Mention Galway these days and you'll have everyone crooning away to Galway Girl in seconds - but the harbour city has been popular with tourists and students since long before Ed Sheeran blasted it into the charts. The second stop on our 7 day tour of Ireland, we didn't really have any plans or pre-conceptions of Galway, other than "it's a good place for a pub crawl" Splendid, just what we needed after a weekend in Dublin...
We'd booked rooms at a no-fills hotel attached to the Skeffington Arms in Eyre Square, a popular meeting spot in the cities centre surrounded by shops and traditional pubs. Warning - Galway is a massive one way system and Eyre Square is largely pedestrianised so plan your approach wisely! A missed turning guarantees a bonus loop of the whole city (and I speak from experience) so call ahead and get directions from your accommodation before you arrive!
To be honest, I probably wouldn't stay at the Skeffington Arms again but it was clean and had everything we needed for a one night stay, with easy walking distance to everything it did the job, but if I ever find myself back in Galway I'd probably check out the Residence Hotel on Quay St, or the Jury's Inn, overlooking the water.
We arrived with just enough time to freshen up and take a spin around the old cobbled streets before dinner. The weather didn't really lend itself to exploring the outdoors, but that just gave us an excuse the check out some interiors! The Quays is the oldest pub in Galway, located on the busy Quay Street, home to dozens of bars and restaurants serving crowds of people looking for refreshments and entertainment. Inside, the Quays is absolutely beautiful (and I don't often say that about a boozer!) with Gothic pews and stained glass imported from a medieval church in France, as you do - it's quirky and full of character.
And if that's not reason enough to stop for a drink, there's live music every night. It's pretty touristy but that just means there's a good atmosphere with lots of people looking for a fun night out - not us mind you, we were having a "quiet night."
Dinner was a short walk away at John Keogh's the Lock Keeper - great quality pub grub and delightful service if you're looking for traditional irish food. Cava Bodega also came highly recommended though if you're looking for something different. Too full for desert, we decided to take a little stroll to work of our meals and find a nice spot with some good music for a night cap.
First stop was at Busker Brownes which had a full Big Band playing incredible swing music - not what we expected in Ireland! From there it was a short stumble across the road to The Front Door which had a fantastic cover band playing - the pub is like a labyrinth with 5 bars (including one dedicated entirely to gin!) spread across 2 floors with lots of cosy nooks to sit in. We were amazed at how busy everywhere was for a Monday night! And, in the end, as other places started to close, we found our way back at the Quays and danced until the band stopped playing at 2am - time to turn in. After all, we were having a "quiet night."
The next morning we set off in search of breakfast and found it through the Spanish Arch at Ard Bia - a funky little cafe with kick ass, mediterranean inspired dishes and a cake selection to die for, and take it from me, the coffee and banana cake is 100% a breakfast food.
The rain eased up just as we'd finished stuffing our bellies so we made the most of the break in the clouds and raced around the historical sites. Starting with the aforementioned Spanish Arch - one of two arches which made up part of the city wall, constructed in 1584.
There doesn't seem to be much literature around explaining why they're called Spanish - so if anyone knows please enlighten me!
We strolled up along Quay Street, taking it in by daylight, and onto the imaginatively named Shop Street (I'll give you 3 guesses as to what goes on here) before turning off the pedestrianised drag towards the cathedral. Crossing over the river Corrib I couldn't decide what was more impressive - the size of the cathedral or the fact that there were people in the water fly fishing!
The cathedral itself is rather unusual with a central alter, flanked by pews on all 4 sides. It's the youngest of Europe's great stone cathedrals, having only been completed in 1965 but what it lacks in history it makes up for in beauty, with intricate mosaics and bright stained glass windows.
Then all too soon, it was time to hop back into the car and continue on to our next stop. Singing Galway Girl at the top of our lungs, of course.