I’ve been to Galway many times and lived there for a few years when I was in my early 20s.
Back then, Galway was known for its lively pub culture and street music. It still is, I might add. Given that it has won so many awards over the years, along with the added cost of living that often goes hand-in-hand with a city's popularity, tourists might be curious about how to see Galway on a budget.
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Even if you don’t have a lot of time in Galway, 36 hours is enough to get a glimpse of what makes it the West of Ireland’s jewel.
Making Your Way Around Galway
Before I take you on your 36-hour tour of how to see Galway, let me explain the layout of the city.
Galway, which was selected as Europe’s Cultural Capital in 2020, is small by international standards, but it packs a lot into its almost 21 square miles.
Eyre Square is its center, named after Mayor Edward Eyre, who gave the city its own public park in 1710.
Galway’s main street is called Shop Street, which is also its main shopping thoroughfare.
Within the city center are two distinct neighborhoods, the West End, one of the oldest parts of the city and home to lots of lively pubs, restaurants, and galleries.
The other is The Latin Quarter, the quaint section of Galway, with its cobbled streets, unusual shops, and many eateries.
While it’s small, you’ll do a lot of walking around Galway, so be prepared and dress comfortably.
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Friday, 9 a.m. – Breakfast at Cupán Tae
Cupán Tae (pronounced “Cupawn Tae”) is a cozy spot to spend an hour at any time of day. And while a lot of people pop into this popular cafe during the afternoon hours, it's also great for breakfast.
Its name translates to “cup of tea” in English.
During the summer months, it gets busy, and it’s common to see lines out the door. Be prepared to wait a bit.
For breakfast, expect the “Traditional Does It – Irish Breakfast” for €11. That includes bacon, sausage, black and white pudding, a steamed-roasted tomato, free-range poached eggs, homemade brown bread, in addition to Earl Grey tea.
Other excellent choices for breakfast include the “Flippin’ Pancake Mad” for €8.50, the “Healthy Bell Bowl,” Cupan Tae’s signature smoothie for €8.50, the “Veggie Brekkie,” and freshly baked raisin scones.
10:30 a.m. – Claddagh Ring Music and Visitor Centre
Discover the story of Ireland’s famous Claddagh ring at the Claddagh Ring Visitor Centre located at the intersection of Shop, Market, and Mainguard Streets.
The center, which is free to all, is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
If you own a Claddagh ring, you’ll know that the design includes a heart, hands, and a crown, which signifies love, loyalty, and friendship.
Claddagh rings are often used as engagement rings or as wedding bands.
If you're interested in buying one during your tour of Galway, the Claddagh Jewellers store on Mainguard Street is where you can find a wide selection.
The legend of the Claddagh ring is based on Galway-born goldsmith Richard Joyce, who is said to be the creator of the popular piece of jewelry.
The story goes that Joyce was captured by Barbary pirates and spent many years as a slave in North Africa. He was eventually freed and settled back in Galway, bringing the Claddagh ring design back with him. The motifs that he crafted were from those he had seen while living abroad.
At the museum, you’ll learn about the tradition of the Claddagh ring, which was first worn by both men and women living in the nearby Claddagh fishing village.
During your museum visit, you’ll learn about the Claddagh village and its own unique place in Galway history.
Most owners of the Claddagh ring are curious to know how to wear it. Watch this video to find out how.
You’ll also get the chance to see how an actual Claddagh ring is made during a special workshop held in the museum’s nearby production facility.
See a selection of Claddagh Rings at Etsy
2 p.m. – Free Guided Tour of “Galway’s Medieval Treasures”
The Galway Civic Trust runs guided walks every Tuesday and Thursday at 2 p.m. from May through September. The tours are free, but donations are welcome.
The first stop is the Hall of the Red Earl located on Druid Lane.
The archaeological site, discovered in the 1990s, was once the home of Richard the Red Earl, the head of the powerful De Burgo family who ruled Galway during the 13th century.
In the 15th century, the hall was abandoned after the De Burgo family was forced out of power.
It fell into disrepair and in the centuries that followed, it was built over and forgotten.
The site was discovered during a construction project in the 1990s. Thousands of artifacts were unearthed, including gold cufflinks and clay pipes, among other items.
The foundation of the hall still remains, despite being covered over for so long. Its sturdy foundation is encased in glass panels.
Other attractions on the tour include St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, Eyre Square, Lynch’s Castle, and the City Walls.
If you're more curious about how to see Galway and hear lots of stories about the city in the process, tour guide and Galway native Brian Nolan is a great resource.
Learn more about Brian and what he does in our Tourism Ambassador section.
Take a Vacation to Ireland with Aer Lingus Vacations
3:45 p.m. – Stroll around the City
Take a breather and simply stroll around Galway’s quaint streets and alleyways.
Start off around the Spanish Arch, which was built in 1584 and located on the banks of the Corrib, where the river meets the sea.
It was originally designed to protect the city’s quays from looting merchant ships. Part of the arch was destroyed in 1775 by a tsunami, resulting from the Great Lisbon earthquake.
