A weekend in Galway
Galway is Ireland’s universally loved city. The nightlife is legendary, the streets are atmospheric and the mix of city and coast makes for a picturesque combination.
The compact city centre can easily be explored in around an hour with a cursory visit to the marble masterpiece of Galway Cathedral (or to give it its full title: Cathedral to Our Lady Assumed Into Heaven and St Nicholas). Just outside the centre, Salthill promenade is a popular area for walking and biking with pleasant sea views.
Nightlife is the city’s strength. A perfect blend of students, tourists and locals pack the bars in the city centre and gives them a friendly and energetic mood who enjoy the live music which pops up absolutely everywhere. There are streets upon streets of welcoming Irish watering holes, craft pubs and modern bars to choose from but High Street gives first time visitors a very easy introduction into Galway’s nightlife. Tig Chioli, Tigh Neachtain (Naughtons) and The Quays are a good place to start.
Controversially perhaps, even though Galway serves as a more authentic and palatable side to an Irish city than Dublin, there isn’t a great deal to do in the city itself during the day. There are however a selection of Ireland’s great daytrips on the city’s doorstep. Numerous companies offer daytrips to the two and advertise all over the city and in most hotel receptions.
North of Galway is the Connemara region. This area is one of Ireland’s most picturesque and offers up a heady combination of lakes, mountains and bogland. Self-drivers can merely stick to the one main road – the N57 – and pass open-mouthed past lake after lake and the typical green and brown hues of the surrounding countryside.
Dan O’Hara’s Homestead is a worthy stop that gives an insight into Irish farming and Irish emigration history through a tour of a famine cottage. The town of Clifden is next up and a bevy of pubs, restaurants and cafes offer up a great chance to sample some quality seafood. The man-made jewel in the crown of Connemara is surely Kylemore Abbey. The sight of a grand stately holiday home turned Benedictine monastery nestling in a forest and reflecting off the lake in front is the definition of picture perfect.
To the south of Galway is the uniquely beautiful Burren region. Whole landscapes covered in the light grey of volcanic karst limestone gives the Burren a trippy moonlike quality. The Burren is also the home of the famous Cliffs of Moher. These giant cliffs rise 214 metres out of the Atlantic Ocean and give some of the best photo opportunities in Ireland. Their fame can act to their detriment as crowds pile up at times so it’s best to arrive early or late for less stressful viewings.
Another awesome option is to step back in time with a visit to the Aran Islands. This small collection of three islands – Inis Mor, Inis Oirr and Inis Meain – off the Connemara coast represent Ireland in bygone days. Regular busses run from Galway City to the port at Rossaveal, around 50 minutes up the coast, where passenger ferries – no cars allowed – run to the three islands. Inis Mor is most accessible and the prehistoric monuments, plunging cliffs and teeming wildlife can easily be explored by bike, jaunting car (pony and trap) or minibus.
Galway is another city with high hotel capacities which despite having a lot of accommodation to choose from not too much of it is in the city centre. Weekend city accommodation comes at a large premium and if on a budget you’re like to be limited to one of the many hostels or Tripadvisor-scorned guesthouses.