Ireland: Guide To Galway

This past year Madison and I got to check off a lifelong bucket list item when we visited Ireland. Long before we ever stepped a foot on it's beautiful soil, we fell in love with the country through movies, history lessons, and of course your typical girly books about castles & the love stories that surrounded them. {What can we say, we're suckers for love!] Ireland always seemed like a faraway dream, but luckily, it finally became a reality this past spring when we decided to cross the Big Pond and visit Europe for the first time. Of course, a week long tour of Ireland was mandatory {and completely worth it!}, so we wanted to compile a list of places to see & things to do throughout Ireland in hopes others will fall in love with & enjoy Ireland just as much as we did!

To start, let's just say you'll know you’ve reached Ireland when all you see is green… and not one shade of green, but as the Irish say, "40 Shades of Green." Ireland might be one of the easiest and cheapest places to fly into {fist bump all you poor out-of-college-kids blessed with the travel bug}, especially when you fly into the Shannon Airport located on the West side of Ireland.  You can find flights under a grand from the United States, and once you arrive Ireland’s bus system, Bus Éireann, can take you all over the island in a matter of hours.

{*You can rent a car if you want more control over where you go, but the Irish rely on these bus lines for transportation, so the bus lines really do take you to anywhere you need to go.*}

Say Hello To Galway!

Galway was the first stop on our exploration of Ireland & a great place to start our tour of the country. Galway is known as the Croí Cultúrtha na hÉireann, or “Cultural Heat” of Ireland. It sits on the West Coast of Ireland, and is one of the largest populated cities. It has a variety to offer --- traditional music, beer (Guinness’s of course), food, shopping, and plenty of touristy sites to see. The most breath-taking scenery imagined also surrounds the city's outskirts, and is a MUST see on your trip! By far, Galway was one of our most favorite cities we've ever visited, so trust us when we say--you won't regret spending a couple days exploring the ins and outs of this city!. 


The first place to head to in Galway is Quay Street, pronounced “Key”, located in the Latin Quarter. It’s the main hub of Galway and where all the restaurants, bars, and shops are located. The street is cut off from traffic, making it a more intimate and authentic experience as you walk down it's streets full of live music and brightly-colored buildings.

A great place to grab a bite to eat is The King’s Head , which dates back to 800 years ago and gains it name through the execution of the King of England, Charles I.  The King’s Head offers a variety of food ranging from Traditional Irish Stew and fish and chips, to chicken wings and avocado and ham quesadillas. Plus, if you're beer-naive like us, it was a great place for us to try our first sips of the famous Guinness beer! After that, head on over to Taaffes Bar for more beer and Irish coffees, and which hosts traditional Irish music at least twice a day, every day. For dessert, Quay Street offers a variety of crepe shops-- believe us, you can’t go wrong ending your day with a Nutella crepe! 


Although a very young church (completed in 1965), it’s still so magnificent you HAVE to see it. It’s also called Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St. Nicholas, and is located on Nun’s Island (the west bank of River Corrib). It’s the largest church in Ireland to be made out of stone, and hosts a dome that is 145ft tall, and can be seen from all over Galway.  The church also hosts intricate stained glass windows and Station of the Cross as well.

Other sites to see in the city itself include: Lynch’s Castle, Menlo Castle, Claddagh, The Hall of the Red Earl, and the National University of Ireland Galway.

Next, spend a day touring the surrounding County Galway and County Claire.  The best way to go about this is by tour. We picked the Galway Tour Company, which offers many different packages & all for pretty cheap prices (ours was only 25 Euros!) We did their longest tour (10am-6pm), but it included all the sites we wanted to see --- Corcomroe Abbey, Poulnabrone Dolmen, Ballyalban Fairy Fort, Leamaneh Castle, Kilfenora/High Crosses, Coolin, Black Head, Dunguaire Castle, and last but not least, the Cliffs of Moher.


Our first stop was at Corcomroe Abbey, which dates back to the 12th century, and features beautiful arches, detailed carvings, and Celtic burial crosses. Anyone can be buried there, so grave sites range from the 800s all the way to present day!

Our next stop was to a fairy ring, where we learned about the folklore around the fairies. A circle of trees is considered to be a fairy ring where Druid magic can still be found, and where the entrance to the “other world” is hidden. {Also this is where you can find Leprechauns who know where gold is buried... I mean, psh... If you're into that kind of stuff... *WE ARE*} Folklore or not, the country will actually build roads around these tree forts in fear of disturbing the fairies, and therefore being saddled with bad luck the rest of their lives.



We then traveled through the Burrens, "Boíreann" meaning a rocky place,  which is an area covered in rocks {duh} that were left behind when the glaciers moved across Ireland. Located in the Burren was the Portal Tomb {Poulnabrone Dolmen}, which dates back to between 4200 BC and 2900 BC. It consists of two standing rocks, with a slab of rock across the top. {Sounds basic, but these "slabs of rock" hold  boatloads of history & cultural significance.} In fact, when excavated, there were over 16-22 adults and 6 children found from different centuries buried beneath the tomb.

After capturing some ‘Pride and Prejudice’ moments amongst the rocks {wrong country, wweee kknnooww, but really this should surprise no one...}, we headed out of the Burrens into the cutest little town nestled in the hills, called Doolin. There we ate at a cute little tea and sandwich shop called The Ivy Cottage and Tea Garden, and browsed the local stores. If you're looking for that "small town" feeling, Doolin is a great place to visit PLUS the view of the surrounding landscape is TO DIE FOR.


 Finally, we were off to the Cliffs of Moher!

I mean HELLO! Talk about breathtaking scenery! When the phrase "died and gone to heaven" is used, this is what comes to mind...

 When you first arrive you have to hike up the cliff, so prepare yourself for that!. You have two options--You can either go to the right first, which has Brian's Castle (dateing back to 1835) perching on the edge of the cliffs. Here you can climb to the top of the Castle and onto the roof for a view of the Aran Islands, Galway Baym and Hags Head. {Fun fact, as if the cliffs weren't already magical, you can also see the cave and rock that were filmed in the sixth Harry Potter movie, "Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince." }

Or, you can go to the left where miles and miles of cliffs jut into the ocean and give you plenty of time walk along it's ledges and soak in it's majesty . Walking alongside the edges of the cliffs is very doable on a clear day like we had, but make sure and pack your walking shoes because it's about a 5 mile hike! 


We then traveled along the Atlantic coast back to Galway. Before reaching it, we did get to stop and see many more sights, but the most amazing site to end the trip with was Dunguaire Castle! Dunguaire has been sitting proudly on a piece of land that jaunts out into the Galway Bay since 1520. The castle is fully intact and hosts banquets where you can find traditional music and locally sourced food. When we were there, the castle was clearly reflecting in the water and made the perfect ending for our picture perfect time in Galway! 


Stay tuned, Next up: Cork & Kinsale!!