The Imperial Hotel (www.imperialhotelgalway.ie) on Eyre Square has always offered me great service and a lovely room. It’s in the city centre so that can of course offer noise issues whichever way you look at it, but I’ve always managed to get a good nights sleep in this hotel, even on Fridays and Saturdays when Galway city is busiest (and a little noisy) in the evenings. The breakfast is basic (no cooked breakfast here) but it’s always felt like enough. The service is really friendly and the food in the bar/restaurant has always been excellent. They often have a carvery on at lunchtime, and/or a dinner menu in the evenings, as well as a bar menu. Currently you’ll find a double or twin room here for between about 80-100EUR per night which I think is pretty reasonable given the quality.
There are smaller hotels, hostels, and plenty of B&Bs around the city but the other large hotel in the city centre is the Jury’s Inn (www.jurysinns.com), beside the river at the end of Quay Street (that’s pronounced ‘key’!), which has similarly great standards of quality and service and similar prices to the Imperial, with the addition of a cooked breakfast.
Getting to Galway is very easy. Recently, Shannon Airport seems to have less scheduled flights than I’ve previously experienced, but there are still flights daily from London, and other parts of the UK including Manchester and Stansted, as well as a few European flights, and there are about 3 or 4 carriers who fly direct to Shannon from the US. There is an hourly bus service from Shannon to Galway city and the stop is right outside the arrivals hall, and the journey takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes, costing 15EUR one way, or 22EUR return (www.buseireann.ie). Bus Eireann also offer services between Galway and various other Irish cities, including Dublin which is about a 3 hour journey and costs 14EUR one way, or 19EUR return.
If you fly into Shannon, there are desks inside the arrivals hall for various companies offering hire cars, and there is a taxi desk who offer a standard one way fare to Galway for 125EUR. Galway also has a train station, and the direct train service from Dublin is pretty frequent (www.irishrail.ie) and costs start at around 15EUR one way if you book in advance, taking about 2 hours and 45 minutes.
7:30am – Wake up & Breakfast
Let’s have an early start to make the most of the day as there’s a lot to see in Galway and we have a busy itinerary! Once you’re up and ready, nip downstairs for a quick breakfast, but don’t eat too much as you’re going to have a decent lunch and a big dinner!
9am – Morning shopping!
Get to the shops before the onslaught! Galway doesn’t tend to get ridiculously busy to the point that you feel you can’t see the wood for the trees, but its worth hitting the shops early in order to miss any crowds and feel like you’ve got space to enjoy the city’s retail opportunities. The city’s shopping opportunities centre on 3 or 4 streets/areas: firstly there’s the Shop Street which you’ll find by turning right from the Imperial hotel, crossing the street and keep going to the right until you hit the pedestrianized area. You’ll see Brown Thomas on the corner which is one of my personal favourites, and is a department store I think of as the Irish equivalent to Harrods in London, or Macy’s in the US. Beyond this you’ll find a mix of regular high street clothing stores, pharmacies, banks, book stores, and a few gift shops and jewelers selling traditional Irish goods and items of jewelry containing the famous Claddagh design. Next there’s Quay Street which is the logical continuation of Shop Street (turn left at the fork!) where you’ll find the concentration of shops selling traditional Irish gifts – there’s plenty of Arran sweaters and Claddagh jewelry here, along with shops selling Irish crystal, tweeds, Irish music, and an array of other gifts and souvenirs. Lastly, there’s the Eyre Square Centre which is a shopping mall back near the hotel, and across the street to the right. In here you’ll find a large amount of high street retailers and a department store.
10:30am Morning coffee stop
Inside the Eyre Square centre you’ll find the most complete, conserved section of Galway’s medieval city wall which has been incorporated into the building. Next to it there are one or two cafes where you can pick up a tea, coffee or a nice refreshing juice or smoothie to keep you going until lunchtime.
11am – Walking tour
During the spring and summer, until at least late September there are a number of operators offering walking tours of the city which is an excellent way to find your way around all the nooks and crannies of the city centre, and to find out a bit about the city’s past. They start in various locations around the city and generally last around 90 minutes, costing around 10EUR per person, and I always recommend walking tours you have to pay for rather than any free walks available as the cost incurred generally gets you a higher quality, and better informed guide. The Tourist Information centre in Eyre Square will have a list of walking tours available, but so will the hotel and you can ask at reception or check their leaflet racks for more information.
