11th Aug 2012 4:44pm | By Laura Chubb
Often referred to as ‘Ireland’s cultural heart’, Galway might not be the Republic’s biggest city, but its streets are arguably the country’s most atmospheric, pulsing with traditional pipers, fiddlers and street performers.
10:00 Start your day at Eyre Square, Galway’s busy main public space, to get a feel for the city’s energy.
11:00 An interesting approach to bringing historical and contemporary Galway together can be puzzled over at the neighbouring Eyre Square Centre shopping mall, parts of which have been built over the city’s medieval walls.
Checking out the ancient stonework underneath a glass atrium, surrounded by high street stores, is nothing short of odd.
12:00 Now make your way to the Spanish Arch (corner of Long Walk), one of Galway’s most famous landmarks, on the bank of the river Corrib.
The 16th-century bastion’s original function was to protect merchant ships from looting; the name ‘Spanish Arch’ refers to frequent merchant trade with Spain at that time, as Spanish galleons would often dock here.
12:30 A short walk from the arch, back in the direction of Eyre Square, is Lynch’s Castle (corner of Shop and Upper Abbeygate streets).
Built in the 14th century, it is considered the best example of a town castle in Ireland, though this kudos is a little muted by the fact that the building now houses a bank.
Still, the interior remains impressive, with coats of arms and stone fireplaces left intact, while the façade continues to boast the odd gargoyle.
13:00 Time to seek out what Galway does best – pubs. Monroe’s Tavern is a local favourite, serving up top nosh from 9.30am-9.30pm. Try the open Irish crabmeat sandwich on soda bread (£8.25) – Galway is known for its superior seafood, which is why it hosts the Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival every year. Catch this year’s fishy festivities from September 28-30, including the World Oyster Opening Championship.
14:00 Walk off lunch with a stroll to Salmon Weir Bridge (St Vincent’s Avenue). Upstream, the Corrib cascades down the weir towards Galway Bay, while in summer, you can often see shoals of salmon fighting up to the Corrib for spawning.
15:00 Now cross the bridge to the other side of the Corrib, where you’ll find Galway Cathedral. It’s an imposing sight on the river, one of Galway’s largest buildings, with its Renaissance dome a major feature of the city skyline. Admission is by donation.
16:00 Time to soak up some more of that atmosphere we were telling you about. Tig Cóilí (Mainguard Street) is a great little boozer with live traditional Irish music blasting out as a matter of course. Make sure you sink a few pints of Galway Hooker Ale, an Irish pale ale produced by the local craft brewery.
19:00 Great steaks and seafood at McSwiggans (mains from £12) make this restaurant/ pub/ café/ bar a good bet for dinner. The bar stays open until 1am, but Galway really comes into its own at night, so we recommend you don’t get too cosy.
21:30 A pub crawl will help you see the best of Galway after dark. Go to The Crane Bar for folk music and dancing; the King’s Head for big crowds and live rock; and Roisin Dublin for its rooftop terrace. Around a quarter of the city’s population is made up of students, so you can’t really go wrong when it comes to a night on the tiles.