On Ireland’s scenic west coast lies the college town of Galway. It’s my second favorite spot in the country behind Dublin. It may be small (just 80,000 people live here) but it’s packed with a lot to see and do. There’s a historic city center, picturesque old churches, stunning coastal views, and an incredible pub culture (it is a college town in Ireland after all!).
It’s also a great jumping-off point for all kinds of day trips. From here you easily visit the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher, two of Ireland’s most popular sights.
To me, Galway has everything you could ever want in an Irish city. It’s a perfect base for exploring the region, has a lively nightlife with many pubs playing traditional Irish music, a youthful feel thanks to the university, and has that charming small-town feel.
This travel guide to Galway can help you plan a budget-friendly trip and ensure you make the most out of your time here.
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. Take a free walking tour
One of the best ways to get oriented in a new city is to take a free walking tour. I start all my trips off with one. Tribes Tours of Galway has incredibly knowledgeable guides who can teach you all about the city’s history and culture. You can also get all kinds of insider tips and suggestions that you won’t find in a guidebook. Just be sure to tip! They also run a pub crawl for 15 EUR.
2. Wander the Latin Quarter
This is the cultural heart of the city. It’s full of shops and pubs and there are usually buskers performing here when the weather is nice too. It’s the best place to wander and get a feel for the city — day or night! Don’t miss the Spanish Arch, an 18th-century arch that was once part of the city’s walled fortifications.
3. See the Glengowla Mines
If you want to understand what life was like for a 19th-century citizen of Galway, visit the Glengowla Mines. This museum is built on the site of a silver and lead mine so visitors can take a mine tour, watch a sheepdog herding demonstration, pan for gold, and learn how traditional peat houses were made. It’s a great place to visit if you’re traveling with kids as it’s both fun and educational. Admission is 11 EUR.
4. Visit the Burren Nature Sanctuary
The Burren Nature Sanctuary is a 50-acre organic farm located 30 minutes from Galway in Kinvara. It’s made up of meadows, woodlands, and even a lake. It also has a “Botany Bubble,” 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 EUR.
5. Visit St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church
Founded in 1320 CE, this is the largest medieval parish church in Ireland. The church is like a mini-museum and tours highlight its important artifacts, including its 400-year-old baptismal fountain. The exterior of the church is adorned with mermaids, a dragon, an ape, and a lion (all of which are pretty unique for a church!). The church also offered the first public blessing for a same-sex couple in Ireland back in 2002. Tours are free but need to be arranged in advance. Be sure to dress respectfully.
6. Tour the Sheep and Wool Centre
This family-friendly museum in the Connemara area outside of Galway City is dedicated to textiles. It showcases the process of wool production, from the sheep to the finished garment. It also highlights the historical importance of sheep and wool in Irish culture as they were pivotal to survival in Ireland over the centuries. Admission is 7 EUR.
7. Visit the Galway Atlantaquaria
This is the national aquarium of Ireland. It’s located in Salthill, just two kilometers west of Galway. Here, the various aquariums show off the sea life that lives in the Atlantic. There are over 170 species in the aquarium, including sharks, rays, and seahorses. The aquarium also contains a massive fin whale skeleton as well as a 5,500-year-old Neolithic dugout canoe predating the pyramids of Egypt. Admission is 13 EUR.
8. 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.
9. Listen to live music
Galway is the perfect place to experience live traditional Irish music. Walk around the center of Galway and you’ll hear music pouring out of pubs all over the place. 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”).
For more information on other cities in Ireland, check out these guides:
Galway Travel Costs
Hostel prices – During the peak summer season, a bed in a four-six bed dorm costs around 42 EUR. A bed in a larger dorm with eight beds or more costs 20-25 EUR. During the off-season, dorms of all sizes cost around 25 EUR.
Private rooms start at 98 EUR per night. Private room prices don’t change between peak season and off-season.
For those traveling with a tent, basic plots for two people without electricity can be found outside the city for 15 EUR per night.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels start at 100 EUR per night for a double room in a three-star hotel at the center of town. In the off-season, the same room can be found for around 80 EUR. Expect basic amenities like free Wi-Fi, TV, and a coffee/tea maker.
Airbnb is available in the city, with private rooms starting at 40 EUR per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least 110 EUR per night.
Food – Ireland is very much a “meat and potatoes” country. Potatoes have been a common staple since the 18th century, along with seafood (it’s an island after all!). Cod, salmon, and oysters are some of the most popular seafood options, with other staple dishes being shepherd’s pie, black pudding, bacon and cabbage, fish and chips, and meat stews.
A traditional meal costs around 15 EUR. For a multi-course meal with a drink, expect to pay at least 30 EUR. Fast food (think McDonald’s) starts at 9 EUR for a combo meal.
