If you’re trying to choose between Galway and Limerick, two Irish cities near the country’s western coast, this post is for you. As someone who has visited these cities several times, I wanted to share my thoughts on how they compare and which one might be better fit for your Irish itinerary.
Both Limerick and Galway are located in the west of Ireland, along the Wild Atlantic Way. They’re close to wonderful natural attractions like the Dingle Peninsula, Connemara, and the Cliffs of Moher. Accordingly, many visitors will choose to stay in one of these cities while exploring the surrounding areas.
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Galway vs Limerick: Which Irish City Is Better To Visit?
If you can only visit Galway or Limerick while in Ireland, you’ll probably want to visit Galway.
Although there are many wonderful things to do in Limerick, it doesn’t have the breadth of activities that you’ll find in Galway. For those returning to Ireland for their second or third trip, it might be worthwhile to make your way to Limerick. Although you won’t find the sort of cultural activities available in Galway, Limerick still offers a great sense of daily life for people living in smaller Irish cities.
Set in the west of Ireland is Galway, a small city that is home to about 83,000 people as of the 2016 census. Although it might be small, the city is bustling with activities to fill a full day or two of your itinerary. It’s perhaps most famous for its live music, which can be seen on the streets and in the pubs throughout the city. When I explain Galway to friends who are visiting Ireland for the first time, I usually call it the Nashville of Ireland.
When you walk through the streets of Galway, you’ll immediately notice that it’s full of visitors from around the world. On Friday and Saturday nights, don’t be surprised to see large groups of young people attending hen or stag parties (bachelorette and bachelor parties, respectively).
Limerick is a slightly bigger city – the third largest city in the Republic of Ireland – with a population of about 105,000 in the 2016 census. The city has a long and storied history that dates back to ancient times, and it’s possible that the area has been settled since 150 A.D. For this reason, there are several castles and relics that you can experience in Limerick today.
In modern times, Limerick has been home to many internationally renowned authors and literary figures, including Frank McCourt, Kate O’Brien, Kevin Barry, and Michael Hogan. Limerick is the setting for McCourt’s memoir, Angela’s Ashes, which won a Pulitzer Prize.
The central area of Limerick is walkable, with several landmarks and tourist attractions to enjoy. While there aren’t many shops that cater especially to visitors, there are few lovely markets and lively urban areas to explore. Overall, Limerick feels more local than Galway and it might be harder to feel like you’ve gotten a sense of the city’s culture from a brief visit.
Galway vs Limerick: Places of Interest
You will find plenty of great places of interest in both Galway and Limerick. The activities in Galway are mostly contained within the city center, with attractions that stretch from Eyre Square to the Róisín Dubh pub. In Limerick, by contrast, you’ll find that some of the top activities are just outside of the city center.
Top places to visit in Galway
The biggest attraction for most visitors to Galway is the Latin Quarter, which encompasses most of the pubs, restaurants, cafes, and shops along the central area along High Street. You’ll have a chance to catch plenty of live music as performers play to the crowds that gather along the city streets. You can also visit the King’s Head Pub, which has been standing for over 800 years.
Other places of interest in Galway include Eyre Square, a lovely little city park and the Wolfe Tone Bridge. You won’t need more than a few minutes in Eyre Square or at the Wolfe Tone Bridge, but they’re perfect landmarks for exploring Galway. Start at Eyre Square and then leisurely make your way across the Wolfe Tone Bridge to the Róisín Dubh, a pub on the less touristy side of the river.
Swifties may want to check the schedule at the Róisín Dubh because they occasionally host Swiftogeddon, a club night where they only play songs by Taylor Swift. If you’d like to go, be sure to buy your tickets ahead of time because it is very likely to sell out.
✅ Latin Quarter
✅ Eyre Square
✅ Wolfe Tone Bridge
Top places to visit in Limerick
One of visitors’ favorite things to do in Limerick is to visit Bunratty Castle. This 15th-century castle has been largely restored and complete with a replica village including streets, shops, schools, and cottage homes.
While I was in Doolin on a recent trip, I met a woman who loves to attend Medieval feasts, like the one available at Bunratty Castle. During these undeniably touristy dinners, actors dress in costume and play music as diners enjoy a Medieval feast with dishes like spare ribs with honey and whiskey sauce or an apple and cinnamon dessert dish called “rastin.”
