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Arty and bohemian, Galway (Gaillimh) is legendary around the world for its entertainment scene. Brightly painted pubs heave with live music on any given night. Cafés spill out onto winding cobblestone streets filled with a frenzy of fiddles, banjos, bagpipes, harps, tin whistles, guitars and bodhráns (hand-held goatskin drums), and jugglers, painters, poets, puppeteers and magicians in outlandish masks enchant passers-by. Actors in traditional Irish theatre tread also the boards around town.
Galway’s streets are steeped in history, yet have a contemporary vibe. Students make up a quarter of the city’s population, while the remains of the medieval town walls lie between shops selling Aran sweaters, handcrafted Claddagh rings, and stacks of secondhand and new books. Bridges arc over the salmon-filled River Corrib, and a long promenade leads to the seaside suburb of Salthill, where at night the moon’s glow illuminates Galway Bay, where the area’s famous oysters are produced.
The city’s smorgasbord of eating and drinking options ranges from the market – where farmers in Wellington boots unload soil-covered vegetables – to adventurous new restaurants redefining Irish cuisine. Sprawling superpubs with wooden staircases serve frothy Guinness, Galway Hooker ale and Irish coffees.
Even by Irish standards, Galway is renowned for its rainfall. This is a city where locals don’t say ‘It’s forecast to rain tomorrow, ’ but rather more dubiously, ‘It’s not forecast to rain until tomorrow.’ To be fair, you can be lucky with the weather, and on a sunny day the city is positively hopping. But the rain scarcely dampens Galway’s atmosphere, which is exuberant at any time of year – and especially during its myriad festivals.
Galway is often referred to as the most ‘Irish’ of Ireland’s cities (and it’s the only one where you’re likely to hear Irish spoken in the streets, shops and pubs), but some locals lament that these may be the last days of ‘old’ Galway before it absorbs the effects of the country’s globalised economy. But for now at least, Galway remains true to its spirited roots.
Read more: Lonely Planet