our top recommendations for pubs to visit. Are the Skeffington arms which overlock Eyre square. Tigh Chóilí, which is a real local pub is a great place to pull up a stool and sip on a pint of plain.
Peruse the shops, bars, and buskers on Shop street
Shop Street is the main street that runs through the heart of Galway city and it’s a hive of activity. Traditional and live music is hugely popular in Galway and no matter what day of the week and what time there will always be someone busking on the eclectic street. The street is also home to several artisan shops, so it’s the perfect place to pick up a souvenir or locally made goods.
Take in the city at the Spanish Arch and visit the Galway city museum
Built-in 1584, this archway and watchtower protected the coastal city when it was initially built. Soldiers manned cannons on the roof to make sure that incoming ships were friendly traders. The name Spanish arch comes from the merchant trade ships that used to dock around this area when trading with the Irish people.
Located on the banks of the water it’s a great spot to get a coffee and watch the world go by, next to the Spanish arch is the Galway city museum. There is a wide range of collections on the show which highlights the history of the West. From a Claddagh collection to Galway Militia Artefacts the museum oozes the area’s long and sometimes difficult history.
Take a walking tour of the city
As we talked about getting around Galway, it’s a very walkable city, so what better way to get to know your way around it by doing a walking tour. There are a few operators that run walking tours and we suggest going with Galway Walks that run several tours throughout the day. From a horrible history tour to a Norman history and architectural tour, there are many to choose from. The tours cost around €10 depending on the one you choose.
Take in some traditional Irish music
Another activity that takes place in a bar. Where else would you be going? Live traditional Irish music and it’s a big thing in the West of Ireland. Several bars run live music every day. The best choices are Tigh Chóilí and An Púcán for traditional Irish music and the Quays which plays a mix of genres and is great craic. All three of these pubs are located in and around Shop street.
Check out the artisanal markets
The Galway market runs all year round on Saturdays and Sundays and offers a range of artisanal foods and craft stalls. Grab a coffee from Coffeewerk + Press on Quay street and roam the weekend market. It’s a great way to spend the morning and is a great place to pick up a keepsake from your trip to the city of tribes. We highly recommend sampling some of the freshest Oysters from the Oysterman located in the market.
If you’re lucky enough to be in the city around Christmas time, there is a lovely Christmas market that takes place in the historic Eyre square right bang in the center of the city. Other than being a fantastically cheerful place with Christmas vibes there are the tasty treats and gift buying potential at the market making it a great evening out.
Things to do outside Galway city
Drive or walk the Clifden Sky road
Located about 1 hour and 20 minutes from Galway city is the Clifden sky road. Known as one of the most picturesque roads in Ireland. The road is 16 km long and provides panoramic views of the Connemara region. The West of Ireland is known for its harsh yet beautiful landscape and the sky road is a great way to take it in. Depending on your energy levels the road can either be walked or driven.
Visit the Cliffs of Moher
These are one of Ireland’s best assets. The coastal spectacle has been forming for hundreds of millions of years. Where Ireland meets the Atlantic, the result is a truly stunning formation of cliffs. Located around 1 hour and 20 minutes from Galway city the Cliffs of Moher are a must-visit when visiting the West coast of Ireland.
Being that these are one of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations it can get very busy in peak months. So make sure you go early or later in the evening to avoid the crowds. If the weather is alright, sunset is a good time to take in the cliffs, but given the climate that might be easier said than done.
Visit the Aran Islands
Located just off the coast of Galway Bay, the Aran Islands are three islands that are known for their ruggedness and stunning landscape. They are accessible via ferry from Doolin in County Clare or Rossaveal in County Galway. Both Doolin and Rossaveal are around an hour’s drive from the city center.
Depending on the island that you’re visiting and the port that you’re leaving from the boat journey can take between 45 – 90 minutes. A word of warning though, if you don’t have your sea legs and if you have experienced seasickness before then this activity may not be the one for you. It can be quite a choppy crossing from the mainland to the Aran islands so be prepared for a bumpy ride.
There is quite a lot to see and do across the three islands. So, we recommend you stay a night or two to explore them.
Inis Mór translates to a big island and is the most popular island of the three to visit. Dún Aonghasa is what attracts visits to this island in particular. This world heritage site is an ancient Irish fort that is perched directly at the edge of a cliff. It is a special site and research has shown that people have been living on the Aran islands from as far back as c.1500 BC.
The Aran Islands have the highest rate of speakers of the Irish language per capita, so it does feel like another world over there and is a great way to immerse yourself in true Irish culture.
Scale Diamond hill
Arguably one of the best views in Ireland, the Diamond hill hike is one of the local’s best-kept secrets and the view is worth every ounce of sweat that is needed to make it to the top of the hill. You have two options for this hike. The shorter hike takes around an hour and a half. The longer walk takes around two and a half to three hours and is categorized as a moderate walk by our trusted friends at AllTrails.
On a clear day, there is no better view and what better way to earn some evening pints than to reach the summit.
Get lost in the jarring landscape of the Burren
Like the majority of tourist spots in Ireland, the draw is the landscape and the Burren is one of the most unique places in Ireland if not the world. The landscape is harsh and barren like a lot of the West of Ireland, but this harshness is at the core of its beauty.
Located around an hour’s drive from Galway city. The area sprawls 1500 hectares and although it looks extremely barren the rock is known as the Fertile rock” due to the mixture of nutrient-rich herbs and flowers that grow in the area. Located in the Burren are the Ailwee caves, so if you’re planning a visit to the Burren be sure to add in a slight detour to the caves.
Where to stay
Galway has a wide range of accommodation available that should suit every price point. From low priced hostels to 5-star hotels there should be something for everyone. At InspoVacy we love a good Airbnb and Galway is a great city to go with the Airbnb route. It’s a university city, so in the summers there are loads of short term rentals available.
There are a good few hostels throughout the city, so you won’t be short of choice if this is the route you want to go down. The Galway City Hostel & Bar is a great option for people that are looking for a lively Galway adventure. It’s a party hostel and has won the best hostel in Ireland award for three years in a row from Hostelworld.
If you’re looking for a mid-priced hotel then we suggest staying in the House hotel which is located just off Shop Street. Rooms are reasonably priced and the hotel has a nice quirky aesthetic to the place. The bar does some killer cocktails and the food isn’t too bad there either.
For you high rollers out there the G hotel is located just outside of the city and is probably the best hotel in the city. Although the location isn’t ideal if you’re looking for luxury this is the place for you.
Our top recommendation for a place to stay in Galway is the Herons Rest. This boutique B&B is located on the banks of the River Corrib. The long walk to be precise. The views from the B&B are very special and the breakfast served is something the Herons Rest prides itself on. On offer are “freshly baked bread and muffins, poached fruits, homemade toasted granola, natural yogurt and a selection of local artisanal cured meats and salmon with Irish farmhouse cheeses.” Doesn’t that sound lovely?
You might also recognize the top floor room of this establishment from Ed Sheeran music video “Galway Girl” which was partially filmed here.