An almost straight shot West some three hours drive from Dublin, a visit to Galway feels a little like stepping back in time. It’s not unusual to hear a bit of Gaelic thrown around in the pubs and any local worth his coat of arms will try and talk you into visiting the Aran Islands, where Irish is the main language spoken. Not that there isn’t great modern culture, food, and people here mixed in with an old school charm – there is plenty. Here’s how to spend two days in what’s often called the most “Irish” of Ireland’s cities.
10AM LYNCH’S CASTLE
Take a stroll down Shop Street, an appropriate name for the city’s main commercial thoroughfare. Here old brick buildings and inviting storefronts are the backdrop for an array of street performers ranging from the mediocre to the excellent. Don’t miss Lynch’s Castle, Galway’s most iconic old building, now a branch of the Allied Irish Banks.
12PM SPANISH ARCH
Alight on Galway Bay for a respite from the crowds. The city straddles the beautiful River Corrib and from your bay digs you can take in the serenity or gaze across at the village Claddagh. Yes, that’s where those rings featuring a crowned heart held by two hands originated. Meander over the Spanish Arch for a little history lesson. The arch was originally an extension (built in 1584) of the defensive wall built to protect the city.
Are you hungry yet? Then don’t delay getting your taste of the most quintessential of Irish meals: fish and chips. McDonaghs has two lines: one for takeout and one for the restaurant so just make sure you’ve gotten on the right one. Their food is so delicious it could be a while…
3PM THE HOLE IN THE WALL
The Irish don’t need the expression “It’s 5 O’clock somewhere” so make like a local and go for your afternoon Guinness. Sometimes it seems like there is a pub per person in Galway, but one of my favorites is off the beaten path The Hole in the Wall. This thatched-roof spot is far too packed and skews to the university crowd at night but during the day you can hole up with old timers who will talk your ear off over a cold one.
5PM EYRE SQUARE
Walk off your food and drink by heading to nearby Eyre Square, a nice park where a bust of U.S. President John F. Kennedy will make you feel right at home. Other historical monuments are also on display, like Browne’s Doorway, a souvenir from one of Galway’s old rules, and cannons to commemorate the Connaught Rangers.
8PM THE QUAYS
What’s a visit to Ireland without an Irish music session? Head to local and tourist alike favorite The Quays, pronounce “keys,” which has traditional music several nights a week. Depending on your persuasion, you’ll either feel more or less guilty indulging in beer and music in an interior that was imported from a French medieval church, including stained glass and actual pews.
10AM GALWAY CATHEDRAL
Today head west to see a quieter side of Galway most tourists never visit. Cross over the River Corrib on Bridge Street then head north on Nun’s Island Road. On your way, get a glimpse of the Poor Clare convent that has been in residence here for almost 400 years. Keep going north on Gaol road until you reach the stunning Galway Cathedral. Built on the site of the former City Gaol, inside its filled with beautiful Connemara marble. Take a left on University Road and find your way to the National University of Ireland. The mix of beautifully designed old and new structures is a perfect metaphor for Galway itself.
Time for lunch so have a seat at Anton’s. Try the Smoked Bacon, Avocado & Tomato with Red Onion Marmalade and make sure to leave room for the brown bread and butter that accompanies it.
5PM THE OSLO BAR
226 UPPER SALTHILL RD. GALWAY, IRELAND
Head to Galway’s first and only microbrewery, The Oslo Bar. They serve meals made from fresh and local ingredients, and different ales made on premises.
8PM ROISIN DUBH
Now it’s time to really test your Irish mettle by spending the evening at the most local of pubs. Roisin Dubh is Gaelic for Black Rose and it’s pronounced “row sheen dove.” The Black Rose was the symbol of Ancient Druids from the area and also the name of a famous Irish political song. In 2008 the Róisín won the IMRO award for Best Venue in Connacht and was nominated for Best Venue In Ireland. Do your best to blend in by ordering a Guinness while you listen to the great live music.
WHERE TO STAY: THE HOUSE HOTEL
MERCHANTS ROAD LOWER GALWAY, IRELAND
The House Hotel is an adorable boutique property in Eyre Square, a location close to everything that you’d want to do in Galway City.