Must-Visit Attractions in Galway, Ireland

From the Latin Quarter and Eyre Square to the fields of Athenry, you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to things to see in Galway
From the Latin Quarter and Eyre Square to the fields of Athenry, you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to things to see in Galway | © Denis Oliveira / Unsplash
Whether you’re headed for the culture and exuberant nightlife of the city, the hills of Connemara, or a slice of rural bliss on the beautiful Aran Islands, Galway has more to explore than most visitors can ever hope to uncover. To make sure you get the most out of your time here, we’ve rounded up the 25 things you absolutely must do.

Shop Street

Shop
Galway city’s high street – full of arty independents stores, buskers, street paintings and houses that look like they’ve been here generations – is miles better than your typical corporate-shopping stop off. Original souvenirs and a colourful buzz (as well as local seafood and cosy pubs) make it well worth your time.
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MV Plassy

Historical Landmark
The wreck of the Plassy which stranded on the Finnish Rock (1960), Inis Oirr, Aran Islands, Ireland
© imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

If you didn’t travel to Ireland’s rustic west coast to uncover the rusting hulk of a long-abandoned boat in the wilds of the Aran Islands, you don’t know what you’re missing. MV Plassy is one of those memorable symbols of beautiful failure, a wreck dumped on a Galway beach and left to become a photographer’s favourite and exploratory landmark.

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The Fisheries Watchtower Museum

Museum
Ireland, Co Galway, Galway, Fisheries Watchtower beside River Corrib at Wolf Tone Bridge. Image shot 06/2016. Exact date unknown.
© Neil McAllister / Alamy Stock Photo
An odd little tower on the banks of the Corrib in Galway city, this spot was originally designed to stand watch over the fishing stock, but it is now a tiny, welcoming little museum that looks oddly – yet somewhat impressively – out of place. The three floors deal mainly in the city’s boating and fishing history, but it’s the charming guides with whom you should spend your time.
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Clifden Sky Road

Natural Feature
Ireland, Co Galway, Connemara, Clifden, Sky Road, isolated house overlooking Atlantic Coast. Image shot 05/2014. Exact date unknown.
© Neil McAllister / Alamy Stock Photo
Take in panoramic views of the rocky Connemara coastline, including a view of offshore islands Inishturk and Turbot. The highest point is about 5.5 kilometres (3.4 miles) outside the town of Clifden, where a viewing platform gives a sublime view of the town centre, its church spires and Connemara’s peaks.
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Kinvara

Natural Feature
Kinvara, County Galway, Ireland
@ yannick luthy / Alamy Stock Photo

A petite fishing port with a castle, abbey and rustic nature reserve, Kinvara is a pleasant spot all round. However, the hundreds of bottles of whiskey that line the shelves at Green’s Bar — the town’s Emerald-coated traditional pub, dating back to 1865 – are all the reason needed to grab some ‘sea air’.

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Cong

Natural Feature
©  EllenJane Images / Alamy Stock Photo

A town that’s far too often overlooked, Cong – right on the border with neighbouring County Mayo – is a tiny lakeside spot with less than 200 residents, a pub, an old abbey, and the sublime Ashford Castle Estate. Pierce Brosnan chose the opulent, gorgeous but utterly budget-smashing castle as the site of his wedding. It’s luxurious in the extreme.

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Salthill Promenade

Natural Feature
Salthill, Galway, Ireland
© Paul Lindsay / Alamy Stock Photo
The classic view of Galway Bay, Salthill is a beachy seafront area to the north of Galway, a spot where many of the city’s better hotels have set up shop overlooking the hills across the water. An old-school holiday spot, it’s now home to a frequently wind-battered diving platform, abundant penny slot machines and the best ice-cream parlours in the county.
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Buckfast Plaza

Architectural Landmark

The unofficial name for the area in front of the Spanish Arch where locals like to drink outdoors in the summer, Buckfast Plaza (a reference to a sugary tonic wine that’s the source of many a heady Galway night out) is a must-visit for anyone who loves a party. Follow it up with a stop at legendary music venue Roisin Dubh.

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Eyre Square

Park
Galway Hooker Sculpture Eyre Square Galway Ireland. Image shot 2006. Exact date unknown.
© Ros Drinkwater / Alamy Stock Photo
Galway’s main square is likely to be your first real glimpse of the city, with both the bus and train station nearby. It’s a large open plaza often home to mini festivals and buskers, plus it also stars artworks depicting the traditional hooker boats and one of the city’s great loves, John F Kennedy. The square cost an astonishing €20 million to develop.
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Dunguaire Castle

Building
Dunguaire Castle in Kinvara, Ireland
© Paul Lindsay / Alamy Stock Photo
Across the bay from Galway city, near Kinvara, Dunguaire Castle sits on a grassy hill overlooking the water and looks almost unchanged since its 16th-century construction. While off the main tourist trail, the castle is the unheralded star of movies such as North Sea Hijackand Kurt Russell’s lesser-known Disney flick Guns in the Heather. It’s a hidden gem.
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Athenry

Natural Feature

It might be best known for the music of its lonely fields, but it’s Athenry’s Medieval walls and churches that visitors will want to check out. A blocky 13th-century castle and the city walls that lead around it are the main draws, while the town also contains the only Medieval market cross still standing in the entire country. It’s one for the history buffs.

