Galway was, in my head, this fairytale-magic Irish city. A place filled with Gerry-esque men (ala P.S. I Love You), cozy pubs and quintessential Irish charm.
And while it wasn’t quite what I expected, Galway still turned out to be one of my favourite destinations on my week long Ireland road trip.
It’s a city, and a relatively big city, by Irish standards. So while it doesn’t have that small town charm, there’s something you can’t help but love about Galway. From the brightly painted pubs, to the medieval history and amazing foodie scene, Galway has a lot to love.
One day in Galway is enough time to hit the city’s main attractions, have a pint or two of Guinness and escape to the countryside to Dunguaire Castle. Not in that order, of course. Ready to start planning your perfect one day in Galway? Dive in!
Getting Around Galway
Galway City is relatively compact and easy to explore on foot. The city’s main attractions are in close proximity, making it easy to see the sites in a day. However, if you want to explore more of County Galway and the surrounding towns and castles, I recommend renting a car.
Hiring a car in Ireland is by far the best way to get around. To read more about renting a car in Ireland check out my post on planning an Ireland road trip.
1-Day Galway Itinerary
Morning: Breakfast at Ard Bia at Nimmos
You’ve got a big day of exploring ahead of you, so fuel up with breakfast at one of Galway’s top restaurants.
Ard Bia at Nimmos is an Irish restaurant by the River Corrib in the heart of Galway City. The restaurant itself is lovely, with views over the Claddagh Basin and homemade touches throughout. Mismatched furniture is paired with homemade breads, preserves and jams. And that’s not even getting to the good part.
While Ard Bia at Nimmos can be expensive in the evening, their brunch menu is affordable and delicious. We positively drooled as the lady at the table next to us ordered buttermilk pancakes, but my own field mushrooms and halloumi made for the best breakfast I’d had in a long time. Seriously; I’d go back to Galway just to eat here again.
Not a big breakfast person? Pop into Gourmet Tart Co. for a selection of pastries and tarts.
Morning: Dunguaire Castle
After devouring the best breakfast in Galway, hop in your car and get going. We’re off to explore a castle!
Located a 30-minute drive from Galway City, Dunguaire Castle is a 16th-century tower house and is one of the most photographed castles in Ireland. And though it’s a little smaller than I expected, it’s still a lovely sight.
To get a photo with Galway Bay and the castle in the background walk back along the footpath and you’ll see a break in the wall where you can cross over. Follow the path and you’ll come to the edge of the lake and a great photo spot.
If you’re looking for an epic castle experience, why not indulge in a banquet in Dunguaire Castle? Held in the tradition of the medieval ‘King Guaire’, you’ll get to partake in a four-course meal complete with wine and local stories. Very Game of Thrones, but hopefully a little less bloody.
Dunguaire Castle is only open to visitors during summer from April-October.
Midday: Galway Cathedral
Next up on your 1-day Galway itinerary we’re headed back to the city for an afternoon of site-seeing.
Galway Cathedral, while not the most impressive cathedral I’ve ever seen, is still worth ticking off your Galway bucket list. Maybe I’m a little ageist, because Galway Cathedral is relatively young (it was only built in 1958). Still, Europe’s latest great stone Cathedral is a beautiful building with stained-glass windows, mosaics and interesting artwork.
Go on, have a peek inside.
Read More: The Ultimate 7-Day Ireland Road Trip
Afternoon: Shop St
After you’ve had your fill of cathedrals, walk on over to Galway’s main shopping street, the imaginatively named ‘Shop Street’.
While Shop Street is a good place to look for souvenirs, I enjoyed it as much for the colourful buildings and festive atmosphere. On a walk along Shop Street I discovered (weirdly) bagpipe-playing buskers and a plethora of colourful pubs. Vibrant flags criss-crossed the streets, and the old brick buildings added to that Irish charm I had imagined Galway to have.
While on Shop Street keep an eye out for Lynch’s Castle. A perfectly-preserved example of Spanish architecture dating back to the 14th-16th centuries, today the castle houses AIB Bank. Strangely fitting, I think.
Shop Street is also a great place to pick up a Claddagh ring as a souvenir. A traditional Irish ring representing love, loyalty, and friendship, Claddagh rings have been made in Galway since at least 1700. Thomas Dillon’s is one of the original makers of the Claddagh ring and is perhaps the best place to shop for one. Just remember; it’s bad luck to buy a ring for yourself.
Afternoon: Eyre Square
While you’re in the city centre swing by Eyre Square for a look. Officially known as the John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, this inner-city park is especially lovely in Spring when the flowers start to bloom. At any time of the year Eyre Square is the perfect place to perch on a park bench and indulge in a spot of people watching.
