If Ireland has surprised me in any way, it is that the coffee here is actually pretty damn good (as opposed to Scotland, where the brew still tastes a bit like it’s been mixed with gasoline).
Even more surprising is that a small city like Galway has so many coffee shops. Quality and atmosphere vary – but mainly according to your own personal taste: whether you just need a dive for a quick caffeine fix or if, like me, you want the whole coffee shop ‘experience’ (which for me includes the scent of espresso, music – big band, acid jazz and fusions of traditional African rhythms – and a twinge of intellectualism/philosophizing about the place, i.e. people reading Hermann Hesse or the Tao Te Ching.
Many of these coffee shops also serve meals, and some are also backpacker friendly as far as temporary employment goes. There are plenty of other coffee houses/cafes in the area, but these are some of the ones that I’ve gotten jittery in:
Apostasy – Lower Dominick Street.
Did I mention pretentiousness? While Apostasy is kinda cool, it does have a turned-up-nose feeling about it that really puts me off. Still, it’s one of Galway’s most popular coffee houses, and it’s open until 4 a.m., so it’s at least worth checking out.
Barcuba – Eyre Square.
Cuba is its own dynasty, really, and seems to do just about everything. While I think of Barcuba as more of a pub than a coffee house, they claim to serve up some good caffeination. Besides, there’s a lot to be said about a place where you can go for coffee in the afternoon, and stick around until evening when you want to switch to pints (and then, once the bar shuts, go through the door and dance in the Cuba club).
Java’s – Upper Abbeygate Street.
I’m biased here, but mainly because I’m lazy. I live on Lower Abbeygate Street, and heaven knows there are few things better than having a coffee shop three blocks up from your front door. Open late, great atmosphere and kickass music; Java’s is brilliant for relaxing over a cuppa, reading a novel, or yacking away with friends. Add a great food menu (I highly recommend the Hot Chicken sandwich, the double-decker Javanormous, and the Furbo Special – a bagel filled with pesto, sun-dried tomato and cream cheese.)
Mocha Beans – Cross Street.
Open 8-8, this is a good place to start the morning – or to start looking for work, as Mocha Beans has a reputation for being kind to foreigners. They also roast their own house blends, which are pretty nice, and the food menu is extensive, filling and cheap. The only drawback is that it’s quite popular yet very small, and may leave you feeling a little crammed.
Ty Breizh Coffee Shop & Creperie – St. Augustine Street.
More a cafe than a coffee house, but still a good place to sit back and sip. As it’s also across from the library, Ty Breizh is great for bringing over your just-checked-out books, and it’s not as dear as other places – 90p for a pot of tea, as opposed to the average Pound a cup. Ty Breizh also serves up Irish breakfasts all day, along with omelettes, sandwiches, vegetarian dishes and good desserts. Open 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
The Cobblestone Cafe – Kirwan’s Lane (behind Cross & Quay streets).
Good coffee and excellent variety of food, including homemade confections, daily soups and extensive vegetarian selections and specials. Also has outside seating. Bring along a paper or book as well; as Cobblestone is secluded in a back lane, you’ll get some peace and quiet along with your lunch.
Culture Cafe – Market Street.
Decent coffee, good smoothies, and large menu, serving up paninis, bagels, wraps, sandwiches and salads. Bright decour, with natural wood tables and chairs that are very popular nowadays. Hours: Mon-Sat, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. (food 8-8); Sun (with all-day brekky), 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Mocha Mania – Mainguard Street.
Bright colors and a vibrant staff, but prices are a smidgen higher than in other shops. Outdoor seating. True to its name, I recommend the mocha: it’s made with Cadbury’s chocolate, and comes with marshmallows. Also available are desserts, panini and bagels, many of which are low-fat, healthy and environmentally friendly (such as the “dolphin friendly tuna” on the Neptune panini). Hours: Mon-Thur, 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fri-Sat, 8:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun, 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
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.