Alternatively or additionally, you can visit King John’s Castle, a 13-century structure that is one of the best preserved Norman castles in Europe. King John’s Castle was built on the ruins of a viking settlement that dates back to 922. Visitors love exploring both the castle and the adjoining museum, which offers great views and plenty of information to contextualize this piece of history.
Finally, Limerick has several markets that are worth exploring. The main area is the Limerick Milk Market, a large flea and street market that is somewhat similar to Cork’s English Market. However, I prefer the smaller and more artisan covered market of Wickham Way, which also happens to house Republic of Grill, home of the best tacos in Ireland.
✅ Experience medieval life at Bunratty Castle
✅ Take in the history at King John’s Castle
✅ Shop and eat at Wickham Way
Galway vs Limerick: Food Scenes
You’ll find more options and a wider variety of restaurants in the tourist-friendly city of Galway. From international street food to classic pub dishes to fabulous pizza, there is something to satisfy most diners in central Galway. Limerick, for its part, does have a few great restaurants that are definitely worth a visit while in the city.
Galway’s Food Scene
Galway’s restaurant and coffee shop scene is comparable to what you’ll find in Dublin in terms of quality and options. Even at lower price points, you’ll find dining options that are flavorful and exciting, like Wa Sushi, Xi’an Street Food, and Prátí, all of which are located near the city center. There are also pubs, pizza shops, and plenty of other local favorites, so you can probably find some great options to make your group happy.
Although you won’t find the same level of cuisine that’s available in Cork, the Food Capital of Ireland, Galway is definitely a runner up. If you like ice cream, be sure to try a cone from Murphy’s, a shop on High Street. This creamery has exciting, innovative flavors like caramelized brown bread and Irish gin and the staff is always incredibly kind and friendly.
Limerick’s Food Scene
When I think of Limerick’s food scene, two restaurants immediately come to mind and I try to visit both while I’m in the city. The first is Rift Coffee, a cafe and restaurant that serves fabulous coffee drinks, sandwiches, pastries, and soups. I usually plan my trips to the west around when I can pass through Limerick for a stop at Rift Coffee and one of their fabulous halva brownies and a cortado.
The other must-visit restaurant for me in Limerick is Republic of Grill, a taco truck located in Wickham Way, an artisan covered market near the city center. Republic of Grill serves burritos, loaded fries, tacos, and burgers, with a few Asian fusion-style dishes. I had the plantain tacos and absolutely loved them, especially when topped with their homemade roasted tomato salsa.
Galway vs Limerick: Costs
You shouldn’t see a tremendous amount of variation in the costs between visiting Galway and Limerick, with the notable exception of accommodation costs. Because of the steep demand for hotel rooms in Galway and the relatively short supply, you can expect inflated prices in this Irish city. Unfortunately, the area is very popular with partygoers, so the accommodations can often feel run down or a little shabby, especially if you’re looking at budget hotels.
I’ve never stayed in a Limerick hotel, mostly because I either car camped or was simply passing through. Thus, I can’t personally confirm that the hotels are nicer in Limerick, but there are certainly higher end options available at lower prices than you’ll find in Galway.
Galway and Limerick are both walkable cities, so you’ll be able to see large parts of the city by foot. If you do need to get around, there are buses and taxis available. Ubers and Lyfts are not available in Ireland, so you’ll need to use a local or national taxi service if you’d like to be picked up/dropped off. Public transit is safe and fairly reliable in Ireland, but you’ll always want to avoid having to rely on the last bus or train to get home.
Note that the buses are unlikely to accept card payment, so you’ll need to carry cash. Alternatively, you can buy a Leap card at Centra or other grocery stores and prepay with some euros to get around. I would only recommend buying a Leap card if you’ll be taking the bus often or if you don’t have an easy way to withdraw or carry cash while you’re traveling.
Because of Galway’s relatively small size and popularity as a destination, the accommodation costs are significantly higher than in nearby Limerick. Expect to see prices that are significantly more than the cost of a Limerick accommodation, especially if you opt for a central location. The more flexible you can be on your location in Galway and the earlier you can book your stay, the better a deal you’re likely to find.
