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 lies at the northeast end of pretty Galway Bay, where the short tidal River Corrib flows 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 - created a kind of city-state and entrenched the English connection in spite of attacks by the Irish who were banned 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, and the Spanish influence is clear to this day.

1 Eyre Square

Eyre Square
Eyre Square Eoin Gardiner / photo modified

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

Lynch's Castle
Lynch's Castle William (Bill or Liam) Cassidy / photo modified

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

St. Nicholas' Church
St. Nicholas' Church Roberto / photo modified

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. Exterior highlights are the gargoyles, which are rarely seen in Ireland, and the triple gables of the west front. Inside are tombs and a reader's desk. Throughout the centuries, famous people have visited St. Nicholas, including Christopher Columbus who worshipped here in 1477.

Hours: Open daily 9am-7pm (5pm January & February)

Address: Market Street, Galway

Official site: www.stnicholas.ie

4 Galway Cathedral

Galway Cathedral
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). Built in the late 1950s, the cathedral was and is the youngest of Europe's grand stone cathedrals. It was designed by J.J. Robinson in a blend of styles; Renaissance details mix with Romanesque and Gothic features. The cathedral also displays a superb collection of art, including a large Crucifixion mosaic by Patrick Pollen, beautiful rose windows, and a statue of the Virgin by Imogen Stuart.

Hours: Open daily 8.30am-6.30pm

Admission: Free (donations appreciated)

Address: Gaol Road, Galway

Official site: www.galwaycathedral.ie

5 The Corrib Princess

The Corrib Princess
The Corrib Princess Eoin Gardiner / photo modified

One of Galway's top activities for tourists is a soothing cruise 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

Popular Tours

6 Galway City Museum

Galway City Museum
Galway City Museum Irish Jaunt / photo modified

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 displays both permanent and touring exhibitions covering Galway's heritage, history, and archaeological treasures. Over the past three decades, the people of Galway have donated many items to enrich this collection of more than 1,000 objects.

Hours: Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm & Sunday, 12pm-5pm, closed on Monday

Admission: Free

Address: Spanish Parade, Galway

Official site: www.galwaycitymuseum.ie

7 Editor's Choice The Aran Islands

The Aran Islands
The Aran Islands Ivar Husevg Dskeland / photo modified

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.

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8 Clarinbridge

Clarinbridge Eoin Gardiner / photo modified

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

The Burren
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 beautiful rock formations, impressive diversity of plants and animals, and important archaeological sites such as the Celtic high cross in Kilfenora. The beautifully-preserved Corcomroe Abbey is one of the most popular attractions in the area. Hiking, fishing, photography, and caving are other top activities in the area.

Address: Burren National Park, Co. Clare

Official site: www.burrennationalpark.ie

10 The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher
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. Rising 214 metres high, they stretch for eight kilometers along the Atlantic coast of County Clare. Weather permitting, visitors can see the Aran Islands and Galway Bay from these wind-lashed cliffs as well as many of Ireland's other distinctive geographical features. 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

Official site: www.cliffsofmoher.ie

Where to Stay in Galway for Sightseeing

We recommend these great hotels on Galway Bay and near top attractions, like Eyre Square, in the city of Galway:

  • Park House Hotel: 4-star hotel, excellent location, four-minute walk to Eyre Square, quaint feel, full Irish breakfast.
  • Galway Bay Hotel: mid-range pricing, beautiful bayfront setting, classic decor, excellent cafe and restaurant, free access to leisure center and pool.
  • Jurys inn Galway: affordable rates, lovely view of Galway Bay, steps from the Spanish Arch, contemporary decor.
  • Travelodge Galway: budget hotel, great-value, comfortable beds, free parking and Wi-Fi.

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