Afternoon: Spanish Arch & Galway Museum
Galway’s Spanish Arch dates back to the days of merchant trade with Spain and Spanish galleons, which often docked in Galway. Today the arch is in impressive condition, considering it was built in 1584, and is one of Galway’s most popular medieval gems.
Oh hey, it’s also conveniently located next to Ard Bia at Nimmos. You could go back for lunch, maybe?
On the other side of the Spanish Arch you’ll find the Galway City Museum, one of Galway’s most popular attractions.
My favourite exhibition was Revolution in Galway, which gives you a great insight into the days of British rule in Ireland and the revolution that led to Irish independence. Galway City Museum also has exhibitions on Galway & The Great War and a fun science-based exhibit about sea life. It’d be a great place to take your kids (though I enjoyed it as an adult, too).
Galway City Museum is free to visit, though donations are appreciated.
Afternoon Tea: Cupan Tae
Feeling a tad peckish? Good. Next up on our one day in Galway we’re going for a cup of tea at Cupan Tae.
Cupan Tae (which means ‘tea cup’ in Irish) is Ireland’s #1 afternoon tea spot. Seriously, it’s like something out of a fairytale. Think mismatched tea cups, tea cups hanging in the storefront window, and white tablecloths laid with sugar cubes and plated silverware and you kind of get the picture.
Cupan Tae offers a huge range of tea flavours, from classic Irish breakfast tea to the exotic-sounding Popcorn Caramel Candy tea. Tea not your thing? The restaurant also offers a range of afternoon tea treats, including an insanely good salted caramel, tea-infused, popcorn-topped panna cotta. Is anyone else drooling right now?
Evening: Sunset at Salthill Promenade
Your one day in Galway is almost over! Before the day is done, though, we’re headed to Salthill Promenade to catch the sunset.
You could drive to Salthill, though it makes for a lovely 30-minute walk from Galway City centre. As you walk keep an eye out for the vibrantly coloured houses of The Long Walk that face onto Galway Bay.
Salthill Promenade is a small seaside resort on the northern side of Galway Bay made up of a stretch of sandy and rocky patches. It’s not the loveliest beach you’ll come across, but the way the sun sets on the beach is pure magic.
Night: Dinner at Dough Bros.
Hungry? Me too. End your epic day in Galway with a pizza at Dough Bros.
They started as a street food truck, and today Dough Bros is one of Galway’s most popular foodie haunts. And honestly, if the queue out the door didn’t give you a clue, once you take a bite of pizza you’ll understand why. Dough Bros wood-fired pizzas are deliciously simple, and made fresh from local ingredients. It’s a winning combination, really.
Dough Bros also offer gluten free pizza bases.
Other Things To Do If You Have More Than One Day in Galway
Spending a little longer in Galway? Check out these top things to do in Galway for a bit of inspiration!
Connemara National Park
Connemara National Park, located in the West of Ireland in County Galway, is considered by some to be Ireland’s loveliest national park. And with a rich landscape consisting of mountains, bogs, grasslands and forests, it’s easy to see why. Pack a picnic and go for a walk, climb a mountain and admire some of Ireland’s stunning countryside.
Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop
Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop is a popular local haunt, and bookworms will find it easy to while away a few hours here. With a maze of over 100,000 new and secondhand books, this bookshop is one of the more off-the-beaten-path, but lovely, things to do in Galway.
Fancy yourself a bit of a street photographer? Head to Kirwan’s Lane to discover one of Galway’s top Instagram spots. A quaint pedestrian street lined with colourful pubs, cafes and shops, Kirwan’s Lane is perhaps Galway’s prettiest street.
Cliffs of Moher
Located around an hour and half from Galway City, the Cliffs of Moher make for an easy Galway day trip. Though I didn’t love the Cliffs of Moher as much as I thought I would (I found it a little crowded and over-commercialised), they’re still a stunning natural attraction and one of Ireland’s most famous sites. So go, and be amazed, but maybe lower your expectations a tad.
Galway is one of Ireland’s gems, and is an essential stop on any trip to Ireland. From its cozy pubs and colourful streets, to castles and medieval architecture, there’s a lot to love about Galway. Lucky for you, it’s easy to explore Galway in a day, though I’m pretty sure it’ll leave you planning your trip back.
Stay: We stayed at Woodquay Hostel. The rooms were clean, the staff friendly, and the hostel was well-located close to the city centre. We spent €21 per night for a 6-bed mixed dorm with ensuite.