Galway, Ireland is a well-known city thanks to its fun festivals, lively events and bright atmosphere. It is the Republic of Ireland's fourth most populated place and is nicknamed the "City of Tribes" since, in 1396, the governing power of the city was given to the 14 merchant families who are still represented in some parts of the city today. The early beginnings of the city started close to Galway Bay where a small fishing village was founded.
It is easy to see that the city has changed quite a bit since then, although it still has that small town charm. The benefits of visiting a city like Galway are that you can always find something to do, and you can have an unforgettable trip without spending a lot of money. In fact, there are quite a lot of free things to do in Galway that you won't have to spend money on at all! To start discovering the city, stow your bags at a luggage storage locker in Galway. Travel light and make the most of your time here.
Check Out the Galway Market
Even if you don't want to spend any money buying things, browsing local markets can be a great way to get an authentic experience of what life is like in Galway. The best place to go is the Galway Farmers Market which happens every weekend by the St Nicholas Collegiate Church. The market has been running for hundreds of years now and is basically a weekly tradition for many locals!
When you visit Galway Market you will find everything from fruits and snacks to crafts and artwork being sold in the stalls. It is also a fantastic place to get a unique souvenir to remind you of your travels to Ireland since everything is made locally. The market stays open on Saturdays and Sundays, and if you visit in the wintertime, you will see it transform into one of the best Christmas markets in the city.
Hike Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way
Hiking enthusiasts will be happy to hear that Galway, Ireland is home to some beautiful landscapes, and once you leave the city you will never be far from a nature trail or walking path. One of the most rewarding walks is along the Wild Atlantic Way which is a coastal route that actually spans through nine counties and is 1,500 miles in total length. Of course, we don't expect you to hike all of it!
You can hop on the trail and explore as much of it as you'd like, admiring natural wonders and gorgeous sights along the way. Keep an eye out for the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher, ancient castles and ruins, as well as attractions like the Northern Hemisphere's biggest stalactite which can be found in Doolin Cave.
Visit the Aran Islands
Just off the coast of the county, Galway boasts a beautiful set of islands that are both stunning and exciting to visit. Hidden around the islands you will see Celtic churches and forts dating back to Medieval Galway, like the Dún Aonghasa which is the biggest stone fort on the island and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The dramatic cliffsides make for the perfect landscape for pictures, so bring your camera!
Visiting the Aran Islands is also a great way to learn about the culture and history of the area, and to experience a bit more of the local life since the people who live on the islands still speak Gaelic, as well as English. There is more to do on the island than just sightseeing, with fun activities like swimming, hiking and cycling that are also available.
Adventure Through the Magical Merlin Woods
Want to take a break from tourist attractions and sightseeing? The lovely park of Merlin Woods is the largest urban woodland around Galway and is composed of a wide selection of tree species, including the Norway spruce, oak, beech, native hazel woodland and Sitka spruce, to name a few.
The biodiversity of the forest is quite impressive as well, and a few rare kinds of plants and insects call it home. In fact, there are about 17 different kinds of Irish butterflies that can be found in Merlin Woods! It is a beautiful place to take a stroll if you want to get away from the city.
Go to the Galway City Museum
Do you like meandering through museums? Visiting the Galway Museum is a really fascinating activity that all the family members will enjoy, and it is pretty cool that the whole establishment is open to the public at no charge! The free museum features three floors of galleries housing seven permanent exhibits and two temporary displays. The museum will introduce you to the interesting history of Galway dating back between the prehistoric ages until today.
On display in this small museum, you will see medieval art pieces, ancient weapons and information about Ireland's history of war, a SeaScience for Children exhibit that is always popular among kids, as well as a 3D map that shows what the city looked like in 1651. Keep an eye out for some of the museum's most popular attractions; the Great Mace and the Galway Civic Sword. The museum even houses an old Galway Hooker, also known as a fishing boat, named Máirtín Oliver.
See the Ancient Spanish Arch
If you are like most other tourists in Galway, you will probably want to take a picture by the Spanish Arch at some point during your trip. Technically made up of two arches, this landmark is the last remaining piece of the Front Wall which was originally constructed to protect the quays of the city. Unfortunately, much of the wall was destroyed after it was struck by the tsunami that was caused by the Great Lisbon earthquake of 1755.
The archway dates back to medieval times in 1584, although it was technically an extension of the older city walls Galway had built by the Normans in the 12th century. You will find them near the left bank of the Corrib River.
