Galway has many colourful and distinctive districts, despite its small size and population. This is partly due to the city's age and partly due to its recent rapid growth. Like many older European cities, the periods of history which the city has witnessed have left their mark on the central and outlying areas.
The city centre is that of a small, coastal town with its roots in the thirteenth century. The streets are narrow and the older buildings cluster cosily together. In this area of the city, many of the buildings and architectural artifacts still testify to Galway's long history.
The focal point of the city centre is John F. Kennedy Park, or as it is still known by the locals (Galwegians),
For those fond of nightlife, the city centre will not fail to please. The greatest concentration of pubs and clubs is to be found in the centre, with practically every taste catered for. Galway is famous for its live music, particularly the traditional music sessions, often impromptu, which can be found in many of the pubs in the central area.
Galway is a coastal city, and has its own Docklands area. Previously a less than attractive section of the city, the dockside has been revamped beyond recognition. New attractive apartment blocks have replaced warehouses and storage containers. While most of the oceangoing traffic passing through the Galway docks is commercial, it is not uncommon to see pleasure boats docked here, and if you are lucky, you may be witness to the breathtaking sight of a fully rigged clipper ship moored for a short stay.
As we head north-west of the city centre, the next area of note is the Claddagh. The original town encompassed little more than the Claddagh, and true to this tradition, there is still a king (of sorts) in residence in the area. While the 'King of the Claddagh' has no administrative or ruling power, he is still an indelible feature of this characterful place, the residents of which are intensely proud of their heritage as residents of the original sea-side town which became Galway. The world famous Claddagh Ring is named after this area also, and while the jury is still out on the origin of this evocative design, it would be ill-advised to question its authenticity as a historical object unique to Galway in the earshot of any true Galwegian.
Further along the coast is the seaside resort of Salthill. Salthill has traditionally been the destination of choice for generations of sea lovers. Most of the development in and around Salthill took place in the last forty years, but the lengthy beaches have been an attraction for locals and visitors alike for much longer. Salthill was originally a seaside resort in the same vein as north-west England's Blackpool, although on a smaller scale. However, the last ten years has seen much investment and development in the area to ensure that it keeps right up to the mark when it comes to an enjoyable seaside holiday.
The road west from Salthill leads into picturesque Barna and Furbo, villages worth visiting for their scenic qualities alone. These areas also mark the beginning of the Galway Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area). This region is steeped in old Irish culture, and the native Irish language is often predominant, with English spoken only to accommodate outsiders.
The Gaeltacht area is not only along the coastline. Bleak and rugged Connemara to the north and west of Galway city is also part of this culturally rich vicinity. Much of this area is included within the Connemara National Park and so is protected from unsympathetic development. From Newcastle, in the north of Galway city, the road leads towards Moycullen and on to Oughterard, where, like its seaside relatives, the Irish language and culture still flourish.
Newcastle Road, to the east of the city, is also the address of the
The south-eastern parts of Galway tend more towards the residential, with Galway's oldest housing estate, Mervue, to be found on the main Galway-Dublin road. Also in this area are Ballybane and Renmore. This off-centre development of the city gives a slightly unbalanced picture of its population, with most of the residential density on one side of the city. This gives rise to a community spirit which may be less and less a factor in urban and suburban living, but is still a central part of Galway life.
South of the city lies Co. Clare, home of the Burren. This region has also been designated a National Park and is home to a landscape unlike any other—the great limestone flagstones of the Burren shelter a ecosystem unique in the world. Finally, at the mouth of Galway Bay lie the Aran Islands. The three islands are included in the Galway Gaeltacht and maintain their own distinctive traditions in spite of the many visits from tourists. The landscape of the islands is bleak and unforgiving—great cliffs rise sheer from the sea and the magnificent ring fort of Dun Aenghus perches right on the cliff edge.
Galway's continuing expansion has led to an increase in the number and diversity of its cafés and restaurants. In contrast, the pubs have remained reassuringly unchanged. The superpub has not yet conquered Galway, and most drinking establishments concentrate on the quality of the Guinness instead of the hipness of the jukebox. Eating and drinking are leisurely pastimes in Galway, less hindered by the power lunch and after-work drinks traditions which plague other cities. Searching for sustenance is particularly easy as Galway's medieval city centre hosts numerous cafés and bars to suit a variety of wallet sizes.
McDonagh's, at the bottom of Quay Street, is the best place to go in Galway for fish and chips. These are so good here that they are elevated beyond their fast food status. McDonagh's also offers oysters and other shellfish in the adjoining restaurant. Further along Quay Street several restaurants jostle for your attention. Fat Freddy's, Trattoria Pasta Mista and Pierre Victoire specialise in reasonably priced, good food, and target visitors to the city. For something a little more innovative, try the River God Café, located above Tigh Neachtain's pub, which features Mediterranean cuisine. The portions are generous and the unexpectedly airy dining room provides great views of Quay Street. Alternatively, the Da Tang Noodle House is just around the corner on Middle Street, and offers a variety of Chinese dishes with homemade noodles, all prepared by the Chinese chef and served by his Irish wife. Pizzas with a variety of exotic toppings are available down the street at Milano, where you can savour your anchovies in studiously cool surroundings.
