County Galway (Contae na Gaillimhe) is on the west coast of Ireland, historically in the province of Connacht. It has great scenery in the Connemara peninsula, along the shores of Galway Bay and out in the Aran Islands. The east, separated by Lough Corrib, is low-lying farmland.
The Irish language held out longer in the west so County Galway has the largest Gaeltacht in Ireland.
Towns and villages
- Connemara is the wild, rugged terrain north and west of the city.
- 2 Spiddal (An Spidéal) includes the north coast of Galway Bay to Rossaveel.
- 3 Carraroe (An Cheathrú Rua) includes the chain of islands through Lettermore to Lettermullan and the loop of road west to Carna.
- 4 Clifden (An Clochán) is a large resort town.
- 5 Omey Island is tidal, you stroll or drive across from Claddaghduff near Clifden.
- 6 Letterfrack is the usual access into Connemara National Park.
- 7 Leenane (An Líonán) is by a fjord, surrounded by stark mountain scenery.
- 8 Clonbur is just west of Cong in County Mayo, the film location for The Quiet Man.
- 9 Oughterard on the shores of Lough Corrib is on the edge of the Connemara mountains.
- East Galway is the low-lying, pastoral part of the county.
- 10 Tuam (Tuaim) has been a religious centre for 1500 years.
- 11 Athenry is a small market town with many medieval buildings.
- 12 Portumna has a fine castle and is just across the river from Lorrha, which has tumbledown abbeys and castles.
- Islands of Galway that you sail to, rather than driving across, are
- 13 Aran Islands of Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr have many prehistoric and early Christian sites.
- 14 Inishbofin Island has Cromwell's Fort and a ruined 13th century church.
In Irish Galway is Gaillimh, from Gaill, the word for outsiders or foreigners. It certainly draws the tourists, especially to Galway city, yet this county is home to a large gaeltacht, who speak Irish as their first language.
Connemara is the scenic peninsula of western Galway. It has a barren windswept landscape, with grey granite mountains - of no great height, but prominent with sharp profiles. Between the mountains are gouged-out glaciated valleys and tracts of blanket bog with varied flora. Farming here even in the good years was a hand-to-mouth affair with potatoes grown on smallholdings, in tiny fields divided by drystone walls, and fishing in the merciless Atlantic. The coast is fractal, with multiple peninsulas and little islands, several of which are nowadays connected to the mainland by road.
The county is almost bisected by freshwater Lough Corrib, with Connemara to the west. East Galway on the other bank is lusher farmland: low-lying, with trees and water and arable land, plus quite a few bogs. It's less scenic and has fewer visitors, but has an interesting collection of abbeys and other medieval ruins.
The three Aran Islands are rocky and treeless but don't resemble Connemara - they are not granite but limestone, an extension of the Burren plateau of County Clare to the south. They have a remarkable collection of prehistoric forts and early Christian settlements.
Talk: Everyone is fluent in English but Irish Gaelic is widely spoken here, often as a first language in the smaller places. See Ireland#Talk for how to get started in speaking Irish. Outside the city, you need to know the Irish names of places you're seeking, because those will often be the only versions signposted.
- See Galway city for air transport options.
- From Dublin Heuston there are ten trains to M-Sat, six on Sunday. They stop at Kildare, Athlone, Attymon, Athenry, Oranmore and Galway Ceant.
- From Limerick Colbert five trains run M-Sat, four on Sunday, via Ennis and Gort to Galway Ceant. Limerick has connections from Cork and Mallow.
- From Dublin Bus X20 runs hourly from the airport via Dublin Busaras, Heuston Station and Athlone, taking 3 hours 30 min to Galway.
- From Limerick and Clare Bus X51 runs hourly nonstop from Limerick city to Galway, 80 min, while Bus 51 runs hourly from Cork via Mallow, Limerick, Shannon Airport, Ennis and Gort to Galway.
- Bus 350 winds along the coast six times a day from Ennis via Lahinch, Cliffs of Moher, Doolin, Lisdoonvarna, Ballyvaughan and Kinvara.
- From the north Bus 64 runs every two hours from Derry via Letterkenny, Sligo and Knock Airport to Galway.
- Operators include Bus Éireann, CityLink and GoBus.
Most routes radiate out from Galway. Some you might use include:
- - 424 to Spiddal, Inverin (for Connemara Airport), Rossaveel (for ferries to the Aran Islands) and Carraroe.
- - 419 / 923 to Oughterard and Clifden; a few continue to Cleggan (for ferries to Inishbofin Island).
- - 350 to Kinvarra, Ballyvaughan, Doolin (for summer ferries to the Aran Islands) and on south to Ennis.
- - 52 and 64 to Tuam, continuing north across Mayo.
See individual towns for Local Link bus services, which are sparse but could prove useful.
