Here is "a city that's alive", as you said in our Reader Travel Awards 2020 - a place full of "atmosphere, craic and Irishness", an electric combination of small streets, bo-ho flair and big city buzz.
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There are times when a destination is white hot, when the tourism stars align.
2020 is Galway's time.
What's its secret sauce? Well, Galway's streets feel like a small town crammed with great pubs, restaurants, independent shops, live music and the roar of Connacht rugby weekends. The city is a gateway to Connemara and the Wild Atlantic Way. Summer festivals and now-legendary groups like Druid and Macnas have turned it into an arts town for the ages.
Of course it rains (occasionally), and the traffic is nuts.
But Galway is also a European Capital of Culture 2020 (see our 15 highlights of Galway 2020 guide) and a new, €10.2m Atlantic Museum Galway is set to "completely transform the Spanish Arch district" when it opens in the coming years, according to Fáilte Ireland.
It's not just our readers that are raving. Galway's food scene sizzles, and the city has been tipped by Lonely Planet and Time Out as a top visit for 2020.
Here's what to do when you get there.
1. Tuck into a food tour
Galway's food scene is booming, and there's never been a better time for a taste. Take a whistlestop tour with Pól Ó Conghaile!
Why: Galway is full of blow-ins who have embedded themselves in the community, and sometimes that's just who you need to open your eyes to what's really special about a city. Sheena Dignam blew in from Wicklow via Dublin and the Loire, where she studied Culinary Arts & Wine. As Galway Food Tours, she offers a lovingly curated suite of local food tours to suit all palates. You bring the appetite, they'll supply the food and the fun... it's a super way to get your bearings in one of Ireland's top food scenes. - AC
Details: From €65pp; galwayfoodtours.com
While you're at it: The Galway Whiskey Tour is an afternoon's wander through the city's most beloved bars, sampling dropeens of uisce beatha along the way.
Galway's lively market. Photo: Fáilte Ireland Why: Do yourself a favour and start any browse of Galway's beloved market with a breakfast of Aran Island oysters. "Everything tastes better after oysters!" maintains Mikey Browne, who can magic oyster novices into converts. You'll be well set up for a lunch on the hoof, whether its The Gourmet Offensive's organic falafel and superb salsas, Wa Sushi, Greenfeast's bahn mi, The Bean Tree's madras curry and chapatis or fresh BoyChik Doughnuts, while you'll find the makings of a top-class picnic at The Real Olive Company and various cheese and organic bakery stalls. - AC
Details: 8am-6pm, Saturday year-round; see galwaymarket.com for summer openings.
While you're at it: Nab a pew in Sheridan's wine bar for a glass of always-interesting European wine and Irish cheese and charcuterie; sheridanscheesemongers.com
Why: If you can't find a book in Charlie Byrne's, there's no hope for you. Higgledy-piggledy towers of books, old and new, line the walls of this charming little independent bookshop, with obscure titles you've never heard of alongside modern classics. There are a fair few titles from local writers who've hit the big time, like Mike McCormack (author of the acclaimed Solar Bones) and Julian Gough. - NB
Details: Middle St; charliebyrne.ie
While you're at it: In the Westend, Bell Book and Candle is another paradise for book lovers, packed with battered paperbacks, comics and old annuals (Bunty, anyone?) Or stroll out to Kenny's bookshop and gallery at Lisoban Retail Park (kennys.ie).