If your wallet has a healthy amount of plastic in it, you may want to have dinner at either Kirwan's Lane or Nimmo's, two places which are vying for the title of Galway's best restaurant. Both are located in the city centre; Nimmo's is just past the Spanish Arch overlooking the River Corrib, and Kirwan's Lane is situated on the narrow walkway of the same name. Nimmo's serves stunning seafood in a gorgeous upstairs room with lovely views of the river. The wine bar downstairs provides a perfect place to start or prolong your evening. Kirwan's Lane has a deserved reputation for innovative Irish cuisine, which is combined with usually impeccable service. In the best Galwegian tradition, both places will let you linger over your coffee or liqueurs.
If a search for Irish authenticity brings you to Galway's pubs, you'll be spoiled for choice. Tigh Neachtain's, on the corner of Quay Street and Cross Street, is far too comfortable to not spend the evening in. Fireplaces and traditional music combine to create a great atmosphere, while the cosy snugs are watched jealously for signs of vacating occupants. The Quays pub on Quay Street is a warm, cavernous space with lots of tucked away tables, which unfortunately can get fairly boisterous. It's also a favourite with the myriad backpackers who stay in the hostel across the street. The Front Door, also on Cross Street, incorporates the older O'Riada's pub, resulting in an acceptable interpretation of the superpub. Home to Galway's beautiful people at the weekends, the Front Door provides the perfect opportunity to meet the locals in their Saturday night finery. Dominick Street, just across the Corrib, contains several great pubs. The Crane features Galway's best traditional music sessions, while Roisin Dubh's is one of the best music venues in Ireland. Taylor's unapologetically unadorned interior provides a comfortable ambience; at least, the Beastie Boys thought so when they came here for some after-gig pints two summers ago.
Pubs and inexpensive restaurants also abound in nearby Salthill, which functions as a mini beach resort in the summer. The Ocean Palace on Upper Salthill, the neighbourhood's main street, offers traditional Chinese food, along with a few European dishes. Fans of Indian food should try Karachi, also on Upper Salthill, who also deliver. The pubs here cater to the locals in winter but throw their doors open to weekenders in the summertime; P.J's and O'Reilly's provide good pints and a warm atmosphere.
Some lovely restaurants are only a short scenic drive from Galway. Drimcong House in Oughterard is justly famous for its food; its chef has even published his own cookbook. Donnelly's of Barna, at the edge of Connemara, serves fantastic seafood in relaxed yet comfortable surroundings. The Moorings Hotel in Oranmore incorporates a fine restaurant, which features game and seafood dishes. If you're willing to venture further afield to Clifden, you'll be rewarded with a choice of fine seafood restaurants and see some beautiful scenery along the way. Fogarty's restaurant is one of the nicest in the area, recognizable by its thatched roof and serving a wide range of dishes.
Galway's city centre is compact and easily do-able in a day's amble. The recently pedestrianised streets are teeming with musicians and other street performers, especially during the summer months. Lynch's Castle, St.Nicholas's Church, the Spanish Arch, the Cathedral and the National University of Ireland-Galway are all within walking distance. There are some excellent shops and restaurants packed into the centre, which cater for all tastes and pockets. The Eyre Square Shopping Centre has just about everything under one roof, including a section of the original thirteenth-century city wall which has been tastefully incorporated into the overall design. Check out the local produce and craft Market on Saturdays by St. Nicholas's church. I thoroughly recommend the hot crepes—mmm!
If you'd prefer to save the old shoe leather and let someone else do the map-reading, there's an Olde Galway bus tour which leaves from Eyre Square and takes in all the historical sites of the city. The ever-knowledgeable tour guide will fill you in on all the, sometimes grisly—historical details. Other tours run by Lally's Bus Company include such natural beauty spots as the limestone landscape of the Burren, Co. Clare, which boasts a unique ecosystem containing rare flora and fauna not to be found anywhere else on the planet, as well as some of the oldest burial structures in the country. Lally's also take you to Connemara, the heart of the west with its stunning Atlantic views, fine eateries, and tasteful accommodation; and to the beautiful Aran Islands—Inisheer, Inis Mor and Inis Man—which stand stern and rugged against the relentless force of the sea. The biggest and best equipped for the receipt of tourists is Inis Mor with its excellent hotels, hostel and pubs. There's plenty of Irish music and classes in set dancing if you fancy a swinging time. Dun Aenghus is the biggest of the ancient dry stone ring forts on the island with its semi-circular structure hanging over land's edge. The best way to get around the island is to hire a bike to explore the network of little roads and make your own unique discoveries.
