A small but vibrant town on the west coast, Galway is popular with local Irish and tourists alike. While it’s considered to be the gateway to Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, a huge part of the draw here is the nightlife. The great pubs and traditional live music scene have given this west coast city the reputation of having the best craic in Ireland. But there’s lots to do and see as well, and plenty of it for free, meaning you can explore the city while saving your hard earned money to experience Galway’s famous nightlife. Here are 15 free things to do in Galway.
Photograph the Latin Quarter
The Latin Quarter is the liveliest part of the city. Colourful shops with waving banners and flags make for Instagram worthy photos. Keep your eye out for unique street art and paintings on the pub windows as well; they change regularly and often depict what’s happening in the community at the time.
Visit the Galway Museum
A small museum on the banks of the Corrib River, the Galway Museum is free for anyone interested in the history of the city. There are three floors to explore with exhibitions on the city’s prehistoric and medieval past, artwork, and even a Galway Hooker– a local type of boat. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am (12pm on Sundays) to 5pm.
People Watch in Eyre Square
Eyre (pronounced ‘air’) square is a small park in the heart of the city. It’s a busy spot, but there are plenty of benches to sit and relax and watch the world go by. It’s especially pretty in the spring with all the tulips and daffodils, and in December when it houses a small Christmas market.
See the Fastest Flowing River in Europe
The River Corrib May seem small and relatively normal, but it’s actually the fasted flowing river in all of Europe. Grab a seat by the banks and relax to the sound of rushing water.
Learn the History Behind Ireland’s Famous Ring
Claddagh rings, the two hands holding a heart with a crown, are sold around Ireland, but originated in the Claddagh which is part of Galway. Thomas Dillon Claddagh Gold is a local jeweler in the city centre where you can buy your own, but also take a peek at the Claddagh Museum in the back where you can learn its history and find the smallest made Claddagh ring. It’s so small, you need a magnifying glass to see it. Thomas Dillon and Sons is located at 1 Quay street and is open til 5pm.
Engage in Local Legends
Ireland is full of myths and legends, and Galway is no exception. One particular myth tells the story of Galway’s swans which, if you believe the legends, are the souls of lost sailors returning to their homes.
Visit Medieval Galway’s Old City Walls
Galway was once a medieval walled city, and while much of that history has been lost over time, parts of the old wall still remain, and are in excellent condition. You can see the massive Shoemaker’s tower for yourself in Eyre Square mall (located beside Eyre Square) on the bottom floor along with an old city map where you can see what the city originally looked like.
Stroll Down the Salthill Prom
If you’ve heard the original Galway Girl song, you’ll recognize the term ‘Salthill prom’. Just outside of Galway city centre, Salthill is an ocean-side town with a beautiful path along the waterfront. If you are brave enough, you can even go for a swim in the Atlantic.
Visit the Cathedral
A large, green dome stands out in Galway skyline, it belongs to the Galway Cathedral; a beautiful building, and one of Europe’s youngest cathedrals. One of the highlights here are the stunning stained glass windows. It’s free for everyone to visit and generally opened to the public from 8:30am -6:30pm. The Cathedral is on Gaol Road, right across from the Salmon Weir bridge.
Wonder at the Secrets of the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas
The largest medieval parish church of Ireland, the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas comes with some interesting finds and a long history which includes a visit from Christopher Columbus. There are also said to be some links to the Knights Templar, and a strangely carved pillar looks surprisingly similar to one featured in the movie The Da Vinchi Code. The church is located on Lombard Street, just off of Shop Street.
Step inside the Local Castle
Yes, Galway has a castle, and while it may not be very big it is quite historic. The Lynch Castle, which today is a bank, used to be the home to the most powerful family in the city. You can find Lynch castle at the top of Shop Street.
Discover Where ‘Lynching’ Came From
The family who owned Lynch Castle were known for more than just their castle home. According to legend, in the late 1400s the son of Mayor James Lynch, Walter, killed a Spanish man in a fight over a woman. His punishment was death, but as he was being walked to the gallows the crowd formed a ‘lynch’ mob in an effort to protect him. However, it didn’t do him much good in the end because his father, the mayor, hung him from the window. The window still exists today and can be found on Market Street behind St. Nicholas Church.
Watch the Buskers
Galway is known for its buskers, and they can be found all down Shop Street throughout the day. From musicians to bands to dancers, you never know what you will find. They are often quite good though, so be sure to stop and watch for a while.
Check Out the Local Farmers Market
Every weekend a lively little farmers market pops up in the small alley beside St. Nicholas Cathedral. From fresh fruit and vegetables to homemade breads and jams, arts and crafts, and even puppies needing a home. You can find all kinds of things here and it’s a lively place to explore part of the local life. The market is open from 8:30am-6:30pm on Saturdays, and from 2pm-6pm on Sundays. Of course, it’s best to get there early.
Flip Through the Finds at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop
If you love books, then you can’t visit Galway without stepping foot into Charlie Byrne’s. This bookstore is filled with everything and anything you can find. There are over 100 000 new, used, and bargain books for sale on every topic you can think of. Staff are friendly and welcoming and don’t mind you browsing. Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop can be found on Middle Street and is open from 9am-6pm (12-6 on Sundays).
What are your favourite free activities to do in Galway?