Set on a wide tidal bay, Galway City is a young and vibrant port city with a strong musical tradition. Offshore, the windswept Aran Islands have a mystical feel, while the Connemara peninsula is criss-crossed by narrow roads that wind through deep green valleys and end at white sand beaches.
A favourite pastime for Galwegians and visitors alike is walking along the Prom, the seaside promenade running from the edge of Galway City to the resort of Salthill, where you’ll find plenty of cosy pubs. Local tradition dictates ‘kicking the wall’ across from the diving boards.
Three spectacular forts stand guard over the Aran island of Inishmór, each believed to be around 2,000 years old. Chief among them is Dún Aengus, which rises up from the 60 metre high cliff face (00 353 99 61008; heritageireland.ie; Inishmór; 9am-6pm, Mar-Oct; £2.50).
The slow coastal route (R336) between Galway and Connemara takes you past pretty seascapes and villages. There’s a Blue Flag beach at Silver Strand, dense green forest at Barna Woods, traditional music at the Tigh Hughes pub in Spiddal, and tidal marshes and bogs at Kilkieran Bay.
Arranged around a harbour, Roundstone is one of Connemara’s most attractive coastal villages. Colourful terrace houses and pubs overlook Bertraghboy Bay, with its lobster trawlers and currachs (Irish boats).
Connemara National Park spans 2,000 hectares. The heart of the park is Gleann Mór, through which the River Polladirk flows. There’s fine walking up the glen and mountains (00 353 95 41054; npws.ie, heritageireland.ie; Letterfrack; 10am-5.30pm, Mar-May and Sep-early Oct, 10am-6.30pm, Jun-Aug).
Eat and drink
Crane Bar is the best spot in Galway to sink a Guinness and catch an informal ceilidh (music and dancing). Situated in an old pub building west of Corrib village, bands play in its rowdy upstairs bar; downstairs the bar is filled with local characters (00 353 91 587 419; thecranebar.com; 2 Sea Rd, Galway; pint of Guinness from £3.40).
Tig Congaile is located not far from the pier on the island of Inishmaan. Guatemalan-born Vilma Conneely owns the b&b and restaurant and wins plaudits for her use of local ingredients. Her sea-vegetable soup is famous (00 353 99 73085; Moore Village, Inishmaan; lunch and dinner; mains £4, dinner £17).
Finnegans serves up utterly unpretentious Irish cooking with great comfort food, including homemade shepherd’s pie and desserts like Baileys cheesecake (00 353 91 564 764; 2 Market St, Galway City; lunch and dinner; mains £9).
O’Dowd’s is a well-worn pub that hasn’t lost any of its appeal since it starred in 1997 film The Matchmaker. Restaurant specialities include local seafood (00 353 91 35809; odowdsbar. com; Main St, Roundstone; lunch and dinner; mains £12-£18).
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more romantic place than Currarevagh House, a rambling 19th-century mansion on Lough Corrib’s shores. Serves Connemara smokehouse salmon (00 353 91 552 312; currarevagh. com; Oughterard; dinner Mar to mid-Oct; four courses from £38).
Letterfrack Lodge is a hostel-cum-hotel which acts as a walkers’ base for the Connemara National Park. Eleven doubles are furnished with pine beds and cheerful artwork. Owner Mike is a great source of local knowledge (00 353 95 41222; letterfracklodge. com; Letterfrack; campsites from £10, doubles from £42).
Cloch na Scíth is set in a storybook garden where ducks and chickens roam. Owner Nancy cooks bread in an iron pot over the peat fire (as taught by her gran, and she’ll teach you) in her centuries-old thatched cottage. A separate self-catering cottage is great for families (00 353 091 553 364; thatchcottage. com; Kellough, Spiddal; B&B £65, cottage from £250).
Built as a location for the 1930s documentary film, the Man of Aran Cottage is a thatched island house and its stone-andwood interiors define charming. The owners are organic gardeners – their bounty can be your meal (00 353 99 61301; manofarancottage.com; Kilmurvey, Inishmór; Mar-Oct; from £75).
Located in Galway’s Latin Quarter, the Spanish Arch Hotel has a great location. A former 16th-century Carmelite convent, its solid-timber bar has a great line-up of live music. The décor is classically elegant (00 353 91 569 600; spanisharchhotel. ie; Quay St, Galway; from £80).
Steeped in Victorian grandeur, the atmospheric Lough Inagh Lodge is midway up the gorgeous Lough Inagh Valley, off the R344. Set against a hill, it has a plum position on the water. With smoky peat fires, it’s kitted out in a country-house style (00 353 95 34706; loughinagh lodgehotel.ie; Lough Inagh, Connemara; from £150).
Bus Éireann serves Galway’s towns from the station off Eyre Square (buseireann.ie). Hire a car at the airport (£25 per day; budgetireland. com). Aer Arann serves the Aran Islands (£40; aerarannislands. ie), as does Island Ferries (£20; aranislandferries.com).
Aer Arann serves Galway Airport from London Luton (£180), Edinburgh (£168) and Manchester (£156; aerarann.com). A taxi from Galway Airport costs from £14. Citylink runs bus services from Shannon Airport (from £14; citylink.ie).
The article 'Mini guide to County Galway, Ireland' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.