Better Than Dublin? 6 Ways to Soak Up Galway’s Quay Street
The heart of Galway is Quay Street, pumping out a rich blend of ambience, music, food, history, people, and more. Just how cool is Quay Street? Hah, nice try. Read on to find that out—and more tips from one of EF Ultimate Break’s resident Irish experts (and incredible Tour Director), Laura. Here’s our (and Laura’s) friendly-argument-over-a-pint for why visiting Galway, and heading straight to Quay Street, makes our list of must-dos when in Ireland.
by Harry Gordon
January 21, 2021
You don’t really “get” Ireland until you’ve been to Galway. We mean it. Far from being a twin or even a cousin to the more renowned Dublin, Galway is like a best bestie—sharing tons in common, while surprising you with their unique take and style. Visiting Galway is so key to experiencing authentic Ireland that it’s a destination on every one of our Ireland tours. And if you're a first-timer to Ireland, you'll no doubt want to make a stop here (or, you know, just let us take you). In fact, it’s so downright awesome, we even close out our tour of the British Isles with a couple days in Galway.
In Galway, Quay Street is the cultural and entertainment mecca. But don’t just take our word for it. We asked EF Ultimate Break Tour Director Laura—proud Irish local and world-class tour-giver—for her tips on making the most of your time here.
The historic Spanish Arch, an unofficial starting point for your Quay Street crawl (of the pub or sightseeing variety). Top: gabriel12/Shutterstock | Bottom: JordiCarrio/Shutterstock.
Spanish roots, Irish moss
Marvel at the history of Galway’s Spanish Arch along the River Corrib.
Let’s get it out there and say that calling Quay Street a “street” may be a little ambitious—and that’s a good thing. Owing to Galway’s history dating back to the Medieval era, the street is narrow enough that cars and trucks are prohibited, but wide enough to allow for some most excellent walking and outdoor people watching.
Galway was a very successful port town, trading goods with the old world and, when it was “discovered,” the new world. So, when you get here most of the buildings you will still see today along the cobblestone streets were built in the 1400’s. During its heyday, the sailors and merchant traders from France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal would dock in the Spanish Arch and head straight to Quay Street for tasty food, good drink, unique gifts, fun dancing, and to do whatever sailors in the Middle Ages did. Cut to today and we walk in their footsteps, looking for the same fun and enjoyment. Well, except for the “do whatever sailors in the Middle Ages did” part.
Start where those sailors did at the Spanish Arch, settling you into the awe-inspiring knowledge that what you are about to do has been going on for centuries. The arch represents both the ancient beginnings of Quay Street, as well as the physical starting point of your Quay Street adventure. The stonework, while quite old, still holds up strong in these modern days, proving a real testament to the skill and hard work of the masons long ago. You’ll be starting right along Galway Bay, orienting you to the port’s origins and firming that long history of global trade long before there was even a sense we were on a globe.
Enjoy a variety of street performers all day long. By night, hit a spot like The Quays for live music and dancing. Top: Jon Chica/Shutterstock | Bottom: gabriel12/Shutterstock.
Get your sax on
From street buskers to live music venues—and a silent disco?
Once on Quay Street, it’s worth just a walk to see the architecture, watch the people, and feel the vibe. Soon enough you’ll encounter THE thing Galway is most famous for—buskers. What’s a busker? Why it’s someone who engages in busking, said the worst dictionary ever. Buskers are musicians who play out on the street, and you’ll find impressive music of all genres throughout Quay Street and beyond. In fact, Ed Sheeran got his start as a busker in Galway, and whether you’re a Sheeran fan or hater, it’s clear that some high quality tunage can be heard here.
With all that musical talent, Quay Street also offers plenty of venues to watch amazing acts while enjoying a pint or two or three (though no one’s counting). EF Ultimate Break Tour Director Laura—one of the expert Irishwomen that lead our tours of the Emerald Isle—suggests Busker Browne’s for its “variety of live music styles, like jazz, blues, and folk.”
And what better recco is there than one from a true Irish local? Here’s some other venues Laura digs: “For traditional Irish music on Quay Street, there’s no better spot than Tig Cóilí, Irish for ‘house of music.’ Patrons can get down on a ‘session’—where anyone with an instrument is welcome to jump in and play along. No pressure (but really a ton of pressure). Later in the night you will find more traditional Irish and folk-rock music at The Quays—my personal favorite. It’s the best place to dance the night away! If you’re looking for something a little more alternative, cross the bridge to get to Galway’s Westside neighborhood to find Roisin Dubh. Watch a gig, laugh to open mic comedy, or even participate in a silent disco!” (Shhhhhh… people are dancing.)
Featured Trip: Grand Tour of Ireland
9 days. 4 cities. All the Guinness and craic (good times).
Pros: Frolic amongst the gorgeous countryside then cozy up in a pub with a pint and acoustic melodies. By the end of this trip, you'll be convinced Ed Sheeran's "Galway Girl" is about you.
Cons: You'll grow so fond of traditional Irish music, buy a fiddle, quit your job, and try to make it as a busker. Reality check: you won't. But you'll always have that night at the Temple Bar.
Neachtain's is a people-watching gold mine. Top: Anton Ivanov/Shutterstock | Left: Joaquin Ossorio Castillo/Shutterstock | Right: Romrodphoto/Shutterstock
Sit down, bottom’s up
Hone your gift of gab over a Guinness or Irish whiskey.
