Galway is a vibrant city that’s known as the gateway to Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way – and while most people head straight to Dublin when they visit Ireland for the first time, the city makes a great alternative to the often expensive capital, with plenty of free things to do in Galway.
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Declared Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2020 (along with Rijeka, Croatia), you’ll find fewer crowds in Galway – the main town in County Galway – along with fresh sea air and good vibes all around.
If you’ve got more time to explore, you won’t be short of easy day trips from Galway, including to Inis Mor, one of the Aran Islands, and the beautiful Connemara National Park. But if you only have a few days to spend, here’s how to fill your time in the city while spending next to nothing.
Admire Galway Cathedral
You can spot the pale green dome of Galway Cathedral from all over the city, and a visit is one of the top free things to do in Galway (although donations are welcome!)
In contrast to the stark exterior, the cathedral’s interior is lit up with vivid stained-glass windows and dramatic marble flooring – an eye-catching surprise as you step inside.
The cathedral is open to the public from 8:30am to 6:30pmwalls daily, except for major festivals when it might close earlier.
Learn the dark history of Lynch’s castle
It would be easy to overlook Lynch’s Castle in Galway – now a bank, the 16th century building is the former home to the Lynch family, one of the original 14 ruling tribes of Galway.
Four storeys high, with gargoyles and carved windows, parts of the medieval fortified house may be even older, and the influential family’s history has even donated a word to the English language.
If you ever wondered where the term lynching came from, executing without trial by jury (usually public execution by hanging), it was straight from Galway, after James Lynch Fitzstephen, then mayor of Galway, hanged his own son for the murder of a Spanish sailor in 1493.
So the story goes (and the facts aren’t entirely agreed upon), the quarrel was over a woman and it’s one of the most well-known tales to come out of Galway’s history. You can also see where the hanging took place on Lombard Street, and any walking tour is likely to tell you the story in detail!
The Lynch coat of arms can be seen on the front of the building as well as coats of arms for Henry VII and the Fitzgeralds of Kildare. You can visit the ground floor during bank opening hours where panels explain the history and architecture of the building in detail.
Wander the Latin Quarter
The Latin Quarter is the beating heart of Galway, easily the most fun, colourful, and lively part of the city – with everything from street performers to eclectic shops, don’t rush your visit.
Stroll along the cobbled streets and you’ll also find little art galleries, hear plenty of music, find restaurants galore to eat and plenty of chance for people watching, and absorbing the energy of the place.
Guaranteed to appeal to teens in particular, the Latin Quarter is what will make you fall in love with Galway – the beating heart of the city, it’s what helps make Galway one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
And no two visits are ever quite the same: the shops and restaurants may not change but the experience varies with the different people and performers that frequent the area.
Visit the old city walls
Galway was, once upon a time, a fortified medieval city, and despite the fact that not all its historic buildings are standing, there are still sections of the original city walls remaining.
The Spanish Arch is part of the original Front Wall, and you can also check out the Shoemaker’s Tower, just beside Eyre Square, plus sections tucked away in the square’s shopping centre.
Take pictures under the Spanish Arch
While you’re checking out the remains of the old walls, Galway’s Spanish Arch is a gorgeous spot for a photo – handy if you’re searching for that picture-perfect shot for Instagram.
Depending on the time of day and whether there are puddles on the ground, the way the light reflects under the arch can make for a stunning picture.
The Arch is part of the Front Wall, one of Galway’s medieval city walls, used to protect the city quays. An extension of the 12th century Norman wall, it was built in 1584 to house soldiers keeping watch.
Learn about the tribes in Eyre Square
The central point of Galway is Eyre Square (pronounced Air Square), with plenty of park benches to relax and people-watch (or picnic) among the bustle during a busy day sightseeing.
When you first arrive, you’ll notice a series of colourful banners adorned with family crests and names – 14 flags representing the 14 Tribes of Galway, from whom the city’s nickname ‘City of the Tribes’ is derived.
The Tribes of Galway were merchant families who controlled the political, economic, and communal life of the city between the 13th and 19th centuries, including the Lynch family.
Experience history at Galway City Museum
This museum is another of the great free things to do in Galway, showcasing the history of Galway, from prehistoric to modern times and everything in between.
Galway City Museum has three floors of galleries, with seven long-term exhibitions and two temporary ones, covering everything from the prehistoric era to medieval artwork, and maritime history, among others
You can also learn about the ancient weapons and warfare over Ireland’s history, and there are also often events for kids taking place.
The Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 to 16.45, currently with four daily timeslots for entry, which must be prebooked.
Admire Galway Hookers
If you’re visiting Galway with kids, you might not be expecting a suggestion to check out a Galway Hooker – but if your eyebrows are raised, it’s not what you’re thinking!
In fact, there are two types. One is the fishing boat that was developed to withstand the strong seas around Galway Bay, and you’ll see plenty of these floating out on the water or on the shores of Galway Bay.
The second? The name of an Irish Brewery, best known for their Pale Ale.
Visit the Collegiate Church of St Nicholas
This lovely church is the largest medieval parish church in Ireland to be used continuously since its establishment – and easily one of the best free things to do in Galway.
One of the most famous visitors to the church was Christopher Columbus, who’s believed to have prayed at the Collegiate Church of St Nicholas during a visit to Galway in 1477 – while Cromwell’s troops stabled their horses here in the 17th century.
And the church itself is dedicated to the same St Nicholas who gives us Santa Claus, patron saint of children and mariners. Look out for the carvings of mermaids and gargoyles above the south porch too.
