Galway City is a spirited, vibrant city that’s known as the gateway to Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. When most people visit Ireland for the first time, they head straight to Dublin, but Galway makes a great alternative to the tourist-saturated capital. It’s much less expensive and there are a ton of free things to do in Galway! Galway City was declared Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2020 (along with Rijeka, Croatia), with fresh salt air and good vibes all around.
Galway City is the main city in County Galway, which is home to so many wonderful things to do outside of the city limits. Among the many easy day trips from Galway include Inis Mor, one of the Aran Islands, and Connemara National Park, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in real-life. If you only have a few days to spend and are foregoing the day trips this time, there’s plenty going on in the city to keep you occupied (for next to nothing!). What can you do in Galway City that’s absolutely free!? Read on!
Table of contents
- admire galway cathedral
- feel the energy of the latin quarter
- learn about lynching at lynch’s castle
- visit the old city walls
- take pictures under the spanish arch
- learn about the tribes in eyre square
- experience history at galway city museum
- appreciate street buskers
- peruse galway market
- admire galway hookers
- visit collegiate church of st. nicholas
- check out galway arts centre
- head to salthill prom
- visit merlin woods
- take the long walk
- visit thomas dillon’s, the original maker of the claddagh ring
- stroll along the river corrib
- duck into charlie byrne’s bookstore
- explore galway flea markets and vintage stores
- find some good craic and enjoy trad music
- pin it
admire galway cathedral
From many points in Galway City, you can spot the iconic sea-green dome of the Galway Cathedral. This is among the top free things to do in Galway City, and visitors will be pleasantly surprised at the cathedral’s interior. In contrast with the stark, almost drab, exterior, the interior is lit up with vivid stained-glass windows and dramatic marble flooring.
The Cathedral is open to the public from 08:30 to 18:30 daily.
feel the energy of the latin quarter
The Latin Quarter is the beating heart of Galway, easily the most fun, colorful, and lively part of the city. With its vibrant buildings, strung banners that criss-cross the cobbled streets, and street performers, exploring the Latin Quarter can leave you entertained for at least a few hours.
Here, you can discover some epic restaurants, eclectic shops, unique art galleries, enjoy the music, or simply stroll around and absorb the excited energy all around.
The Latin Quarter is what will make you fall in love with Galway. The shops and restaurants may remain the same, but the energies are fluctuating with the different people and performers that frequent the area.
learn about lynching at lynch’s castle
Lynching is an execution without trial by jury, usually referencing public execution by hanging. But where did the term come from? Well, directly from Galway.
Visit the Lynch Castle in Galway (which is actually a bank today), to see the former home to the Lynch family, one of the original 14 Tribes of Galway. The Lynch family stirred up a lot of controversy in the 15th century, when Mayor James Lynch’s son killed a Spaniard over a woman. He was sentenced to death, and though the facts are not entirely agreed upon, it’s one of the most well-known tales to come out of Galwegian history.
You can visit the Lynch Castle to see the family’s former home, go to the window where the hanging took place on Lombard Street, or take a free historical tour which will surely tell you the story in detail – all for free!
visit the old city walls
Galway was, once upon a time, a fortified medieval city. Despite the fact that a lot of its history has faded over the years, there are still remaining sections of the original city walls standing (and in pristine condition). The Spanish Arch is part of the original Front Wall, and you can also check out the Shoemaker’s Tower, just beside Eyre Square.
take pictures under the spanish arch
The Spanish Arch in Galway provides a beautiful photo-op for those wanting to get that picture-perfect shot for their 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 photograph. The Arch is part of the Front Wall, one of Galway’s medieval city walls, used to protect the city quays (pronounced: ‘keys’). If you anticipate having issues on the uneven cobblestone streets of Galway, check out these top women’s shoes for walking on cobblestones.
learn about the tribes in eyre square
The central point of Galway City is Eyre Square (pronounced Air Square), a place with a lot of bustling activity, but also plenty of park benches to relax and people-watch. Relaxing in the Square is the perfect place to take a seat (and perhaps a picnic) to get some rest from a busy, sightseeing filled day.