O'Neachtain's tours leave from Salthill in Galway and go right through the county's many villages before turning south to Co. Clare and into the Burren and its Ailwee Caves, where Ireland's first Stone Age people lived. These tours leave at various different times, so take one early in the morning, spend the day wandering around and then catch a lift back to Galway on the afternoon bus. Lough Corrib, the largest lake in the Irish Republic at 65 square miles, has many little islands with shallows that are excellent for fishing. Brown trout and salmon are among the bountiful fish that await the eager angler. Lough Corrib is best experienced aboard the Corrib Princess. This luxurious, all-weather cruiser makes daily sailings throughout the summer months from Galway's Woodquay. The hour and a half cruise takes in castles on the banks of the river among other picturesque sites. If you fancy your rowing skills then hire a rowboat from the office in Woodquay and see the sights at your own pace and under your own steam. Salthill is only 20-30 mins walk from the city centre if you take the coast road by the Claddagh, with its rugged and rocky coastline and its contrasting stretches of beach - it's too close and convenient not to go there. Silver Strand beach and Barna Woods are only a few miles past Salthill. Both these beauty spots are easily accessible by bike and thankfully you'll have no trouble finding one of the many places in the city where bikes are for hire at reasonable rates.
Touring Galway is an experience not to be missed, with every facility available for you to do it your way.
Sea Cruise Contacts
56c Bowling Green Galway Phone: 091 56 6736 Fax: 091 56 4405 www.sea-cruiseconnemara.com
Phone 091 56 2905 / 55 3555 Email: email@example.com www.net-tech.ie/lally-coaches
Vintage Bus Tour to Connemara
Phone or Fax: 091 55 5780 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
It's very hard to avoid being entertained in Galway. Even popping into the pub for a quiet pint may find you inadvertently tapping your feet at an impromptu traditional music session. Galway's deserved reputation as a magnet for the arts has resulted in a culturally rich atmosphere fielding a wide range of creative expression. Every facet of the arts is represented in Galway, from painting and photography exhibitions to internationally acclaimed theatre to a vibrant and varied music scene. A considerable percentage of the population work in the arts in some capacity, resulting in a dynamic cultural environment. Although the amount of events on offer reaches a peak in the summertime, the winter months also yield a wealth of performances, gigs and exhibitions.
The Cuirt Literary Festival kicks off the festival season in April. Cuirt delivers a week of literary happenings, featuring a range of Irish and international writers giving lectures or reading from their work. Assorted debates and a multitude of book launches are also on offer over the seven days, with discussions often continuing into the wee hours. The Galway Arts Festival takes place in July, when the festival season is in full swing and culture vultures from all over flood into the city. The Galway Arts Festival is the biggest arts festival in Ireland, and features an eclectic programme of theatre events over the space of two weeks, including Macnas's celebrated nighttime parade. The Festival also incorporates open air music gigs, which have included the Beastie Boys and David Gray in past summers. The Galway Film Fleadh boasts an impressive range of new Irish and international cinema screened over six days, as well as a series of workshops and masterclasses for aspiring filmmakers. Booking well in advance for all events is highly recommended, as seasoned Galway residents shrewdly snap up tickets early.
The winter months in Galway sees a very slight abatement in cultural production as well as a welcome respite from the crowds of the summer events. Galway has three theatre spaces in the city centre and more venues dotted around its periphery, all of which host productions throughout the year. The Town Hall Theatre hosts larger productions, from drama to musicals to opera, and also showcases festival events. An Taibhdhearc theatre presents both English and Irish language plays and the intimate space of the Druid theatre hosts a range of impressive drama. Myriad theatre companies have made Galway their home, including Druid and Macnas, whose productions are internationally praised. Druid won a prestigious Tony award two years ago in New York for their production of Martin McDonagh's "The Beauty Queen of Leenane".
Galway is also home to some of the finest traditional music (and musicians) in the country. "Trad", as it's called locally, can be heard in various pubs around the city, but the best for live seisúns are the Crane on Sea Road and the Lisheen on Mainguard Street. Again, these sessions can be better in the winter, when the fires are lit and the tourist hordes are gone. The Roisin Dubh, five minutes from the Crane on Dominick Street, is one of the best music venues in Ireland, hosting an eclectic mixture of bands and solo singer/songwriters. Everyone from the Handsome Family to The The to the Frames has played at this canalside venue.
Other evening alternatives include the Film Season at the Town Hall Theatre, which screens international arthouse and independent cinema on Sunday nights. The Season runs from October to April, and yet again advance booking is strongly recommended. The Comedy Club at the Drum on Sunday nights offers the best comedy standups in town. MCs change regularly, but local legend Tommy Tiernan at the mic usually indicates a good night ahead. If you prefer your arts in the form of quiet contemplation, both the newly refurbished Galway Arts Centre on Dominick Street and Kenny's Gallery on Middle Street feature exhibitions of painting, photography and sculpture. These incorporate Irish and international artists and change regularly.