Galway's long Walk, photographed from the Claddagh. Pic: Pól Ó Conghaile
Why: Like the 'Deck of Cards' in Cobh, or the 'Painted Ladies' near San Francisco's Alamo Square, the vibrant line of houses on the Long Walk are an iconic image of Galway. The best photo is taken across the water at Claddagh Quay, but nab a moment to walk up from the Spanish Arch, past 'Buckfast Plaza' (you're a real Galwegian now) and the city's museum, to a short waterside stretch immortalised in Steve Earle's Galway Girl. All together now: 'Well I took a stroll on the old Long Walk / Of a day-I-ay-I-ay..." - PÓC
While you're at it: Book into The Heron's Rest, Sorcha Molloy's boutique B&B on the Long Walk (home-baked breakfast treats a bonus). Fun fact: Ed Sheeran and Saoirse Ronan filmed part of the video for his tune, also called Galway Girl, in the balcony window room; theheronsrest.com
Why: Chef JP McMahon is a busy man - he's just finished a tome on Irish food for Phaidon, and his yearly Food on the Edge symposium (foodontheedge.ie) puts Irish food on an international stage. Cava and Tartare are other city ventures run together with his wife, Drigin Gaffey, but it's the Michelin-starred flagship restaurant, Aniar, that rates highest. The place exudes a cocooning calm from the moment you're greeted with a 16-course tasting menu - expect elegant explorations of the riches offered by local land and waters, from Irish truffles and wild herbs to urchins, oysters and seaweeds. - AC
Details: €89 for a multi-course tasting menu, €60 for wine pairings; aniarrestaurant.ie
While you're at it: Catch 'Wine + Design' talk from a local artist or designer over a glass of organic, natural or biodynamic wine in Tartare Café + Wine Bar; tartaregalway.ie
6. Catch some trad at Tig Chóilí
Why: If it's traditional Irish music you're after, then make your way directly to Tig Chóilí in the Latin Quarter. The walls are lined with pictures of musicians who have played here, there are sessions twice a day, every day, and an afternoon jam on Sundays ("If I found a corner here, I'd keep it," as a guide once told Weekend). Around the corner, Taaffe's is an excellent alternative. - NB
While you're at it: A popular spot in the Westend, The Crane is a bar with less of the touristy footfall, but a solid, country pub feel; thecranebar.com
Why: You haven't been to Salthill until you've kicked the wall at the Blackrock Point end of its promenade. Why? Local legend says it brings good fortune, but the 2km stroll also delivers a dose of bracing air, and the chance of a swim off the aging-but-iconic diving boards (remember to pack the Speedos). Incidentally, the Prom was where Teresa Mannion famously braved the elements to warn the nation against making unnecessary journeys during 2017's Storm Desmond. Another legend was born. - PÓC
Why: "There are a hundred stories in here," says Brian Nolan, as he pushes open the heavy door to St Nicholas' Collegiate Church. He then proceeds to tell me the most gruesome stories from all around the city, involving headless skeletons, corpse arms being fed into a mincer, and 300 decapitated Spaniards. A walk with Brian is like a walk into the very soul of Galway, and his personal brand of 'Horrible History' tours will leave you shuddering with glee around all the city's storied spots, like the Latin Quarter, Kirwan's Lane and Lynch's Castle. - NB
Details: €10pp; galwaywalks.com
While you're at it: The town crier, Liam Silke, also runs excellent tours of the city; walkingtoursgalway.com
Sitting outside Tigh Neachtain's in Galway. Photo: Fáilte Ireland
Why: If you're anything like me, and always want to hide away in a snug, you'll love Tigh Neachtain's - it's effectively filled with little hideaways, made cosy with turf fires and, when I was last in, the smell of truffle fries in the air. There are excellent IPAs on tap, like the local Soulwater Bulletproof and Galway Hooker. Outside tables offer world-class people-watching. On a sunny day, vie for one of the seats and watch the world go by. - NB
While you're at it: O'Connell's bar on Eyre Square was another location for Ed Sheeran's Galway Girl video. oconnellsbargalway.com
Why: Never mind that Kai's chef-owner Jess Murphy was named Ireland's Best Chef in 2018: we defy anyone to dine here - whether for a lunch of hake fish fingers or a supper of Brady's strip steak with chanterelle butter - and not fall a little in love with the particular microclimate that Jess and her Irish husband, David, have created. Seriously, what other restaurant sells their own souvenir socks, adorned with beets and cake, "to remind you of how dedicated we are in sourcing local quality ingredients" and of how warm you'll feel after a meal here? - AC
Details: Socks, €12; kairestaurant.ie
While you're at it: The inimitable Ard Bia, where Jess once cooked, remains one of the essential local culinary - and cultural - things to do in Galway; ardbia.com
