Top Attractions in Galway, Ireland

Galway or Gaillimh in Irish is the Republic of Ireland’s sixth most populous city. Known for its rich art, music, and literature, Galway is the ideal spot for anyone looking to experience genuine Irish culture and tradition. The city named European Capital of Culture, is located on the west coast of Ireland. It is the birth place of actress Nicola Coughlan from Derry Girls, the playwright Lady Gregory, and the current president of Ireland Michael D. Higgins.

A Brief History

Galway was first recorded in 1124 as a fort, known as Dún Gaillimh (Galway Fort). It built by the King of Connaught and High King of Ireland, Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair.
In 1232 Galway was invaded by Normans, subsequently ruled by Richard de Burgh and established as a town. De Burgh went on to have defensive walls built around the city, which were mostly completed around the Spanish Arch in 1270.

Then Richard the II, King of England, granted 14 tribes of Galway governing power and quasi-independence. The 14 families (Athy, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, Darcy, Deane, French, Font, Joyce, Kirwan, Lynch, Martin, Morris, Skerrett) are why Galway gained the nickname ‘city of tribes.’

Galway gained its first mayor in 1484. The mayor was usually a member of the 14 tribes.
Galway became recognised as its own county in 1610. During the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries the town prospered largely due to the importance of its ports which established trade links with Spain, Portugal and France.

However, the Great Famine of 1845 caused great suffering in Galway, as well as throughout the country. The population decreased significantly due to a combination of around 1 million deaths and 2 million people emigrating. Ireland’s population still has not recovered from this loss.
Galway thankfully revived in the 20th century and in recent years has experienced an economic boom.

Top 8 Main Attractions in Galway

After that brief overview of this wonderful city’s history, let us dive right into what there is to see and do in Galway. There truly is something for everyone, whether you are looking to learn more about the history and culture of Galway, immerse yourself in nature or simply for a relaxed getaway. As a Galwegian, it is difficult to decide what the main attractions are. Ihope that I have done it justice.

Spanish Arch and Spanish Parade.

The Spanish Arch is the remnant of the defensive city wall built in the early 18th century. Often called the Sparch by locals, it is located in the Spanish Parade. This monument is one the most historically significant parts of Galway city.
If you would like to explore more of Galway’s history Galway City Museum is located right behind the Spanish Arch. The museum was originally located in Comerford House between 1976 and 2004. In 2007 the museum reopened in a new building behind where it had been previously. Admission is free, and with a wide collection, including some interactive features, it is perfect for all ages. The opening times are from 10:00 – 17:00, Tuesday to Saturday. Due to current Covid-19 restrictions the museum now offers virtual tours.
The Spanish Parade houses some lovely restaurants and cafés. Ard Bia at Nimmos, a Michelin star restaurant serves Irish food, to ensure a table for dinner you are advised to book a reservation in advance. Lime is another notable restaurant, known for its brilliant service and lovely Asian fusion dishes. Boojum, a casual Mexican burrito bar, and the Burgerstory, an American diner-inspired restaurant, are the perfect places to go for a more relaxed meal.

The Latin Quarter

The Latin Quarter located on Galway’s High Street is one of the city’s most famous tourist locations. This cobblestoned area is well known for its shops, restaurants, pubs, street performers or buskers, and medieval buildings. Full of bright, colourful buildings and bustling crowds, (pre-Covid-19 and likely post-pandemic) it really comes alive at night and is the ideal place to socialise with locals and tourists alike. You will be spoiled for choice when it comes to food in this area with eateries ranging from Irish meals to Asian food to Mexican cuisine, there is something for everyone.

Eyre Square

Although officially named the John F. Kennedy Memorial Park in 1965 this park, and adjacent shopping centre, have continued to be called Eyre Square after Mayor Edward Eyre who opened the park in 1710. This luscious green space is a central meeting point Galway residents, largely due to its close proximity to the train station, bus station and many bus stops. Surrounded by pubs, restaurants and hotels this park is the perfect place to sit and watch the locals go by. There are statues scattered throughout the park commemorating John F. Kennedy, Irish writer Pádraic Ó Conaire, and the War of Independence hero Liam Mellows. A fountain with a statue of the famous Galwegian boat, the Galway Hooker, and the stone doorway of the Browne home are great monuments. A Christmas market is held here during the holiday season, Covid-19 restrictions allowing.
The adjacent shopping centre was built in 1991 and has been expanded since. The home of over 70 shops, it is the largest shopping centre in the west of Ireland. From clothing shops to food to knick knacks, this shopping centre has almost anything you could need while in Galway.

Galway Cathedral

This Roman Catholic cathedral is a stunning sight. Officially named the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St. Nicholas Cathedral, it is far more commonly known as Galway Cathedral, and looms over the river Corrib. It was completed in 1965 and remains a popular location to visit in Galway. J. J. Robinson designed the building with touches of Renaissance and Gothic architecture throughout, and with the monitoring of Bishop Michael Browne. It stands tall at a proud 44m/145ft.
Mass is held every weekday at 11:00 and again at 18:00, and on Saturdays at 11:00. Sunday mass is held in Irish at 9:30 and there is regular mass at 10:30, 12:30 and 18:00. The cathedral also houses a bookshop selling religious texts and often have the choir perform concerts. It is open to everyone between 8:30 and 18:30 approximately. There is a pay by the hour car park surrounding the cathedral with a bus stop across from it.