Check Out the Galway Cathedral
If you want to check out all of the city's top landmarks then the Galway Cathedral should be on your list. It is one of the tallest buildings in the city with its highest point reaching 145 feet, and it was actually constructed on a space that previously held a prison! When it was first built many people did not like the look of the church, and although it looks a bit dark from the outside it is quite a pretty sight once you step indoors.
The building features intricate mosaics and patterns on the floor as well as some gorgeous stained glass windows. You are free to explore the cathedral when services are not happening, but they ask that you don't be disruptive when the cathedral is in use. They also will gladly accept donations if you offer them.
Explore Lynch's Castle
Remember when we mentioned the 14 original tribes of Galway? The Lynch Family was one of them, and back in the 16th century, this medieval fortified house was their home. It is four stories tall and complete with gargoyle statues, intricately carved windows and other characteristics that make it an impressive example of a home from medieval times. Today the building is used as a bank.
This once-powerful family in Galway actually has a pretty dark backstory, and they are the reason that the term lynching came to be. According to the story, in 1493 the son of James Lynch Fitzstephen got into a fight with a Spanish sailor over a woman and ended up killing him. James Lynch was the mayor of Galway at the time, and he responded by hanging his own son down on Lombard Street. You can learn a bit more about the story by reading the panels inside the building which can be accessed during the bank's open hours.
Spend Some Time at Eyre Square
Eyre Square is the heart of the Galway city centre and a popular spot for people to meet and mingle. This is where you can see the crests and banners of the 14 Tribes of Galway, and it is also a great spot to sit and do some people-watching.
The square was named after Edward Eyre who was a former mayor of the city. Back in 1710, he gifted the land to the city and it was used to build the square. Since then it has served the community as a venue for events, including the city's famous Christmas market, and was also used as an Occupy camp (the third longest lasting!) after the financial crash hit.
Take a Trip to Claddagh Village
Chances are you might have heard of the famous Claddagh ring, which is an Irish ring with the specific symbol of two hands clasping a heart with a crown. It is often used as an engagement ring since it represents loyalty, love and friendship. Interested in seeing the world's smallest Claddagh ring? It is here in Galway at a shop called Thomas Dillon's Claddagh Gold! This popular ring was named after Claddagh, the former fishing hub of the city and also the oldest in the country.
This tiny town is located right by the River Corrib and is a picturesque village with quaint colorful houses. It is a nice place to enjoy the fresh sea air or to visit when you are looking for free things to do away from the busy city, and just recently the Claddagh Arts Centre was constructed here as well.
Explore the Galway Arts Centre
Still looking for more free things to do? Galway Arts Centre is waiting to welcome you through its doors to explore the 3,000 square feet of gallery space that features new works by artists from all over Ireland and around the world. Special events are held regularly here as well.
Not only is this a place to appreciate art, but you can learn all about it, too. The Galway Arts Centre hosts seminars about all forms of creativity, from photography and art to writing and performing. You can even see live performances happen in person if you stop by the Nuns Island Theatre which is partnered with the arts centre, although they are not free events.
Stop By the St Nicholas Church
The St Nicholas Church, also known as the St Nicholas Collegiate Church, offers free admission to the public every day. It got its name after the patron saint named St Nicholas of Myra and is actually the largest medieval parish church that is still used today, being first created sometime around 1320. Fun fact; Christopher Columbus actually prayed here when he visited the city back in 1477.
Turns out that the church has great acoustics, and one of the highlights of stopping by is hearing the lunchtime recitals that are performed by the ConTempo Quartet. The Galway Music Residency organizes these performances on the first Tuesday of each month up until June. Other musical performances and concerts are put on here as well, and either way, the well-preserved interior is still worth checking out, even without the music!
Wander Around the Latin Quarter
Once you've explored enough of the Galway city centre you can move on to the Latin Quarter which shows a different side of Galway's history. With cafes to dine in and places to shop, street performers and art galleries to explore, this is one of the most exciting places to go in the vibrant city of Galway.
You can take a long walk around the area and never get bored of the fun and energetic atmosphere. We suggest that you stop by a coffee shop while you are here to get to know the locals and perhaps get a taste of one of the drinks or snacks! The Latin Quarter is an amazing place to explore and watch buskers.
Galway Vacations on a Budget
Galway is a city rich with history and personality, and there is so much to see just by walking around the streets. It won't be hard at all to make your own self guided tour of the top sights that can show you everything from the city's medieval past to more modern times. Don't forget to check out the dining spots and shopping opportunities after you've had a day of free sights. The next time that you are visiting Galway just remember that you don't have to spend a lot of money to have a good time!