Located on Ireland’s west coast about 40 miles north of the Shannon Airport, Galway is nicknamed the “Cultural Heart of Ireland.” It’s a University city with a large population of college students who give the city a youthful, modern feel. At the same time, travelers of any age will enjoy the city’s compact, walkable downtown with its delightful jumble of narrow streets and medieval buildings that evokes Galway’s long history.
The vibrant nightlife of Galway consists of many restaurants and lively pubs in the city center that draw a comfortable mix of students and older customers. Spirited conversation and good cheer (craic—pronounced crack—in Irish lingo) are the norm, as is live music. Just ask the locals where a session is taking place and join in the craic! In addition to prolific music venues, Galway enjoys a flourishing theater and performance arts scene.
Galway is home to several famous festivals that draw international crowds. The acclaimed Galway Arts Festival in July includes parades, street performances and numerous plays, musical concerts and comedy acts. The Galway Races is a horse-racing festival held at Ballybrit race course that takes place for a week starting on the last Monday in July. The main days of the festival are on Wednesday, when the Galway Plate is held and Thursday when the Galway Hurdle and Ladies’ Day take place. The city also hosts the Galway Film Fleadh, a six-day international film event held in July, and the Galway Oyster Festival in late September.
A well-marked walking tour will guide you past the city’s main highlights: the Spanish Arch (a remnant of the old city walls where goods from Spain used to arrive); the Church of St. Nicholas of Myra (where Columbus reputedly stopped for a blessing before one of his trips to the New World); Lynch’s castle (now a bank); Eyre Square (a popular gathering place and site of many of the city’s festivals); shopping the historic stores along High and Quay streets.
The city straddles the River Corrib and on an island in the middle of the river is St. Nicholas’ Cathedral. Also known as Galway Cathedral, the modern church was built in 1965, but in the grand scale of the historic cathedrals of Europe.
Cross the River Corrib at Wolfe Tone Bridge to get to the little village of Claddagh, where the Claddagh ring originated (a crowned heart clasped by two hands). These rings can be found on hands all over the world and signify the wearer’s romantic status. If worn on the right hand with the crown pointing to the body, the wearer is unattached. Turning the crown around shows that love is being considered or that the wearer is engaged. When the ring is worn on the left hand with the crown outwards, the heart is spoken for.
Galway is a convenient base for day trips to explore the famous Cliffs of Moher and County Clare, as well as picturesque Connemara. We also highly recommend taking the ferry to the stark and beautiful Aran Islands to get a sense of what Ireland was like before cars and cities.
If Ireland is calling you to visit her green shores, let Covington’s knowledgeable vacation advisors add Galway to your itinerary for a warm and friendly introduction to the Irish culture.