Past the whirling music and nightlife, there are plenty of spots to just sit, relax, and enjoy a cold drink (or neat with a twist, if you’re a fancypants). Of course, you’ll find plenty of pubs along Quay Street, and Tour Director Laura suggests Tigh Neachtains as a cozy little spot where “you can sit outside, watch the world go by, or chat with the friendly locals.” Far from a myth, Irish folk love chatting people up (that famous Ireland gift of gab), and in many instances, you won’t be the one to initiate the conversation. They're happy to talk to visitors and proud to tell you about what makes their corner of the world so great. Don’t expect to be just an audience though, they’ll be curious about what brings you to Galway. Remember, this is a very old port town, and its culture of worldliness endures... even in conversation.
While you’ll certainly be poured the perfect Guinness no matter which pub you hit, the other drink Ireland is famous for is whiskey. Garavan’s prides itself on its selection of Irish whiskey, coupled with its very knowledgeable and amiable staff, ready to offer their recommendations. Drinking decades-old whiskey next to centuries-old edifices is something you can’t just do anywhere. So bold in their presentation, Garavan’s doesn’t offer tasting “flights” but instead “platters.” That’s right, you’ll be trying different whiskies served on a platter. Maybe straight whiskey is a bit much for you. If so, then you’ll be happy to know Garavan’s is just as famous for its Irish coffee. Whether you’re up for sipping in the afternoon, starting off a night with a platter, or winding down with some whiskey-infused coffee (or hey, coffee-infused whiskey), Garavan’s offers an experience centered around the greatest of Irish spirits.
It's not all pub fare on Quay Street. Being a port city, Galway boasts some of the finest, freshest seafood in Ireland. McDonagh's is known for its fish and chips. Top: PayaoK/Shutterstock | Bottom: Milosz-Maslanka/Shutterstock
Seafood, eat food
The fish is fresh, the chips are crisp, and a full Irish breakfast can do wonders for your hangover.
You’re probably not surprised to learn that the most authentic experiences along Quay Street involve music, drink, and friendly people. Here’s what you may be surprised to learn.
First, there is some truly tasty food to be had here. Get your fill of local fare at Monroe’s Tavern, located just across the bridge south of Quay Street. Fitting for any port city, seafood options abound here including fresh Galway Bay mussels, seafood chowder, and Atlantic prawns. Land-based fare includes traditional dishes like Irish bacon and cabbage, and something called “A Proper Steak Sandwich” which sounds equally delectable and daunting. Open from morning to night, a traditional Irish breakfast is also offered—for when you need some greasy carbs to soak up the previous night’s liquids.
Not to be outdone by its neighbors in the UK, Ireland boasts some tasty fish and chips, as well. Our Irish Tour Director Laura recommends McDonagh’s on Quay Street, which she calls “cheap and cheerful, definitely the spot for this traditional staple of British Isles cuisine.”
For an upscale option, there’s Cava Bodega, which pays homage to Galway’s Spanish past. This tapas eatery is a mix of locally sourced ingredients with an authentic Spanish palate. The flavors may seem decidedly not Irish, but these are as true to Galway’s gastronomy as McDonough’s fish and chips.
Featured Trip: England, Scotland & Ireland
17 days. 6 cities. Infinite fairytale vibes.
Pros: Experience castles, pubs, Beatlemania and Harry Potter sites galore in the United Kingdom and Ireland's premier cities. Relish the quaint countrysides juxtaposed with booming metropolises.
Cons: You'll realize you've been pronouncing Edinburgh wrong your whole life (it's Ed-in-buh-ruh, or simply Em-bruh to the locals).
The iconic Galway photo along the River Corrib is actually the village of Claddagh, where the Claddagh ring was created. Quay Street has plenty of jewelers to peruse—and possibly head home with a shiny souvenir. Top: AlexMastro/Shutterstock | Bottom: Madrugada Verde/Shutterstock
Emeralds and gold
Go jewelry shopping in the village famous for the Claddagh ring—symbolizing love, friendship, and loyalty.
Your second surprise comes in discovering that Galway has contained within it a small fishing village called Claddagh, the namesake of the Claddagh ring. Not familiar? A Claddagh ring traditionally has the features of a heart, hands, and crown and—depending on which finger and what direction it’s worn—indicates the romantic availability and interest of the wearer. Finely made Claddagh rings have been the province of this area for centuries, and this is why you’ll find many shops along Quay Street and the surrounding area that specialize in them. They’re hard to miss with the word “Claddagh” often right in their name. It’s fun to look at all the different rings, as well as the other fine jewelry available. You could walk out with a centuries-old tradition right on your finger.
Stroll down quaint side streets like Kirwan's Lane or simply take in stunning views of Galway beyond Quay Street. Top: Rihardzz/Shutterstock | Bottom: STLJB/Shutterstock
Wander (of) the World
Beyond Quay: Discover all of Galway—and Ireland—with EF Ultimate Break.
Here’s the final surprise we have about Quay Street. The adventure goes WAY beyond the street itself and, on an EF Ultimate Break Ireland tour, we bake in plenty of free time to explore in between set activities. Get oriented along Quay—then let your curiosity be your guide. Explore the whole area, going down offshoots like Kirwan's Lane or Druid Lane, which are even narrower, with their own little alcoves, shops, and pubs.
Make your way to other streets and areas filled with their own rich history. Embrace “getting lost” without actually being lost. Your dedicated EF Ultimate Break Tour Director (just one of the amazing benefits we include in all our trips—along with your flights and accommodations covered in the cost) can tell you the best things to do, from fascinating museums and attractions to hole-in-the-wall pubs and hidden-gem restaurants.
Visiting Ireland with EF Ultimate Break means safe, stress-free group travel. Come solo, with a BFF or a significant other, but leave with a bunch of new friends. Your trip to Ireland will definitely be memorable, and like us, you may find that Galway is one of many highlights.
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by Harry Gordon
Harry is a travel writer for EF Ultimate Break. He’s also comedian, improviser, and actor whose claim to fame is office supply commercials. His favorite city to visit is London, while a quiet forest anywhere will always be his true love.