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Galway City Museum

Museum
Head for the Galway City Museum to learn about the history of the Claddagh, Galway’s Spanish influences, British control and invading Vikings. This spot has a rotating range of exhibits that keep things riveting, and though that does mean you can never quite predict what’ll be there, you can guarantee it’ll bring the city to life in a new and interesting way. There are plenty more museums to enjoy, too.
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Benbaun

Natural Feature
Benbaun from the summit of Bencollaghduff, on the Glencoaghan Horseshoe walk, Twelve Bens of Connemara, County Galway, Ireland
© Vincent Lowe / Alamy Stock Photo
The highest peak in Galway (and 10th highest in Ireland) hasn’t gained quite the prominence of the iconic pilgrimage hikes in County Mayo, to the north. However, Benbaun’s rough, boggy base and windy peak is essential Connemara, a spot where plants digest insects for nutrients, and the Connemara pony is king.
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Lough Corrib

Natural Feature
Lough Corrib Ireland. Image shot 10/2014. Exact date unknown.
© Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Ireland’s largest lake, Lough Corrib contains more than 1,300 islands, featuring secluded beaches, forest walkways and plenty of opportunities for (brave) swimmers. Caislean-na-Circe island – containing the Hen’s Castle – was once the home of pirate queen Grainne O’Malley, while popular Inchagoil Island contains the remnants of 12th-century residents.
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Spiddal Irish Crafts

Shop, Market
An arty, rural roadside one-stop shop for Galway souvenirs, Spiddal’s artistic community blows glass, produces watercolours and weaves baskets. Handmade crosses and jewellery produced from ancient coins are also among the offerings. The colourful cottages also contain an award-winning restaurant, and many of the artists work on-site, in full view of the public.
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Galway Cathedral

Cathedral, Building
Galway Cathedral alter in Ireland
© Daniel Bradley / Alamy Stock Photo
A left-field exception to Ireland’s near-endless supply of 1,000-year-old churches, Galway’s Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed Into Heaven is a 60s faux-renaissance offering with a huge green dome and a mural of John F Kennedy on its walls. The Irish Times recently called the spot “a squatting Frankenstein Monster”. We think it’s rather charming.
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Latin Quarter

Architectural Landmark

The lively Latin Quarter is Galway’s beating heart. Bars, pubs, galleries and craftsy shops rub shoulders in this small but exuberant district, where the air is always abuzz with music and laughter. On the left bank of the River Corrib, and with cobblestone streets, the Latin Quarter is one of Galway’s most picturesque places. Head here to pub-crawl, shop, or just amble aimlessly – with street-performers on every corner, you’ll never be short of things to look at.

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Lynch’s Castle

Historical Landmark
Galway certainly has no shortage of castles. If you haven’t yet had your fill, make sure to check out this little tower. Though it may be less spectacular than some of its peers, Lynch’s castle is incredibly well-preserved, considering its age – its limestone facade dates back to the 14th century. Built by the Lynch family, who once presided over the region, it’s essentially a fortified house, complete with four storeys, cornices and grisly gargoyles. Not your average family home. Find the castle at the corner of Shop Street and Abbeygate Street.
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Wild Atlantic Way

Natural Feature

Not exactly an attraction in itself, Wild Atlantic Way is more of a magical highway to all of Ireland’s most remarkable offerings. The trail winds along 2,500 kilometres of Ireland’s west coast, and Galway is pretty much bang in the middle, which makes it the ideal base for some stunning road trips. Head north to reach the Malin Head, at the very tip of the land, or far south to get to Kinsale Harbour. The verdant Connemara National Park, the rocky Burren, and all manner of other natural wonders lie between.

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Kirwan’s Lane

Architectural Landmark
A delightful little slice of Galway’s city centre, Kirwan’s Lane does quaint and trendy in equal measure. Inside the city’s old city walls, the promenade feels thick with history. There’s even a pub, called Busker Brownes, in what was once the 17th-century Dominican Slate Nunnery. That’s not to say that it’s stuck in the past – Kirwan’s narrow streets are crammed with some of the finest and most cutting-edge restaurants that Galway has to offer. Don’t miss The Seafood Bar if you’re into five-star fish.
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The Spanish Arch

Historical Landmark
The Spanish Arch, River Corrib, Galway, Co Galway, Ireland; Gate Built In 1584
© Design Pics Inc / Alamy Stock Photo
This 16th-century symbol of Galway is now a favourite place for a drink (hence its alter ego: Buckfast Plaza, see above), and to watch kayakers ride the waves as the Corrib makes its way out to sea. The Spanish Arch was built to protect the city’s quays from invasion, and now stands as a stark, chunky reminder of the city’s long history.
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Additional reporting by Justin McDonnell

These recommendations were updated on September 15, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.