One Day in…Galway

Whenever I see an Ireland itinerary that skips over Galway, I tut to myself — and then try to convince the friend/acquaintance/random stranger at the coffee shop whose computer I’ve been glancing at to reconsider. It may not have the popularity of Dublin or the kissed-by-millions stones of Cork, but if you’re planning on traveling through Ireland, Galway is definitely worth a stop — if even for a day.

That said, I’ll admit there’s not that much to do in Galway (as a tourist). In my experience, it’s actually a great base for taking day trips outside the city — to Connemara, the Cliffs of Moher, the Aran Islands, etc.

But when you’re short on time, it can actually be the perfect situation.

The day after the wedding in Ballinasloe, Mike and I had an afternoon to kill, and hell if I was going to spend it in the hotel bar. Thanks to Ireland’s pretty fantastic public transportation system, we managed to catch a morning bus to Galway, walk around the city for a while, then hop back on Bus Eireann and return to Ballinasloe in time for the evening’s festivities.

Of course, it helped that I’d been before, so we weren’t wasting time being lost. But still, we spent less than a day there, and that was enough for Mike to agree: Galway is definitely worth a visit.

One Day in Galway

The 14 Tribes of Galway

Walk Through the Latin Quarter

Start from Eyre Square, which is in the center of the city (and directly across from the train and bus station, dead handy), and is adjacent to Shop Street. This turns into High, then Quay Street, which is mostly irrelevant because it’s just one long stretch that leads down to the Harbor. The shops become increasingly more colorful and buskers of all talents and ages perform as you pass. Admire some street art, wander into local artists’ shops, and soon it should become obvious why everyone uses the same adjective to describe Galway: bohemian.

The Spanish Arch and the Claddagh

At the end of Quay Street you’ll come to the Spanish Arch, which was part of an old city wall in the 1500s. It honestly isn’t that impressive to look at, unless you’re a history buff (in which case, you’d also be interested in the small statue in front of the Arch that commemorates Columbus’ visit to Galway in 1477). Walk through the Arch and you’ll continue into the old fishing village: the Claddagh. Or walk away from the Arch, over the bridge, and view the Claddagh from its more often recognized vantage point across the Harbor. There’s usually quite a few swans swimming about as well, even when the water’s frozen over in winter.

The famous Irish ring symbolizing friendship (hands), love (heart), and loyalty (crown) is to have originated in this village, and Thomas Dillon are supposedly the oldest makers of the Claddagh ring. A pop into their shop can actually be educational, as they have a free Claddagh Museum in the back; a tiny space filled with photos, memorabilia, and the “world’s smallest claddagh ring,” just barely visible under a magnifying glass.

Just Keep Walking

Walk along the riverbank away from the Harbor, and appreciate how the River Corrib flows and roars — it’s impressively strong for a river of only six kilometers. This is not a river I like to stand over sober in the daytime, let alone after a few beers at night.

Eventually the river leads to small bridges, colorful neighborhoods on side streets, and other pleasant, quieter areas of town.

Oysters, Chowder, and Fish and Chips

Galway’s known for its oysters; in fact, they hold an Oyster Fest in September each year. I have to admit the ones we had didn’t stand up to Sydney’s, but if you’re a fan of oysters, it’s worth trying out the local specialty. As for the seafood chowder advertised on every restaurant and pub signboard, I had a magnificent bowl at the King’s Head (who also do a divine Bailey’s Cheesecake). For the classic fish and chips, a visit to McDonaghs is recommended — they’ve got “Best of Ireland” awards coming out their ears.

For a Pint and Some Craic…

Along Shop and High Street, you’ll find The King’s Head, Tig Coili, and Taaffe’s all within a few steps of each other. The latter two are pretty cozy, which is really how it should be when you’re belting out Wild Rover with a pubful of strangers; King’s Head is quite large but it is in an 800-year old building (so again, history buffs…) and a few streets away, Roisin Dubh is popular for fans of the alternative/rock scene. However, the best Irish band I ever heard was actually a small folk group during a session in The Crane Bar.