By plane or boat
There's not many counties in the world that you get around by air yet can't fly to. But Connemara Airport west of Spiddal has regular flights to the Aran Islands but isn't connected to the global air network. The proposed air link to Inishbofin Island never got started, so that trip involves a ferry from Cleggan near Clifden.
See Aran Islands for details of the ferries from Rossaveel and Doolin to all three islands, and for the flights.
You need a car to reach most of the country places, or enjoy cycling in the teeming rain. All the major car hire companies can be found in the cities (including Galway) and airports.
It's motorway all the way from Dublin to the edge of Galway. The main radial roads are good undivided highways. It counts as a minor road if there isn't room to pass a tractor (and never fear, you will meet some), and then there's that wonderful construction the boreen. This may be roughly paved but there's grass growing up the middle, and sometimes livestock grazing on that grass who feel they have right of way.
- Galway city's top sights are the Cathedral, St Nicholas Collegiate Church, the City museum and the University Quad.
- Castles near the city are at Killeen, Ballindooley, Castlegar, Cloonacauneen, Menlo and Ballybrit.
- Athenry Castle 15 km east of Galway is a restored 13th C Norman keep.
- Aughnanure Castle is a well-restored Gaelic tower house. It's by the shores of Lough Corrib, 20 km northwest of the city near Oughterard.
- Portumna Castle is a Jacobean mansion and gardens at the head of Loch Derg, bordering County Tipperary.
- Coole Park is a nature reserve in Gort, south of Galway towards the border with County Clare. Open daily April-Sept.
- Ionad Cultúrtha an Phiarsaigh is a cultural centre for the Connemara Gaeltacht. It's at Rosmuc, open daily.
- The Galway Hooker (Húicéir na Gaillimhe) is a fishing boat traditional to this area; its larger classes also carried light cargo such as turf. It was launched off beaches into shallow water with oncoming Atlantic breakers, so it has a sharp entry, a "tumblehome" (the hull narrows rather than flares as it rises), and a single mast with one mainsail and two foresails. Its chief limitations are the lack of decking and the low "freeboard", so it's vulnerable to swamping, and you wouldn't risk an extended journey. It usually has a pitch-black hull with red-brown sails. Hookers are still made nowadays to traditional designs and are used as leisure craft like other small sailboats: for racing or for just larking about. There are courses if you'd like to learn how to crew or even build a Hooker.
- Prehistoric and early Christian sites abound on the Aran Islands, with stone ringforts and churches grouped around saints' dwellings and holy wells.
- The Burren south of Galway Bay is a sparse limestone landscape dotted with prehistoric sites. It's mostly in County Clare but its top northeast corner is the "Flaggy Shore" within County Galway.
- Go to the theatre: half a dozen in Galway, including the Irish language theatre Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe.
- Hiking: a good hike is Twelve Bens in Connemara.
- Cycle: try the Sky Road near Clifden.
- City Walking Tour: these explore historic Galway.
- Gaelic games: the County GAA play Gaelic football and hurling at Pearse Stadium in Galway. There are about 80 club teams in the county: Corofin GAC are one of the top football clubs in Ireland, winning the senior championship three times in a row 2018-2020. Their home ground is at Corofin 6 km south of Tuam.
- Ted Fest is held in March on Inis Mór by admirers of the TV sitcom Father Ted.
- Publications about the area that may be found in local bookshops or available on line:
- - Connemara, the last pool of Darkness; Tim Robinson
- - Connemara Wild Flowers, Introductory Guide; Dieter and Jane Stark
- - The Shores of Connemara; Seamus Mac An Iomaire
- - Connemara, Land of Contrasts; Clifden Bookshop
- - Birds of Inishbofin; Tim Gordon
- Galway has lots, but doesn't have a cosmopolitan selection - it's a choice of Irish, seafood, Med, and cheap eats. The city standout is Ard Bia by the Spanish Arch.
- The pubs are the main eating option in most villages.
- Inis Meáin is the oddity - how come this small and not very touristy island has two top-rank eating places?
- Galway pubs attract a lot of stag and hen parties, who tend to stick to main drag. The pubs have live trad music most nights.
- Galway Hooker is the brewery near the city, and Connemara Brewing Company is at Carraroe. The county doesn't have a distillery.
- Galway has the most choice in all price ranges, and with your own car can be the base for exploring the entire county. It doesn't have nearby campsites but there are many hostels. The profusion of middle-range places keeps prices down even in the "splurge" category.
- All the other towns and villages have some accommodation, with most in Clifden, Oughterard, and Cong just across the border into County Mayo.
- Even the Aran Islands can be done as a day trip (even from Dublin - mad, mad!) but deserve longer. Inis Mór is the obvious base, in summer you can day trip from there to the other islands.
- To the north, County Mayo is even bleaker than Connemara.
- To the south, the road winds along the coast to the dramatic Cliffs of Moher, then into lusher country around Ennis.
- Limerick is a miniature Dublin, with its Georgian street pattern and many visitor attractions.