Who hasn’t heard the lusty tones of Bing Crosby singing “Galway Bay”? A lyrical tale of love and loss, the song makes one yearn for a trip to the location that inspired it. Don’t just yearn, though – set a course for Galway Bay and experience all the natural and urban wonders of this west coast region of Ireland. Chances are, you’ll realize the song doesn’t come close to capturing the Bay’s many-layered charms.
Getting to Galway Bay
For most travelers, the best way to the majestic Bay is through Shannon to the south; there, an international airport serves as the hub for numerous foreign flights. Several direct treks are available from first and second-tier cities across the U.S., so you shouldn’t have a problem booking one.
Once you’re on the ground in the Green Isle, rent a car. Galway city – where you’ll want to stay for most of your journey – is about an hour away by car and you’ll need transportation for most of your exploration of the Bay. Keep in mind that you’ll need an international driver’s license to rent a car and you’ll be driving on the left side of the road. Rental rates run about 30 Euros ($33) per day for a compact car.
Where to stay in Galway
All of your trips to explore the Bay will be day trips, so it’s recommended you find comfortable accommodations in Galway. If you want a spot that’s close to downtown and within walking distance from most of the shops, pubs, and restaurants, then we recommend something near Eyre Square. The Hardiman (formerly known as Hotel Meyrick) is one of our faves and includes a scrumptious breakfast. The four-star House Hotel is also a lovely choice; we thoroughly enjoy the mix of mid-century modern and centuries-old architectural accents that weave together on the property. Plus, it’s steps away from the river and South Park.
Planning your exploration of Galway Bay
We recommend taking day trips to one or maybe two of the sites noted below – and not trying to cram them all into one trip. The furthest site is an hour and a half from the city, so you won’t have to worry about cumbersome, long commutes; it’s all about enjoying the drive and relishing the destination. That said, here are the top Galway Bay go-tos, separated by West Bay and East/South Bay:
West Galway Bay:
If you head west on R336 out of Galway, you’ll eventually hit the quaint little village of Spiddal. While the village itself is a lovely draw, the real joy of this drive is the view of the Bay and the small communities docked at its shores. You’ll see rough-hewn stone walls surrounding boxy cottages, herds of sheep crossing the road, and of course, the deep blue Bay beyond. Once arriving in Spiddal, you can head to the beach and marvel at the waters beyond, explore the nearby Shannagarraun Woods, or grab a bite at the Builín Blasta Café & Bakery (don’t you dare leave without downing a Duck Confit, bursting with duck confit and fig jam). The journey one way is only 25 minutes, so feel free to linger in the village a while.
This little seaside spot is arguably a part of Galway – but it’s far enough to the west to warrant its own unique designation. Considered a quasi-resort spot, Salthill’s biggest draw is its promenade (commonly referred to as “The Prom”); hop along from restaurant to game center to aquarium as you soak in the majestic views beyond. If you’re hungry, make sure to reserve a table at the Mediterranean-themed Black Cat and indulge in any and all seafood, or, for an authentic taste of Ireland, drop by An Pucan Bar & Restaurant for fish and chips and a pint (Guinness, of course). For a marine adventure, check out the National Aquarium of Ireland where you’ll get some one-on-one time with seriously fascinating sea life.
Galway City Center
The city of Galway is well worth exploration – and can largely be done without getting in your car, assuming you pick a hotel near the city’s center. For a lovely overview of the city’s historical and cultural landmarks, book a walking tour; most last one to two hours and capture the highlights of the city, including Eyre Square, Lynch’s Castle, Quay Street, the Spanish Arches, Galway Cathedral, and the Church of St. Nicholas. When hunger strikes, you’ll have plenty of options; in all honesty, we’d have a hard time picking the top spots around the city, but here are a few to get you started: traditional Irish breakfast (yes bangers and mash) at Park House Restaurant; Irish mussels for lunch at The Quay Street Kitchen; and Lamb Chops for dinner at Kai. Get yourself a little post-prandial tipple when the sun sets – Seven Bar has all of the whiskey.
East and South Galway Bay:
About 40 minutes from Galway on route N67, Kinvara is a delightful little seaport village where Gaelic is still spoken in everyday life (don’t worry – the natives also speak English). The most popular tourist attraction here is undoubtedly Dunguaire Castle, purportedly the home and headquarters of the late King of Connacht. The most exciting part of the castle experience is the onsite banquet – a coursed feast served with wine, accompanied by vivacious tales of olden times. If you want more authentic Kinvara, head to Keogh’s Pub, where you’ll hear Gaelic spoken by locals between sips of their favorite brew.
If you continue past Kinvara for about 30 minutes, you’ll end up in the waterfront town of Ballyvaughan. Founded as a fishing village in the 19th century, the town bears marks of earlier civilizations that are bound to fascinate – including the ruins of a Celtic ring fort. The Burren is really the natural draw here, showcasing rocky outlets jutting into the Bay and offering sweeping views of the water and land beyond. Burren National Park is the best way to enjoy these limestone features and provides plenty of walking trails and opportunities to peep wildlife in their natural habitat.
Keen on more natural wonders? Head a few minutes south of Ballyvaughan to the Aillwee Cave – a vast, complex underground cavern with stalactites, subterranean rivers, and waterfalls. Amble to your heart’s content and, when you’re done exploring every nook and cranny, drop by the site’s kitchen for a bit to eat, or watch cheese being made in the onsite farm kitchen. Heck, you can also visit the nearby Birds of Prey Centre, where flying displays of hawks and other fowl dazzle from the skies.
Cliffs of Moher
Last on your traipse around the Bay – and perhaps the most impressive – are the Cliffs of Moher. An hour and a half from Galway, the Cliffs stretch for five miles and soar more than 700 feet above the water. On a clear day, you can see several key landmarks from the top, including the Aran Islands and the Maum Turk Mountains in Connemara. Nearby, 19th-century O’Brien’s Tower serves as an observation platform for catching a glimpse of landmarks in the distance – or for just watching the water beat against the shore as you image the Spanish armada approaching in the distance. Soak it all in before heading back to the hustle and bustle of Galway.
As you can imagine, there are many other sites along Galway Bay which we didn’t cover here. For more fodder for your itinerary, visit galwaytourism.ie.