Ask a young Galwegian where they like to hang out and they’ll likely say the West End. This cluster of streets west of the Corrib is both the heart of traditional Galway and the hub of its creative, contemporary energy. A general amble around the streets, poking your head into the various shops and cafés will give you a much clearer picture of the city’s much celebrated bohemian identity.
To get there, cross the river at either Wolfe Tone Bridge (turn right onto Raven Terrace) or at O’Brien’s Bridge (by the moored Galway Hooker) and turn into Upper Dominick St.
If you like your walks fuelled by coffee, you won’t get a better one than at Urban Grind, just around the corner on William St West. They’re stocked with fresh beans from a wide variety of roasters, and you can enjoy your preferred brew with a tasty homemade scone or something from their brunch menu in their bright, airy seated area at the back.
Directly across the street is Aplomb, a men’s clothing store established in 2020 that showcases Irish and international sustainable fashion; all the footwear, for instance, is by Will’s Vegan Shoes, made from polyurethane that feels like the softest leather.
About 100m west on William Street and you’ll get to Small Crane, a square that was once the site of the Potato Market. In the 19th century, farmers from all over the region would bring their potatoes to sell to local shopkeepers and townspeople; the scales used to weigh the bags of spuds is still there.
Some of those potatoes would have been sold in Ernie’s, just around the corner on Sea Road. This family-run greengrocer is one of Galway’s best loved retailers, a place where you can get all kinds of local, organic produce, from Sliabh Aughty raw honey from Carrowmore to organic dwarf kale grown at Fuinseog Farm near Tuam.
Other shops worth checking out include second-hand book and record shop Bell, Book and Candle, which is on Small Crane, next door to the Crane Bar – unquestionably one of the city’s best spots for a good pint and a traditional music session (it opens at 3pm).
Further on along Sea Road is the highly celebrated Kai, where locally sourced seasonal ingredients are transformed into Bib Gourmand-quality cuisine. The lunch menu includes hearty stews and pies, fish fingers and a gorgeous butter chicken biryani with cous cous; you can also stop in for a coffee and a slice of cake.
From here, it’s only a 10-minute walk along Sea Road to the city end of the Salthill Promenade. The prom is bookended on the city side by the crescent-shaped Grattan Beach; on the far side of it is the Galway Famine Ship Memorial, two sandstone sails flanking an earlier stone dedicated to Celia Griffin, a 6-year-old girl who died of starvation on the streets of Galway in 1847. It’s an arresting monument, and its placard draws parallels between the Great Famine and the problem of hunger during our times.
If you feel up to it, you can walk the 3km length of the prom, taking in the views of Galway Bay, and kick the wall on the far end (as per local custom). Otherwise, walk back into the city centre.
A tour to dine for
Galway can lay legitimate claim to being one of the foodie capitals of Ireland, such is the superb quality of so many of its restaurants and cafes. You can try them all at your leisure, but that’ll take some time; otherwise, the best way to get a feel for how good it is to eat and drink here is to join a food tour.
Award-winning Galway Food Tours has a range of tours, from a whiskey-tasting tour to a four-and-a-half hour food and cycle tour, but a great primer is the two-and-a-half hour tour that starts outside McCambridge’s on Shop Street, right in the heart of the Latin Quarter.
The tour is a fun-filled walk around the city centre that mixes chat about Galway’s blossoming food scene and the importance of creativity in the city with lots of different tastings. At Little Lane Coffee Company on Abbeygate St, you’re encouraged to slurp a shot of coffee made with beans roasted in Bearna in Connemara (it helps with the aeration). There’s to-die-for chocolate (all named after the mountains of Connemara) from French patisserie Truffle, which has a chocolate fountain flowing down one of its walls.
The tour then goes back to McCambridge’s for a cheese-and-whiskey tasting, after which you get to sample sushi-with-an-Irish-twist from Wa Sushi (the turnip nigiri is divine) before stepping into the impressive premises of the Galway City Distillery for a make-your-own cocktail lesson. Around 300m further on is Éan (‘bird’ in Irish), a bakery, restaurant and wine bar owned by the same folks who ran the now-closed Michelin-starred Loam; the bar bites alone, which you can pair with a specialty coffee, are sublime.
The final stop on the tour is across the river in the West End. At the back of Massimo’s pub is the Soul Garden, a hidden dining spot where you can enjoy the fruits of a collaboration with nearby Kai, like a perfectly formed taco shell with a gorgeous wild trout topping.
Where to enjoy music in Galway
The food tour wraps up around 6pm, which leaves you just about enough time to sample some of the city’s famous music pubs and venues. One of the very best is the red-fronted Tig Cóilí, whose twice-daily sessions are renowned with trad fans across the country.
Nearby Taaffe’s is no slouch when it comes to traditional music, either: legendary accordionist Sharon Shannon cut her musical teeth in the pub that’s been serving up pints and sounds for the guts of 150 years.
And if you like your entertainment served up in a slightly more formal setting, Róisín Dubh is one of the best-known venues in Ireland for all kinds of music, from traditional to electronic; they also host comedy nights.