By Briana Seftel
Galway, known as the City of Tribes, is one of Ireland’s most popular destinations for good reason. With its maritime history and bohemian flair, it’s hard not to succumb to the city’s infectious good energy. Whether you’re visiting on a budget or not, here are 12 free things to do in Galway.
1. Galway Cathedral
Situated on the banks of the River Corrib, Galway Cathedral is a relatively new addition to the city established in 1965. Wander freely through the cathedral or go for Sunday mass at 11 am to hear the choir. In July and August, the cathedral hosts a series of summer concerts at 8 pm that are free and open to the public.
2. Eyre Square
Galway’s medieval roots can be traced back to Eyre Square, the city’s main meeting place. On a sunny day, there’s no better place to people watch, listen to local musicians or relax on the green lawn. If you’re visiting during the holidays, don’t miss the festive Christmas Market held at the square.
3. Dunguaire Castle
Just south of Galway is the village of Kinvara, home to the 16th-century Dunguaire Castle. While you’ll need to pay admission to enter inside, it’s really worth seeing this ancient fortress from the outside. Overlooking Galway Bay, the castle makes for a perfect photo op.
4. Galway City Museum
This free museum gives visitors insight into the history of Galway. Across three floors, take a look at over 1,000 objects collected from the people of Galway including medieval tapestries and weaponry from World War I. In addition to its permanent collection, you’ll find several rotating exhibitions on Galway’s maritime history and more.
5. Summer festivals
Galway is renowned for being the festival capital of Ireland. Every summer, the city comes alive with a multitude of fun and free festivals like the Galway Oyster & Seafood Festival, the Galway International Arts Festival and the Galway Races.
6. Claddagh Ring Museum
Located on Quay Street, Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold was established in 1750 and is the original maker of the Claddagh ring, a symbol of friendship and love. The museum within the shop houses some of the very first Claddagh rings made from 1700 to 1800, as well as the world's smallest Claddagh ring on top of a tailor's pin.
Galway is home to the National University of Ireland Galway, or NUI Galway for short. At the heart of this prestigious college is the Quadrangle, which was opened in 1849 and modeled after Christ Church at the University of Oxford. Admire the Tudor Gothic style as you snap photos of this beautiful building.
8. Galway Market
Galway’s bustling weekend market located beside St. Nicholas’ Medieval Church is the perfect place to take in the daily life of the city and sample local treats. In addition to fresh produce and flowers, you’ll find prepared foods like crepes and local handicrafts.
9. Aran Islands
Hop on a ferry from Galway and explore the three Aran Islands: Inis Mor, Inis Meain and Inis Oirr. Here, locals speak Irish and prescribe to a slower, more traditional way of life. You'll find plenty of free things to enjoy on the islands including the impressive fort of Dun Aonghasa on Inis Mor.
10. Salthill Promenade
Head to the seaside suburb of Salthill to stroll the 1.2-mile long promenade. According to tradition, you should kick the wall at the end of the promenade for good luck. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see the Aran Islands to your right. If all that walking makes you hungry, Salthill is one of the best places to try Galway’s famous oysters.
11. Traditional music
Galway is one of the best cities in Ireland to sit in at a traditional (trad) music session. Whether it be in one of the city’s atmospheric pubs or on the side of the street, the sweet sounds of guitars and fiddles will surely make you feel like you’re in Ireland. Follow along to popular drinking songs like Whisky in a Jar and Molly Malone!
12. Lynch Castle
Once owned by the most powerful family in Galway, Lynch Castle stands as testimony to the city's fascinating medieval past. While today it houses a bank, it's still worth seeing the Coat of Arms and admiring the Irish Gothic architecture. Visit during the bank's opening hours to view panels explaining the history and architecture of the building.