With a youthful population and a bohemian spirit, Galway’s charms are best enjoyed by strolling the city lanes and soaking up the atmosphere. There’s plenty to keep sightseers happy, too
1. Shop for some traditional Celtic jewellery
Call in and watch Jonathan Margetts tinkering with rings in Thomas Dillon’s shop. He’s an expert on the history of the Claddagh Ring, Ireland’s most famous traditional ring. The ring consists of two hands holding a heart that wears a crown, and started life in the fishing village of Claddagh, a community of Irish-speaking families who still elect their own "King".
The rings were originally made in the shop, which dates from 1750. Today, it sells gold and sterling silver reproductions of this much sought-after fashion accessory and symbol of romance.
2. Savour the tastes
From award-winning chips at McDonagh’s to fabulous farmhouse Irish cheeses at Sheridans – you’ll find something to your taste in Galway. No visit is complete without calling into the family-owned Griffin’s Bakery (going strong since 1876 and now in its fifth generation) for their unbeatable breads, including bracks, rye, soda, gluten-free, multigrain and even one with an Irish whiskey kick.
Finally, the irresistible McCambridge’s food emporium is a deli and café to die for.
3. Experience a musical medieval church
Packed with curious corners and ancient tombs, Ireland’s largest medieval parish church, St Nicholas’s Collegiate Church, was built in 1320. These days, traditional Irish Tunes in the Church feature the rector on his concert flute on summer nights.
Christopher Columbus is even reputed to have prayed here in 1477 before setting off on his voyage of discovery to the New World.
4. Explore the house of James Joyce’s wife and muse
Hidden away in the narrow Bowling Green is what looks like an unremarkable house. Now a museum, it was the tiny family home of Nora Barnacle, James Joyce’s wife and muse. The couple had their first date on 16 June 1904. This date was immortalised in Joyce’s most famous work Ulysses, and is now universally known as Bloomsday.
5. Kick up your heels at Monroe’s Tavern
Take your partner’s hand for the Siege of Ennis or the Walls of Limerick (traditional Irish dances). Tuesday night is set-dancing night at Monroe’s Tavern, a whitewashed pub in Galway’s West End. “It’s a great shindig,” says bartender Catriona Gormally, “and once the tourists have watched for 30 minutes there’s no stopping them getting up to dance, too".
And if you don’t feel like dancing, don’t worry – Galway has a ton of cracking traditional pubs, including Tigh Neachtain and The Crane Bar. For those of you wishing to rock out, make Róisín Dubh your venue of choice.