County Galway is truly one of the most beautiful counties in Ireland. It makes a fantastic holiday destination, as it has so much to offer. It’s got a spectacular rugged coastline dotted with islands and villages, a vast wilderness of bog, mountains and rivers, blankets of green fields with hidden historical treasures and a lively city which oozes with atmosphere, culture, heritage and friendly people.
County Galway can be found in the west of Ireland in the province of Connaught. It’s located directly across the country from Dublin, so if you’re driving from here it should only take you about 3 hours.
Galway is quite a large county (2nd biggest in Ireland) so it’s brimming with lots of things to see and do. Galway boasts its own city, which is renowned the world over as a little paradise of shopping, culture and nightlife.
Galway city is usually the first port-of-call for visitors, as it’s got excellent road and rail connections with the rest of the country. A visit here and you’ll be spellbound by its charm, laid-back atmosphere and its friendly attitude. Stroll around the city’s narrow cobbled streets and enjoy its cafes, shops and gourmet restaurants. At night the city really comes alive with pulsating nightclubs and bars and the sound of Irish traditional music, which lingers in the air so just follow the sounds!
Galway city centre can be easily walked in a day, but you’ll need much more time to explore its attractions like Eyre Square, The Spanish Arch, the City Museum, the National University of Galway, the Cathedral and the Salmon Weir Bridge. Don’t forget to cross over the River Corrib to get to the ‘Claddagh’, which was once a little fishing village outside the city walls. It’s an area synonymous with the famous Claddagh Ring as this was where the ring first originated. (See our Irish Jewelry Blog for more).
Galway city has been called the ‘Cultural Capital of Ireland’ and the ‘San Francisco of Ireland’ due to its dedication to the Arts, festivals and cultural events. Three of the biggest festivals on the Galway calender of events each year are the Galway Races, the Galway Oyster Festival and the Galway Arts Festival.
If the weather is nice, take a short drive (about 3km) to Salthill - a beautiful seaside resort at the edge of Galway Bay. It’s got a superb waterfront promenade, in fact it’s the longest in Ireland so enjoy a leisurely walk on the ‘Prom’ and don’t be shocked if you see local people (Galwegians) kicking the wall at the end of it – this is a tradition!
From Galway city, head west along the R336 a coastal route which follows the northern shores of Galway Bay. You’ll find yourself pulling over quite a lot on this stretch of road, as scenery and views of the bay can only be described as spectacular!
About 13km west of Galway city, you’ll come to the little village of Spiddal. This charming village is the start of the Galway Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area), so it’s very popular with students who come here to learn the language during the Summer months. It has a beautiful beach and some lively traditional pubs where good Guinness and music can be enjoyed.
Continue west on the R336 and you’ll come to the picturesque harbour village of Rossaveal. This is the point of departure for ferries to the Aran Islands – 3 islands off the coast of Galway which are not only recognised for their unique beauty, but their language, culture, history and heritage.
As you weave your way north along Galway’s beautiful west coast you’ll come to the town of Clifden, which can also be reached from Galway city via the N59. Clifden is one of Ireland’s best loved holiday destinations as it’s the perfect place to ‘get away from it all’ and unwind. There’s lots of outdoor activities in the area and attractions to visit like Kylemore Abbey, Ballynahinch Castle, Inishbofin Island and the site of the Alcock and Brown aircraft crash (1919) in Derrygimlach Bog.
Clifden is also known as the ‘Capital of Connemara’ so it’s a great base for exploring this area and its National Park. Connemara is a region northwest of Galway city, which is famous for its wild and remote landscape. It mainly consists of bogs, mountains, woodlands and rivers, but it’s this raw natural beauty, which makes Connemara a magnet for visitors to Galway. In north Connemara you’ll find the National Park, which is made up of about 4,000 acres of scenic landscape offering visitors many opportunities for outdoor activities like fishing, hiking, walking, sailing, snorkelling, diving, bird watching and pony trekking. You can also take the chance to see some wonderful historical and archaeological attractions.
Other pretty villages worth a visit include Cleggan, Renvyle, Roundstone and Leenane. Here the pace of life is slow and you’ll get a real insight into Irish life and customs. Pop into the local pubs and shops and you’ll get to meet the friendly locals.
Not to be outdone by the spectacular west of Galway, the east also has a lot to offer. East and west are both divided by Lough Corrib – the largest lake in the Republic of Ireland.
The east has some of our favourite Irish towns like the medieval town of Athenry, which is synonymous with the legendary Irish song “The Fields of Athenry”. You can also visit the market town of Ballinasloe, which is also called ‘The Gateway to the West’ as it’s located on the main Dublin/Galway Road. Ballinasloe is the biggest town in Galway.
Hope this gives you an idea of what to see and do in Galway. You could easily spend a week here and you’d only be skimming the surface! Why not check it out for yourself. If you’re thinking of visiting Ireland in the near future, or you need to get away on a city break, or maybe you just want to de-stress and unwind in the peace and quiet of the countryside – well then County Galway is the destination for you!
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