Salthill Promenade

Salthill has a footpath that stretches 2km and is known as the Prom. This seaside area with the Prom is a very popular place for walks. The beaches in Salthill are popular too, as well as the Blackrock Diving Tower, especially during sunny weather. Many locals can be found at the Blackrock Diving Tower. However, it is not advisable for any inexperienced swimmers nor those unfamiliar with the area to go diving/swimming alone or too far out to sea.
Many restaurants and cafés, as well as ice-cream parlours, are located throughout Salthill, making this area the ideal place for a sunny daytrip. The most popular places to eat include: Salt N’ Pepper, Mocha Beans, Salthill Hotel, the Creamery, and Coco Café. Not only this but with a cinema, pool and leisure centre, as well as many hotels and B&Bs to choose from, Salthill is the perfect relaxing vacation spot for everyone.

Connemara National Park

Opened in 1980 to the public, Connemara National Park is a gorgeous spot. It is owned by the State. It occupies 2957 hectares of land, including grasslands, woods, bogs, bodies of water, and a few mountains belonging to the Twelve Bens. Undeniably Connemara National Park is a must stop for any nature lovers.
A visitor centre with many amenities including a café welcomes you. It also provides you with information regarding guided tours or self-tours. Many of the mountains in and surrounding the park must be navigated with an experienced guide, so if you are planning to hike do book a guide in advance.
Kylemore Abbey also located here was originally built as a castle is 1868. However, it has been the the home of Benedictine nuns since 1920. This is a popular tourist destination, the beautiful abbey and neo-gothic church along with the Victorian walled gardens have been lovingly restored and display the deep history of this picturesque place. The café and shop, which sell many products made in Kylemore Abbey, are lovely places to stop for a rest while experiencing the history and beauty of the area.

The Aran Islands

The Aran Islands are comprised of three islands which are: (in order of size) Inishmore/Inis Mór, Inishmaan/Inis Meáin, and Inisheer/Inis Oírr. They are located about 44km from the coast of Galway. To get to Inishmore is about 90 minutes by boat from Galway Docks. Another option is a 10 minute flight from Connemara (maximum of 8 people per flight). Inishmore has the ruins of the cliffside Dún Aonghasa fort which dates back to 1100 BC. Filled with Irish history, there medieval religious ruins and settlements on all 3 islands.
Located in a Gaeltacht, the primary language for the approximately 1200 inhabitants is Irish/Gaeilge. Don’t worry though, everyone is near, if not fully, fluent in English. Traditional Irish culture and customs are largely maintained on these islands. Many have claimed here to be the spot to stay for a ‘genuine Irish experience.’ These islands are famous for their oral tradition for entertainment, fishing that has long time been their primary trade, and Aran jumpers which originated here and are now popular worldwide.
The natural scenery that these islands are home to truly are breath-taking. Many hotels and glamping (glamorous camping) sites are located on these islands, making them a lovely place to have a relaxing time while immersed in nature and tradition. In fact, many famous visited the Aran islands to gain inspiration from the surrounding peace and landscape, such as W. B. Yeats, Harry and Margaret Clarke, and John Millington Synge.


Galway is also famous for its festivals; the Comedy Festival in October, Galway Film Fleadh, Galway International Arts Festival, and the Galway Races, which take place in July and August. These have earned Galway the unofficial title of ‘the festival capital of Ireland.’
The Comedy Festival lasts for a week and has previously had performances from Tommy Tiernan, Reginald D. Hunter, Dara Ó Briain, and Joel Dommett. Whether a longtime fan of any of the performers, a fan of comedy in general, or looking for a laugh, this festival is for you.
Taking place in Merchants Dock, Galway Film Fleadh is an annual, international film festival. The festival is a place for film makers and film fans to communicate and presents awards. The award categories include Best Irish Film, Best Debut Short Animation, Peripheral Visions Award, among many others. A must for any film lovers in Galway around July.
The International Arts Festival is perhaps the most popular and well-known festival in Galway, which celebrates art in all of its forms. Its other name is the Galway Fringe Festival.
Events take place in over 30 locations across Galway, immersing the city in creativity for two weeks in July. The events include: opening of art galleries and art exhibitions, street performances, the installation of art pieces across the city, opera, dance and gymnastics, comedy and theatre performances. If you have any interest in art, then you must attend Galway International Arts Festival at least once.
Usually, the Galway Races take place soon after the Arts Festival for a week. Along with the horse races there are many amenities, including various food vendors and cafés, meaning you can spend the full day here, if you are into horse racing. If not interested in the races, I would advise avoiding the city as it can get quite busy.

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