Pizza costs 11 EUR for a large while Chinese food costs around 9 EUR for a main dish. You can find fish and chips for around 7 EUR. Beer is 5.50 EUR while a latte/cappuccino is 3 EUR. Bottled water is 1.50 EUR.
If you want to cook your meals, expect to pay 40-50 EUR per week for groceries that include basic staples like pasta, rice, produce, and some meat.
Backpacking Galway Suggested Budgets
On a backpacking budget of 55 EUR per day, you can stay in a hostel dorm, cook all your meals, limit your drinking, take public transportation to get around, and do free activities like free walking tours, exploring the Latin Quarter, and listening to live music. If you plan on drinking, add 5-15 EUR per day to your budget.
On a mid-range budget of 110 EUR per day, you can stay in a private hostel room or Airbnb, eat out for most meals at cheap fast food places, have a couple of drinks, take the occasional taxi, and do more paid activities visiting the Cliffs of Moher and the City Museum.
On a “luxury” budget of at least 255 EUR per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink more, rent a car for day trips, and do as many tours and excursions as you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
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 more, right? 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.
- Drink less – Ireland’s pub culture can pummel your wallet. 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 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. If you’re a student, always ask if there are discounts.
- Stay with a local – Couchsurfing connects you with locals who can give you a free place to stay and help you learn about the city. It’s the best way to connect with locals.
- Take a free walking tour – To get a feel for the city and learn some history, be sure to take a free walking tour. It’s the best way to get the lay of the land on a budget.
- 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 cheaper!
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Galway
If you’re looking to visit Galway on a budget, here are my recommended places to stay:
How to Get Around Galway
Bus – Galway is a very small city and you can walk just about anywhere. However, there is a local bus service if you need it. Single tickets cost 2.40 EUR. You can get a weekly pass for 21 EUR.
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 EUR. With that pass, the first 30 minutes of your ride is free, and then it’s 0.50 EUR per half hour after that.
Taxi – Taxis aren’t cheap. Base fares are 4 EUR and then it’s 1.83 EUR per kilometer after that. A 10km trip costs about 22 EUR so skip the taxis if you can!
There are no ridesharing services like Uber here.
Car rental – Car rentals can be found for as little as 20 EUR per day for a multi-day rental. However, you’ll only need a car if you’re leaving the city to explore. Drivers need to be at least 21 years old.
When to Go to Galway
Although Galway has a mild, temperate climate, the city’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 during your stay.
During the winter, temperatures drop below freezing so it’s not the ideal time to visit. However, prices drop and there are no crowds so as long as you stick to indoor activities you can still have an enjoyable visit.
The summer months (June-August) are the warmest, with temperatures averaging 66°F (18°C). However, keep in mind that this is peak season so you’ll compete for space in hostel dorms/hotels. Prices are slightly inflated during this time as well.
The shoulder seasons (spring and fall) are good times to visit, although temperatures are often chilly. You’ll experience fewer crowds, except around St. Patrick’s Day when the city fills up and things get rowdy. Book well in advance if you’re visiting in March.
If you plan on sticking to mostly indoor activities, visit during the shoulder season. However, if you want to explore the region and see the Cliffs of Moher then summer is your best bet.
How to Stay Safe in Galway
Galway is very safe and the risk of violent crime is low here. Pick-pocketing and petty theft can occur around high traffic areas like the Spanish Arches in the Latin Quarter or on crowded public transportation. However, if you keep your valuables out of sight you should be fine.
If you rent a car, make sure no valuables are left in it overnight as break-ins can occur.
If you experience an emergency, dial 112 or 999 for assistance.
If you’re worried about scams, you can read about 14 travel scams to avoid 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 wouldn’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.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- 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 in their 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.
- 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 a discount 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.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- 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 on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
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 tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 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 (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 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)
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 of this book. Angela’s Ashes illuminates McCourt’s life in the Limerick slums, where his mother can’t afford to feed her kids and his father drinks away their money. It’s both eye-opening and funny — McCourt’s Irish humor shines through, even in the toughest of times.
Round Ireland with a Fridge, by Tony Hawks
Tony Hawks lost a drunken bet. His punishment? He has to tramp 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, Hawks makes his way from Dublin to Donegal, then Sligo to Mayo, Galway, Clare, and Wicklow…all before heading back to Dublin again. He finds 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. Set in 1968, Paddy Clarke is just 10 years old. He’s like any other 10-year-old: he loves the Three Stooges and 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 Charles Leavy tried to kill him? And why do his parents fight all the time but insist nothing is wrong? It’s a delightful coming-of-age story.
The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, by W. B. Yeats
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 and his poetry is accessible. It strongly focuses on Irish life and the country’s complicated history. This a collection includes all his published poetry, so you can 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 impressive and immersive. It’s a heavy read, but a memorable one.
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: