It’s true what they say: Sometimes the best-laid plans of mice and men go awry. But these new experiences can often reap the biggest reward. Two years ago, we had every intention to travel to Thailand with Grand Circle Travel (where Phil was employed). This 20-day trip would be discounted greatly and was going to bring momentous experiences, like visiting elephant sanctuaries, touring ornate temples, and a 24-hour layover in Dubai, not to mention that our trip was going to be filled with other employees from the company our age. These plans were foiled not too long after we received our flight information due to a new company policy that discouraged private travel trips with only staff members.
After our visions of being face-to-face with some of the most majestic animals faded from our minds, we moved on, excruciatingly trying to find a plan B that lived up to the first. We had to come to terms with it – Thailand wasn’t going to happen. After scouring current trips that had space on them (most trips are made for individuals over 55 years of age), we decided to keep the original dates of March 14 – 27 and head to the Emerald Isle.
At first, disappointment filled our thoughts; I mean wouldn’t you be a little heartbroken if your plans for ridding the winter blues with hot and humid weather were replaced by the rainy climate of Ireland, guaranteed to be present at least half the time we were there?
Yet, when I think back about our time there it only rained twice…TWICE. This trip which originally promised experiences we only dreamed of completely surpassed our expectations. With all of its rolling green mountains sprinkled with black and white Lowland sheep, or the gothic architecture juxtaposed by the young crowds flocking to the shops and bars at night, or even the people we met and how truly nice they were to others around them, this trip fueled our passion for travel. It makes our hearts hurt with joy and longing to relive it all over again.
After sifting through our memorabilia from two years ago, including itineraries, maps, notes, photos, and trinkets from our destinations, we are going to share these moments with you through three parts – each one dedicated to the counties we explored while in Ireland. We hope you enjoy the first: Galway County.
Known as the City of Tribes, Galway city has much to offer a traveler. At first glance, the cityscape is likened to the North Shore of Massachusetts. There is a bay, with brightly colored fishing boats scattered across the dark sea, a downtown with shops and restaurants, and even a train station not too far from city center. But this city is nothing like the quaint New England towns of the Northeast.
The “new” Galway Cathedral, constructed in medieval, gothic design, looms over the city, complementing the old historic bars and pubs from as far back as the 1600s. The avenues are brimming with young, lively crowds of people, including tourists, expats, and the Irish alike. Day or night, street performers line the pavement singing traditional Irish songs. If going during St. Patrick’s day, like we did, the boulevards are adorned with Irish colored flags while live music filters through windows onto the surrounding streets. No matter the time of year, this town is festive and welcoming.
Leaving the city and traveling more inland, we became immersed in the unobstructed countryside featuring rolling green hills, clear blue lakes, and bright yellow gorse popping up amongst sharp boulders and rocky gravel. There are breathtaking castles, cliffs, and lush landscape for miles. The air was also some of the freshest we’d ever smelled or breathed. It was rejuvenating to be in an area that wasn’t overpopulated or crowded. Overall, this county was our favorite.
Keep reading for our itinerary of how to spend 48 hours in Galway county – sláinte!
- Rent a car. Yes, they do drive on the left and yes that can be nerve-wracking, but don’t let that deter you from getting out in the countryside of this breathtaking county. There are dozens of things to see outside of the city (see our list below) that are worth the drive. And hey, it’s all about experiences right?
- Do brunch at least once. Galway is known for its nightlife. But trust us, the best way to get to know the culture and the breadth of its culinary exploration is to step out for a mid-morning, early afternoon brunch. Trust us, the food is better than you think.
- Always carry an umbrella. Though we were extremely lucky with the weather (we are not joking when we say we only saw rain a few times for an hour or so), that is not the norm, especially when referring to this city by the sea. Buy a pocket umbrella and be sure to pack your rain jacket just in case.
- Talk to people. Seriously. Odds are individuals will be more likely to talk to you, but the stories you hear from cabbies, bartenders, shop owners, wait staff, even the street performers, just do it – they don’t dub the Irish the most friendly people on the planet for no reason. They get it, they know what it’s like to be connected. So be like the Irish while you’re there.
Where to stay:
Ardilaun Hotel: Full disclosure, because we were traveling through a tour/travel company we didn’t get to choose this hotel. However, that doesn’t mean that we didn’t find this place as charming as ever. About a mile and a half away from the center of town, this hotel is considered to be one of the luxury hotels in the city of Galway. The rooms were spacious, the food was delectable, and the grounds were luscious. We were there a little before spring or summer and we could only imagine what their back patio garden would be like in full bloom.
It was relaxing, taking your morning tea out onto the cobblestone courtyard to look at the Galway Cathedral peeking over the tops of the trees, just magical. The best part? This place is affordable during the offseason (Galway is a beach town, so it tends to get crowded in the summer) with a typical rate of less than $80 a night.
Where to eat, drink, and be merry:
McGinn’s Hop House: Okay, so this isn’t your traditional hop house. Oh no, not at all. This place serves pizzas and what else? Whiskey… and we’re talking all the whiskey, gin, beer you could think of. This place has it all. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner (this is one of those brunch places we recommend you try). It’s a great stop outside of the touristy downtown too. Just know that you will probably need to take a cab there and back, but if you plan for it, no big deal.
The Kings Head: Located in one of the oldest buildings in The Latin Quarter and Galway, this 800-year-old structure is known for its amazing live music every night, delicious Irish pub fare, and, of course, its drinks. Head to this bar at night to experience three floors of fun (or craic).
Taffees: Looking for a traditional Irish pub experience? Head over to Taffees on Shop Street. With traditional Irish music played every night in a bar that is over 150 years old, this place is a must on your bar crawl through Galway. But be ready to stand, this place gets busy early so likely you will not get a seat.
The Quays Pub: You can’t miss this place with its cobalt blue storefront and red-lettered “Quays” above the door. And you really don’t want to miss it – the inside is beautiful. That’s not the only thing that’s great about it, their food is amazing. They serve it all from the traditional Irish meat and potatoes to Shepard’s Pie, everyone will find something to their liking.
What to do:
In the City –
Visit Galway Cathedral and St. Nicholas Collegiate Church: One is old and one is new. Both feature gothic and medieval architecture. But one is considered ugly and moronic while the other is considered a beautiful gem of the city. We will let you decide.
Experience the nightlife: If you can’t tell by our list of bars and restaurants, this place is worth heading out after dark. Grab a pint at least one location and you will understand why we are telling you this. No matter which you choose, be ready to have a lot of fun with some young, rowdy, yet friendly people.
Find a thatched roof home: These traditional roofs are hard to come by in the country of Ireland, but it is one of the architectural landmarks of its history. Luckily, there are two, yes that’s right two, located in this county. Be sure to keep an eye out for them as you are traveling about.
Get tea at a tea house: One of the most iconic past times in Ireland and the UK is the notion of tea. In Galway alone, there are about a half a dozen locations dubbed as ‘tea house.’ One of the most famous, Cupán Tae, is located right across the street from the Galway City Museum and is adorable.
Visit the Galway City Museum: This museum is free. The cost is zero dollars. There is really no excuse to not brush up on some Irish history while in town. Located next to Spanish Arch along the River Corrib, this museum has dozens of permanent exhibitions and collections. Our favorite was the maritime collection, or a few really old, yet well-preserved fishing boats.
In the county –
Get out to Kylemore Abbey: This the castle you cannot miss, and trust us you will see dozens of castles while traveling the hour to its location in Connemara. Originally built in the 1800s as an estate of a wealthy businessman, the grounds consist of the castle, a walled Victorian garden, and a chapel featuring amazing Connemara marble throughout its interior. We could’ve spent hours here watching the palm trees blow in the breeze off the lake. This place will surely take you back in time.
Sail down the Killary Fjords: No, these are not the Fjords of the Nordic countries, but it is geographically a deep inlet of sea between two ‘cliffs.’ Better yet, it also is on the border of County Galway and County Mayo. We highly recommend a cruise on the fjords, complete with lunch and a dessert of Irish coffee. Its beauty is majestic and calming all at the same time.
Visit the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren: Just an hour away from Galway, there are dozens of tours that leave Galway every day that take tourists to the famous cliffs. And yes they are a sight to behold, especially considering how close visitors walk to the edge of the cliff. But one of the slightly looked over locations is The Burren in County Clare. This desolate landscape is full of cracked limestone, jutting out of the ground causing caves and cliffs near the coast. Take time here, you won’t be disappointed.
Where to go shopping:
Coffeewerk + Press: Looking for a unique gift or way to remember your trip? Or are you just looking for an amazing cup of coffee? Then look no further than Coffeewerk + Press on Quay street. Their mission is to bring the art of a great cup of coffee to actual art created by local artists. So head downtown, shop local, and enjoy your latte.
Quay Street: Probably the most famous street in all of Galway, this alley is full of shops. You can find anything here from clothing and gifts to artwork and wool sweaters. Take a stroll up and down this street a few times and you’re sure to find something.
The Latin Quarter: Known for its quirk, this area of Galway is reminiscent of the cobbled streets of Boston. From antique stores to bookshops and vintage clothing boutiques, this place has it all, and the hustle and bustle to entertain you in between stops.
Connemara Marble Visitor Centre: Looking for some special piece to remind you of your journey? Head out of town to the Connemara Marble Visitor Centre to learn more about this stone and buy unique jewelry to remind you of your time in the Emerald Isle.
“I will ask my God to let me make my Heaven, In that dear land across the Irish sea.”