92km (57 miles) N of Shannon Airport, 219km (136 miles) W of Dublin, 105km (65 miles) NW of Limerick, 209km (130 miles) NW of Cork, 193km (120 miles) N of Killarney
A thriving, artsy city on Ireland's rugged western coast, Galway still has its winding medieval lanes, but it also has a cosmopolitan core. Stone-clad cafes and pastel-colored boutiques draw tourists to the cobbles of Quay Street, while crowds pack in everywhere for the Galway Races and the Galway Arts Festival. The River Corrib runs through the town, with the city’s artsy historic district on its east bank between St. Nicholas' Church and the harbor. (Look for the riverside Spanish Arch and the Spanish Parade, bearing witness to the city’s 16th-century heyday as an international port.) Overlapping the medieval district, the Latin Quarter is a small but vibrant section, filled with lively (read: noisy) bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. Traditional Ireland lingers here as well—you can sip a creamy Guinness at a pub and watch fiddlers and singers hold court by turf fires. Then amble to the sea and stroll the seaweed-dappled shore of Galway Bay.
Things to Do
Central Galway is condensed and very walkable. The city's hub is busy Eyre Square (pronounced Air Square), which is a few minutes' walk from everywhere. Arty types should strike out immediately for the city's charming medieval quarter, with its tiny art galleries and coffee shops. History buffs will want to stop by St. Nicholas' Church, where it's said Columbus prayed before one of his journeys in search of the New World.
To see the highlights, follow the signposted Tourist Trail of Old Galway (a handy booklet outlining the trail is available at the tourist office and at most bookshops). The historic core is tiny but tangled, so getting lost is half the fun of going there. You certainly won’t want your car in Galway City’s center—if you’ve driven here, you’ll want to park and walk. From June to September, the Galway Civic Trust offers free walking tours of medieval Galway. Tours depart from the Hall of the Red Earl at 2pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Alternatively, Histry (www.histry.ie) is an excellent smartphone app that provides an interactive, self-guided tour of the historic district. It’s available for both Apple and Android phones and costs $1.99—download direct from their respective app stores.
Galway is known for its good shopping, but the way the stores are scattered around town can make it hard to find what you want. If you're looking for locally made Claddagh rings and Aran sweaters, try the tiny malls of small shops clustered in historic buildings, such as the Cornstore on Middle Street, the Grainstore on Lower Abbeygate Street, and the Bridge Mills, a 430-year-old mill building beside the River Corrib.
Restaurants & Dining
In Galway seafood is the main attraction -- during the boom times, the best restaurants all had helipads, for the millionaires from Dublin who flew to Galway by helicopter for business lunches featuring fresh local oysters, still salty from the sea. While you're in town, look out for sweet Irish prawns, or tender pan-fried local trout. Try the ivory tinged smoked haddock and tangy Galway mackerel.
Nightlife & Entertainment
You cannot swing a cat (please don't try this) in Galway without hitting a charming, traditional Irish pub, particularly around Eyre Square. Head to the Medieval Quarter or down near the quays for the oldest, less touristy pubs. Most nightclubs in the city are virtually empty until the pubs close at 11pm, and the best are in the suburb of Salthill.