Unfortunately, the budget accommodations in Galway tend to also be more run down than you’ll find in other parts of the country. This isn’t true of every hotel, of course, but it’s worth looking extra closely at the photos and reviews – or possibly staying a bit outside of the city – before you book.
If you want more ideas about saving on a hotel while you’re traveling, check out my accommodation guide.
Example Galway Accommodation: Corrib House Guest Accommodation
Galway accommodations can often be frustratingly expensive and low quality, especially when compared to the nicer spots you’ll find in other parts of the country. One hotel that received great reviews and was in line with the pricing of other options in central Galway is the Corrib House Guest Accommodation. Guests loved the location – a short walk from Eyre Square – and the phenomenal breakfast served at the hotel.
Example Limerick Accommodation: George Hotel Limerick
Of the far fewer options in Limerick, the George Hotel Limerick stands out as being located in a delightfully central part of the city. You can easily walk from the hotel to Rift Coffee, Wickham Way, or any of the other attractions in the area. Like the Corrib House, visitors who stayed in the George Hotel Limerick raved about the lovely breakfast available in the morning.
Food costs will be comparable between Galway and Limerick, largely because these cities are less than two hours apart by car. There are budget-friendly restaurants in both cities, though you’ll find more options in Galways. Those seeking a more upscale restaurant scene will also have their choice of restaurants with comparable entree prices in both Galway and Limerick.
You can save money when traveling by choosing an accommodation with a kitchen and cooking your own meals. I’ve also compiled some of my favorite recipes from the food bloggers I love, in case you need additional inspiration.
Galway vs Limerick: Cultural Activities
You’ll find cultural activities in both Galway and Limerick, but Galway has more options for those wanting a cultural experience. In 2020, Galway was named the European Capital of Culture, a yearlong distinction that was first held by Dublin in 1991 and later by Cork in 2005. Limerick has never held the title.
Like the rest of Ireland, pubs are a central part of Irish culture and locals’ lives, as they serve as restaurants, gathering places, and music venues. If you want to experience Irish culture, one of the best things to do is to go to a quieter pub and strike up a conversation with the barkeep or a local.
In addition to visiting the pubs, here are some of the top cultural activities in both Galway and Limerick.
Best cultural activities: Galway
The cultural center of Galway is the Latin Quarter, which you can easily identify by the flags of Ireland and other nations that are draped above the streets. In this central area, you’ll find plenty of live music, along with charming pubs like the Dáil Bar, the King’s Head, and the Róisín Dubh. Just a few blocks down the road is the Galway City Museum, which offers historical information about the area and is free to visit.
You’ll also find small statues and other reminders of Irish culture, both contemporary and historical. Along High Street, for instance, is the Galway Girl statue, a recent (and somewhat controversial) addition to the Latin Quarter. The statue is presumably an homage to the popular song Galway Girl by Steve Earle and Sharon Shannon, which is played throughout the city as a sort of unofficial anthem.
✅ Watch street performers in the Latin Quarter
✅ The Dáil Bar Galway
✅ Galway City Museum
Best cultural activities: Limerick
You’ll find both contemporary and historical sites to enjoy while visiting Limerick. The biggest attractions include two historical structures, King John’s Castle and Saint Mary’s Cathedral. Additionally, you can visit the nearby Bunratty Castle to see a castle from another era in time as well as reenactments from Ireland’s medieval history.
Limerick has a thriving arts and cultural scene, and one of the best ways to experience it is by visiting the Limerick City Gallery of Art. This free museum has both permanent and rotating collections, and it’s located right in the center of the city near the People’s Park. Another popular museum in Limerick is the Hunt Museum, which showcases a collection of ancient and modern ethnographic items. The Hunt Museum requires a ticket to enter.
✅ King John’s Castle
✅ Limerick City Gallery of Art
✅ Saint Mary’s Cathedral
Galway vs Limerick: Day Trips
Galway easily takes the cake here. If you’re looking for a base from which to explore the west of Ireland, there’s not really an advantage to staying in Limerick. You’d be better off deciding if you’d like to be based in Killarney or Galway, both of which are great jumping off points for different spots along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Although there are some great sights near Limerick, including the Limerick Greenway, the city just isn’t located in an opportune spot for day trips. If you want to see Dingle or Killarney, both places of interest near Galway, I would instead recommend that you choose a hotel in those towns. There are tours from Limerick to the Cliffs of Moher, if you’re visiting without a car.