There may even be links to the Templars, although that’s debated: it certainly houses the grave of a 13th century crusader though.
The church also frequently hosts free music performances, including evening concerts as well as afternoon classical recitals, while Galway Market takes place next door.
Browse Galway market
If you’re visiting Galway during a weekend, don’t miss the city’s market. Right next to the Collegiate Church of St Nicholas, at Galway Market you’ll find locally made delicacies, handcrafted goods, delicious food and more.
It’s a great place to do some souvenir shopping too. Open year-round on Saturdays and Sundays, it also transforms into a Christmas market during the winter, with extended hours.
If you’re looking to save money on going out to eat, one budget-friendly option is to grab some snacks from Galway Market and have a picnic on the banks of the River Corrib.
If you do have some budget to spend, save it for this fantastic food tour of Galway, which visits the Galway market as well as some other haunts only known to insiders – with everything from oysters to sushi on the list, it’s one for older kids or more adventurous mini foodies.
Check out Galway Arts Centre
The Galway Arts Centre is a huge gallery with no entry charge, and another great option to add to your list of free things to do in Galway.
Featuring predominantly Irish artists, the Centre is home to various events and temporary exhibitions, along with theatre performances (which these usually aren’t free, they are affordable).
Head to Salthill Prom
Salthill is just outside Galway’s city centre and runs along the perimeter of Galway Bay – if you’re lucky and visit on a clear day, you can even see the Aran Islands from here.
Either way, the promenade – or prom – is a great place for a walk. And if the weather’s good, head towards the pier with its diving tower to plunge into the sea (only for strong swimmers, and always check any notices to make sure it’s safe, of course!)
If you buy tickets to Galway’s hop-on hop-off bus, it will take you to Salthill as well as around the city’s sights, and tickets (sadly not free!) are valid for 48 hours
Visit Merlin Woods
If you need a break from city life but don’t want a full day trip from Galway, Merlin Woods is a great (and free) option.
The huge expanse of urban forest surrounding the city is also home to areas of bare limestone, almost making you feel as though you’re in a wooded version of The Burren.
There are countless different species of flora and fauna to spot, including over 15 different species of Irish butterflies.
Take the Long Walk
The Long Walk is one of the most recognisable areas of Galway – despite the name, it’s actually a quite short walk along Lough Corrib, starting in front of the Galway City Museum, passing through the Spanish Arch and onward.
While the walk isn’t long at all (it takes around 15 minutes), take your time as you walk along the water and admire the colourful houses that overlook Galway Bay.
The place is a photographer’s dream, particularly if there are Galway Hookers or birds out that day and you visit during golden hour.
Stroll by the water
There are several options if you fancy a wander by the waterside, starting with the River Corrib. Flowing from Lough Corrib, through Galway to Galway Bay, it is one of the shortest rivers in all of Europe, but also the fastest.
And for those looking for a memorable adventure, you can go kayaking out on the river. For anyone who’d prefer the views, it’s equally as nice to just grab some snacks from Galway Market and sit along the river banks, listening to the rushing water.
You can also take a walk exploring the canals and bridges of Galway stretching between Claddagh Basin and the Galway Arts Centre up towards the cathedral – a lovely peaceful spot if you want a break after walking the Latin Quarter or Eyre Square.
Visit Thomas Dillon’s
Stop in at Thomas Dillon Claddagh Gold to see the original makers of the Claddagh ring – if you’re unfamiliar with it, the Claddagh ring is a traditional Irish ring depicting two hands holding a crowned heart.
The hands represent friendship, the heart represents love, and the crown represents loyalty, and while it’s often given as an engagement ring, there’s nothing to stop you eyeing one up as a souvenir.
Plus, of course, if you just want to browse and learn a little more, it’s completely free. The staff are usually happy to answer any questions you may have, including where you should wear the ring if it’s not an engagement ring.
They also have the world’s smallest Claddagh ring, about the size of a pinhead. It’s so tiny you need a magnifying glass to be able to see it!
Visit Charlie Byrne’s bookstore
You’ll find over 100,000 books crammed into this lovely independent bookstore – the perfect place to while away a rainy day in Galway with kids (and technically one of the free things to do in Galway, although the temptation to buy is huge).
You’ll find new and second-hand books at Charlie Byrne’s, including foreign language titles, as well as a whole section on children’s books. If you want to learn more about Galway and its history, there’s plenty of choice here.
Since opening in 1989, the bookshop has expanded and moved premises more than once, winning the title of Best Bookshop in Ireland in 2014.
Find flea markets and vintage stores
There are some great places in Galway to shop with teens, from vintage flea markets to thrift shops, to find some quirky fashion or a unique souvenir.
On the last Sunday of the month, Galway’s Flea Market takes place, where you can find vintage records, artisan soaps and toiletries, locally made jams, antiques, vintage clothes, and all kinds of other treasures.
If you’re visiting at another time, Public Romance Vintage is a popular stop, with finds priced by the kilo (helpful to know if your airline has weight restrictions!)
Soak up some music
Galway is known for its creative side, and you’ll find music everywhere with buskers performing all over, especially down Shop Street and in the Latin Quarter.
You can see all sorts of performances, from cover bands to Irish dancers, traditional music and even some ballet.
And of course, although these performances are free to enjoy, if you like what you hear (or see), do leave a tip to show your appreciation (especially if you are going to take photos or videos).
PIN FOR LATER: THE BEST FREE THINGS TO DO IN GALWAY
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