Arrival to Galway began in a fledgling left turn, to a one way, only to be caught in traffic until reaching the docks, and at last, a means to park. By foot, is the ideal way to discover Galway’s angled streets and cobblestone thoroughfares. We arrived in a bath of sunlight and temperatures higher than Ireland’s inland. Galway’s landscape is rugged, a beautiful green and sandy coastline on the edge of Galway Bay. River Corrib runs through the city into Galway Bay, crossed easily by pedestrian bridges.
The city is small enough to be walkable, yet robust with activity. Settlements date back to the Middle Ages when the port city thrived as an international trade center. A reminder of this is the Spanish Arch constructed in 1519, set at the city’s edge near the docks. Centuries destined Galway, like much of Ireland, to famine, war, and siege, but today it is a vibrant cultural center. Many of its buildings are medieval, windswept exteriors that appear unkempt, but the through the doors are world-class, foodie and design destinations, at once edgy and understated.
The Wild Atlantic Way permeates with the Irish language. And here in Galway, the “redhead” stereotype of Irish people holds truer than anywhere else along our traverse of the Emerald Isle. In summer, Galway’s boatyards become active and the white sand beaches just beyond the town center are accessible by bike paths and lure swimmers and sunbathers. Now in December, Christmas is in the air.
The heart of Galway is Eyre Square (also known as John F. Kennedy Memorial Park), dating back to the Middle Ages as a marketplace. Over Christmas, the square bustles with several festive scenes, such as the “North Pole”, an enormous Ferris wheel, and the paths are lined by candy-striped booths with a wide array of craftspeople and food/drink vendors — from waffles to mulled wine.
Shop Street and High Street, marked by a street sign reading The Great Famine Way, is a pedestrian thoroughfare busy with shoppers, a host of carolers and street bands playing Christmas tunes, and a man with a decked out donkey.
Unexpectedly, just blocked out of view by a pharmacy, St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, built in the 14th-century stands preserved on the next block. A weekend flea market was set-up on Church Yard Street at the end of which is a most incredible cheese shop, Sheridans Cheesemongers.
Like most busy streets, while exciting and curious, I was eager to get off it and return to more a quiet pace. Follow High Street to Quay Street and take a pause at Coffeewerk + Press, a beautiful design store and art gallery with upstairs seating for artisanal coffee.
Alternatively, veer off High Street onto Mainguard and follow it to Bridge Street which will deposit you in one of the quaintest parts of Galway — the West End — where around each bend are inviting boutiques and cafés.
If you’re lucky, you might catch kayakers practicing for whitewater rafting trips at a small dam beyond the bridge.
Dominick Street Upper is small and narrow, but the vein of the small island that sits in the middle of the city of Galway. It’s home to Galway Arts Center, incredible restaurants, and for the holidays — housed a multi-story vintage and crafts market where I came across a very cool female-run leather brand, Crooked Shop (but I haven’t been able to find them on the internet).
Dominick Street Upper is notably home to Aniar, a terroir-based restaurant and cooking school which serves dinner tasting menus based on local and seasonal ingredients. Ireland’s west coast is a rich fertile landscape with numerous sheep farms and a bountiful fishing culture in delights such as a salmon and oysters. Given Ireland’s moderate, oceanic climate, it makes sense that Ireland’s food culture would explode highlighting simple and local ingredients. Anyone who thinks Irish food is bad has only eaten on Aer Lingus (Sorry Aer Lingus! You were amazing in letting us change our return flights, but we need to talk about your meals).
Galway is home to Michelin Star restaurant Loam, meaning “rich, fertile soil” and is seasonally-driven cooking rooted in tradition. Recommendations are highly recommended for Aniar and Loam, and as our dates were left open and unplanned, we weren’t able to secure last-minute tables — we’ll be prepared the next time around!
Even the most simple of foods on the west coast of Ireland are made as though their purpose is to warm your soul.
Even the most simple of foods on the west coast of Ireland are made as though their purpose is to warm your soul. At Tartare, another Dominick Street Upper destination and sister restaurant to Aniar, I sat for a simple lunch. This lovely wine bar and café, slightly francophile in design, served up a potato, leek, and dillisk soup with the best soda bread I tasted in the whole of Ireland.
Possibly one of the greatest meals to have in Galway, in the most delightful and cozy setting is Ard Bia at Nimmos. In an incredible dockside location near to the Spanish Arch with windows looking right out over the water, Ard Bia is a warm and welcoming food destination serving seasonal, fresh and local fare. Come for a weekend brunch or for dinner and even rent the room upstairs. Andrew admired the cookbook and selection of homemade tarts and pies at the bar while we waited to be seated for Saturday brunch.
My meal began with a Bellini made from locally-sourced apple and pear juice. Andrew ordered a delectable maple ham, while I savored a root salad with fresh hummus and a side of smoked salmon from the Burren. We couldn’t ignore the beautiful desserts and finished our meal with espressos and a slice of gin and almond cake.
Irish people love their beer and whiskey — and much like in the U.S., it seems every region has their local, delicious brew. And there are some Irish whiskeys that are putting whiskeys around the world at bay. Gin, also happens to be a big deal and a common order to see at the pubs, and you’ll see orders of Dingle served in giant stemmed wine glasses of ice, often with juniper berries for garnish and a miniature glass bottle of tonic on the side. At Tribeton, the second-floor bar and restaurant in a monumental, skylit space on an unexpected street surrounded by parking garages, bartenders are whipping up delicious, complex cocktails.
North of the island of great restaurants in Nuns Island, home to the impressive Galway Cathedral. It’s a rather quiet island but is also home to the Nun’s Island Theatre — a destination for shows and films. The theatre is a stone edifice recognizable by its bright, tapered red door.
A ferry to the Aran Islands is available daily from Galway, the actual departure point is about an hour from Galway City in Rossaveal and accessible by bus.
If you go…
Take note: Museums tend to be closed on Sundays.
Bars & Restaurants
Ard Bia at Nimmos | Spanish Arch, Long Walk, Galway, H91 E9XA
Loam | Geata Na Cathrach, Fairgreen Road, Galway
Tartare Cafe + Wine Bar | 56 Lower Dominick Street, Galway
Tribeton | 1-3 Merchant’s Road, Galway
We stayed at the loveliest Airbnb, hosted by one of the sweetest couples in Galway.
The charming flat for rent at Ard Bia, also for rent via Airbnb.