The City of Galway is not only a wonderful base for exploring western Ireland, but it is well worth a trip itself. It does not have a lot of sight-seeing locations, but it does have a vibrant atmosphere, dynamic cultural life, and wonderful events.
Pedestrians love the shopping area near Eyre Square where the city has built a roof over parts of the old town wall to include it in the shopping mall. South of the pedestrian mall is the Spanish Arch, a rare reminder of the city’s ancient past. The Arch is a great place to relax and watch the River Corrib flow into Galway Bay.
Visitors to the Port of Galway will want to see the Galway Atlantaquaria (National Aquarium of Ireland) that tells the story of life on the Irish coast, including the environments of the plants and animals that live there. The aquarium is home to 170 freshwater and marine species.
In 2009, the Volvo Ocean Race will come to the Port of Galway for a two-week stopover after departing Boston on May 23. City residents look forward to hosting the VO70 sailing boats and the crews they bring.
The Port of Galway contains several beaches: Salthill, Silverstrand, Grattan, and Ballyloughane. Salthill Beach is really several smaller beaches, some pebbles and some sand. Located on Galway Bay, a Special Area of Conservation, buses frequently bring visitors from the city center. Lifeguards are on duty from mid-May through late September.
Silverstrand Beach is a small, sandy beach that is popular with young families. Its shallow waters make it safe for children, and it has a promenade with parking. Although the beach is usually covered during high tide, life guards are on duty from mid-May through late September.
Galway Cathedral is said to be the last stone Renaissance-style cathedral in western Europe. Irish artisans hand-crafted the glasswork, woodwork, and artwork in this cathedra built by the love of the Port of Galway’s residents. They bought and donated each stone separately.
Visitors to the Connemara Heritage Centre will learn all about daily life in historic Ireland. Demonstrations are available in turf cutting, sheaf tossing, thatching, sheep herding and shearing, horseshoe throwing, and Irish coffee making (and other topics). There are also lectures on rural development, tourism, and farming.
Cnoc Suain is a recreation of a pre-famine hill village dating to 1691. With thatched and slated stone cottages, the village offers unique experiences in traditional music, song, and dance; traditional cooking; and local ecology.
Visitors will also enjoy Walking Connemara, where experienced guides lead island-hopping expeditions. A professional archaeologist leads each five- or seven-day tour, and the tours include gourmet picnics, champagne receptions, rain gear, and accommodations at a 4-star castle.
Finally, the Aran Islands are located at the mouth of Galway Bay and are a delight for people who love to walk. The three islands include Inishmore (the largest), Inishmaan, and Inisheer (the smallest and most eastern). Islanders still speak Irish. The islands were likely first populated by Catholics escaping Oliver Cromwell in the mid-17th Century. They became self-sufficient in this harsh climate, building their own thatched cottages and fishing boats. Inishmore Island is home to several Iron Age forts. While there is no direct ferry from the Port of Galway, there is regular ferry service from Rossaveal and an air service from Inverin, both of which are connected to Galway city by bus.