Galway – a bustling city in a sleepy town’s body.
Galway is a city that marches to the beat of its own drum. The surrounding countryside is equal parts heartbreaking and welcoming, and the people sure know how to have a good time. Picture everything you imagine an Irish city to be. Throw in a few buskers performing in the streets and the sound of seagulls, and you have Galway. This seaside city also acts as the perfect base to explore many famous sites such as the Cliffs of Moher or Connemara National Park.
If you are planning a trip to the Emerald Isle, I beg of you please spend at least a little time there. You won’t regret it. Because of its small size, you could cover the main sites of the town center in two hours or less. But if you want to see the best of the city, I’d say spend at least one night. To convince you that Galway should be at the top of your Ireland To Do List, here is the perfect way to spend 24 hours in Galway, Ireland.
Arrive at Eyre Square
Eyre Square is conveniently located smack dab in the middle of Galway. The bus and train stations are all within a couple of minutes’ walk. Drop off your luggage at your accommodation and head out to get your bearings. If you’re hungry, stop by Cafe Renzo just off of Eyre Square for a quick lunch. This classy little cafe/art gallery has a selection of soups and sandwiches for relatively cheap prices, and they make the most deliciously sweet spiced chai lattes.
Once you are ready to explore, walk down William Street, also known as Shop Street, also known as High Street. One road, three names depending on where you are. This is truly the heart of the town. The grey cobblestone street is lined with pubs, shops, and cafés. Small arches lead into side streets, and colorful flags and fairy lights line the rooftops. Take some time to wander in and out of the stores – and don’t forget to scope out some pubs for later.
The City Center
Walking down the main streets of Galway, you will pass by most of the famous landmarks in the city including Lynch’s Castle, the Spanish Arch, and the Galway City Museum. If you happen to be in the city on the weekend, there is a market outside St Nicholas’s Church. Some of the best souvenirs in the city can be found there. My favorite shop is run by a local painter. He has paintings of all sizes with colorful wooden frames. If you have a larger suitcase, you should totally get one of the hand-painted stone shingles. I am already planning to buy one as soon as I go back.
The City Museum is small and a little underwhelming. Unless you are particularly interested in history or want to see the giant Galway Hooker, a local-style small sailing boat, hanging from the ceiling, I’d give it a pass. There is a cool exhibit about Ireland in the Great War, though. The cafe downstairs, however, is wonderful. If you need a little pick-me-up at this point in your day, stop in at The Kitchen. Their hot lemon, honey and ginger is perfect if the Irish damp is getting to you.
The Museum is right by the Long Walk, the most famous street in Galway. The colorful houses lining the water are nothing short of iconic. If you want the best views though, cross over the water to the park on the other side. If you’re lucky you might see locals working the little drawbridge at the mouth of Eglington Canal.
Take the rest of the afternoon to walk along the water. The trails through South Park treat you to some incredible views. Nimmo’s Pier is closest to the city and is great for photos of the Long Walk. A little further out is Mutton Island home to a Lighthouse and a sewage treatment plant. Despite how that sounds, it is actually really pretty, and the causeway is a great place to watch the sun set. In fact, it is an incredibly popular post for proposals.
If you are feeling a little more ambitious, follow the path along the park until you reach the Famine Memorial (about 20 minutes walk from the Spanish Arch). This simple but poignant statue bears the names of dozens of ships that carried victims of the Famine to new lives across the sea.
Dinner and a Pint
Returning to the city, you’ll probably want something to eat. If pub grub is what you’re after, King’s Head is usually pretty good. If you want something a little nicer, Martine’s is up your alley. The food is good, and they even have themed cocktails at different holidays (like Unicorn’s Blood at Halloween!). They have good mussels if you have a hankering for seafood, and if you can’t decide what you want to eat, they’ll let you get a couple of side dishes so you can try all sorts of things!
