How to Spend a Weekend in Galway, Ireland

Nature lovers will enjoy exploring the Aran Islands
Nature lovers will enjoy exploring the Aran Islands | © lisandrotrarbach / Getty Images
Kate Phelan

Galway is Ireland’s second-biggest county, with so much more to offer a visitor than just the eponymous city. Its more than 2,000sqmi consist of lofty mountains, Wild Atlantic Way coastline and the beautiful Connemara region – home to Ireland’s largest Irish-speaking community. Here is Culture Trip’s suggested itinerary for how best to see Galway in 48 hours.

Friday evening: Galway city by night

Walk along Salthill Promenade

After checking into one of Galway’s best budget hotels, head straight out to explore the European Capital of Culture 2020. Take an evening stroll along the Salthill Promenade that flanks the northern shore of Galway Bay, stopping at the famous Blackrock diving tower to breathe in some fresh Atlantic air. After working up an appetite, make your way back to the trademark narrow streets of the city centre and amble to Aniar – a Michelin-star, terroir-based restaurant in the West End of the city – for dinner. (If you’d like a more relaxed meal, try the Dough Bros for some delicious wood-fired pizza.)

Sip your first pint of Guinness at O’Connell’s Bar

After your dose of fresh sea air, you’ll be hungry – and thirsty too. Head to O’Connell’s Bar in Eyre Square for a perfectly poured pint of Guinness and a vibrant atmosphere.

Saturday: Galway Market and the Aran Islands

Eat fresh at Galway Market

If you want to max out your time in the City of Tribes, rise early to be among the first arrivals at Galway Market on Church Lane – a weekend market that has been in operation for centuries. Walk among the stands and chat to local traders, and when your stomach starts growling, grab a life-changing doughnut from the Boychik Donuts stand.

Visit the Aran Islands

Drive or take a day tour to the port at Rossaveel (a one-hour drive) and catch the 10.30am ferry (booking advised) to Inis Mór, the largest of Galway Bay’s Aran Islands. Rent a bike and spend the day absorbing the island’s stunning scenery and remoteness. Explore the limestone pavements of the glaciokarst landscape; the arctic, alpine and Mediterranean plant life; the much-loved seal colony; the prehistoric Dún Aonghasa hill fort, standing at the edge of one of the island’s dramatic cliff faces; and Clochan na Carraige, a well-preserved ancient island dwelling. Finish the day off with a visit to Joe Watty’s Bar and Restaurant, a traditional Irish pub with an open fire.

Saturday evening: pub grub and live music

Eat dinner at Ard Bia at Nimmos

Back on the mainland, eat dinner at Ard Bia at Nimmos – an ultra-hip eatery in the city’s Spanish Arch area with fantastic seasonal gourmet fare. The menu is fresh and “world-inspired”, drawing influence from the Mediterranean to New Zealand. Afterwards, head to the Róisín Dubh – a local favourite bar and club that is also one of Ireland’s best live-music venues.

Sunday: Connemara National Park and Kylemore Abbey

Escape the city to Connemara National Park

After breakfast, set out north on the N59 for Connemara National Park (a 90-minute drive) – a sprawling 2,957ha (7,307-acre) expanse of colourful Irish bog, mountain peaks, grasslands and woodlands that have been known to be the highlight of a tour of the entire country for some travellers. Walk one or more of the four Diamond Hill trails, making sure to stop and take photographs of the stunning views along the way. Bus transfers are also available to Connemara.

Explore Kylemore Abbey

Once you’ve had your fill of abundant natural beauty, drive a few minutes to the historic Kylemore Abbey and explore its Benedictine monastery by taking the Visitor Experience. Supported by old photos, artefacts and audiovisual presentations, the tour tells the story of the many generations of people who have lived, worked and prayed inside the building’s thick granite walls. The abbey was founded for Benedictine nuns who arrived from Belgium during World War I. There are still some nuns living here today, so keep your eyes peeled when exploring the beautiful walled Victorian gardens.

Sunday evening: more live music

Join in the fun at Tig Cóilí

You might want to grab a power nap back at the hotel before heading out into Galway city one last time. With live traditional Irish music played every night, Tig Cóilí pub on Mainguard Street is a great place to guarantee that your weekend ends on a high note.

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