10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Galway
The medieval city of Galway (Gaillimh), on Ireland's western seaboard, has long been seen as a place to go for a great time. Small, intimate, chock-full of character and live music venues, it lends itself perfectly to that most Irish of pursuits, the legendary craic, or simply having fun with friends. The city is picturesquely situated at the northeast end of Galway Bay, at the point where the short tidal River Corrib pours into the Atlantic. After the building of a castle in 1124 and following its capture by Richard de Burgo in 1232, Galway rapidly developed into a flourishing Anglo-Norman settlement. The Fourteen tribes of Galway - aristocratic merchant families - made the town a kind of city-state and held on to the English connection in spite of attacks by the Irish (the latter being barred from entering the town). Galway was destroyed by a great fire in 1473, but was soon rebuilt. Trade with Western Europe, particularly Spain, brought wealth and prosperity. The Spanish influence is clear to this day.
1 Eyre Square
It makes perfect sense for visitors to start here at the bustling town center. Eyre Square, dating from the 18th century, is now landscaped as a memorial to U.S. President J. F. Kennedy who was of Irish descent. On the northwest side stands Browne's Gateway, the doorway of an old patrician mansion, which has been re-erected here. There's a striking monument to the Irish language poet Pádraic O'Conaire (1882-1923), who is represented sitting on a rock. West of Eyre Square there's a modern shopping center of the same name, which has become a popular meeting place. Be sure to stroll along atmospheric Shop Street (continues on from Williamsgate Street just off Eyre Square), which, weather permitting, is generally brimming with buskers and avant-garde street performers.
2 Lynch's Castle
Arguably, many would think it now sad that this fine town castle, originally dating from the 14th century and the finest of its kind in Ireland, is now a bank. However, the external structure is beautifully preserved. The Lynch family was the most powerful of the Galway 'tribes', a fact manifest in this imposing former residence. The façade is festooned with gargoyles and bears, the coats of arms of the Tudor Monarch Henry VII, the noble Fitzgerald family of Kildare, and of course, the Lynches.
Address: Shop Street, Galway
3 St. Nicholas' Church
Around a minutes' stroll from Lynch's Castle on Market Street is Anglican/Episcopal St. Nicholas' Church. It was built in the 14th century and although much altered in later centuries, has preserved the aspect of a medieval parish church. The church is dedicated to St. Nicholas of Myra (Santa Claus), patron saint of children and mariners. Its notable features are the triple gables of the west front, the gargoyles (rare in Ireland), and in the interior, a number of tombs and a reader's desk. Among the visitors to St. Nicholas' over the centuries, the most famous is probably Christopher Columbus who worshipped here during a visit to Galway in 1477.
Hours: Open daily 9am-7pm (5pm January & February)
Address: Market Street, Galway
4 Galway Cathedral
A short eight-minute walk from St. Nicholas' takes visitors to Galway Cathedral overlooking the River Corrib. Those interested in James Joyce may wish to make a stop en-route at the smallest museum in Ireland, Nora Barnacle's House (Nora was Joyce's wife). The Cathedral was constructed in the late 1950s and is the youngest of Europe's great stone cathedrals. Designed by J.J. Robinson in an eclectic style, it includes some Renaissance details mixed with the Romanesque and Gothic traditions. The cathedral also boasts an impressive variety of art, including a statue of the Virgin by Imogen Stuart, a large Crucifixion mosaic by Patrick Pollen, and rose windows by George Campbell.
Hours: Open daily 8.30am-6.30pm
Admission: Free (donations appreciated)
Address: Gaol Road, Galway
5 The Corrib Princess
One of Galway's must-do activities is a relaxing trip along the River Corrib and lake aboard the Corrib Princess. The river is spanned by three bridges. The furthest upstream, built in 1818, is the Salmon Weir Bridge, where in spring, hundreds of salmon can be seen on their way up river to the huge expanse of Lough Corrib. O'Brien's Bridge in the middle is the oldest and dates from 1342. The Claddagh Bridge (a swing bridge) at the south end of the town takes its name from an old fisherman's quarters and guild on the right bank, an area that's now given way to modern buildings. The only relic of the old guild is the Claddagh ring, a form of wedding ring with two hands clasping a heart, which was traditionally handed down from mother to daughter.
Hours: Sailings May-September 2.30pm & 4.30pm, extra sailing July-Aug 12.30pm
Admission: Adult €15, seniors & students €13, under 16 yrs €7, under 4 yrs free
Location: Woodquay, Galway
6 Galway City Museum
Stroll back along the riverside from Woodquay for around 12 minutes to the old town gate known as Spanish Arch, which leads to Spanish Parade, once the favorite promenade of Spanish merchants. A further three minutes takes visitors to the Galway City Museum, a modern glass structure built to reflect the surrounding city walls. The museum houses a variety of permanent and touring exhibitions representing Galway's rich archaeology, heritage, and history. The collection comprises approximately 1,000 objects, most of which have been donated by the people of Galway over the past 30 years.
Hours: Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm & Sunday, 12pm-5pm, closed on Monday
Address: Spanish Parade, Galway
7 The Aran Islands Editor's Choice
If time permits, these islands should be far up on the sightseeing agenda. Located just off the coast of Galway, the islands boast several worthwhile tourist attractions, including an outdoor museum scattered with Celtic churches of significant historical importance, the spectacular Dun Aonghasa and Cliffs of Aran (venue for an annual cliff diving contest), and the setting of the film Man of Aran. Naturally enough this is also home of the world-famous Aran sweater. In addition to these attractions, the islands offer a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. Regular ferries connect the islands to the mainland or there's a plane service from Galway airport.
The picturesque village of Clarinbridge lies just over 17 kilometers south of Galway city and is on the mouth of the Clarin River at the end of Dunbulcaun Bay, the easternmost part of Galway Bay. Clarinbridge is regularly voted one of the prettiest villages in Ireland and is famed for its annual Oyster Festival, which includes live music, dancing, and a gala ball. It has been taking place here each September since 1954.
9 The Burren
A further 40-minute drive from Clarinbridge through scenery unique to the west of Ireland brings visitors to the heart of The Burren in County Clare, a barren yet serene and magical place. The Burren is famous for its incredible rock formations and exceptional diversity of flora and fauna. Among the archaeological sites of importance are tombs, burial chambers, and the Celtic high cross in Kilfenora. The well-preserved Corcomroe Abbey is one of the most popular sights in the area. Many visitors also come for the walking, sea-angling, photography, and caving that make this corner of Ireland such an attraction.
Address: Burren National Park, Co. Clare
10 The Cliffs of Moher
Many would say that no visit to Ireland would be complete without seeing the Cliffs of Moher. Starring in countless images of the emerald isle, the cliffs are quite simply breathtaking, wild, rugged, and utterly vertigo-inducing. Standing 214 metres at their height, they stretch for eight kilometers along the Atlantic coast of County Clare. On a clear day visitors can see the Aran Islands and Galway Bay as well as the Twelve Pins and the Maum Turk mountains in Connemara, Loop Head to the south, and the Dingle Peninsula and the Blasket Islands off the Kerry coast. Near the highest point, O'Brien's Tower is the perfect spot to soak up the incredible views.
Hours: Open year round from 9am (visitor center closed December 24th-26th), seasonal closing
Admission: Adult €6, seniors & students €4, under 16 yrs free
Location: Liscannor, Co. Clare