Upon first arriving at Eyre Square, you’ll undoubtedly notice the colorful banners adorned with family crests and names. These 14 flags represent the 14 Tribes of Galway, from which 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 Galway City between the 13th and 19th centuries – so, quite a while! Why not grab a book on Galwegian history at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, grab a seat on a park bench, and learn about the Tribes’ history?
experience history at galway city museum
A free museum? Sign me up! The Galway City Museum showcases the history of Galway, from prehistoric to modern times and everything in between. There are a number of free events for both children and adults, which can be reserved (for free) online.
There are three floors with multiple exhibitions depicting the prehistoric past, medieval artwork, and maritime history, among others. You can also learn about the ancient weapons and warfare of the ancient Irish people.
The Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 to 17:00.
appreciate street buskers
Street performers, also known as buskers, are very prevalent in Galway City. The city is renowned for its creative artistry, and buskers are no exception. They are most frequently found down Shop Street and in the Latin Quarter.
You can see all sorts of performances, from cover bands to Irish step dancers, from ballerinas to traditional Trad music. There isn’t a set schedule, you get what you get. Although these performances are free to enjoy, if you like what you hear (or see), give them a tip to show your appreciation. If you are going to take photos or videos, definitely leave a tip.
peruse galway market
If you happen to be in Galway and looking for something free to do on the weekends, check out Galway Market. Right next to the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, Galway Market boasts locally made delicacies, handcrafted goods, produce, and more. It’s a great place to do some souvenir shopping if you don’t want something very kitschy. The market is open year-round on Saturdays and Sundays. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, it transforms into one of the best Christmas Markets in Europe, with extended hours. If you’re looking to save money on going out to eat, grab some snacks from Galway Market and have a picnic on the banks of the River Corrib.
admire galway hookers
Uhh, what? Yeah, find some good craic (pronounced – crack) and go check out a Galway Hooker! OK, so the Irish certainly have some jargon that seems a bit dirty. But craic simply means ‘good time’ or ‘fun atmosphere’. And Galway Hookers? Well, there are two types.
One would be the iconic fishing boat that was developed to withstand the strong seas around Galway Bay. You can see plenty of these floating around or on the shores of Galway Bay. The second would be an Irish Brewery, best known for their original Irish Pale Ale.
visit collegiate church of st. nicholas
This stunning Church is the largest medieval parish church in Ireland that’s been used continuously since its establishment. If you’re looking for one of the best free things to do in Galway City, the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas frequently hosts free music performances. There are evening concerts as well as afternoon classical recitals. For a little bit of mystery, do some digging to uncover the Church’s connections with the Knights Templar.
I have to admit, I’m a bit of a Dan Brown junkie, and tales involving the Knights Templar and Illuminati absolutely fascinate me, so this is right up my alley.
Adjacent to the Church is the Galway Market, which is another great free thing to do in Galway, held on Saturdays and Sundays.
check out galway arts centre
The Galway Arts Centre is a huge gallery that offers free admission. The Centre is home to events and temporary exhibitions featuring predominantly Irish artists. They also have a number of theatre performances, which usually aren’t free, but are super affordable. The Arts Centre is currently closed due to COVID restrictions. Once things reopen, you can check out the current offerings here.
head to salthill prom
Salthill is just outside of the center of Galway City, familiar to many from references in the song ‘Galway Girl’. It’s a popular tourist visit that 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!
Depending on the weather, you may want to head to the pier to take a dip, one of the most refreshing free things to do in Galway. Definitely wait for high tide to jump!
visit merlin woods
If you need a break from city life, but are not committed to taking a day trip from Galway, Merlin Woods is a great (and free) option. It’s a huge expanse of urban forest surrounding the city, complete with areas of bare limestone, almost making you feel as though you’re in a wooded version of The Burren.
