Galway – steeped in music and history; filled with friendly folk, festivals and crammed with cosy pubs, culture and craic. Get yourself to Galway; City of Tribes, Vibes and the time of your lives…
We arrived for a weekend in Galway while the Volvo Ocean Race was in town, the crews resting before the next gruelling stage. The race boats were moored in the quay, masts clinking and brightly coloured logos adding a dash of colour to the dock. The town was jam-packed and the crews up for some serious R&R after the long haul race across the Atlantic from Boston. The party mood seeped out of the dock weaving its way into Galway’s side streets and cobbled medieval alleyways. Traditional Irish music spilled from the doorways of colourful pubs and bars; nimble-fingered fiddlers raced against the beat of bodhrán drums, toes tapped and the revelry flourished.
Many of the sights in Galway are free and we found the best way to enjoy them was to simply wend our way through this vibrant city…
The Galway Hooker
Eyre Square – see if you can spot the Galway Hooker; we did, standing proud, rusted sails aloft and seemingly afloat in the ebb and flow of the surrounding fountains. In the square are also the fourteen banners of the Tribes of Galway – merchant families who once prospered in the city and Kennedy Park named after the President who visited shortly before his death. A handy tourist kiosk is also on the square.
Galway’s Street Performers
ang flowers plucked from behind my ears – well it’s all in a day’s sightseeing.
All around the central pedestrian area are heaps of boutiques and purveyors of all things Irish: Charlie Byrne’s for second-hand books, Powell’s for Irish music, instruments, and recordings, Twice as Nice sells crisp cottons and linen and for local handicrafts, Design Concourse in ancient Kirwin’s Lane is stuffed with woodwork, jewellery and glass. If you’re after big brand names Eyre Square shopping centre’s the place.
Galway City Museum behind the Spanish Arch is worth a look as entry is free. See some Galway relics and learn about the history of the city (Spanish Parade, Galway; Open Mon 2pm-5pm; Tue-Sat 10am-5pm).
Saunter over the Wolfe Tone Bridge to the Claddagh and look back across the mouth of the bay for the best view of the ancient Spanish Arch and Long Walk, a pretty row of colourful fishermen’s cottages, some working Galway Hookers may be moored here. Cast your gaze out to the Atlantic and if you’re lucky, on a clear day, you’ll spot The Aran Isles.
The Best Pubs in Galway
Soak up Galway’s pub culture along with a few pints and delve deep into the heart and soul of the city – well it would be rude not to. The warm, cosy bars overflow with atmosphere, music, laughter and the rosy glow of a good pint. Then there’s the craic, the Irish word for fun, enjoyment and good times – good mixed with alcohol and/or music for added revelry. Before you set off on your pub crawl one Irish word you should remember is Sláinte – cheers!
Taaffe’s Bar – Time for some of the black stuff and Taaffe’s Bar, filled with old wooden booths and a well-stocked bar, was the spot for my first ever Guinness! The place was heaving, and with good reason; great atmosphere, good pub food and a hefty dose of traditional wild Irish music. Evening live sessions at 5pm and 9.30pm from April-October and at 9pm the rest of the year. 19-20 Shop Street, Craic Rating: Serious – 9 out of 10
Quays Bar looks like another little front room pub from the outside but step into the tardis-like confines of Quays for one holy surprise. One of Galway’s finest and most popular pubs, it has a bit of a religious theme going on with dark wooden beams, stained glass, church pews and even a church organ. It’s traditional Irish music sessions see the party spreading out to the street. It opens at 10am and serves pub grub – pasta, sandwiches. Live music sessions most nights. Quay Street; Craic Rating: Praiseworthy – 9 out of 10
The King’s Head is hundreds of years old and once belonged to Colonel Stubbers, the man who was possibly responsible for removing the head of King Charles I in 1649. A piece of Irish blarney? Filling, Irish dishes and homemade burgers and pizzas served practically all day. 15 High Street Craic Rating: Rocking – 8 out of 10
Across the Wolfe Tone Bridge is the renowned Monroe’s Tavern, a large white building close to the Claddagh area and near the river. For locals and tourists alike with music seven nights a week and Irish Set Dancing on Tuesdays – onlookers welcome to join in the dancing; well now that the drink’s flowing… Dominick Street; +353 91 583397; Craic Rating: Storming – 9 out of 10
The River Corrib
Given Galway’s glorious pubs you may, perchance, over-indulge at some point – if so a walk up the river the next morning will blow away the cobwebs for sure. The fast flurry of the Corrib flows robustly for four miles from Lough Corrib into Galway Bay. From the Wolfe Tone Bridge take the beautifully scenic walkway up The Lower Corrib for a bracing breath of fresh air. We watched fishermen casting their lines in thigh-high gaiters, found small canals and lochs before arriving at Salmon Weir Bridge. Check out the brisk waters here for gathering salmon readying themselves for the dart over the weir and an upstream struggle to the spawning grounds in Lough Corrib. Cross the weir bridge for a visit to the imposing Galway Cathedral.
Where to stay in Galway City
We stayed at Jury’s Inn Galway, ideally located to make the most of both the river, which gushed past our bedroom window, and the Spanish Arch area with its holiday vibe. No frills en-suite room-only accommodation. Parking available next door. Quay Street, Galway. Check rates here.
It’s essential that you book your accommodation well in advance because when there’s a festival, and that’s most months, the city will be packed to the rafters.
Feb – Tedfest (Friends of Father Ted Festival)! – www.tedfest.org
April – Festival of Literature – www.galwayartscentre.ie/cuirt
July – Galway Arts Festival – www.galwayartsfestival.com
August – The Galway Races – www.galwayraces.com
September – The Oyster Festival – www.galwayoysterfest.com