Why: Set right on the edge of Eyre Square, on the fifth floor of The Hardiman hotel (previously The Meyrick), there's a tiny little Canadian hot tub that looks out across the docks, train tracks and over Galway Bay. It's not a perfect view - there are mossy rooftops, car parks and a few city cranes, but it provides a unique moment of calm in the city. It opens at 8am, so head up and outdoors of a winter's morning to catch an incredible sunrise. - NB
Details: Rooms from €115, day pass €15; thehardiman.ie
While you're at it: Another unusual hotel feature is the Glenlo Abbey's Pullman Restaurant. It uses two original carriages from the Orient Express; glenloabbeyhotel.ie
Why: Let's face it - Galway is a festival town. In the summer, it seems like barely a week goes by without some kind of revelry taking place, whether it's the mammoth Galway International Arts Festival or the renowned Film Fleadh. And this year, with all eyes on Galway, there are more than ever - you can catch the InterAction (virtual reality) Galway Theatre Festival, or the Wires Crossed circus spectacular, in which 400 people will be walking on high wires over the River Corrib and Claddagh Basin. - NB
While you're at it: Keep an eye on line-ups in the Big Top as part of the arts festival - this year will see Pixies and The Flaming Lips perform; giaf.ie
Why: Chef Enda McEvoy is a quiet character and the understated style of his sustainably committed locavore restaurant, Loam, reflects that. He lets the food speak for itself in skilfully rendered nose-to-tail, leaf-to-root dishes described sparingly as 'Chicken & bone marrow' perhaps, or 'Pollock, verbena & cep'. Consider the Simplicity Menu (two or three courses) for a mid-week sampling of where the tasting menu (seven or nine courses) can take you, maybe with a pre-dinner graze from the bar menu's superlative Irish charcuterie. - AC
Details: From €45 (two courses); loamgalway.com
While you're at it: America Village Apothecary was one of Loam's original 'collaborators'. Today, you can catch their unique approach to locavore Irish drinks in the Tasting Rooms on Dominick Street; americavillage.com
Why: The highlights of three floors of exhibits in this small city museum include a Galway Hooker traditional sailing boat, artefacts ranging from a prehistoric axe head to a Webley revolver reputedly taken from a Black & Tan, and a 'Wild Atlantic' exhibition on sea science. Many of its 1,000+ objects have been donated by locals. - PÓC
Details: Tues-Sat; free; galwaycitymuseum.ie
While you're at it: A miniature museum if ever there was one, the Galway Fisheries Watchtower Museum is in an historic tower on Wolfe Tone Bridge (originally a draft netting station for salmon fishing); galwaycivictrust.ie
Micil Poitín, among other drinks, at McCambridge's in Galway
Why: Forget your notions of spud-based fire water: sixth-generation poitín distiller Pádraic Ó Griallais knows that the purest (and tastiest) drop has long been made from grain, such as the malted barley in the 170-year-old recipe of his great-great-great-grandfather Micil Mac Chearra, after whom Micil Distillery is named. Locally picked wild Connemara bogbean gives Pádraic's poitín the same distinctive flavour that his forefather's was famed for, as you'll learn at one of five weekly public tours of this distillery. - AC
Details: Salthill; €18; micildistillery.com
While you're at it: The distillery is located behind Oslo Bar and Microbrewery, so it'd be rude not to sample a craft brew too; galwaybaybrewery.com/oslo
Garrett Lombard (centre) in a scene from Druid Theatre Company’s production of ‘Waiting For Godot’
Why: As Galway as it gets. The Druid Theatre Company was founded by Garry Hynes, Marie Mullen and Mick Lally in 1975 - as the first professional Irish theatre company outside Dublin. It has since mounted groundbreaking works ranging from Martin McDonagh's Leenane Trilogy to premieres by Enda Walsh, Marina Carr, Tom Murphy and Mark O'Rowe, as well as internationally acclaimed projects like DruidSynge (2005) and DruidShakespeare (2015). A series of one-act plays will tour city and county from April to July 2020. - PÓC
Details: Flood St; druid.ie
While you're at it: Don't miss a Macnas show, as part of the Galway Arts Festival if you can swing it. Together with Druid, it copperfastened the city's artsy reputation; macnas.com
Why: Quay Street can be crowded, particularly of a weekend or on a nice summer's day. But you can always escape the madness in the gorgeous Coffeewerk + Press. Grab a perfect flat white in the café, then head up the narrow staircase to explore rooms filled with the kind of perfectly curated prints, design books and candles you'd love to fill your house with. Get lucky and you'll nab a seat, where you can sit among the vintage records and plants and enjoy a few moments of peace. - NB
While you're at it: They take their coffee seriously at Urban Grind, a popular spot in the Westend; urbangrind.ie
