Things to Do in Galway
Set off Ireland’s craggy, wind-battered Atlantic coast on the western edge of Europe, this trio of sparsely populated and starkly beautiful islands is a stronghold of traditional Irish culture. The Aran Islands’ jagged coastal cliffs enclose a patchwork of green fields, where the remnants of ancient stone forts and medieval churches can be seen, while in their one- and two-pub towns, locals trade gossip in Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge) and traditional music sessions last well into the night.
Standing along the edge of Kylemore Lake, the neo-Gothic Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden is every inch a storybook castle. Built in 1868, the abbey’s construction employed grateful locals still reeling from the Irish Potato Famine. Today, the resident Benedictine nuns welcome the public into parts of the abbey and the grounds.
Covering an area of more than 115 square miles (300 square kilometers), the Burren is a vast, otherworldly expanse of scarred and fissured limestone rock, naturally sculpted through acidic erosion. Though it may look barren from afar, this rocky plateau is anything but lifeless. In spring and summer, wildflowers and rare plants thrive here.
Flowing in from the Atlantic Ocean on Ireland’s west coast, Galway Bay laps the shores of some of the country’s most picturesque stretches of coastline. With the three windswept Aran Islands at its periphery, the bay meets land at the artsy city of Galway and numerous fishing villages, coastal cliffs, and beaches.
Sitting on an outcrop jutting into Galway Bay, the 16th-century Dunguaire Castle appears like a fairy-tale vision to drivers traversing the coastal road, prompting many to pull over and reach for a camera. The site housed prominent local clans for centuries before famous Irish surgeon, poet, and playwright Oliver St. John Gogarty bought it in 1924. He then turned it into a hangout for Ireland’s literary elite, including Lady Gregory, W.B. Yeats, Seán O'Casey, and George Bernard Shaw. Today, most travelers admire the castle from afar, though some do venture inside.
The village of Cong, located on the border of County Galway and County Mayo, in western Ireland, is known for its thatched-roof cottages and its connection to John Wayne’s Oscar-winning film The Quiet Man. The ruins of Cong Abbey, which date back to the 13th century, are a popular sight and a lovely spot for a stroll.
Covering 69 square miles, Lough Corrib is the biggest lake in Ireland and a famous fishing spot that’s well-known for its wild brown trout and salmon. Practically cutting off western Galway from the rest of the country, the lake has inspired artists and writers for centuries, and in 1867, Oscar Wilde’s father, the historian William Wilde, wrote a book about Lough Corrib.
Straddling counties Galway and Mayo, Lough Corrib is a Special Area of Conservation. Since surveys began in 2007, objects that have been discovered in its waters include dugout canoes from the Bronze and Iron Age, a 40th-foot longboat that’s 4,500 years old, and a 10th century ship that was found carrying 3 Viking battleaxes.
365 islands dot the lake, the most famous of which is Inchagoill Island. Known for its secluded beaches and woodland, from Inchagoill you can look out to the Connemara mountains and visit the island’s ancient remains, which include the ruins of a 5th century monastery.
A Galway landmark on the banks of the River Corrib, the Spanish Arch is the remains of a late 16th century bastion designed to protect the city. Located in the heart of Galway, the Spanish Arch is a short walk from other city landmarks including the Claddagh and the Galway City Museum.
Constructed in the 1960s, Galway Cathedral is among the youngest cathedrals in Ireland and one of Europe’s youngest stone cathedrals. While it’s a relatively modern build, the cathedral borrows elements from architectural eras past, with Renaissance, Romanesque, and Gothic detailing combined with Irish artwork and adornments.
Set among green pastures, this 15th-century stone complex—once the home of Franciscan friars—now lies in ruins, peaceful and eerily empty, with tombstones dotted throughout the site. Inside, visitors can explore the roofless remains, including the church, cloister, kitchen area, and living quarters.
More Things to Do in Galway
Dunguaire Castle’s Medieval Banquet offers an evening of music and storytelling along with traditional food and wine. Once the home of noble medieval lords, the 500-year-old castle sits on the southeastern shore of Galway Bay. Today, the picturesque fortress’s medieval-themed banquet hall is the place to go for a fun night of revelry.
This museum focuses on the history of Galway, with exhibitions covering everything from the traditional Galway hooker boat to local literary figures. Among the items in the collection are prehistoric stone ax-heads, a medieval cannonball, and an execution warrant for Myles Joyce, a local who was wrongfully hanged for murder in 1882.
Located on the wave-beaten western edge of Ireland, this former fisherman’s village is known for its traditional Irish music scene. Every night, patrons squeeze into a trio of popular pubs to listen to fiddlers, singers, flutists, tin whistlers, and bodhrán (a traditional Irish drum) players take part in toe-tapping jam sessions.
Imagine a village where the town soundtrack is the symphony of creaking dock lines, and every day is sweetly punctuated by the smell of salt on the breeze. A place where the docks are energized each morning by fishermen unloading their catch — which will invariably end up in a dimly lit pub as the afternoon fish and chips. Here in the town of Roundstone Harbor between the cities of Galway and Clifden, everyday life is the main attraction in this sleepy town by the coast. Aside from the refreshing natural beauty that’s intrinsic to small Irish towns, Roundstone is known for its artisan community of sculptures, painters, and jewelers. Given the gorgeous natural seascape and mountains that loom behind town, it’s no surprise that the coastal village is a source of creative inspiration. Between the clouds lingering over Inishnee island across the calm gray waters, and the red of trawlers bobbing on the tide that laps the emerald green shore, when taking a stroll through Roundstone Harbor, it’s almost as if you’ve entered one of the paintings that line the shops on shore.
Sandy beaches and a windswept coastline draw travelers to Salthill, one of Ireland’s popular seaside resorts located on the cusp of Galway Bay. A two-kilometer seafront promenade with panoramic views is home to bars, restaurants, and hotels. The summer months draw locals and international travelers alike for swimming, sunbathing, boating, and snorkeling.
The Galway Arts Centre is a cultural institution supporting local talent in visual art, writing, theater, photography, and more. It first opened in 1988 and over the decades has showcased a variety of both Irish and international contemporary art. In addition to its galleries, the centre has an event space for readings, performances, and classes. There’s also a darkroom for hire.
The largest aquarium in Ireland is not in the capital city of Dublin, but along the west coast in Galway. Saltwater and freshwater species inhabit the tanks at Galway Atlantaquaria including seahorses, stingrays, eels, sharks, and a white skate nicknamed ‘Valentine’. One of the most popular exhibits is an enormous skeleton of a Fin Whale.
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