“What’s the best thing about Galway?” My taxi driver is the latest local I’m mining for an insider take on the city du jour.
“The best thing about …” he taps the steering wheel thoughtfully, “is that it’s so laid-back”.
Too true. If this beacon of bohemian was anymore laid-back it would roll right off its bayside plateau. My arrival was a perfect example: this chilled-out city is a patchwork of one-way streets, but drive down one the wrong way and you’ll barely get a raised eyebrow, let alone a gentle beep.
Combining city status, village friendliness, university town-ness and artistic mecca, Galway moves at about the same pace as the mellow strumming of its buskers’ guitar. Winding pedestrian streets serve as a cosy catwalk of pubs and restaurants to cultivate a year-round street party atmosphere. Any given Saturday night can feel like an impromptu festival, but with the calendar of shindigs here, you’re more likely to encounter a fair of some kind than miss one.
July’s all-singing, all-dancing, all-parading is the big one. It has the big top (watch it being put up on this video) and big names, including movie star Cillian Murphy, pop icons Blondie, hip hop legends De La Soul and author Colm Tóibín. Add the spectacular only-in-Galway Macnas festival parade, and it’s clear these guys know how to defend their 30-year title of Arts calendar heavyweight.
Close on their heels is the glamorous hat convention (this is Philip Treacy’s home town after all) that is the week-long . Festival fever stretches right into autumn with Galway’s , and festivals.
If you manage to be awkward enough to avoid all the festivals, the varied venues are distinctive enough to warrant a visit themselves. There’s the ivy-clad elegance of (home of acrobats at the festival), gig-central Roisín Dubh (watch James Vincent McMorrow and Gemma Hayes), home of history and hub of art and literature .
Dinner is an event in itself around these parts, as it can be the final destination for whatever came off the boats that morning. Oscar’s Bistro has the special touch right down to the red ribbons in the waitresses’ hair, with guaranteed local ingredients, daily meals based on the day’s catch, and its signature dish, Prawn and Chilli Samble, a towering tepee of veg, rice and seafood.
Philip Treacy’s is a lesson in sheer chic. ‘This must be the place’ declares the neon lights at the entrance, and the Alice-in-Wonderland lounges of monochrome striped carpets, pink chairs with wings and tables that literally glitter doubtlessly establish it as THE place. Drop in for a five-star coffee, cocktail, dinner or hotel stay, depending on your budget.
It was the taxi driver who imparted the keenest advice though: best bet for Saturday brunch – go alfresco at the ; best pub to watch a match – The Skeff on Eyre Square, and best you-won’t-believe-you’re-not-in-Italy pizza – Il Folletto on Quay Street.
The thing I loved most about Galway?
Galway Arts Festival 2011 takes place from 11 – 24 July
Galway Summer Race Festival takes places from 25 – 31 July