After a few weeks abroad I’m back home, unpacking, sorting out photos, and catching up on beauty rest. Three countries and three times as many plane and train rides later I’m missing one city in particular.
Nestled along the northwest coast of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, Galway is a relaxing train ride from Dublin (with wifi and wine) or just an hour’s drive from Shannon airport. The city holds an extra special place in my heart as likely 1700s stomping grounds for my great-great-great-you-get-the-idea-grandfather who immigrated from North Ireland to North Georgia and opened a tippling parlor only to be eventually killed by local Native Americans who would also become part of my Appalachian lineage – but that’s another story for another blog.
As one of the largest cities in Ireland, situated in the sparsely-populated province of Connacht, Galway truly glistens as a jewel of modern Irish culture steeped in 800 lively years of history.
A quarter of the population in the City of Tribes is actually made up of students, and locals will remind you that after the adjacent Aran Islands, the next village westward is New York City. Drop into a pub and you’ll likely hear Irish spoken between locals, who will generously switch over to English to share the local craic (rough translation: the dish) with you as well as any favorite restaurants and travel spots you might be keen to learn.
STAY // Check into the Corrib House Tea Rooms for a hot cuppa and the coziest accommodations in the heart of the city. Rumor has it James Joyce once partied in this 1800s-built home that has been lovingly restored into a bed & breakfast and favorite brunch spot for locals. Enjoy scones and a long, hot soak in the claw foot tub that’s tucked into the Salmon Weir suite overlooking the River Corrib and Galway’s famous fishing dam. And for breakfast? Poached eggs, a mountain of salmon, fresh greens, more scones, and piping hot coffee that’s black as midnight while listening to the likes of Bon Iver. Heaven.
MORNING WALK TO SALTHILL // Wake up early and put your walking shoes on. There are plenty of taxis in Galway, but you won’t be needing them so long as you pack some good gear and the weather’s nice out – the city’s very walkable! After a full Irish breakfast, grab a take away coffee and take the long walk to Salthill Promenade:
Stroll from Corrib House along the river and down around Spanish Arch, past Mutton Island and the Aquarium, then carry on the tradition of kicking the wall once you finally reach Blackrock Diving Tower. Take in salty, gloriously clean air and the gorgeous coastline as you grab a second coffee or ice cream at one of the little shops that will dot your way back into Galway. Be sure to pet any friendly ocean-diving dogs and strike up conversation with their equally friendly owners along the way.
WANDERING LATIN QUARTER // On your walk back, round the corner past Galway Bay, under the Spanish Arch and into Galway’s vibrant city centre, the Latin Quarter along Quay Street, which fills to the brim each day with music, people, delicious food and the energy of life well lived.
Be sure to drop into the tiny museum and shop at Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold, which is the oldest jeweler in Ireland and maker of the country’s traditional Claddagh rings since 1750: “The hands are for friendship, the heart is for love, and loyalty is shown with the crown up above.” There’s also plenty of shopping along nearby Eyre Square and aptly named Shop Street.
Grab a bit to eat anywhere you fancy – we took a barkeeper’s advice to try a pizza counter in an alley and devoured the giant slice served up to us – “not bad for three quid” was right! If you find a table outside any pub, you’ll likely be treated to live music, whether it’s noon or midnight. We encountered a folk flutist, indie street bands, and a one man band bravely belting out Tears For Fears, all before lunchtime.
Adjacent to the Spanish Arch you’ll also find the free Galway City Museum, which offers a tidy and intriguing history of the city and its folklore, as well as rotating cultural and scientific exhibits. Nearby you’ll spot Charlie Byrne’s Book Shop, a must for any bibliophile (pick up “The Irish Paradox” for a great plane read).
WIND DOWN WITH A PINT // As the sun starts to fade, pick any pub for a pint of Guinness or an icy Galway Hooker (this is a delicious local beer, and it’s also the name of the old school boats found in the harbor and within the City Museum, okay?). Darken the door at The Bunch of Grapes on High Street for some phenomenal Irish whiskeys and Gaelic Athletic Association (“The GAA”) sports coverage. Know that most smaller pubs don’t typically offer cocktails or food service – that said, we chanced across one that just passed around complimentary baskets of chicken wings for everyone to snack on while catching up over pints. Ireland is nice like that.
SETTLE INTO DINNER // For dinner, do your best to grab a reservation for Ard Bia at Nimmo’s, right on the pier between the Spanish Arch and Galway Museum. Our outdoor guide in Killarney (post on that coming soon!) had recommended this Michelin Guide restaurant gem and it was everything I wish I could have in my own neighborhood: Impeccable service paired with curious and delicious fare – seaweed butter and brown Irish soda bread, salt and lemon and tarragon and divinity in a glass, fresher than fresh mussels and the best buttered up carrots of recent memory – all in the coziest, eclectic, and light-filled attic dining room straight out of A Little Princess dreamy breakfast lore. Take me back. Or at least get me the cookbook?
IF YOU HAVE AN EXTRA DAY, OR THIRTY // There are so many spots around Galway that I am dying to check out next time we touch back on Irish soil. Among them: Sea kayaking along Galway Bay, Electric (Kygo’s favorite concert venue), the Galway Oyster Festival, taking a day ferry to bike around the Aran Islands (and visiting The Inis Meáin Knitting Co.), journeying out to the strange and beautiful wilds of The Burren, spending an afternoon along the Cliffs of Moher or journeying north to Donegal to see the even more enormous cliffs of Slieve League, exploring the sleepy seaside towns of Clifden and Westport along Clew Bay, heading on into Connemara to visit ancient Kylemore Abbey, trekking on up to Belfast and hiking around Giant’s Causeway. Then there’s also always… Muckanaghederdauhaulia.
Ireland, I love you.