To Hell or To Connaught- Things to Do In and Around Galway
I have a great love for Irish music. So much so that little ole minimalist me- the one carries ONE backpack with three days worth of clothing- I lug around my bulky bodhrán everywhere we go and play it daily. It's literally in my DNA. So many of us trek to the land of our forefathers to get a taste of ourselves, and for culture, history, great food and a vibrant music scene, you won't find much fault in Galway.
Located on Ireland's west coast in the old Connacht region, Galway is a bay town, rich with fresh oysters, a view of Boston (if the world was flat), and plenty of activities for everyone to enjoy in and around the area. If you're flying, the Shannon and Dublin airports receive international flights regularly. And sure, you can rent a car but if you'd rather not, there's mass transit from either airport into Galway.
Galway proper is completely walkable, from the Claddagh- the main shopping district- to the Salthill promenade, pedestrians will have an easy exercise day. Buses regularly run to Connemara and you'd kick yourself forever if you didn't take a cruise through this breathtaking scenery. Clifden, the "capitol" is an easy ride and offers plenty to fill your hunger, thirst and camera roll. Connemara is almost a trip within itself but a few highlights would include The Quiet Man Bridge, Lake Corrib, the old ruins of Cong, Kylemore Abbey, and of course, Clifden.
It's also easy to catch a ferry to the Aran Islands. There's not much danger of traffic congestion on the large island so rent a bike and venture off to see the Celtic ruins of Inis Mór. Especially spectacular is Dun Aonghasa, a Celtic ruin and World Heritage site of historical significance which is set on dramatic 300 ft cliff edge. The Cliffs of Moher are just south and accessible by bus or car, and The Burren, also just south in County Clare, is also worth a tour and a hike if you're so inclined. Once you see it, you'll probably be inclined.
The West Coast is famous for being the keeper of traditional Irish music (called Trad) and Galway is a main hub for hearing some of the best musicians in Ireland. Taaffes and Tig Coili, situated just steps from each other in the Claddagh, offer nightly Irish session music that just can't be beat. Bring your own instrument and play along! Check their schedules for session times but don't worry, they don't sponsor competing sessions so you can catch them both. The Crane Bar has two stages and offers various styles of music in addition trad. The Claddagh itself is just full of pub after pub of infectious music from excellent musicians.
Sure, I love British Isles food and Galway has plenty of it, but variety keeps it all from getting old. Galway is rich in culinary diversity and it's just flat out excellent food. The Quays will satisfy that craving nicely. Do try the Galway oysters (there's even an oyster festival the last weekend of September). Oscars Bistro is terrific, as is Moran's Oyster Cottage, which is just a drive south to Kilcolgan. Thai food lovers will appreciate Thai Garden near the Spanish Arch, and Venice serves up traditional pastas and Italian fare at reasonable prices.
Whatever you do, DON'T plan a day or two. It'd be a real shame if you missed all that Connaught has to offer.