Galway is situated on the west coast of Ireland, in close proximity to all the things I had hoped to see in Ireland (Cliffs of Moher, Aran islands, cute sheep). It is a 2.5-hour bus ride from Dublin airport and a slightly longer ride to other major cities in Ireland. The city itself has a smaller population of only about 79,500 give or take, and it has a very fickle climate.
Where it lacks in stable weather it remarkably makes up for in its culture. The west of Ireland is where the most Irish (Gaelic) is spoken. You can find it in the pubs, on the street signs and bus stop announcements. Head to a local’s home, or a cafe around noon for tea and don’t forget the scones! You are sure to be welcomed with open arms and abundant stories just waiting to be told.
Due to the two bustling universities that Galway has to offer and despite its own strong sense of self, it also has become quite the spot for alluring cuisines and unique stores, showcasing an amazingly diverse culture. (as the winner of the European Capital of Culture 2020 it should be!).
That being said, here are some of my favorite things to experience in Gaillimh!
Places To See and Things to do:
Galway Cathedral and NUI Galway: Otherwise known as “Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven & St Nicholas”, this magnificent cathedral is close to the heart of Galway city and very easily accessible by transit or walking. This landmark was opened in 1965, making it one of the youngest cathedrals in Europe. Visit for a mass “an Gaeilge” (in Irish) or an English one, light a candle, and visit the small bookstore before you go. Even if you are not religious, you can feel a sense of peace and reverence wash over you.
A walkable distance from the Cathedral is NUIG, The second best university in Ireland (only trumped by Trinity College, Dublin), and Galway’s biggest. The university opened in 1845 and boasts a sprawling campus just waiting to be explored. Check out their website for any student activities going on (shout out to the organizers for the outdoor movie nights!) and stop by their gift shop for a truly unique souvenir!
Shop Street (and surrounding area): No trip to Galway is complete without a walk up and down shop street. This little (usually car-free) cobblestone street actually starts at William St (Next to Brown Thomas, off Eglinton st) and ends at High St (at Cross St lower). Make sure you dedicate some time to check out the side streets that branch off of Shop street because there are way more places to discover down the alleyways. Shop street itself is full of restaurants, bars and coffee shops which I will divulge into later, but for now, I’m going to mention some of the other noteworthy and offbeat things to check out along this strip.
- Mc Cambridges: Pop into this interesting grocery store/cafe/liquor store for some pleasing treats to bring home (or eat, no ones judging). Chat with the cashier and ask to sample some Whiskey (they have a small stand by the cash specifically for this… go Ireland!) If your not into Whiskey give the Galway Gin company or some Irish Potin a try (the whiskey, before there WAS whiskey, but beware! It’s strong!).
- Claddagh and Celtic Jewelry Store: This quaint little jewelry shop at the bottom of High street is the best place to check out the famous Claddagh rings, which originated in Galway! Ask the cashier to give you some background about the rings, they will gladly share the tale. Rings are about 30 euros and up.
- Vintage/ Thrift stores: There are many Vintage and thrift store in Galway to roam around in and find the perfect gem! Some of the best ones I’ve found are Cope, Charity Galway, Book Exchange, Public Romance and Twice as Nice (all of which are on the side streets that surround Shop St). These stores are always fully stocked with a mix of vintage clothes, eclectic jewelry and once loved books.
- My Shop…Granny Likes It: The cutest little store off Abbeygate Street, offering both artisan handmade gifts and knick-knacks to remind you of your perfect day in Galway. Pick up a “build your own tiny Galway” Or a pair of “what’s the craic” socks.
- Buskers: A walk down Shops street is not complete without stopping to listen to the many buskers that are out and about! See if you can spot, the face painters, traditional Irish dancers, and the Galway street club, a 15 piece band that can occasionally be spotted belting out tunes on shop street (they can sometimes be found playing at the Roisin Dubh but you didn’t hear it from me!).
