Galway City: Ireland’s Best-kept Secret
Photo by Yuichi Shiraishi / CC BY
Ask your friends to name a city in Ireland and Dublin will be the one that crosses everyone’s lips. It’s kind of inevitable. It’s the home of U2, the birthplace of Guinness and where the country’s main airport is located. But there’s so much more to the Emerald Isle than its expensive and busy capital which, incidentally, is overflowing with tourists and locally-based foreign professionals.
While Dublin has its many attractions, poetry and pints being the most notable, Galway City, over in the far-flung west of Ireland, has that rustic feel that many tourists expect from an Irish city. Yes, it’s a bit of a cliché to say so, but if you want to experience the “real” Ireland, then you need to get out of the capital and head west for the city perched along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Where is Galway City?
As the country’s most westerly city, Galway is located on the edge of the stunning Connemara National Park, an area that attracts millions of tourists each year. Yet incredibly (and thanks to a new motorway), the city is only a couple of hours’ drive from Dublin Airport.
So, what makes this city special?
Dublin is, of course, a great place, but as mentioned right here on this site before, it’s just a little bit overrated. Visitors to Galway, on the other hand, rarely have expectations of the city and thus feel pleasantly surprised by all that’s on offer. Now, make no mistake, there are plenty of tourists in Galway, along with an increasing number of European students on summer working holidays, giving the city a touristy vibe.
However, the size of the city compared to Dublin’s sprawling metropolis allows you to take in many of the sights on foot. It has the feel of a large town as opposed to a city, and there’s a notable difference in the attitude and mood of the locals. It’s the same in every country across the globe; the smaller the city, the more welcome visitors feel.
But it’s not just the welcome that impresses visitors to Galway. Take a walk through the city’s cobbled streets, and you’ll come across an impressive range of restaurants and cafés. As a matter of fact, Galway is known as one of the gastronomical hotspots of Ireland, and dining out here on any budget is a bit of an adventure.
It’s also ideally located right on the coast and home to one of the country’s popular summer destination, Salthill. This seaside resort is just a 15-minute walk from Eyre Square in the heart of the city, which tells you all you need to know about how easy it is getting around Galway.
A Rich History
Ever heard of the Spanish Arch? Maybe not, but if you’re Irish, then you’ll know it’s the only remaining arches from the city’s medieval wall. During this time, the city had close ties to Spain, and there were many Spanish traders and merchants that spent part of the year in the city. But funnily enough, there’s no actual connection between the Spanish and this piece of the wall.
The Spanish Arch is also home to Galway City Museum, a place where tourists can learn about the storied past of the western city. Although some of it might be a little depressing (the famine killed 20 percent of the county’s population), it’s an interesting place to visit, and a little more culturally aware than some of Dublin’s touristy museums.
A Gateway to Connemara
And finally, we come to the biggest attraction in the west. Galway City is the gateway to Connemara. This massive national park is home to some of the most stunning scenery imaginable, and during the summer months, tens of thousands of tourists flock to the area each week. But even with all those tourists, it’s still easy to find yourself on a patch of winding country road with not a single soul visible in any direction. Aside from the native Connemara ponies that is.