If you’ve been reading the other entries of this guide, you may have noticed that I seem to be in a constant state of surprise. This is not far from the truth, as I had very little time to research and prepare for this Ireland trip. I came to Ireland, and to Galway, cold, and hence have been easily surprised by all that I’ve found here, in a growing but still small city slapped in the middle of bare, rural areas such as Connemara, the Burren and the Aran Islands.
Not only does Galway have excellent cafes, coffee shops and restaurants, but when it comes to preparing your own food, you aren’t at all restricted to sausages, puddings, peas and potatoes. Even vegetarians can thrive in Galway, as many shops specialize in health, vegetarian and organic foods (they also fill in the holes left by the supermarkets, which are okay, but leave a lot to be desired). As supermarkets go, there is a SuperValu in both Roches Stores, on Rosemary Avenue, and in Eyre Square Centre (which also houses Dunnes Stores).
Da Tang Oriental Market – Middle Street.
In Ireland, but have a taste for Asian cuisine? You’re all set. Next to the Noodle House, and open during the day, six days a week. They also recently opened an organic deli, which is quite good, so pick up something for the evening’s dinner, but let them take care of you for lunch (or just go next door, to the restaurant!)
Evergreen Health Store – corner of Mainguard and High streets.
The usual organic and vegetarian foods, as well as a vegetarian deli. Upstairs are toiletries, books, nutritional supplements, aromatherapy, candles and gift items. Also online.
Healthwise – Lwr Abbeygate Street.
Just up from my old flat, and lots of great food. Meat substitutes, wide range of snacks and deserts, grains, etc. Huge range of tea. Nutritional supplements.
McCambridge’s – Shop Street.
Not much in the way of organic or vegetarian specialties, but great for produce, sweets, cheeses and deli meats, as well as ethnic foods. Also just a really cool shop (and off-license), that is celebrating its 75th anniversary.
Saturday Market – Market & Mainguard streets.
Stock up on fresh bread, bagels, various concoctions of gourmet olives, and fruit and veg, all for great prices.
The Scoop & Health Food Shop – Eyre Street.
Great range of health foods and grains, and also a good place to look for salsa and tortilla chips. Toiletries, nutritional supplements and books are on sale as well.
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.