Catch a Busker Show

Mike and I didn’t stay in town long enough to have more than a pint with lunch; we were singing Whiskey in the Jar in a tiny Ballinsloe pub at the end of the night. But even without the Galway pubs, we got our quota of music in by encountering several buskers throughout the day (again, can you say bohemian?). One of the last ones we passed was this group, singing a lively song of which I only caught a few lines: a chorus of “I hate you, I hate you!” It was rowdy and cheerfully tongue-in-cheek, and left me with a smile as we walked back to the bus station and left Galway.

What did I miss? What else should be seen or done on a one-day Galway trip?

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  1. I went to Galway on a waterpolo competition at uni once. But the only thing I saw was the pool in some desolate, subarbia part of town, a rather nice hostel and the inside of a mediocre hotel ballroom. The one thing that sticks out in my mind was not being able to understand A SINGLE WORD anyone originally from Galway said! I generally find the Irish accent difficult but the Galway dialect is in a league of its own. And then, at the social in the mediocre ballroom at night, people kept asking ME which part of Galway I was from because I sounded so local! (I have a random American-Scottish accent that people often mistake for Irish but still!)

    • That’s so funny about the accents! If you ever get the chance to go back, you should definitely get out of the mediocre ballrooms, haha.

  2. I’ve not been, but I do think that sometimes the towns with the least to do as a tourist can make fabulous memories…

    Also, looking at photos of European towns that have all of these gorgeous old buildings actually makes me *hurt.* I can’t believe people actually get to live in a fairy tale…

    • I think they do as well; less pressure to try to see everything (cough, Paris) and more time to just relax and take in a town and its charms. Also, I’m totally hurting looking at your SEAsia photos. Grass is always greener, hey?

  3. A lovely part of Irleand if not one of the best.Nice post Edna!

    • Thanks Patrick! (sorry, just found your comment in the spam folder today. fixed now!)

  4. Kait Mc says:

    Ah, I recommend a visit to the college next time! National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) opened in the 1840s and their original quadrangle is still standing (covered in ivy and looking like a scene straight out of Harry Potter). The newer buildings are extremely modern- lots of glass and chrome. It’s a really interesting juxtaposition of the old and the new.

    • I knew you’d have a suggestion, Kait! Thanks for chiming in — I’ll definitely visit Galway again someday, so I’ll put NUIG on the list for next time.

  5. What a gorgeous little town! I love places that are entertaining and beautiful to simply walk around. Living in Tokyo makes cheesy tourist activities really old really fast.

    • I hear ya. Paris’ tourist attractions aren’t cheesy, but they still get old after a while. I’ve turned into one of those people who shake their fists at the tourists in the Trocadero like the old guy who always yells, Get off my lawn you kids!

      • That describes my relationship with tourists in Tokyo! Stop taking pictures of people without asking! Stop screaming “geisha” at every girl wearing a yukata (summer kimono)! etc etc :)

  6. jossiejk says:

    It looks like my kind of town! I’m putting it on the travel wish list.

  7. I was in Galway last year for Saint Patrick’s Day. I must say I think it makes for a calmer holiday, but it was still certainly lively. I completely agree with your recommendations. I also suggest the Galway Cathedral, at least just pop your head inside. It is a really beautiful space.

    • Thanks for the suggestion Suzy! I agree — the Cathedrals in Ireland are like works of art.

  8. We were in Galway more than a day and if you are more than a day in Galway you can have a look at the daytours around Galway. Go on a tour through Connemara, or a tour where you see the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. They are impressive!
    Als Galway university and Salthill are lovely places to visit. The Salthill aquarium if it is still there is really nice.

    • I agree! My last trip I stayed three days and did day trips to Connemara and the Cliffs of Moher. And I don’t know if the aquarium is still there, but the sunset I caught in Salthill was one of the most spectacular ones I’ve seen in my life.

      • It was a little aquarium, but worth a visit. But Galway as many places in Ireland is worth a visit.

  9. Looks like a cool city. I love music outside on the street.

  10. That’s so much for this post. I am planning a trip to Ireland and being short of time was wondering if I should reconsider galway and give it a miss altogether allowing me more time in ring of Kerry. I will keep my itinerary and maybe take a night of kilarney. Your day in galway sounded just like what we are looking for.


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