On Ireland’s west coast lies the college town of Galway. It’s my second favorite spot in the country behind Dublin. It’s small but packed with a lot to do when you visit Galway – from its historic center, old churches, river walk to town markets and its incredible pub culture (it is a college town after all!).
Moreover, from here you can take day trips to the Aran Islands, Cliffs of Moher, and the castles up north.
To me, Galway has everything you could ever want in an Irish city.
This travel guide to Galway will give you everything you need to help plan a visit there.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Galway
1. Wander the Salthill Promenade
2. Take a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher
3. Visit the Galway Cathedral
4. Visit the Aran Islands
5. Tour the Kilmacduagh Monastery
Other Things to See and Do in Galway
1. Enjoy the Glengowla Mines Experience
If you want a good understanding of what life was like for a 19th-century citizen of Galway, consider a visit to the Glengowla Mines Experience. This museum is built on the site of a silver and lead mine. Visitors can go on a mine tour, watch a sheepdog herding demonstration, and kids can pan for gold. It’s closed during the winter months. Admission is €11 ($12 USD).
2. Visit the Burren Nature Sanctuary
The Burren Nature Sanctuary is a 50-acre organic farm located in Kinvara, in Galway County (about 30 minutes from Galway) and made up of meadows, woodlands, and even a lake. It also has a “Botany Bubble”, which is a type of greenhouse where flora from different climates (even the Arctic) grows alongside Irish wildflowers. You can stroll the nature trails, walk through the ancient ash and hazel forest, and hang out with some friendly farm animals like sheep and goats. Admission is €8 ($9 USD).
3. Tour the Sheep and Wool Centre
This family-friendly museum in the Connemara area outside of Galway City is dedicated to textiles and shows the process of wool production, from the sheep to the finished garment. It discusses the historical importance of sheep and wool in the area. It’s €7 ($8 USD) to visit.
4. Visit St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church
This is the largest medieval parish church in Ireland and was founded in 1320. The church is like a mini-museum, and a tour will introduce you to some of its most interesting features, like the 400-year-old baptismal fountain with a dog carved into it. The exterior of the church is adorned with mermaids, a dragon, an ape, and a lion. Tours are free – just call the church and you’ll get paired with a knowledgeable church representative.
5. Visit the Galway Atlantaquaria
This is the national aquarium of Ireland and it’s located in Salthill, just two kilometers west of Galway. The various tanks give visitors an idea of the sea life that lies in the Atlantic and have sharks, rays, and seahorses. The aquarium also contains a massive fin whale skeleton, and even a Neolithic 5,500-year-old dugout canoe predating the pyramids of Egypt. Admission is €12 ($13 USD).
6. Get your history fix
The Galway City Museum is a free local museum that provides an overview of the social history of the city. Exhibits focus on prehistoric and medieval Galway, as well as more modern cultural and material history. There are regular free gallery tours, talks, and workshops, so check the website beforehand to see what’s on.
7. See Prehistoric Newgrange
This grassy knoll in the Boyne Valley houses a Stone Age passage tomb and dates back to 3200 BC. It’s a circular structure measuring 80 meters in diameter and 13 meters high and is made up of white round stone walls. It’s also aligned with the sun during the winter solstice, so there’s a good chance it was created to be a calendar. It’s €7 ($8 USD) to visit (including admission to the visitor center).
8. Listen to live music
Galway is the perfect place to experience some live traditional Irish music. Walk around the center of Galway, and you’ll hear music pouring out of pubs all over the place. Taaffe’s has live music nightly, and Tig Cóilí does as well. But really, all you have to do is walk around and follow the music, and you’ll be treated to an evening of Irish craic (“good times”).
9. Take a free walking tour
One of the best ways to get oriented in a new city is to take a free walking tour. Tribes Tours of Galway has incredibly knowledgeable guides who will teach you all about the city’s history. You can later join their pub crawl for €15 ($17 USD).
Galway Travel Costs
Hostel prices – During peak season, a bed in a four-six bed dorm will cost between €27-31 ($30-35 USD) whereas a room with eight beds or more will cost about €18 ($20 USD). During the off-season, a bed in a room with eight beds or more will cost from about €13 ($15 USD) each night, while smaller rooms will cost about €18 ($20 USD).
