Galway is often said to be a state of mind as much as it is a specific place. The largest city in the West today and the ancient capital of the province of Connaught, Galway, with a current population of 75,500, is also one of the fastest-growing cities in Europe. It's an astonishing fact, and you have to wonder where this city can possibly grow. For despite Galway's size, its commercially busy ring road, and its ever-spreading suburbs, its heart is tiny—a warren of streets so compact that if you spend more than a few hours here, you'll soon be strolling along with the sort of easy familiarity you'd feel in any small town.
For many Irish people, Galway is a favorite weekend getaway: known as the city of festivals, it's the liveliest place in the republic. It's also a university town: National University of Ireland, Galway (or NUI Galway as it's locally known) is a center for Gaelic culture (Galway marks the eastern gateway to the West's large Gaeltacht). A fair share of NUI Galway’s 17,500 students pursue their studies in the Irish language. Galway is, in fact, permeated by youth culture. On festival weekends, you'll see as many pierced and tattooed teenagers and twentysomethings here as you'd find at a rock concert. But Galway's students aren't its only avant-garde, as Galway has long attracted writers, artists, and musicians. The latter whip up brand-new jigs while also keeping the traditional-music pubs lively year-round. And the city's two small but internationally acclaimed theater companies draw a steady stream of theater people, while its ties with the world of film and television (the HQ of Irish language television, TG4, is located to the west of the city) are recognized by its designation as Ireland's first UNESCO City of Film.
The harbor city of Galway is the unofficial capital of the west of Ireland and the stronghold of traditional Irish ways, from its rapturous music scene to its artisanal restaurants that reap the local seafood harvest.
Its streets, with their famed boho bars and cafés that spill out onto its cobbled medieval lanes, are basking in international recognition having scored the title of both European City of Gastronomy in 2018 and European Capital of Culture for 2020. Despite being Ireland’s fourth-largest city, it has retained the essence of a much smaller town, particularly in its compact and very walkable nucleus. The city's beating heart lies within this short thoroughfare and the twisting labyrinth of alleys that flow into it.
It's most alive later in the evening when street lights come on and the sound of uilleann pipes, harps, and bodhráns filters through the air. It's a vibrancy that's fueled both by the fact it’s a university town and the epicenter of western Ireland, which ensures that it glows until the early hours.
While Galway has more than its fair share of Michelin stars, the foodie experience predictably balances the finest organic, locally sourced food with a chilled-out service in most restaurants.
Druid Lane Theatre just off Quay Street hosts traveling and homegrown productions, while Macnas, a troupe of avant-garde performers and puppeteers, add drama and color to city highlights from St. Patrick's Day to the Galway Halloween Parade.
Although you're not conscious of it when you're in the center of town, Galway is spectacularly situated, on the north shore of Galway Bay, where the River Corrib flows from Lough Corrib to the sea. The seaside suburb of Salthill, on the south-facing shore of Galway Bay, has stunning vistas across the vividly blue bay to Black Head and the Burren on the opposite shore.
Galway's growth and popularity mean that at its busiest moments, its narrow, one-way streets are jam-packed with pedestrians, while cars are gridlocked.