The City of Tribes, as Galway is known, is a top destination for international students looking to study in Ireland, and it’s easy to see why.  In this week’s city guide, we bring you some of the best things to see and do in Galway city and offer information on getting settled in.  

Galway oozes charm and character thanks to its warm people, compact and colourful city centre and, not least, its location on the West coast of Ireland, along the Wild Atlantic Way.  It offers everything a student could want, from world-leading third-level institutions like NUI Galway, to thriving cultural life and plenty of craic (the Irish word for ‘fun’; you’ll hear it a lot, along with that other great Irish word ‘grand’).

Perhaps best of all for often cash-strapped students, the cost of living is lower than in Dublin or Cork.  Galway was celebrating its status as European City of Culture when the pandemic hit in March 2020, so most of its extensive plans were cancelled, but with things slowly reopening, locals are hoping the city’s trademark vibrancy will return along with its famous festivals, even if in amended form.  

Gateway to Connemara

Connemara is wild, beautiful and packed with things to do, all within 35 minutes of the city (photo: Shutterstock)

Galway is also the gateway to one of Ireland’s greatest assets:  Connemara, with its stunning national park, hundreds of tiny coves and aquamarine seas. The rugged mountains, many islands, and charming coastal villages like Clifden and Roundstone mean there are day trips galore by bus, so there is always something to do outside of studying, assuming you have some time. With overseas travel for Irish people currently limited due to Covid19, Connemara has become the destination of choice for ‘staycationers’ wanting to holiday at home, but when they disappear in the fall, locals and students will have it all to themselves. Enjoy!  

Roundstone is just one of many charming seaside villages in Connemara (photo: Shutterstock)

So, what to expect in Galway?  Here are some of the best things to do that remain open and worth doing/seeing irrespective of the pandemic.  

Things to do and see

Salthill is Galway’s independent seaside village, with a personality all its own.  With its promenade and the famous Black rock diving tower, it is busy, fun and, on a sunny day, downright irresistible.  Grab an ice cream and go for a stroll or, if you’re really brave, take a dip in the Atlantic. 

The famous Black rock diving tower. Watch people dive off it or take a dip yourself. (photo: Shutterstock)

If you love history and old buildings, then St. Nicholas’s Collegiate Church has to be on your list.  This 700-year-old church was built by the Knights Templar, supported by the so-called Tribes of Galway (the 14 leading merchant families which give the city its nickname), and over the centuries has been visited by Christopher Columbus, Oliver Cromwell’s troops, lepers, famine victims and countless worshippers of both the Catholic and Protestant faiths (the church has switched between the two in its time). 

St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church is Ireland’s oldest medieval parish church

Every Saturday, just outside the church,  the Galway farmers’ market is held.   This is a bustling place where you can browse the stalls at your leisure, and perhaps treat yourself to a delicious cake or pastry to have with your cup of tea (Irish of course) or coffee when you get home.  

Galway Farmers’ market – busy, fun and a great place to people watch

Lovers of sport and culture are spoiled in Galway, with two major stadiums that are home to some of the best GAA (Gaelic games) and rugby teams in the country.  To see a game of hurling or gaelic football up close at Pearse Stadium will take your breath away; both are played at breathtaking pace and the athleticism makes soccer players look a bit pampered by comparison. 

Hurling – one of Ireland’s two national games – is fast and furious

Over at the Sportsground on College Road you can catch a game with Connacht Rugby – one of Ireland’s four provincial rugby union teams. Play in all sports has resumed over the summer, or is resuming soon, but even with a shorter season now in place due to Covid, the passion and enthusiasm of fans is as strong – and infectious – as ever.  

Connacht Rugby’s home stadium at the Sportsground on College Road

Food lovers are very well catered for in Galway.  This is a city with excellent culinary credentials – everything from Michelin-starred dining to casual ethnic food and, of course, great Irish pub food like steak & Guinness pie, Irish stew and the famous native oysters. Being a student town, there are lots of student deals and discounts, and plenty of big supermarket chains where you can stock up on supplies so you don’t get hungry! 

The formalities

As for any student coming from abroad, you will need to have a valid visa, a Public Service number if you want to work (see our guide to getting one here, health insurance cover (see our guide here and, if not from the EU or Switzerland, register with the Garda National Immigration Bureau (see info here

Once these things are ticked off your to-do list and you have a place to live, it’s time to explore! 

Check out our other City Guides to Dublin and Cork!