Galway is a county that has something for everybody, whatever temperment they might be.
Nature lovers can visit an abundance of nature parks and reserves, not to mention the wild beauty of the Connemara region, or the Aran Islands located off the coast of Galway.
Visitors looking for a fun few days can visit the Galway races in July or the Galway International Oyster Festival in September. Additionally, the Galway Arts Festival in July is a must see and offers theater, music, visual arts, and street performances.
Overall, Galway is a vibrant city with a bustling nightlife, great pubs and friendly locals.
The Top 10
With all these factors in mind, Hospitality Ireland decided to examine the top ten visitor attractions in Galway, based on Fáilte Ireland's Visitor Attractions Survey 2019, which was carried out by SRI in the third quarter of 2020.
The year 2019 was chosen as a good indicator because it was pre-covid and so the sample was more in line with tourists behaviour in normal circumstances, rather than during an exceptional event like the coronavirous pandemic.
1. Kylemore Abbey & Garden
Located just over one hour from Galway City, Kylemore Abbey & Garden is the number one tourist attraction in Galway by visitor numbers as of 2019. Kylemore Castle was built in the late 1800s by Mitchell Henry MP, a wealthy businessman, and liberal politician.
Today Kylemore Abbey is owned and run by the Benedictine community who have been in residence here since 1920. It offers woodland and lakeshore walks, impressive buildings and Ireland’s largest walled garden.
2. Galway City Museum
Galway City Museum takes second place with 246,737 visitors as of 2019.
The Museum is focused on preserving and sharing Galway’s archaeology, history and sea science through its collections, exhibitions, events and online learning resources.
It is a great day out for all the family and combines learning with fun.
3. Connemara National Park
Connemara National Park includes part of the Twelve Bens mountain range, including Benbaun, the highest peak in County Galway at 725m.
One of the highlights of the National Park is reaching the summit of Diamond Hill for panoramic views of Tully Mountain (known locally as Letter Hill), Kylemore Abbey and the Twelve Bens.
Expect tough and demanding hikes over very mixed terrain that includes bogs and wet grasslands in the lowlands and exposed bedrock and scree at higher elevations. Although the mountains in Connemara are not very high, hiking them is very challenging and those walking the hills should be prepared.
4. Dún Aonghasa
Dún Aonghasa is the largest of the prehistoric stone forts of the Aran Islands.
The fort is over 3,000 years old. Excavations have revealed significant evidence of prehistoric metalworking, as well as several houses and burials. The whole complex was refortified in AD 700–800.
Dún Aonghasa is about 1km from the Visitor Centre and is approached over rising ground. The last section of the path is over rough, natural rock and care is needed.
5. Turoe Pet Farm And Leisure Park
Turoe Pet Farm first opened in 1993 is now one of the leading visitor attractions in the West of Ireland. The family-run enterprise is situated in a rural setting near a village called Bullaun, 4km from the town of Loughrea which is off the M6 on the main Galway/Dublin route.
Visitors can take a walk around the 14 acre park which boasts a number of nature trails and a pet farm including ponies, donkeys, goats and sheep.
If it is raining, Turoe Pet Farm has one of the largest bouncing castles in Europe known as Inflable City!
6. Galway Atlantaquaria
Galway Atlantaquaria, Ireland’s largest native species aquarium, had 96,500 visitors in 2019.
An all-weather and fully accessible attraction is open throughout the year, the aquarium allows visitors to explore the diversity of life in oceans, rivers, lakes and canals.
Galway Atlantaquaria is located in Salthill overlooking Galway Bay along the Wild Atlantic Way.
7. The Sheep & Wool Centre
The Sheep & Wool Centre was founded in 1992 by Michael and Kathleen O’Toole with a view to preserving and protecting the traditions and skills of the sheep and wool industry in Connemara.
Visitors are given an insight into the importance of sheep and wool in Connemara's past.
Those attending can learn the history of the local woollen industry and see the process of how sheep’s fleece is made into cloth through displays and demonstrations.
8. Dan O'Haras Homestaed Farm & Heritage Centre
Dan O'Haras Homestaed Farm & Heritage Centre is the restored pre-famine cottage of Dan O'Hara, a man made famous in song and story.
The award winning heritage centre offers a unique insight into the history and heritage of Connemara.
Dan O'Hara's story illustrates the life of a typical 19th century Connemara tenant farmer. The multi lingual audio visual and history presentation tells Dan O'Hara's lifestory, from his eviction to his subsequent emigration to New York.
The centre also shows the history of Connemara down through the ages, from pre-historic to present times. Other features of the heritage centre include reconstructions of a crannóg (a prehistoric lake dwelling), a ring fort, and a clochaun (an early Christian oratory).
9. Dungaire Castle
Dungaire Castle was built in 1520 by the O’Hynes clan on the picturesque shores of Galway Bay.
Richard Martyn, Mayor of Galway lived here until 1642 and the Martyn’s of Tulira Castle, owned the castle until this century.
Today the restored castle gives an insight into the lifestyle of the people who lived from 1520 to modern times. From April to October, visitors can enjoy entertainment and locally sourced food at the renowned castle banquet.
10. Connemara Celtic Crystal Visitor Centre
Connemara Celtic Crystal, one of the last surviving Irish Crystal factories, rounds off the Top Ten list with 38,700 visitors as of 2019.
Visitors can learn about the history of crystal, meet master craftsmen and watch them hand-cutting Celtic designs, such as the Claddagh, Shamrock and Celtic Knotwork, free-hand from memory on clear and colourful cased crystal.
Connemara Celtic Crystal Glassware and Jewellery is also available in the factory store.