Simply put: There’s no other place like Galway Ireland. In fact, my most lavish praise for anywhere is to compare it to this city in the West of Ireland. For example, I’ve been known to call Barcelona and Berlin the ‘Galways’ of Catalonia and Germany respectively. No, it’s not the other way around.
It’s a bustling, bohemian town, with something for everyone.
Galway’s nicknames range from the ‘City of the Tribes’, in a tip of the cap to the 14 merchant families that ruled it in medieval times, to ‘The Graveyard of Artistic Ambition’ in a glass-raise to the countless writers, musicians, or, like… accountants who arrived in the ‘Wesht’ with dreams of doing big things only to have their heads turned by the unlimited devilment to be found around these ancient cobblestoned streets.
More recently, Galway has come to the fore as a place for foodies and cocktail connoisseurs. Let’s take an amble through the town, starting with a brisk, blustery walk along the Salthill Promenade to build up an appetite, blow those cobwebs away, and make your hair look like this:
The Salthill Promenade, known locally as ‘The Prom’ is a 2-mile long path along the famous Galway Bay. It’s a local favorite, particularly because you don’t need to stop and chat every time you bump into someone you know. A brief wave, a smile, and a “Howya?!” will suffice as you walk on and keep the ol’ heart rate up.
From January to December, as you progress along the walk, you’ll spot some brave souls swimming in the hypothermic Atlantic waters. If you look a little further, there will be some (even) crazier Galwegians diving, jumping, and tumbling into the unforgiving water from the 25-foot high diving board.
At the end of the Prom stands a wall. Call it habit, tradition, or superstition, but your walk is not officially complete until you kick this wall to punctuate your perambulation.
Hungry yet? Of course you are. And, to continue with the rhetorical questions, who doesn’t love a spot of brunch?
The glorious food, the fact that it’s a socially acceptable way to drink with friends at 11am, and the ingenious marriage of the words ‘breakfast’ and ‘lunch’, make brunch one of my top 5 favorite words.
Having traveled Ireland extensively (because of the whole being Irish thing) and experienced far more than my fair share of brunches (because of the whole being a fattie thing), I can confidently say that Dela has the best brunch in Ireland.
The owners, Joe and Margaret, have managed to capture lightning in a bottle since the place is always full, with people of all ages, happily chatting. WITH THEIR MOUTHS FULL (rude). Fan favorites here include the Braised Beef Cheek Melt, the Crab, Smoked Salmon Bacon and Potato Cake, and the Veggie Breakfast.
They grow their own produce, with the maxim “from plot to plate”, and in the countless times I’ve eaten here, I’ve never left feeling anything less than delighted. Delighted and really, really full. The scrumptious portions are gigantic, and, amazingly, almost everything on the menu is under €9.
Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop
Okay, belly filled; now to feed your soul. Charlie Byrne’s bookshop is my favorite place to go get lost in Galway city. There are over 100,000 new and used books to buy or trade under this famed store’s ceiling, so it’s not difficult.
Continuing with the ‘Best in Ireland’ kick, Charlie Byrne’s was voted the country’s greatest bookshop. There’s something magical about it: That book smell, the different levels, the old-style wooden signposts pointing to places like Narnia, and seeing all the bookworms—young and old—glued to the chairs reading…
It’s like a trap door escape from the modern world.
Whatever karma I have coming to me from growing up in the Napster/ CD-burning generation, I try to pay back by purchasing something every time I set foot inside. Most recently it was Born To Run by Christopher McDougall.
And, trust me, after a day spent devouring Galway’s food, you’ll need a jog! But we’re not done eating quite yet.
The Dough Bros
Hungry again already? Great. It’s time for an Irish staple. Pizza?
Dough Bros Pizza Restaurant has become an integral part of the city in recent years. Laid off from his sales and marketing job, Eugene (literally the most Irish-looking lad you will ever see in your life) decided to start up a food truck with his fellow ‘Bro’, Ronan.
With a general ‘somewhere down the road’ goal of opening a restaurant in 5 years, they did it in under a year. Like Dela, when something captures the Galwegian imagination, they get fully behind it. You’ll be greeted with a lovely “HELLO!” when you enter, which is only bettered by the mouthwatering pizza. My personal favorite is the Hey Pesto.
Aside from the award-winning pizza, it’s a fun, communal, everyone-chats-to-everyone vibe. So don’t be shy; say hi to the person beside you. This is Galway after all.
Alright, alright, I feel like I stiffed you on the Traditional Irish front. Time to make amends over a drink or two.
Tigh Neachtain (literally ‘Neachtain’s House’) has stood proudly in the center of Galway city for 120 years. It’s home to one of the best pints of Guinness in town, an ample selection of beers, and a list of whiskeys longer that your arm.
Pick your poison then grab a seat at the bar, by the fire, in the beer garden outside, or in the snug.
Anyone who has watched Peaky Blinders will be familiar with a ‘snug’. Historically in Ireland, it wasn’t socially acceptable for women to drink. The solution? A secret, closed-off little room—or snug—separated from the main bar by a screen.
A little tap on the screen, and female occupants of the snug could give their order while simultaneously giving a friendly hand gesture to the patriarchy of the time.
Today, the snugs is a hot commodity. It gives you access to the bar, yet almost complete privacy (apart from the lurkers who are waiting for you to give up your supreme bar spot).
“Keep walking, pal!”
There’s a famous Irish saying when it comes to going for a drink: “I’ll just have the wan.”
Implicit in this expression is that there is a 50% chance that you will still be drinking in 48 hours time. We entered Neachtain’s for just one. Let’s keep going.
Tribeton has to be seen to be believed. If you can, go just after sunset and snag the big corner table. It’s a stunning mix of reclaimed oak, Italian marble, hanging lights, and bronze chandeliers in front of you, while Galway city sits behind you. Oh, and lots of great gin.
Have you guessed it yet? Yes, you got it in one! Tribeton was voted Ireland’s best Gin Bar. And with good reason. Your server will give you a recommendation based on your tastes.
I’d still highly recommend it for the non-gin enthusiasts among you. Go for the cocktails, stay for the decor.
And with that, the West was won
Sadly, our quick day around The City of the Tribes must come to an end. The beauty of this city—well, one of them—is that in the space of a few short steps, you can go back 120 years, get the most cutting-edge cocktails, or taste food inspired from all over the world, but with a Galwegian flair.
The one thing that is never absent in Galway is the quality. In a close-knit town like this, you simply can’t get away with anything less than top-notch customer service, atmosphere, products, or drinks.
Speaking of which… Just the one more?
Keith Bohan is an Irish writer, who travels full-time throughout Europe. Follow his adventures and misadventures at http://www.sowherewerewe.com & instagram.com/keithbohan