Things to do in Galway

Must-see Galway sights

It’s hard not to have a good time in the vibrant, youthful capital of the Ireland’s west.

  1. Enjoy Galway’s pubs and live music
  2. Take part in Tedfest
  3. Explore the Aran Islands
  4. Walk in wild Connemara
  5. Visit the National Aquarium of Ireland
  6. Tour the Galway Whiskey Trail

Known for its festivals, music and bars, Galway is a culturally vibrant, fun-loving place where many people end up staying longer than they’d intended. It’s the only city where you might hear people speaking Irish language - that Gaelic culture even more pronounced on the starkly beautiful Aran Islands, off Galway’s coast. Here on the Wild Atlantic Way, the ocean crashes fiercely against headlands and inlets filled with deserted beaches, wide skies and seascapes. It is nature on a grand scale.

In collaboration with
Rough Guides

1. Enjoy Galway’s pubs and live music

History and leisure combine in Galway’s drinking scene: the pubs, many of which retain their original, huge fireplaces and other Gothic features, are the best places to get a feel for the medieval city. A slow crawl through the pubs of Shop, High and Quay streets is a must, soaking up the atmosphere of their historic interiors in winter, and the buzzy street life at their outdoor tables in summer. The best spot for music is The Crane Bar. This atmospheric pub with an upstairs venue hosts traditional music sessions every night, which can involve up to 12 musicians, plus all manner of other folk music, blues and singer-songwriters.

Tip: The city’s biggest shindig is the two-week Galway International Arts Festival in July.

2. Take part in Tedfest

You might not have expected a retro Channel 4 TV show to feature on your list of what to do in Galway. But on the last weekend in February, a friendly invasion of visitors – amounting to nearly half the island’s population – arrives en masse for a madcap festival on Inishmore. Since 2006 they have been coming in their hundreds to celebrate cult classic Father Ted, the TV comedy whose setting, the fictitious Craggy Island, was inspired by the Arans. Based in Kilronan in Ti Joe Watty’s bar, the weekend is a party place for “Ted Heads”. Entertainment includes comedy shows, sketches, a “lovely girls” competition and a raft of other shenanigans. Musical parameters are wide, stretching from traditional Irish, country and folk to bluegrass and rock ‘n roll, featuring up to twenty bands from Ireland and the UK.

Tip: Tickets are limited to 420 so book early and organize your accommodation well in advance.

3. Explore the Aran Islands

Once part of a land barrier across the south side of Galway Bay, the Aran Islands– Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer – have proved alluring to travellers for centuries. Until recently, their isolation allowed the continuation of an ancient Gaelic culture, traces of which remain, while Irish is still the main language of the islands. Dun Aengus, Inishmore is the most exciting of the many ancient forts on the Aran Islands, spectacularly sited on a 90m cliff face.

Tip: A shuttle bus runs from Galway City to Rossaveal, where passenger ferries head out to the islands all year.

4. Walk in wild Connemara

The best way to appreciate the dramatic mountains, bogs and lakes is to strap on your hiking boots. Walking in Connemara, a ravishingly diverse tract of land along the sweep of Lough Corrib, is one of the best things to do in Galway. It has two statuesque mountain ranges, the Maam Turks and the Twelve Bens, (dedicated hill climbers can hike all twelve in a single day). The coast is full of jinks and tricks, a maze of little islands, winding roads, bogs and hills. Pack your bathing suit in summer; there are a host of quiet white-sand beaches where the sea is too tempting not to take a dip.

Tip: A good guidebook for serious walkers is The Mountains of Connemara, available from local bookshops and tourist offices.

5. Visit the National Aquarium of Ireland

One of the top things to do in Galway for kids is a trip to the National Aquarium of Ireland, which entertainingly showcases Ireland’s sea, river and canal life. Each marine life exhibition is more special than the next, with native bass, conger eel, seahorses, rays, and shark species on display. There is even a 60ft skeleton of a fin whale and a 5,500 year old dugout canoe. Families can take part in the feeding, explore a model submarine, and hold starfish and giant spider crabs.

Tip: Nearby Silver Strand is the nicest beach near the city - a sandy Blue Flag stretch beneath a grassy headland.

6. Tour the Galway Whiskey Trail

Celts like a dram or two, and the newly established whiskey trail around the city streets make Galway a great place to get acquainted with the strong stuff. In the 19th century, whiskey distilling was Galway’s largest employer – with Persse Galway Whiskey known around the world. Follow the trail’s limestone plaques, around ten bars and one shop, to find out about the history and 21st-century renaissance of Irish whiskey. Enjoy sampling the stuff en route and inhaling some full-bodied aromas in bars that reek of a rapturous combination of whiskey and history. A must on your next cheap holiday to Ireland.

Tip: Find out more at the Galway Whiskey Trail website.

Find your perfect destination