The beginning of my journey overseas was a rainy day in Galway, Ireland in July 2015. I was an alien stepping on foreign soil. The rain falling on the leaves like little parachutes, falling off and tumbling to the ground. This soothed me. And I knew I was home.
I’ve been to Galway six or seven times and still find new discoveries. But on my first stop, I hit the must-sees of Galway.
The Republic of Ireland has been predominately Catholic, and travelers will enjoy the outstanding Gothic cathedrals and quaint churches that date back several centuries. However, the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas, Galway (aka Galway Cathedral), only opened its doors in 1965. But that doesn’t take away from the impressive design.
For those who also want to see something older, there is the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas that, according to the official website, is the largest medieval parish church in Ireland. The church dates back all the way to the 1300s, and on Sundays there is a street market just outside the gate, with local vendors selling everything from street food to handmade trinkets.
The walk from Eyre Square to the Spanish Arch is something for the fairy tale books. You’ll notice that the street signs are in English as well as Irish (Irish being an official language). And in Galway county, you’ll probably hear people speaking in Irish more than any other part of Ireland.
Some good stops along the way include the Nora Barnacle Museum, the AIB bank (formerly Lynch Castle), the JFK Memorial and the Spanish Arch in the Latin Quarter. There will be buskers and street artist to rival any popular entertainer and it’s much more intimate and free. However, I do suggest giving a little monetary support as this is how these artists make their living.
If you’re a rabid foodie like me, you’ll definitely appreciate Galway which, I’d say rivals that of Paris. You can get anything from traditional Irish food to infusion options. My first stop in 2015, I ate traditional food at Finnegans, which is a hidden gem with good service at reasonable prices. I’ve never been a fan of chowder but Finnegans turned me around on that one.
There is one place I always have to stop and eat when I am in Galway. This national treasure is called McDonagh’s. The fish and chips are legendary, except my boyfriend says the ray is better in the area of Dublin where he is from. I just ignore him and keep eating my chips, dipping them in the garlic sauce.
There are few places I haven’t been that I will save for my next trip. The only downside to Irish cuisine is that there aren’t that many options for my vegan friends. There are usually always options for vegetarian, but there aren’t that many places that cater to a strictly non-meat, non-dairy diet.
Okay, we all know one of the biggest draws to Ireland is the amazing pub culture. There are places that charge more because that is where the tourists go. This is more so in Dublin’s Temple Bar (which I will write about in a later post). But the truth it, only tourists go to the Galway City Centre. But that’s okay because you’ll find people from other parts of Ireland and, of course, around the world.
Authentic and general good craic can be found in the Tig Coili. Tig Coili in the evening has some quality trad and reasonable prices. And you know it’s good because a lot of locals go there. I’ve also heard that some famous people like most of the cast of the original Dallas, such as Larry Hagman, loved to hang out there.
The tourist hot spot is O’Connors. To be honest, it’s not that great during the day. The music selection can be dyer. But as soon as the night hits, it becomes an interesting place to meet people from around the world (I met some really nice Canadians and saucy Frenchman there). If it gets too crowded, there is a nice outside area. The live music is really good, ranging from classic rock to traditional.
Not enough? Stay tuned for my continuing discussion of Galway and the Great Atlantic Way.