Why: Sister cinema to the Lighthouse in Dublin, Pálás is an arthouse movie theatre set in a gorgeous modernist concrete building right in the middle of Galway's Latin Quarter. There are three screens, showing a mixture of new releases and classics, and an excellent restaurant, Merrow (merrow.ie), too. It's there you'll find one of the best bargains in town - a movie ticket, burger and sweet potato fries for €21, any day of the week. - NB
Details: 15 Merchant's Road Lwr; palas.ie
While you're at it: Check out Shot by the Sea, a relatively new festival featuring five-minute movies shot on the coast (it runs in March this year); shotbythesea.ie
Why: Whether you opt for the veggie breakfast featuring courgette fritters and wilted greens from the family farm in Moycullen, or go the whole hog - almost literally - with a signature Breakfast Pork Burger featuring black pudding, sausage meat and smoked bacon from Galway's iconic Herterich's butchers, brunch at Mags and Joe Bohan's Dela is a Galway city staple. Craft beer fans are in for a treat, too, with sharing bottles and rotating draught pours from the excellent White Gypsy Brewery in Templemore. - AC
While you're at it: Drummed up a thirst? Roll on around to Bierhaus on Henry Street and dive into their extensive selection; bierhausgalway.com/craft-beer-menu
High fashion at the Galway Races. Photo: Fáilte Ireland
Why: Dig out your best hat, pick the horse with the funniest name and get ready to roar for it on the sidelines, because a day at the races is a quintessential Galway activity. Yes, it can get messy, but there's a full week of racing, with Ladies' Day on the Wednesday and a more family-friendly vibe on the final Saturday and Sunday (when kids are admitted free of charge). It's all capped off with Mad Hatters Day, with plenty to keep the children occupied and prizes for the wackiest headpieces. - NB
Details: Tickets from €20; galwayraces.com
While you're at it: Take the action to the coast for the Omey Races, held at Claddaghduff beach.
Why: For such an historic town, Galway feels short on storied buildings you can actually enter. The Collegiate Church of St Nicholas more than makes up for that. Dating from 1320, it's stuffed with great stories - Oliver Cromwell stabled his horses here on a rampaging tour of Ireland, smashing the faces off its carved angels, and legend says Christopher Columbus stopped by to pray. Outside on Market St, you'll find Lynch's window - where in 1493 Mayor James Lynch FitzStephen is said to have hanged (or 'lynched', as it became known) his own son for the murder of a Spanish sailor. Apparently, nobody else would do it. - PÓC
While you're at it: Stop by Galway Cathedral on the west bank of the Corrib. A grand interior is matched by soulful acoustics - best experienced during its summer concert and organ recitals series. galwaycathedral.ie
East meets west: Yoshimi Hayakawa in Wa Cafe, Galway
Why: When Yoshimi Hayakawa started selling her sushi rolls at a Galway market stall in 2002, she led her customers on a journey, earning trust while educating palates. Now a much-loved stalwart of the city's cosmopolitan foodie community, Yoshimi still has a stall selling novice-friendly sushi at St Nicholas's market (run for her by another sushi star, Iseult Fitzsimons), but fans also flock to her quayside sushi bar, Wa Sushi, where her handling of exquisite fish from Gannet Fishmongers shines in offerings like her Omakase Sushi Tasting Menu. - AC
Details: 13 New Dock St; wacafe.net
While you're at it: 'Hook it and cook it' is the motto of a pair of Galivandy family-run businesses on a quiet Westend street - Ali's Fish Market and the newly extended Hooked eatery; hookedonhenryst.com
23. Buy your eats from Ernie
Why: Pop into Ernie's on the Sea Road to pick up a picnic (grab a bag of naturally dried Aran dillisk for some very traditional snacking) and have a chinwag with this local legend of an ex-chef-turned-old-school-grocer. Ernie Deacy grew up in the Westend, and is a proud champion of what he says remains "a lovely area, like a village in the middle of a city" where "nearly all the businesses are owned by the person that is serving you" - in this case Ernie or his son Ernest. - AC
Details: Sea Road, (091) 586 812
While you're at it: Chat up more Westend locals from a pew in The Universal pub's hardwood bar (9 William St).
Why: It's been open 15 years, but the g hotel still feels like a breath of fresh air. In a world where most new hotels follow the same aesthetic (hello, dark blue velvet and brushed copper), vibrant lounges designed by Co Galway-born milliner Philip Treacy range from space age concierge desk to the light-filled Grand Salon, home to 300 floating globe lights and a gorgeous view. Take a cocktail to any of the Signature Lounges and soak it all up. The sultry spa is an excellent hideaway, too. - NB
Details: Rooms from €169; theghotel.ie
While you're at it: The g sits outside the city, overlooking Lough Atalia. For a more central stay, check into The House, a boutique bolthole in the Latin Quarter; thehousehotel.ie
25. Happy Christmas
Galway wears Christmas pretty well. From festive markets to Ferris wheels and street musicians, why not take a trip?