There are plenty of different species of flora and fauna to keep you guessing (or using identification apps), including over 15 different species of Irish butterflies! This is an excellent free thing to do in Galway that allows you to appreciate the biodiversity of the area.
take the long walk
The Long Walk is one of the most recognizable areas of Galway. 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.
Though the walk isn’t long at all (it takes 15-ish minutes), take your time as you walk along the water and admire the colorful 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 the golden hour.
The Long Walk is another Galway locale that’s mentioned in the original Galway Girl song (which I personally think is waaay better than the Ed Sheeran version [though I do love me some Ed Sheeran]). If you’ve ever seen P.S., I Love You, it’ll sound familiar.
visit thomas dillon’s, the original maker of the claddagh ring
Consider stopping in Thomas Dillon Claddagh Gold to see the original makers of the Claddagh ring. For those who are unfamiliar, 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.
The ring is normally given as an engagement ring, but I bought one for myself! They weren’t very expensive, but you can go in to peruse Thomas Dillon’s free of charge. If you do decide to purchase one (or any other purchases in Ireland, for that matter), be sure to get a tax voucher if you’re not from the EU. You can get a little cash back when you’re leaving the country for unnecessary taxes paid – more information is available here.
The shopkeepers are well-equipped to answer any questions you may have, including where you should wear the ring if it’s not being worn as 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! Thomas Dillon’s is open daily till 17:00.
stroll along the river corrib
The River Corrib flows from Lough Corrib, through Galway to Galway Bay. It is one of the shortest rivers in all of Europe, but also the fastest! For those that love river adventures, adventure kayaking is available. For those of us not so inclined to such activities, it’s equally as nice to just grab some snacks from Galway Market (and ale, of course), grab a blanket, and sit along the river banks, listening to the rushing water.
You can also take a walk to explore the canals and bridges of Galway City and its extremely short, extremely fast river. You’ll find that wandering around, exploring the labyrinth of canals is very peaceful, especially when compared with the Latin Quarter or Eyre Square.
duck into charlie byrne’s bookstore
Some people collect shot glasses when they travel. Some people get post cards. I like to get books when I travel, written by a local author or about the place. Well, I did, before I decided to get rid of all my things and travel on a more permanent basis. I hadn’t made that decision yet, when I visited Galway for the first time. So I knew I had to visit Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop for my souvenir needs.
You don’t have to purchase anything to enjoy this epic, well-known bookstore. It’s a perfect stop for a rainy day (in fact, it was raining when I went), and free to enter. The staff are super-friendly and they’re used to people coming in and browsing.
They offer both new and used books, some in multiple languages as well. This unassuming little bookstore actually won Best Bookshop in Ireland in 2014! Regardless of whether you plan on buying a book or not, it’s one of the best free things to do in Galway.
Interested in what I bought?
explore galway flea markets and vintage stores
Explore local thrift shops and vintage flea markets to see some quirky items or find an exciting souvenir to bring home with you.
On the last Sunday of the month is Galway’s renowned Flea Style Market, where you can find vintage records, artisan soaps and toiletries, locally made jams and confections, antiques, vintage clothes, and more. Public Romance Vintage is another popular stop, offering thrift goods that are priced by the kilo (perfect if your airline has weight restrictions!).
find some good craic and enjoy trad music
There are a bunch of places in Galway City where you can find free, live music. Try to seek out Trad, the traditional Irish music that will give you the full, Irish experience. During the entire trip, I enjoyed these two places so much for the music that I never ventured elsewhere – The Salt House, and the infamous Monroe’s Tavern.
Monroe’s is much bigger, with a mix of tourists and old regulars that hang out at the bar. I was able to catch a fun Irish step performance (by bar patrons, mind you) one night! A pint will cost you, but entrance to both pubs are free, even when there is live music.