Galway is famous for busking. On your stroll around the city, you’ll discover artists and musicians of all kinds performing in the streets for free. It makes for a lively atmosphere and adds to the city’s cultural ambiance.
In September 2019, however, the Galway County Council passed a set of new rules on busking in the city.
Children under 16 are prevented from performing alone unless accompanied by an adult. Other restrictions on amplification are included in the new by-laws, which can be found here.
You could literally spend hours walking around Galway browsing its eclectic mix of shops. And if you get tired, there's always an opportunity to grab a quick cup of coffee, a delicious pastry, or even a sampling of Butler's chocolates.
Take a Hop-on, Hop-off Tour of Galway City
7 p.m. – Dinner
Ireland on a Budget has several suggestions for grabbing a budget-friendly dinner in the city.
Most of the dishes you’ll order at these restaurants can be purchased for around €10 (that’s not including alcohol).
If you’re traveling with kids, Dough Bros is sure to please.
The casual, award-winning pop-up pizza bar/restaurant serves up delicious wood-fired pizzas. There’s also a variety of craft beers in good supply.
You can get a burrito and a drink for around €9 at the Boojum, Galway’s Mexican Burrito Bar.
The menu is focused primarily on burritos (you can choose from chicken, beef, pork, chili, Chorizo, or vegetarian fillings), as well as tacos and a few other traditional Mexican dishes.
Located on High Street, High Café is known for its freshly prepared, environmentally responsible healthy fare.
The restaurant specializes in Mediterranean and Moroccan cuisine but also serves Indian dishes, pizza, and other traditional foods.
Galway Food Tours offers tours of Galway's many restaurants and eateries. Check out their video below to get a sense of what's on offer.
9 p.m. – Experience a Galway Trad Session
Galway’s “West End” (the oldest part of the city) and the Latin Quarter are where you’ll find much of the action.
Both sections of the city are packed with award-winning restaurants, cafes, trendy bars, live music venues and to be honest, the best traditional pubs around.
The pubs that seem to be most popular with tourists include The Quays, Munroe's, An Pucan, Taaffes, Tigh Neachtain (pronounced “Chee Knockton” or Naughton's as it is known by Americans), and The King’s Head, the oldest pub in Galway.
All offer free traditional music sessions.
All you need is a seat and a pint of the “Black Stuff” (the legendary pint of Guinness of course!), or in the case of The King’s Head, the pub’s own beer, known as The King’s Head Blood Red Ale.
Saturday, 10 a.m. – The Galway Market
Unlike years ago, when Irish cuisine consisted of meat and potatoes, today’s diet is decidedly more diverse.
That is reflected in the variety of food on display at the many food markets around the country, including the Galway Market located on Church Lane.
The market is open year-round, on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and also from noon to 8 p.m. on Sundays, bank holidays, and on Fridays during July and August. It is also open every day during the Galway Arts Festival, which will take place from July 15-28, 2019.
One of the many delights on offer at the market are oysters in buttermilk served up by local man Michael Brown, who gets them from Clarenbridge, a 30-minute drive from the city.
The town is famous for its annual Clarenbridge Oyster Festival.
Speaking of oysters, the Galway International Oyster Festival is a popular event that draws thousands to the city. This year's event takes place during the weekend of Sept. 23rd.
There’s lots more food available at the Galway Market, including Madras curry, delicious crepes, sushi, homemade bread, and cookies, as well as numerous crafts.
The market runs daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Dec. 14 through 24. It’s one of the many Christmas markets popping up all over Ireland these days, similar to those common in mainland Europe.
Learn the History of Galway with Tour Guide Gerry Hanley
12 p.m. – Day Trip to the Aran Islands
A day trip to the Aran Islands is a great way to cap off a 36-hour trip to Galway.
The islands, about 45 kilometers (27 miles) from mainland Galway, consist of Inish Mór, the largest island with a population of about 900, Inishmaan, with a population of 200, and the smallest island, Inisheer, with a population of about 260 people.
National Geographic named the islands number 11 on the magazine's list of top island destinations in the world.
They remain a bastion of the Irish language and culture, with Gaelic being spoken on a daily basis.
Aran Island Ferries operates a year-round service from Rossaveal (a 40-minute drive from Galway city) to Inish Mór. You can get a bus from Galway to Rossaveal. The crossing to Inish Mór takes 35 minutes.
Expect to spend the rest of the day exploring Inish Mór, either on foot or on a bicycle. From May through September, you can travel from Inish Mór to the other islands but not during the winter months.
Visiting Ireland’s sixth-largest city is an experience you won’t easily forget, even if it’s only for 36 hours. From its sumptuous restaurants, lively street entertainment, and all-around friendliness, you’ll want to come back to Galway time and time again.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this post on how to see Galway, why not check out this handy Google map that includes a full itinerary of things to do on a 3-day trip to this popular Irish county?
Is Galway on your list of places to see in Ireland? Let me know in the comments below.