A basic private room for two with an ensuite bathroom costs from €90 ($100 USD) per night during peak season. Prices are about €69 ($77 USD) in the off-season.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels in the peak season cost from €104 ($116 USD) per night for a double room in a two-star hotel at the center of town. In the off-season, rooms start from €72 ($80 USD).
Airbnb is available in the city, with a bed in a shared room averaging €27 ($30 USD) per night, while a private room is about €73 ($82 USD) per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least €125 ($140 USD) per night.
Food – Fast food items like sandwiches or pastries from a bakery start at around €4 ($5 USD), while a simple lunch (like Irish stew or fish and chips) at a pub will cost between €11-14 ($10-16 USD). A McDonald’s value meal will cost about €8 ($9 USD).
If you go out early to lunch or dinner, you’ll find many restaurants offer “early bird” specials. For example, you can get an early dinner with two courses for about €20 ($22 USD) or a big charcuterie board from €16 ($18 USD). Otherwise, a main course starts from €19 ($20 USD). A salad or a hearty Irish stew will cost from about €10 ($11 USD). A pint of beer to wash it down will cost about €5 ($6 USD).
A higher-end meal will cost from €25 ($28 USD) for a main course of fish or meat, while a vegetarian or pasta dish starts from €22 ($24 USD). A glass of wine to go with it will cost from about €7 ($8 USD).
If you want to cook your meals, expect to pay €50-60 ($56-68 USD) per week for groceries that will include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic foods.
Backpacking Galway Suggested Budgets
A backpacking budget of at least €49 ($55 USD) per day will cover staying in a hostel dorm, eating fast food sometimes, but mostly cooking your meals, and walking everywhere. You can also visit historic sites and museums on this budget. If you plan on drinking and partying a lot, budget more!
On a mid-range budget of about €141 ($158 USD) per day, you will stay in a private Airbnb room, enjoy a few meals at an Irish pub throughout your trip, and occasionally take the bus. You can also do some day tours on this budget, like to the Cliffs of Moher or Newgrange.
On a luxury budget of at least €250 ($280 USD) per day, you’ll get a 4-star hotel, some taxis, any restaurant you want, any sight or tour you want, and all the beer you can drink. The sky is the limit!
If you visit during the off-season, you can reduce your accommodation budget by up to 25%.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Galway Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Galway is one of the cheaper cities in Ireland. Being a college town, there are plenty of affordable shops, activities, and restaurants. But there’s always room to save! These tips can help you save money in Galway:
- Eat pub food – It’s filling, it’s hearty, and, best of all, it’s affordable. Galway is brimming with pubs of all shapes and sizes, so walk around until you find one with a good atmosphere and an even better crowd.
- Buy train tickets online – If you’re planning on traveling by rail to or from Galway, consider buying your tickets ahead of time for online promotional rates, as well as to ensure there is a seat waiting for you. If you’re hoping to get a student discount, though, it’s always better to purchase at the ticket office in the station.
- Drink less – Ireland’s pub culture will hit your wallet hard, but it’s something you have to experience while in Ireland. Temper the cost by visiting happy hours, drinking at home, or making one pint last a whole night. Since Galway is a student town, there are many cheap pubs and happy hours to lower your spending!
- Have an ISIC Card – If you have an ISIC card, you can save 20-50% on the cost of admission to museums and other tourist attractions, including the Cliffs of Moher!
- Couchsurf – Nothing’s cheaper than sleeping for free and Couchsurfing connects you with locals who will give you not only a free place to stay but show you around the city! It’s a great way to make a new friend!
- Take a free walking tour – To get a feel for the city and learn some history, be sure to take a free walking tour with Tribes Tours of Galway.
- Eat early – Many restaurants have budget dinner options if you eat early (usually before 6pm). You won’t have as much variety since it’s a set menu, but it will be much cheaper!
Where To Stay in Galway
If you’re looking to stay on a budget, here are my suggested places while you visit Galway:
How to Get Around Galway
Bus – Galway is a very small city, and you can walk just about anywhere. But other than that, buses are your best option. You can get everywhere around town and also into the neighboring suburbs, with a single ticket costing €2.50 ($2.80 USD). You can also get a weekly ticket for €20 ($22 USD).
If you already have a LEAP card from another city visit, you can also use it in Galway on the bus system.
Bicycle – Galway’s bicycle sharing program is Coca-Cola Bikes (seriously). There are stations all over the city, with a 3-day pass costing €3 ($3.50 USD). With that pass, the first 30 minutes of your ride is free, and then it’s €0.50 ($0.56 USD) per half hour after that.