Why: Galway does one of the best, continental-style Christmas markets in the country, transforming Eyre Square into a sensory box of sizzling wursts, hot pretzels, mulled wine, flowing beer, carol singing and twinkling lights for the festive season. Dozens of wooden chalets include mixes of traditional crafts, local food and European traders (from as far afield as Finland and Belarus), and there's a Bier Keller and fairground-style amusements including a 32m Big Wheel, too. - PÓC
Details: The market usually runs from mid-November through to Christmas week; galwaytourism.ie
While you're at it: For a day out with a difference, shuck off to Galway for the September Oyster Festival; galwayoysterfestival.com
Why: Held on the Monday of the June bank holiday weekend, Street Feast is a celebration of the great small businesses in Galway's Westend. Everyone takes to the street (Ravens Terrace, to be precise) for live music, face painting and a veritable banquet from local restaurants like Handsome Burger, Hooked, Botown and Dela. "It's allowed people to try food from places they might not have been, or that they have just heard about," says Lisa Regan of Galway's Westend Traders Association. "We wanted to showcase the best of what is on offer in our neighbourhood." Best of all? Everything is fully biodegradable and there are no single-use plastics to be seen. - NB
While you're at it: Cycle for your supper at the Bike Buffet in June, where you'll pedal between great Galway restaurants for a course in each; bikeweek.ie
Why: Life moves fast, so thank goodness there are places like An Cupán Tae to retreat to, even if just to browse the selection of over 50 loose-leaf teas sold on site. If you have more time to spare, the afternoon tea is especially atmospheric, served on frilly lace in tiered bone china stands with vintage china tea sets: think tea-infused scones, miniature cakes and earl grey-infused biscuits with hibiscus-infused goat cheese. - AC
Details: €25pp for afternoon tea for two; cupantae.eu
While you're at it: If you prefer your tea taken shisha-bar style, hunt out The Secret Garden on William Street in the city's Westend, where you'll also find curated local art, live music and Yoga-B sessions.
Why: There's no shortage of ways to nail a night out in Galway. From trad at Tig Chóilí to gins galore at Tigh Nora, from dancing at Electric to culture and wine at The Black Gate, this is a city that seems to squeeze the best out of college life, big city cosmopolitanism and small town buzz. The most Galway of them all is the Westend's Róisín Dubh, however, where treats curated by city legend Gugai (above) range from intimate rock 'n' roll gigs to comedy nights, Silent Discos (Tuesdays) and Open Mics. - PÓC
Details: Dominic Street; roisindubh.net
While you're at it: Pop into The Blue Note for a mix of electro, soul, house, disco and other DJ-driven dynamite... plus a heated beer garden (3 William St W).
Ronan and Eugene Greaney - The Dough Bros Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes XPOSURE
Why: It's impossible to walk past Dough Bros and not be lured through the door. Their pizza bases are perfectly blistered, and so flavourful you could eat one on its own. But when the toppings are this good, that would be insanity - think Gubbeen smokehouse chorizo, spicy Galway honey and signature pepperoni by The Wooded Pig. Galway does casual dining so well - you can dip into tapas at Cava Bodega, or feast on fish and chips in McDonagh's, and be as happy as you'd be in any fancy-schmancy spot. - NB
While you're at it: At Handsome Burger, you'll also find burgers dripping with flavour and squished between perfectly pillowy buns; handsomeburger.com
Why: A classic stroll every tourist finds themselves on, the curving walk from Eyre Square down Shop and High Streets is one every Galwegian also knows by heart. Think of the chunky Aran sweaters in Ó Máille's ("the original house of style"), Taaffes' bar or Brown Thomas (do you still call it the old Moon's?). A stop in McCambridge's is another must. Here since 1925 (the family used to live upstairs), the deli, wine shop and restaurant feels like a thriving microcosm of the county. "There's only one of us," Natalie McCambridge told me on a recent visit. Her words hold true for the city. - PÓC
While you're at it: Book a ticket to see Connacht play rugby at The Sportsground. The small stadium sometimes feels like it sucks the wildest weather in off the Atlantic Ocean, but the atmosphere is electric; connachtrugby.ie.
NB:All prices subject to availability/change. For more, see thisisgalway.ie and wildatlanticway.com.