- Galway Market: On the weekends walk down Church St, and enjoy the pop-up market! This market has been going on in the city for centuries and offers some amazing farm fresh food, works of art, gifts and even toys for children. Although it’s only open Saturday and Sunday it’s a must-see.
The Claddagh and the Long walk: After a long day on shop street grab some food and hang out with the locals at the Claddagh, where the river Corrib meets Galway Bay. This area of Galway that was once a small fishing village just outside the city walls is now a place where people of all ages come to have a bite to eat (and maybe a drink) and enjoy the weather while it lasts. Take in the stunning view of the brightly colored houses across the way (called “the long walk”), then head over to check it out! Also on this side of the river is Spanish arch, that was built as an extension of Galway city in 1584.
Galway Races: At the end of July get dressed up and head to the races! This is one of the biggest events to happen in Ireland and all of Galway shows up! Don’t forget your fancy hats and ties, this is a formal event and everyone is dressed “to the nines”. When you arrive grab a Guinness and place your bets!
The Salthill Prom and Blackrock: You don’t have to be a Galway girl to take a stroll down the Salthill prom, a long promenade that runs along Galway Bay, with sandy beaches, coffee shops, and ice cream parlors. The prom ends at a popular diving tower called Black rock. The Irish swim and dive here 365 days of the year. If you’re brave enough, at high tide, take the plunge!
Rusheen Bay: This small school for windsurfing, kayaking, and paddleboarding is just a short ride out of the main city. Their staff are highly trained, with the best gear and in-depth lessons to get you out on the water as soon as possible!
Pole Garage: Interested in trying something new? The pole garage is a small pole dancing studio on Tuam road east of the main city center that offers pole dancing, flexibility and many other unique classes to try. The beginner classes are perfect for those who have never tried before, and they also offer more advanced classes. Racheal Palmer, the owner of the studio, is an amazingly talented dancer and a very thorough instructor, you will love every one of her classes!
Pubs and Clubs:
A brief summary of worthwhile pubs and clubs to check out in Galway, although you’ll find great craic in all the bars, these are some of my top picks.
Roisin Dubh (ro-sheen, dove): A multilevel pub, with a large space in the back that doubles as a small club space and is used for live performances. It’s eclectic and cozy, sometimes referred to as a hipster bar.
O’Connors: This is a famous bar in Salthill, filled to the brim with vintage items from across the decades, check out the lamps and kettles hanging from the roof and trousers by the fireplace. There is so much to look at in this bar, I would never be able to write it all down. Try one of the many beers and ciders on tap or stick with Guinness, either way, this is a perfect place to warm up!
Tig Coili: This little bar towards the bottom of Shop street is known for hosting a myriad of traditional folk music bands and singers alike, pop in and check out some of the best of Galway’s live music scene.
The Quays: A restaurant by day and a happening bar by night this spot makes it high on the list for the best live music. Live music always exists in Galway any night of the week but you’ll find some of the best of it here.
An Pucan: This bar club/ hybrid is an attractive mix of traditional and modern. Great for a ladies or gents night out! This bar also turns into a little club later in the evening and has a sprawling back garden patio to escape the crowd. *Delicious and cheap cocktails on Thursday.
Halo: A refreshingly modern club, as opposed to the other options in Galway, it has everything you would want in a nightclub, excellent, yet packed dance floors, great DJ’s and stellar bottle service. They often have a photographer going around on Friday/Saturday nights. Keep in mind the club is for those 23 and over, and is open 11pm- 2am (ish).
Monroes: This large white bar west of shop street is home to Latin nights and a host of musical talents! Check out all the floors for some top-notch fun!
Some seriously honorable mentions go to The Seven, Buddha Bar, Massimo’s, Kings Head, Electric, The Front Door and Tigh Neachtain (I would have taken the time to include these but we would be here all day).
A (seriously) condensed list of amazing restaurants and cafes in Galway, and what to try there!