Taxi – Taxis aren’t cheap. Base fare is €4 ($4.50 USD), and then it’s €1.32 ($1.50 USD) per kilometer after that. A 10-kilometer trip will cost about €18 ($19 USD).
When to Go to Galway
Although Galway overall has a mild, temperate climate, Galway’s location on the North Atlantic means it can get quite cold here. There’s also a very good chance you’ll encounter some rain on your travels. Bring raingear! During the winter months, temperatures often drop below freezing. The average temperature is 9°F (-11°C) per day. It’s not the ideal time to visit, but it’s certainly the cheapest and most crowd-free.
The summer months (from June to October) are the warmest months, with temperatures averaging about 68°F (20°C) daily in July and August. However, keep in mind that this is peak season, and you’ll compete for space and hostel dorms/hotel rooms. Prices are inflated too.
The shoulder seasons (spring and fall) are good times to visit, although temperatures are often chilly. You’ll experience fewer crowds in peak season, except around St. Patrick’s Day. Overall, I think summer is the best time to visit, but it depends on your budget and what you plan on doing! If you plan on sticking to mostly indoor activities, you’ll enjoy visiting during the shoulder season.
How to Stay Safe in Galway
Galway is very safe, and the risk of violent crime is low. Scams and pick-pocketing can occur around high traffic areas, especially around the Spanish Arches. You should take some precautions when walking home alone at night (especially if you’re staying outside the center of town), but there really isn’t much to worry about in Galway.
You can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Galway!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Galway Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Galway. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Rail Europe – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Ireland, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- Bla Bla Car – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- Context Tours – One of my favorite walking tour companies, Context offers in-depth history, food, and cultural tours through cities in the world, with a speciality in Europe. This company gets experts to lead tours (i.e. a chef to lead a food tour).
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Galway Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading to Galway, here are my suggestions for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack.
The Best Backpack for Galway
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Galway
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier. The tap water is safe to drink here. This is just to cut down plastic bottle usage!)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Galway Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir, by Frank McCourt
Angela’s Ashes is a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times bestseller – and you’ll understand why within the first few pages: “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.” You’ll read about McCourt’s life in the Limerick slums, where his mother can’t afford to feed her kids and his father drinks away his money. But you’ll also find yourself laughing out loud – McCourt’s Irish humor shines through, even in the toughest of times.
Round Ireland with a Fridge, by Tony Hawks
Tony Hawks made a drunken bet, and so he finds himself tramping around Ireland with a fridge in tow. As it turns out, it was one of the best experiences of his life. With his trusty appliance he makes his way from Dublin to Donegal, then Sligo to Mayo, Galway, Clare, Wicklow, etc…all the way back to Dublin again. Apparently traveling with a fridge makes you bit of a celebrity. Hawks found himself surfing, entering a bachelor festival, and even meeting a king thanks to his trusty fridge. If you need a good laugh, this is it.
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, by Roddy Doyle
Roddy Doyle is a beloved Irish author, and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is one of his most famous works. It’s 1968, and Paddy Clarke is just 10 years old. He’s like any other 10-year-old: he loves the Three Stooges, but hates his little brother. He and his best friend Kevin roam all over Barrytown writing their names in wet cement. But Paddy has so many questions about his world. Like why didn’t anyone step in when Charle Leavy tried to kill him? And why do his parents fight all the time but insist nothing is wrong? It’s a delightfully comical coming of age story.
The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, by W. B. Yeats
Hear me out on this one. Poetry isn’t something I would normally recommend, but W.B. Yeats is such an important literary figurehead that he deserves your attention. He’s a Nobel prizewinner, after all. His poetry is accessible and it strongly focuses on Irish life and the country’s complicated history. This collection includes all of his published poetry, so even if you browse through and find a few favorites you’ll be happy you did so (start with The Isle of Innisfree).
Dubliners, by James Joyce
This book is a brutally honest and vivid account of “dear dirty Dublin” in the early 20th century. There are 15 stories in total, and if you’re only going to read a handful make it “Araby” or “The Dead.” Joyce was raised in Dublin, and his ability to capture the lives of Dubliners and their unique cadence of speech is really impressive. It’s a heavy read, but a memorable one.
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Galway
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Galway Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Ireland and continue planning your trip:
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