Galway, by contrast, is close to the Cliffs of Moher, Ashford Castle, Clonmacnoise, and Killary Fjord (Ireland’s only fjord). If you found an accommodation you liked in the city, you could easily choose a day trip to a nearby attraction then head back to Galway for live music in the evening.
Galway vs Limerick: FAQs
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions from people who are choosing between Galway and Limerick when planning their Irish itineraries.
Which is better: Limerick or Galway?
Although Limerick has several hidden gems and fun spots to visit, Galway is a much better choice for most people visiting Ireland. The streets of Galway are full of interesting shops, tasty restaurants serving both Irish and international cuisine, and several fabulous coffee shops. Galway is a better choice for shopping, sightseeing, and day trips, making it much easier to build into most itineraries.
Is Galway bigger than Limerick?
No, Limerick is a larger city than Galway with a population that is about 20% larger. The center of Galway is very walkable, with plenty of shops, restaurants, cafes, and pubs to enjoy. Although Limerick is larger, there are fewer activities for visitors to enjoy, and the area has a much more residential or local feel.
Is Galway cheaper than Limerick?
No, Galway is not cheaper than Limerick. In fact, you can expect to spend more on a trip to Galway because the prices of hotels and other accommodations tends to be higher, due to the increased demand and limited supply.
Aside from the cost of a hotel, these cities are comparably priced. If you find a great deal on an accommodation, you’ll probably spend similar amounts of money visiting either place. The costs of food, transportation, and activities are fairly similar between these two cities.
It’s important to remember that these cities are not far apart. You can travel between them in less than 90 minutes by car, and they’re also connected by public transit.
Which city is more touristy?
There’s really no contest here, Galway is much more touristy than Limerick. There are shops, pubs, attractions, and festivals that all cater to tourists, and you’ll need to venture out of the city center to see how most people live. It’s worth noting that there are lots of tourists in Galway from abroad, but it’s similarly a destination for people within Ireland.
In addition to tourists and visitors enjoying the culture of the Latin Quarter, you’re like to see large groups of young women and men enjoying their hen and stag parties (bachelorette and bachelor parties, respectively).
Which city has better live music?
Galway undoubtedly takes the edge here, as the city is known for its lively music scene. Within Ireland, Galway is the single best place to visit for live music, edging out even the larger cities of Cork and Dublin. If you visit on the weekends, you’re likely to see street performers lining the central areas of Galway, with live traditional music sessions taking place in the pubs.
Do you need a car to visit Galway or Limerick?
Strictly speaking, you do not need a car to visit Galway or Limerick. Both areas do have a bus system and taxis are available, but you may find it difficult to get around on your own. I would recommend that you rent a car to visit either city, especially if you’ll be doing day trips to nearby attractions along the Atlantic Way.
If, however, your only plan is to explore the city of Galway or the city of Limerick, you’ll probably be happier without a car. Neither of these cities are really large enough to necessitate driving – unlike, say, Dublin – so you’ll be thankful you don’t need to figure out where to park a rental car.
Conclusion: Should you visit Galway or Limerick?
If you can only visit one Irish destination and you’re choosing between Galway and Limerick, visit Galway. Although it might be a slightly smaller city, it’s much more friendly to visitors, with more activities to enjoy and plenty of live music. Limerick, although a lovely city, is better suited to a stop on your itinerary if you have the time.
Galway is both a better stand alone destination and jumping off point for the rest of Ireland. Whether you intend to visit Galway for a day or two or just stop by on your way along the Wild Atlantic Way, you’ll find plenty to do to fill your itinerary. If you’re a budget traveler, be sure to carefully research and book your hotel as early as possible to try to get the best deal.
Limerick, by contrast, is a little harder to get to know. You’ll want to wander the streets, try some of the restaurants, and generally take some time exploring. A car is helpful because you can explore the nearby areas, like Bunratty Castle or even the Limerick Greenway.