Hooked (mid-range): Delectable fish and chips in Galway, just outside of the downtown core. A local friend recommended this place to me and I have to say it lived up to the hype! Try the Steamed Killarney Muscles or the Crispy Wild Mackerel Fillets.
McDonaghs: (budget): Having been in Galway for over 115 years, one would be stupid not to give the fresh fish and chips from this place a try.
Boojum (budget): Being some of the cheapest eats in Galway, you’ll find all of the NUIG students from earlier over here. This is a small Mexican restaurant chain you can only find in Ireland (other locations in Belfast and Dublin) Try the burrito bowl, with a side of chips and salsa, don’t hold the guac! (Bonus: if you manage to eat 40 burritos you get a t-shirt!)
56 Central (mid-range): Hidden away above a souvenir shop this slightly more upscale restaurant offers an extensive menu with many options to choose from. Based on personal experience, the “Superfood salad” or the Grilled cajun chicken burger” are great go-to’s.
Tomodachi (mid-range): This relatively new sushi restaurant is just what Galway needed, being the third option for sushi in Galway, id have to say it’s the best. It’s a bit expensive but the service is amazing and the sushi is fresh. Id recommend you grab some sushi or rolls of the conveyor belt but pay attention to the time they were made! (the servers are usually on top of this, but you never know!)
Papa Rich (budget): Flavorful Asian street food at amazing prices, it’s no surprise this restaurant fills up fast. Be prepared for a bit of a wait but I promise you the food is worth it. Try “Grandma’s famous curry” or the Indonesian Rendang”.
Falafel Bar (budget): One of the best spots for vegan/vegetarian options in the city, even if you aren’t vegan the food is amazing. Try the “Rock my Beets Wrap” or the “Original Worx”.
Coffeewerk+Press: This simple and refreshing cafe from the bottom of Shop St has to have the best coffee in Galway (there, I said it). If you are looking for a classic Americano (drip coffee is a rare find in Ireland), or a latte is more your style, this place has it all. Check out their selection of gifts and cards that are sure to intrigue your friends (plus they have a tiny house on the cup, who doesn’t love that?)
Secret Garden: A smaller cafe in the West end of Galway with a very artsy vibe, the bean bags, and eclectic chairs make excellent seats for tea and cakes, and occasionally live music. When the weather is in good spirits check out the “secret garden” through the white door at the back of the cafe, it’s sure to be delightful. This is the only place you will be able to find coffee later in the evening, although the cafe primarily does teas and it has an amazing selection! feel free to ask the barista to smell them, or for a recommendation. (this is one of the only places in Galway that serves coffee later in the evening).
Espresso 44: A very small cafe close to Eyre Square on Shop st, it’s great for tasty coffee and treats in a pinch. It has some seating outside in good weather but it’s primarily a to-go type of cafe. The baristas are extremely friendly and chatty.
Griffins Bakery: This famous Shop street bakery has been in Galway for over 130 years, with its incredibly fresh bread and desserts that are to die for, this is a must-see.
Urban Grind: Pretty much next door to Secret Garden is Urban Grind, the west end’s answer for great coffee. They serve savory sandwiches and delectable desserts as well as rich coffee. This is the best you’ll get without walking into town.
Cupan Tae: A cute little tea shop at the bottom of shop street! Reminds me of my granny’s house! Pop in for some tea and biscuits!
Murrays: An underrated little coffee shop just outside the downtown area, they’re baked goods and hospitality are to die for!
There are so many more spots hidden in the city waiting to be found. I can’t wait to go back and see what’s next for Galway 2020 and re-visit some (if not all) of these places.
This is your chance!
The next time you find yourself roaming the emerald isle consider adding Galway to the top of the list. Get lost, learn some Gaelic and have a pint for god’s sake. The craic is always mighty here, and no matter what you are doing or when you are bound to have an exceptional time.