‘Good things come to those who wait,’ goes the saying. Galway rewards the traveller for a journey that might not quite reach odyssean distances, but still requires a bit of persistence. The flight is one thing, but once you land at Dublin, the next step is a two-hour car or taxi journey.
Yet the feeling upon entering the city of Galway is one of arriving somewhere worth travelling to. During the short walk to my hotel I heard about ten languages spoken – the fact that the Galway Arts Festival was in town had a lot to do with the cosmopolitan crowds, but the city has international representation year-round (20,000 students study here). This port town on the Atlantic coast of Ireland has long been a stop-off for those emigrating to the US, and in turn receives a good number of American tourists back.
There’s also a gentle sort of bohemianism in evidence: it feels like the sort of place people might wash up when they can’t drift any further west. It’s one of those ‘cities’ that doesn’t quite deserve the title on population alone (around 75,000), but outward-looking attitude and many attractions means no one’s complaining.
As befits a tourist town of such sophistication, Galway has restaurants from most parts of the world. Try Kai (Sea Road, +353 91 526 003), a delightful little spot with pointed stone walls, flagstones and wooden beams. The kitchen puts local ingredients to imaginative use in dishes such as Connemara crab with pickled cucumbers, or silver hake and yellow beetroot. Ard Bia at Nimmos (Spanish Arch, Long Walk, +353 91 561 114) brings international influence to the likes of Galway Bay lobster, St Tola goat’s cheese and Longford lamb.
Sometimes the best way to see a city is to step outside it for a while. Outdoors Ireland takes novices and experts alike on sea kayaking trips into Galway Bay, around the old harbour, into the mouth of the fast-flowing Corrib river, and out towards Mutton Island Lighthouse, among swans, seals and (so I’m told) the occasional killer whale. Expect to pay from Dhs240 per person.
If you’re after mental, rather than physical exertion, check out Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop (Middle Street, +353 91 561 766); a crammed labyrinth of new, second-hand and rare editions and the sort of place where whole afternoons can slip by unnoticed. Pick up something by Beckett, Joyce or Yeats and enjoy a classic in a whole new light.
Galway City Museum (Spanish Parade, no number) is a bright and modern space with cleverly displayed artefacts modern and ancient, a concise history of the city and a regularly changing schedule of international touring exhibitions (I saw ‘George Grosz: The Big No’, a collection of the German caricaturist’s satirical sketches).
Although the House Hotel (Lower Merchants Road, +353 91 538 900) is right in the city centre, it’s on a quiet street. It’s set in an old stone building, but inside is a riot of pink tones and exuberant flourishes. A room – plus a great breakfast – starts at Dhs422.
The Galway Arts Festival has taken place every July since 1978, and now presents a two-week programme of international and Irish acts. Past highlights included theatre from Galway institution Druid, The Fall, West Cork Ukulele Orchestra, Chic with Nile Rodgers, Christy Moore and Marina Abramovic. Racing fans from all over Ireland (and there are a lot of them) flock to the Galway Races Summer Festival (29 July-August 4 2013). There’s also the Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival on September 27-29 2013, and the famous Clarenbridge Oyster Festival, held in a village just south of the city, which takes place on September 13-15 2013.
Need to know
Emirates offers regular direct flights from Dubai to Dublin, with return tickets priced at about Dhs3,750. Galway is then about two hours by car. www.emirates.com.
Dubai to Ireland
Flight time: Approximately eight hours to Dublin.
Time difference: Four hours behind Dubai.
Dhs1 = 0.2 euros.