Though Dublin is the capital of Ireland, Galway is the place to really immerse in local Irish culture, meet the friendly locals and enjoy the craic with a few pints of the black stuff whilst you enjoy background live fiddle music. I was fortunate enough to visit Galway back in February and could not help but be intoxicated by the musical vibrancy and culture which embraces the city. Lying on Ireland’s wild west coast, Galway is Ireland’s fourth biggest city and the regional capital of the country’s sparsely populated West Region. A centre for culture, art, music and Irish tradition, it is no wonder that Galway has been voted European Capital of Culture for 2020.
Galway’s bursting food scene
The centre of Galway is pedestrianised meaning it is the perfect place to while away a day exploring. The main thoroughfare, Shop Street, is home to a plethora of traditional Irish pubs, buzzing cafes and sophisticated food shops and restaurants. A great activity on offer is an Irish walking food tour with our local Galway legend, Sheena. Sheena’s knowledge and passion for Galway and the food scene here is contagious and you will be continuously delighted as you visit a number of food and beverage shops and restaurants throughout Galway, tasting the local produce along the way. From sushi to crab, oysters to cheese, strawberry tart to local beers, your taste buds will not only be tantalised throughout, it’s a great way to see the main sights of the city.
Besides its cultural draw, Galway is home to a myriad of historic sites and places of interest and importance. You can visit the Claddagh Jewellers where you can witness the Claddagh rings being made, a symbol of love, loyalty and friendship which holds traditional importance in Irish culture. Sitting on the banks of the River Corrib which flows into the spectacular Galway Bay, is the Spanish Arch, one of the only remaining remnants of the city wall, dating back to the 16th century. From here, it is great to enjoy a walk along the Long Walk promenade for fantastic views of the River and Galway Bay. You can learn more about Galway’s heritage, history and long-established art scene at the Galway City Museum and it’s worth enjoying a visit to Eyre Square, the main public park of Galway, also known as John F Kennedy Memorial Park, named after the late president in 1965.
Connemara: Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht
Galway is also home to the largest Gaeltacht (Irish language-speaking region) in the country: Connemara. Only a 30-minute drive from the centre of Galway, Connemara could not offer more of a contrast to Galway. Depart the urbanity of Galway into the rural wilderness of Connemara, an area of 30km squared. Connemara’s landscape and scenery are spectacular and contrasting; the south side of the region follows the coastline of Ireland and includes jagged inlets which jut out into the sea as waves crash around, offering breath-taking views. More inland, the land turns to mountains dotted with fields of grazing animals and a deep hush which adds to the remote atmosphere of Connemara. Throughout the region, there are small Irish towns and villages scattered between the endless countryside and beautiful lochs and tree lines.
Whilst in Connemara, I was taken through the region by our local legend and Connemara local, Padraic. Born and bred in Connemara, Padraic knows the intrinsic network of small roads and lanes which make up Connemara like the back of his hand and took me through the ever-changing scenery. Padraic offers our guests the fantastic opportunity to tour Connemara whilst combining the visit with regular stops at local Irish pubs dispersed throughout the region – the best place to see real Irish life whilst enjoying a pint. Here, you not only see the incredible Irish landscapes of Connemara, but you also get to immerse with real local people who offer a friendly Irish greeting and will introduce you further to the Irish people, the Irish language and the Craic of the region.
Ireland’s Aran Islands
Padraic also offers a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Inis Oirr, the smallest of the three Aran Islands which are reached by boat or a short eight-minute flight from Connemara airport. Home to a population of only 1,200 people, the people of Aran mainly speak Irish as their primary language and live amid the desolate beauty of Aran. Whilst here, you will be exposed to the history and culture of Aran whilst you learn about real island life, make your own St Bridgid’s Cross from the local willow and enjoy freshly-baked scones at Alissa O Donoghue’s tea house. You will also enjoy a tour of the island where you will see a ghostly shipwreck, an underground church and a 15th-century castle; all of this followed by a delicious fresh-lobster lunch and a pint at the local pub: this experience will really stay with you forever.
The Wild Coast of County Clare
South of Galway is County Clare, another of Ireland’s most scenic regions on the western coast. Most famously, Clare is home to the Cliffs of Moher, sea cliffs stretching for 14km, offering spectacular views across into the Atlantic Ocean, particularly breath-taking at sunset. From the Cliffs, you can see the Aran Islands and into Galway Bay; this truly is one of Ireland’s most stunning beauty spots. The Cliffs also lead on to the Burren, from the Irish word ‘Boireann’ which means rocky place. The scenery here is lunar-esque and is a great place for hiking, climbing and spotting the local wildlife of Bank voles, Irish mountain hares and Eurasian otters to name a few. Back on the coast, we have teamed with local surf expert Ben, who offers surfing lessons from absolute beginners to advance whilst admiring spectacular views of the cliffs and oceans.
Located only two hours from Dublin and less than an hour from Shannon and Knock airports, Galway and its surroundings are the perfect destination to really immerse, experience and absorb yourself in Irish culture.
The locals are ready and waiting to say Fáilte (welcome to) Galway!