Head back to Quay Street, and halfway down the gentle slope on the left, you’ll find the Quay Street Kitchen. I’ve had lunch here a few times now and they also have a great breakfast menu! The service is good and the food is both excellent and reasonably priced. There are specials which change regularly, and they have those amazing flowering teas served in glass teapots so you can watch them flower! What’s especially interesting is that within their standard menu they have a number of vegan options all of which are really tasty and there’s a few vegan desserts too! Food is locally sourced and there’s friendly service in a great, intimate setting.
As an alternative, directly across the road is the famous McDonough’s fish & chip shop. The food is good, reasonably priced, and you can eat in or take out so the choice is yours!
1:30pm Galway City Museum
On leaving the Quay Street Kitchen, turn left and go to the end of the street. You’ll see a pedestrian crossing to you left, cross there and walk towards the river. On your left you’ll see the Spanish Arch which was once part of the city wall. Walk through the arch and take note of the small building on the right which is a restaurant called ‘Ard Bia at Nimmos’… we’ll be coming back here tonight!
Immediately to your left when you walk through the arch you’ll see the Galway City Museum (www.galwaycitymuseum.ie). It’s only open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm so make sure it’s not a Sunday or Monday! Aim to spend about an hour in here, if you have an interest in history as there are displays on three levels. Exhibitions include displays on the area’s prehistoric and medieval history, and there’s an exhibit on Padraic O’Connaire who was a famous Galwegian writer and journalist, writing in the early 19th century primarily in the Irish language. There are also regular temporary exhibits in the museum, and admission is free!
2:30pm The River Corrib
On leaving the museum you have the river in front of you so let’s explore that a little before we move on. Turn left out of the museum and you’ll be on The Long Walk (it’s not so long!), which is often pictured on postcards of the city due to it’s long row of pastel coloured cottages. There are some nice photo opportunities along here so take your time to eventually walk back through the Spanish Arch towards the bridge. Crossing the bridge you’ll get some even better snaps of the Long Walk and the river, and sometimes you may find there’s a Galway Hooker in the harbor (that’s a type of boat… not a lady of the night!). Walk back to the city side of the river and down the side of the Jury’s Inn hotel. You’ll eventually find the Eglinton Canal. This was cut to provide a navigable route to Galway Bay from the city’s Franciscan Friary instead of using the rather fierce River Corrib. As you walk the path alongside the river, you’ll come to another bridge where you should cross the road but stay on this side of the river and on the riverside path. Across the water you’re actually looking at Nun’s Island which was the site of a prison at one time, but is now home to Europe’s youngest stone built Cathedral – which happens to be where we’re heading next!
3:00pm Galway Cathedral
Continuing your walk along the footpath up the River Corrib you’ll eventually cross a small footbridge over the canal, but then turn left and keep the river on your left. Cross over the river at the next bridge and the Cathedral is in front of you (www.galwaycathedral.ie). There’s no admission charge, but putting a donation in the offering box would be polite. This is the Catholic diocesan cathedral for Galway and parts of County Clare, and was consecrated only in 1965. The style is a modern version of the neo-classical renaissance and incorporates huge amounts of the famous green Connemara marble, as well as black Galway marble, along with a fair bit of white and red marble. This building was one the last large major commissions for Connemara Marble as most of the green marble quarries in Ireland are now not far from being empty so the remaining stone is generally used only for small pieces such as jewellery. Also, worthy of note is the spectacular modern stained glass, and a mosaic in a small side chapel in the nave (to the right of the entrance door) where you’ll find a large image of Christ crucified with small image of John F Kennedy facing him on the right!… JFK in fact visited Galway and was made an honorary citizen only a few months before his tragic death in 1963.
