Galway is nice, but one of the nicest aspects of the city is how easy it is to leave. Galway’s location makes it the epicenter for exploring the west of Ireland, and most northwestern and southwestern destinations are still only a few hours’ bus ride away.
Bus Eireann is Ireland’s major bus service provider. There is also a rail service, but don’t take it; trains have a tendency of breaking down, routes are insane, and though a rail journey will take the same amount of time as the bus, it generally will cost two or three times more.
Bus Eireann also offers different travel passes and packages, operates day tours for many destinations (such as Connemara or the cliffs of Moher) and runs shuttle services to the UK, via Dublin and Belfast. Inquire at the bus station, the Tourist Office, or check the website.
Many private companies offer tours, most of which are similar in scope and price; decide for yourself which one you would like to try, and to where.
Day Tours & Destinations
The Aran Islands
Who would have thought that three piles of rocks, chucked in the mouth of Galway Bay to take the brunt of the Atlantic’s fury, could be so wonderful? Inishmore is the largest and most popular; Inishmaan, the middle island, is the most secluded; Inisheer is the smallest and arguably the most beautiful. Quiet places where Irish is still the primary language, the Arans offer respite, nature and fun. Details for getting there are available either from Island Ferries (just down from the Tourist Office) or Aer Arann.
Booking 091 844 050 or Tourist Office, IRÃ¯Â¿Â½20 (group and 10% student discounts available). A walking tour of the barren, hilly limestone expanses of the Burren in Co. Clare. departs the Tourist Office every day at 9:45 a.m., and returns to Eyre Square at 5:30 p.m. Bus tours of the Burren are also available; inquire at the Tourist Office.
Booking 091 539 758 or Tourist Office, IRÃ¯Â¿Â½20 (group and student discounts available). Once the home of writer Lady Gregory, a friend of W.B. Yeats (who often visited), the tour allows you to retrace their footsteps. Includes guided tours of the Coole woods, audio/visual presentations, and transport. Leaves Tourist Office at 10 a.m.
A desolate, hilly region to the north and west of Galway, Connemara is one of the best and most beautiful places to go in Ireland, to get away from the world. Should you prefer to use a day trip to get a feel for the area, inquire at the Tourist Office, as many companies provide Connemara day tours. One that’s a little bit different, however, is Hugh Ryan‘s Vintage Bus Tour to Connemara (seven days a week, 2-6 p.m., IRÃ¯Â¿Â½10 students). For a longer trip, start in the town of Clifden, from which you can visit the towns and islands, and can indulge in some serious bog- and hill-walking.
Despite being little more than a tourist town, Killarney is worth a trip. The town itself doesn’t have much of interest, just the requisite shops and pubs and such, but the town is useful as an epicenter for day trips, such as to Dingle and Slea Head, the Gap of Dunloe, or the Ring of Kerry. Where Killarney is a bimonthly magazine, available all over town, that details everything from surrounding tourist attractions to local sightseeing to a calendar of events.
I have probably disappointed one of my co-workers by not making it up to Westport, but I promise that I will go next time I’m in Ireland. North of Connemara, Westport is a good base for making your way to the famed Croagh Patrick (named, of course, after St. Patrick) or to Achill Island.
Irish Adventure Tour Companies
Fancy an even longer trip? Several companies offer various budget packages that will take you around as many of the sights of Ireland as you care to see, with other independent travelers. All companies offer similar services at similar prices (transport is often by minibus); check out each and decide which best fits your travel plans and desires (for most services, however, you will need to go to Dublin).
Celtic Budget Tours
Booking 01 856 1211, M-Sa, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; at Dublin hostels; or at office, 2 Preston Street, Dublin, M-Sa, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. A 3-day, 2-night tour for IRÃ¯Â¿Â½69 (includes hostel accommodation) that will take you around the southwest of Ireland. While the service doesn’t go into Galway, you can get off just outside of town, at the Oranmore roundabout, and catch a local bus to the city centre.
The Celtic Connection
Booking 44 131 225 3330. Various packages for Ireland and Scotland. Also operates a summer shuttle service from Dublin to Edinburgh (including Belfast and Glasgow) on Monday and Thursday. One-way is Ã¯Â¿Â½29 (sterling, and includes ferry); the catch is that you can book only up to three days in advance, and people using a Celtic Connection tour have priority.
Out There Adventure Tours
Booking 091 539 758, M-F, 8-10 a.m. & 6-9 p.m., or at various Galway hostels. A new, Galway-based company offering tours of Connemara and Inisbofin, and a canoeing trip of the River Corrib. Their rates also include booze!
01 672 6007, or at office, 17 Westmoreland Street, Dublin. Various 3- and 6-day tours of both the North and the South of Ireland; also a jump-on, jump-off service.
The Slow Coach
01 679 2684, or at office, 6 South William Street, Dublin. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Offers the “Round-Ireland-Budget-Bus,” an IRÃ¯Â¿Â½99 jump-on, jump-off, hostel-to-hostel service. A passport-sized photo is required when buying ticket, for which there is no time limit.
44-171-373-7737 (17 Earls Court Road, Earls Court, London). In addition to its Britain and Europe tour packages, Stray can also take you around selected points of Ireland, or just the whole country (including the North). A jump-on, jump-off tour, passes are valid for two months, except for the All Ireland pass, which is valid for six months.
As far as small cities go, Galway is pretty multi-faceted: one of the fastest-growing cities in Europe (though the present population is about 60,000), a cultural capitol of Ireland, a seaport, the capitol of County Galway, a student town, etc, etc.
For traveling the west of Ireland, it’s a good city to base yourself in, or at least set out from, as places such as the Burren, Connemara, and the Aran Islands are all easily accessed from Galway.
The River Corrib runs through Galway and empties into Galway Bay to the south; the river also separates the city centre from the Claddagh, an old fishing village on the west.
To the northwest of the city centre is the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG). The city centre itself is compact and pedestrian friendly (most of it is pedestrian access only), and a local bus service is provided to suburbs.
Prices are a bit lower in Galway than in Dublin (you’ll pay about IRÃ¯Â¿Â½2.20 for a pint, instead of at least IRÃ¯Â¿Â½2.50), and the city itself feels more like a small town that has gained the sophistication, but not the crime and dinge of a larger city. Coffee shops and cafes abound, and in the summertime Galway is the epicenter of many cultural festivals. Many local pubs nightly feature live music, usually traditional Irish.
This is an eclectic place; much of the architecture is Spanish, as from the 13th to the 17th centuries Galway conducted a lot of trade with Spain. Fishermen walk around with professors, and once June arrives salmon swimming upstream can still be seen from many of the city’s bridges (such as the Salmon Weir Bridge).
Though more so in the county than in the city, Galway, despite all its European and American influences, is also one of the main Irish-speaking regions in the country.
The most annoying thing about Galway is the weather. Winters are said to be miserable, and during the summer months (as opposed to the ‘summer season’) expect it to be sunny and hot one day, raining and cold the next. You’ll soon get used to wearing shorts with your winter coat, however, and sunglasses with your umbrella.
For help in getting around town, go to Eason’s bookshop (O’Connell Street in Dublin, or Shop Street in Galway) and put down IRÃ¯Â¿Â½3.50 for the Galway Street Atlas, a small, pink, spiral-bound indexed street atlas published by Ordnance Survey Ireland.