We first went to Galway on Saturday May 22 so James could see his friend Cain from Northern Ireland whom he had met working as an English teacher in South Korea. Cain and two of his friends had road-tripped down from Belfast in a Volkswagen van, but were denied entry to a “family only” campground. They were probably just worried about the drunken shenanigans these lads would get into. For good reason! Luckily, they had a friend in Galway and she acted as our local tour guide taking us to the best places to hear live music in the city. After one night we went to Doolin for four to enjoy the sunshine and then back to Galway on May 27. This is what we learned there.
Galway is the youngest city in Europe in terms of population age. It’s a university town to the extreme and has the night life to prove it. Any night in Galway is a good night to go out, but going out on a rare sunny Saturday is something else all together. On the pedestrian Quay Street, patrons from the pubs spill out onto the street with pints in hand (something that is technically illegal in Ireland, but no one seems to care). Neachtains is a good pick. It has booths inside for groups or couples and an outdoor patio…if you’re not already standing on the street. The bars get pretty crazy here and you’ll have to line up for ATMs, but the best spots are south across the Wolfe Tone Bridge.
The Crane is the place to be for live music—the best we’ve seen of traditional music in all of Ireland. Of its two levels, the upstairs tends to host more traditional ceilidh sessions with less singing, while the lower has foot stomping genre-bending fun. On the night with Cain, there were a dozen musicians and an old old old song sung in Irish gaelic.
Massimos is a dark place with a lot of booths and a small dance floor, but for a night of dancing go to Roisin Dubh on Friday or Saturday. This multi-level late-night bar is even better on Sunday thanks to the free show Cartoon Thieves (previously No Banjo) put on each week. We stayed in Galway an extra night just to see them and it was well worth it. They are bluegrass… roots… rock… who knows!? Just amazing. Don’t miss them if you visit Galway.
For hostels, don’t go to the impersonal Sleepzone. We were there for one night because we couldn’t get anything else on such short notice on a Saturday. Salmon Weir is the place to be. At the hostel, we were spoiled with the partying expertise of Robbie and Sam, a Kiwi and Aussie respectively, who compete as you’d expect anyone from those countries to do. We drank a lot of cheap Stella (Tescos across the country are selling 24 bottles for 15 euros) and had our first experience with a beer bong. We do not recommend this experience to anyone. Beer pumped directly into your stomach is as unpleasant as it sounds. James (in terror) “shook hands” with Mr. Mule first and took much longer than Hannes (whom we met in Doolin and was in our room in Galway) and Brice. Hannes was the clear winner. The beer vanished within a second.
Robbie and Sam also taught us some drinking games and how to drink the perfect Guinness. Apparently, you have to drink under the head and get a Guinness moustache so that after each sip foam is left on the inside of the glass. Tiger stripes will appear after each drink and tell the tale of your Guinness—like tree rings. The fewer the rings, the quicker you drink. With beginner’s luck James drank the perfect Guinness. We don’t have it on our cameras, but hope that it is sent to us soon. James completely screwed up the second, cracking under pressure in a competition with Robbie. But as it turns out, a lot also depends upon the pour, the taps, and the cleanliness of the glass. You’d need a perfectly poured Guinness to have the perfectly drunk. Still, it’s something to work towards for the rest of the trip.
Much dancing was also had with Hannes, Robbie, and Sam. Robbie, Sam, and James broke out the “Running Man” and were instantly joined by some strangers. Hannes is one of the most uninhibited dancers we’ve ever seen. He’ll groove to anything.
As a final note on Galway’s nightlife, and indeed Ireland’s in general… We love curry cheese chips. Wow. They are an improvement on poutine and an end of the night drunk-food delight. They are exactly what they sound like: a heart attack in a take-away box. And oh-so delicious. “Chippers” (like Vinnie’s and Charcoal Grill) everywhere have them. We now have them everywhere.
For a more cultural / scenic experience in Galway, we recommend the Galway Cathedral. We don’t tend to take pictures inside of the churches we visit because we feel disruptive when there are people inside at prayer. You’ll just have to take our word that the architecture is powerful. You can see James’ thoughts about it on his website Write with Lightning.
Walking the narrow road to the Mionloch Castle is also worthwhile. The riverside castle is overgrown with vegetation and very much the kind of sight we like to see.
We tried to take a shortcut back, but the road progressively became less and less travelled and ended in a bog.
Fortunately, we were visited by these horses along the deserted road which made the mistake worthwhile.