3:30pm Break and afternoon tea
Leave the Cathedral and head back across the bridge, but instead of going back to town turn left and keep heading alongside the river. The road curves around slightly to the right, but the first turning on the right (Waterside) is where you’ll find the Corrib House B&B and tea rooms (www.corribhouse.com). This is a fabulously quaint spot I discovered only on my last visit to Galway and has great views across the river, home baked fayre and a good selection of teas and coffees… definitely worth the stop, if not for the rest or the coffee/tea, just for the beautifully well kept interiors of this 17th century building.
4:30pm Corrib River Cruise
Leave the Corrib House Tea Rooms by about 4:10pm to give yourself enough time to get to the Corrib Princess (www.corribprincess.ie). The boat leaves from Wood Quay at 4:30pm. This is a cruise of 90 minutes duration costing 15EUR per person and taking you along the river to Lough Corrib – Irelands 2nd largest lake and the mains water supply for Galway. The cruise has a commentary given by the captain, and there’s an open deck on top with a covered lounge downstairs. Ther’s a bar serving drinks including Irish coffees and if you’re able to sweet talk her into it towards the end of the cruise, crew member Roisin Sweeney may be persuaded to give you her award winning Irish coffee demonstration which won her the title of Powers Irish Coffee making Champion in 2011! Daily cruises on the Corrib Princes are at 2:30pm and 4:30pm and run from 1st May to 30th September, with an extra cruise at 12:30pm in August.
6pm Head back to the hotel
It’s time to head back to the hotel for a short rest and to freshen up before heading out again for dinner. From the Corrib Princess walk back towards the city along the river’s edge then turn left at the Corrib House Tea Rooms, and head straight across the traffic lights in front of you. Keep walking straight along Eglinton Street until you get to the corner with the pedestrianized part of Shop Street and the Brown Thomas store on your right. If you turn left here, you’ll come back to Eyre Square and the Imperial Hotel.
8pm Dinner at Ard Bia
This is the restaurant we saw earlier beside the Spanish Arch (www.ardbia.com). It has a strong reputation in the area and has been around for a while now so is well established. It’s only a 10 minute walk from the hotel but because of it’s reputation it may be worth booking a table for dinner, especially as it’s for a time in the evening which is a popular slot. Ard Bia focuses on not only locally sourced food but also on artisan producers, so you’ll get an array of choices which you can mostly guarantee are Irish and are also amongst the best Ireland has to offer. There’s also what seems to be a range of cuisines available though the focus seems to be on the Mediterranean, with plenty of Irish cuisine thrown in for good measure… I recently had their seafood chowder for lunch and I love chowder pretty much wherever I go, but I can absolutely declare that this was the best I’ve ever had, and will definitely be back for more when I’m next in Galway!… hopefully soon!
There is a distinctive rustic feel to the restaurant’s interior and a lovely informal and warm atmosphere with friendly service. For dinner a main course will cost around 20EUR and starters are around the 8EUR mark, with desserts ranging from 6-12EUR. It’s not cheap but it’s reasonable, and I think it’s excellent value as you’d pay much more than this for a lower quality of food in many other places.
10pm Flagging yet?!
It’s been a long day but if you still have any energy left after that amazing meal and all the walking you’ve done, then it’s time to head to the pub and take in some Irish music. There are a number of pubs in Galway offering Irish music in the evenings, but the heart of it all seems to be Quay Street. It can be rather lively (read noisy!) down here, especially at the weekends but it’s a lot of fun. The Quay’s pub is especially popular and is a big double fronted place next to the Quay Street Kitchen where we had lunch. There’s a rather spectacular music hall upstairs offering music 7 nights a week during the summer with a variety of acts in the programme, but there is a strong tradition here for country and western music.
The King’s Head pub on the corner of Quay Street and Shop Street is slightly smaller but also has music on 7 nights of the week. Both of these venues have a fairly young crowd but if this isn’t to your taste there are plenty of other venues in the city offering music regularly so check in with the hotel reception to find out what’s going on while you’re there.
Hopefully this itinerary hasn’t tired you out too much but has instead given you an insight to this amazing city, which is small and easily navigable and yet has so much to offer. Galway also makes a great base for touring the west coast of Ireland with local attractions being a maximum of 2 hours drive away such as the famous Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, Connemara, and the Arran Islands (day trips are offered to all of these locations by various local operators – see your hotel reception/concierge for more details).