Galway is in many ways a traditional small Irish town but it’s also a college party town. The national University sits at the bottom of town and you can feel its influence throughout the general vibe of the city. It feels young and energetic. But also just flocks of drunken teenagers in skimpy clothes drinking way too much and getting rowdy. Pros and cons there. But there’s a ton of charm with good pubs, both schmancy food and cheap eats, and plenty of beautiful spots to explore. We booked at the last minute and ended up renting a studio apartment in a student housing facility. A dorm. And when a drunk college girl started pounding on our door at almost 1am trying to find an Android phone charger, it really completed the whole college experience for us.
I don’t want to sound negative, the town was really fun, easily walkable, lots of food joints, good whiskey, pretty much everything you could ask for. And it’s a great home base for stunning nature spots all along the western coast.
Walking around town.
Since we were booking so close to arrival, accommodations were scarce. And expensive. We ended up booking a studio apartment in a student housing dorm about a block north of Eyre Square that rented rooms while the regular school session was out. But this turned out to be a lively part of town that we enjoyed. Eyre Square is a large park at the center of town ringed by shops and pubs with large sculptural pieces and buskers playing tunes. The scruffy skater punk kids would gather here which was a welcome site.
Eyre Square area
Just south of Eyre Square the streets become narrow and pedestrian and noticeably more crowded as you enter the old medieval part of town, a collection of fun and brightly colored buildings thick with old world pubs and tourists and townies alike queuing up in the rain for dinner or drinks and buskers filling the lanes with songs.
Keep walking south and you’ll run into the River Corrib and The Docks neighborhood. This seems to be a rowdy gathering spot at night along the river and here you’ll find the Spanish Arch which is just an old section of the town wall with a passage through it. I found an ok liquor store just across the river and if you cross the bridge and make a left you get good views of the charming houses. Keep walking about a mile further south and you’ll reach Mutton Island via a pedestrian causeway. It’s primarily a sewage treatment plant but I hear proposals are common on the causeway, presumably for the views, but the metaphor of a literal pathway to a shitty existence hasn’t escaped my sense of humor.
River Corrib around Nun’s Island
From the The Docks if you walk north along River Corrib you pass Nun Island, the Galway Cathedral, and eventually get to the National University of Ireland Galway. There’s a pretty chill vibe around the river and you’ll find students hanging out along the banks and wooded areas.
Touring Inis Mór on the Aran Islands
One of the biggest attractions near Galway are the Aran Islands a few hours away, a rugged rocky landscape with both early Christian sites and prehistoric structures that date back 6000 years. The islands seem to be flat pieces of rock jutting up out of the ocean with shear cliffs down on the sides. The naturally rocky landscape provides lots of stones for building and needed to be cleared to make farming possible. So there are a lot of stone walls marking the edges of property and stone structures. We chose to visit the largest of the three islands, Inis Mór which has the most popular site, Dun Aonghasa, a 6000 year old stone ring fort that is open on one side to the shear 300 foot cliff face. Standing on the edge is dizzying and there are no rails or barriers to stop a suicidal toddler from dashing off the edge. People die here. But hey, the beauty of natural selection at work.
Na Seacht dTeampaill (the Seven Churches)
We stropped briefly at the Seven Churches, an old church ruins dating to the 8th-13th centuries. There are in reality only two churches and a variety of dwellings. There was also a cool horse.
Cliffs of Moher
On the ferry ride back we swung by the Cliffs of Moher which you might recognize as the Cliffs of Insanity! from the Princess Bride and the seacave entrance in one of the last Harry Potter movies that housed a horcrux. This is probably the most popular tourist destination in Ireland. Personally it just looked like some cliffs to me. But the Princess Bride location brought it home. To be fair, they are some cool cliffs, I guess.