Now, it wouldn’t be a trip to Galway if you didn’t sample the pubs. Don’t worry, they have a place for everyone. If you’re looking for a small, old man Irish Pub go for Tigh Neactain or Tig Choili. Barr An Chaladh is a great mix of classic pub with a slightly younger crowd. If you are feeling adventurous, cross the river and check out Monroe’s or Roisin Dubh (pronounced Rosheen Dove). Roisin also has a DJ in their back room every night unless there is some other event going on (€5 entry).
Most traditional nights out in Galway end at the Quays. One of the last places to close (at the wild hour of 2:30 AM), the Quays have live bands every night playing a slightly more rock/pop/indie jams. Most pubs will have live music every night of the week, so find whatever place suits your vibe and grab a seat.
There are plenty of places to stay in Galway. Kinlay Hostel is one of the most popular spots. This place is huge and feels almost like a hotel with dorms. They run a ton of events throughout the week, so if you want something a little social, Kinlay is good. A little quieter and quirkier is the Salmon Weir Hostel. The guys that run the place are super friendly and helpful, and the 3 AM curfew means no drunk roommates stumbling in at all hours of the night. Salmon Weir is often the cheapest place to stay, too.
If you want something a little ~fancier~, check out the G Hotel. Located just outside the city center, this more modern hotel has all the amenities you could want including a spa and restaurant. It’s definitely a splurge, but if you can afford it it’s really nice.
To start off the day right, head out in search of breakfast. Ard Bia at Nimmos is a wildly popular brunch spot, but it can be hard to get seats. For a more low-key meal try the Gourmet Treat Company’s Bakery or revisit the Kitchen. They have delicious porridge.
You’ve already seen the city’s greatest hits, so it’s time to get to know things a little better. Start by checking out the Galway Cathedral. Only completed in the 1960’s, the cathedral sits atop the foundations of the old prison. Many cathedrals in Europe can blend together, but the combination of grey stone and warm wood tones make for a unique aesthetic. After checking out all the little alcoves and nooks (and the JFK mural!), head back outside and make your way to Galway University and have a peek inside the ivy-covered quad.
Salthill Promenade or River Walk
Here is where you need to make a decision. You can either walk or take a bus over to the Salthill Promenade, a popular spot especially in summer. Here you can find the local aquarium, pubs, a giant diving board, and several cute cafes. If you didn’t have time to check out the Famine Memorial on day one, now is the time. Or if you are looking for something a little quieter, follow the River Corrib past the University. Here you can find the remains of the Martin Tea-House, a 19th century structure where members of the Martin Family would watch events on the water. Across the water is the stately, if slightly eerie ruin of Menlo Castle. This walk is definitely a mood.
An Afternoon of Books and Tea
Upon returning to the city, you can grab a quick lunch at Tuco’s Taqueria or Xi’an Street Food. McDonaghs is well-known for its seafood if you haven’t gotten your fill of Irish fish yet. Spend the afternoon browsing the shelves at Charlie Byrne’s, a wonderful local bookshop. These guys have new books, used books, and even host events and book clubs throughout the week.
Before you leave the city, or if you ever have a little down time, stop and grab a cup of tea or coffee at one of the many cafés. Two of my faves, Temple and Mocha Beans are right by Charlie Byrne’s. Mocha Beans has an industrial hipster vibe without the pretentious crowd. Temple on the other hand is big on sustainability and giving back. They have a lovely pay-it-forward coffee program to boot. Cuppan Tae, located next to the Spanish Arch, is an adorable tea house complete with china sets and doilies popular with tourists and tea fans alike. Though it’s a bit pricey, this cafe is worth a visit. The menu goes into a ton of detail about the entire practice of tea-making. It’s fascinating and delicious. Win-win.
There you have it, my perfect 24 hours in Galway.
Having lived in Galway for several months, I can tell you it’s hard to distill everything that makes the city amazing into two days. It’s surprising for a place so small – and we didn’t even get into the day trips! I hope this helps you plan your own Irish adventure. Let me know if I missed any of your favorite places.