County Galway's exuberant namesake city is a swirl of colourful shop-lined streets filled with buskers and performance artists, enticing old pubs that hum with trad music sessions throughout the year, and an increasingly sophisticated food scene that celebrates local produce.
Some of Ireland's most picturesque scenery fans out from Galway's city limits, particularly along the breathtaking Connemara Peninsula. Tiny roads wander along a coastline studded with islands, dazzling white sandy beaches and intriguing villages; the interior shelters heath-strewn boglands, glassy lakes, looming mountains and isolated valleys. In the county's east, towns with medieval remains give way to rolling farmland.
Offshore, the wild and beautiful eroded swathes of the Aran Islands possess a desolate and windswept yet entrancing aura, and offer a glimpse into Irish life of centuries past.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout County Galway.
Dún Aonghasa is one of the largest prehistoric stone forts in Europe and stands guard over Inis Mór on the edge of a 100-metre sheer cliff drop. Sometimes anglicised as Dun Aengus, the fort was built around 1100 BC and is protected by remarkable chevaux de frise, fearsome, defensive limestone spikes. The entirety of the site is about 14 acres and the displays at the small visitor center provide additional context. As powerful swells pound the cliff face below, on top you’ll get some of the finest and most jaw-dropping views you'll find anywhere in the Aran Islands. To preserve the site, there are no railings or any other modern additions so you can go right up to the cliff's edge, but also potentially fall to your doom below – take extra care as gusts of wind can catch you unaware. Tickets and other practicalities Access to the ring fort is through the visitor center for the fee of €5 with concessions available. From there it’s a short uphill hike to the peak of the fort.
The 'Fighting O'Flahertys' were based at this superbly preserved 16th-century fortress 4km east of Oughterard. The clan controlled the region for hundreds of years after they fought off the Normans. Today their six-storey tower house stands on a rocky outcrop overlooking Lough Corrib and has been extensively restored.
Immediately southeast of Letterfrack, Connemara National Park spans 2000 dramatic hectares of bog, mountains, heath and woodlands. The park encloses a number of the Twelve Bens, including Bencullagh, Benbrack and Benbaun. The heart of the park is Gleann Mór (Big Glen), through which the River Polladirk flows. There's fine walking up the glen and over the surrounding mountains along with short self-guided walks. Guided nature walks led by park rangers depart from the visitor centre.
Exhibits at this modern, three-floor museum engagingly convey the city's archaeological, political, cultural and social history. Look out for an iconic Galway hooker fishing boat, a collection of currachs (boats made of a framework of laths covered with tarred canvas) and sections covering Galway's role in the revolutionary events that shaped the Republic of Ireland.
Galway's bohemian spirit comes alive at its street market, which has set up in this spot for centuries. Saturdays are the standout for food, when farmers sell fresh produce alongside stalls selling arts, crafts and ready-to-eat dishes. Additional markets take place from noon to 6pm on bank holidays, Fridays in July and August and every day during the Galway International Arts Festival. Buskers add to the festive atmosphere.
Photogenically perched on the shores of Pollacapall Lough, 4km east of Letterfrack, Kylemore is a crenellated 19th-century neo-Gothic fantasy. It was built for a wealthy English businessman, Mitchell Henry, who spent his honeymoon in Connemara. Ground-floor rooms are open to visitors, and you can wander down to the lake and the Gothic church. Admission includes entry to the extravagant Victorian walled gardens, around a 20-minute walk away (linked by a free shuttle bus from April to October).
The Spanish Arch is thought to be an extension of Galway's medieval city walls, designed to protect ships moored at the nearby quay while they unloaded goods from Spain. It was partially destroyed by the tsunami that followed the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Today it reverberates with buskers and drummers, and the lawns and riverside form a gathering place for locals and visitors on sunny days, as kayakers negotiate the tidal rapids of the River Corrib.
Galway's central public square is busy in all but the harshest weather. A welcoming open green space with sculptures and pathways, its lawns are formally named Kennedy Park in commemoration of JFK's June 1963 visit to Galway, though locals always call it Eyre Sq. Guarding the upper side of the square is the Browne Doorway, an imposing, if forlorn, fragment from the home of one of the city's merchant rulers. Dating from 1627, it was relocated here from Abbeygate St in 1905.
Rising over the River Corrib, imposing Galway Cathedral is one of the city's finest buildings. Highlights include a beautifully decorated dome, attractive Romanesque arches, intricate mosaics and rough-hewn stonework emblazoned with copious stained glass. Regular musical events showcase the superb acoustics; look out for concerts, organ recitals, Gregorian chanting and Sunday morning Mass (11am), when the choir sings.