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Hemmed in between Lough Corrib and the rugged Atlantic coast in the beautiful west of Ireland sits the city of Galway. The city sits on the river Corrib, which pours from its namesake's lake, before moving into the expanse of Galway bay, it is a place of myth and legend where many a story and song has been woven. The city is known for its long history, but underneath this beats a contemporary heart with its culture, vibrancy and entertainment.
Galliamh (to give Galway its Gaelic name) was founded in the infant stages of the last millennium. Legend has it that it was so named after the daughter of a local chieftain who drowned in Lough Corrib. In common with many Irish cities and towns, Galway has a nickname, The City of Tribes, hinting to its past as a port and a major trade point in Ireland, where 14 merchant families or tribes ran the city.
Unsurprisingly, given its location and size, Galway is considered the capital of the mid-West region. The area surrounding the city is renowned for its scenic beauty, moving from the high peaks of the 12 Bens mountain range, to the wilds of Connemara and on to the sweeping coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The city itself has a long history, evidenced by just taking a walk around this compact but larger than life city. Built in the 1580’s as part of the city walls, the Spanish Arch is one sight that should not be missed. Other architectural delights include the many churches and the Cathedral, the Eyre Square cannons, to Lynch’s castle, which locals will tell you is one the finest remaining examples of a medieval townhouse in Ireland.
The area is well served by its local environment; indeed local produce remains one of the benefits of such a location. The Galway International Oyster Festival truly shows this; held in the last weekend in September every year, it has grown massively popular from its inauguration in the mid-1950’s. It is recognised as a major seafood festival and allows Galway to show the world its produce and capabilities. Aside from the major festivals, it would be remiss not to visit one of the many authentic Irish pubs where you can be served a steaming bowl of Seafood Chowder and Irish wheaten bread with liberal amounts of creamery butter. If you require something different, you can avail of the many restaurants and eateries, varying from the cheap and cheerful to award winning; indeed Galway is home to a Michelin starred restaurant, Anair Restaurant. You will not be stuck for choice here if you visit, as European, Asian and American cuisine is all catered for here.
Following a great meal, what better way to round off an evening with a tour of some of Galways best pubs? From the bustle of the typical chic and urbane city centre bar and clubs around Eyre Square, move around the city, towards the harbour and along to Salthill, where you will find traditional Irish music being played at many of the establishments. Have a Guinness and a chinwag with a local Galweigan (or Tribesman) while savouring the best of Irish culture. Don’t be afraid to give a whoop or a bualadh bus (round of applause) to the musicians after a song.
Aside from food and drink, Galway boasts many attractions to draw people to the city. The Galway Arts festival is held here each July. Bringing together the best of International and Irish arts, the festival is a veritable reverence to theatre, spectacle, dance, visual arts, music, literature and comedy. Also held in July are the Galway races, which draws the best of the horse racing fraternity, and the spectators are usually not far behind. Dating back nearly 150 years, the Races now bring 150,000 visitors to the city for a fun filled action packed week every year at the end of July. Additional festivals take place during the year, including the Cúirt International Festival of Literature, the Galway African Film Festival, Galway Science and Technology Festival and many more besides. It is a good idea to book accommodation well in advance of these festivals, as space can be limited.
If the sights and sounds of a festival and the bustle of a pub are too much, take some time away for yourself to meander through some of Galways museums, or stop off at the Theatre. The Galway City Museum involves two parts, one centring on Galways history, and the other on Irish artists in the second half of the 20th century. Admission is free, so immerse yourself in the lore of old Galway as you move through the ages, finding out the secrets and backgrounds behind this old town, before finishing with a visual representation of a more modern Ireland through its own artists eyes. Catch a play at the Druids Theatre Company, which has won acclaim for its work over the last 40 years. For something more low key, find out some smaller locations such as the Nun’s Island Theatre and Black Box Theatre where you might find the next great Thespian ready to be discovered; indeed many stage and screen greats have graced the stages of Galways theatres over the years, both before and during success.
When you are ready to be more active, take advantage of Galways location close to the sea to do many things. Take surfing lessons, where the local swells will have you riding high in no time. Otherwise, take a fishing trip and visit some of the many islands dotted around Galway bay and further afield. Hike through the countryside just outside the city and you will find yourself in the stunning scenery of Connemara National Park. Bring yourself back to the city and move through the Quay street area, one of the main shopping districts in Galway. Allow yourself to be stopped by the many buskers here, as they play and sing any manner of instruments and songs.
Travelling to and inside Galway is simple. There are rail and bus connections from Dublin and Cork and bus connections from Shannon, all from where International flights arrive. In Galway itself, it is easy to get around on foot, but do take advantage of the bus system and taxis if you require to make that journey a little shorter.
If you intend passing through the city centre for a few days or if you’re looking for longer breaks, Galway and the surrounding county has a plethora of choices of where to stay when visiting. If on a budget check out local deals and offers on cheap and pleasant hostels and Bed and Breakfasts. There are many apartments, guesthouses, B&B’s and family friendly hotels with swimming pools, for those looking for that little bit more. Leave nothing to chance on the more sophisticated and luxury hotels and estates with spas and pools.
From the 2 star but highly rated Kinlay House, to the renowned Radisson Blu Hotel, from the SleepZone hostel to the 4 star Galway Bay Hotel, this city can offer a range of accommodation services, whether it’s just somewhere to rest your head for the night, or if you want to be pampered and have everything taken care of. For the ultimate in luxury, try the Glenlo Abbey Hotel, a spectacular 5 star hotel located on an estate just outside the city. For planning in advance, or if your visit is last minute, you will be sure to get the hotel accommodation you require in Galway.