There's a saying in this city that's spoken in hushed Irish tones. "If you come here for a weekend, you'll stay for a year." Not because it takes that long to recover from a Guinness hangover. More likely it's because Galway exudes an ambience typical of castaway seaside places - one that's been set adrift from time. Stay too long and you could meander through the cobbled streets months after you've missed the flight home. Stay just long enough and you'll embrace a city that typifies Irish culture much more than Euro-centric Dublin. Either way you'll find a soulful escape, just two hours from UK airports. Galway has kept itself true to its Irish roots, without the tacky leprechaun keepsakes. It's also a town that's always been welcoming to outsiders. Galway translates to 'place of the foreigner', in Irish. Festivals happen on a near-on monthly basis. In September it's the run up to the Oyster Festival. The town's renowned for seafood. If you tire of all the gorging, you can kiss the Blarney Stone 90 minutes drive away drive away. So if you fail to pull a lyrical-talking Irishman, you can smooch that instead, and get lucky in an entirely different way.
WHERE TO STAY?
If you're prone to a bet, like many of the Irish folk we met, The Clayton Hotel is set in close proximity to the Ballybrit Race Tracks, which runs a racing festival in October. The hotel comes with sauna, fitness rooms, and a breakfast plate big enough to satisfy all the members The Pogues in one go (from £105 a double, per night). The Amber Bay is a more low-key bed and breakfast overlooking Galway's stunning beaches at Salt Hill (from £79 for a double per night).
WHERE TO SHOP?
Galway is not high on the roster of best places in Europe to clothes shop. The meagre Euro exchange rate and lack of competition for places offering chic fashion, means that you're better off buying in the UK, or on the net. But for charming Celtic keepsakes you won't be lost. One of Galway's most famous exports is the Claddagh ring, given as a symbol of friendship or worn as a wedding ring. It originated in the Irish fishing village of Claddagh, just outside the city in the 17th Century. The distinctive features are two hands clasping a heart, and usually surmounted by a crown. More bohemian shopping is found at the arts market held at Spanish Arches in the old town every weekend. The site is a landmark that was once used as a trading post for locals to barter with fleets coming in on Spanish Armada ships.
WHERE TO PARTY?
Galway is the spiritual home of the craic-loving Irish , which means a party can happen anytime, anyplace, anywhere, and still go on until 9am. For bars and outlandish cocktails, try The Living Room that keeps on thumping until 3am most nights. Great pubs are found everywhere. For impromptu explosions of Irish folk music try The Kings Head or Quays Bar. Many nightclubs have the opposite policy to snooty equivalents in the UK, and give out free hand stamps in order to welcome people in, such as GPO . Walk through the city centre on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, and you'll be inundated with invitations.
The premier festival celebration is the Galway Arts Festival which takes place in July, with a mix of dance, music, comedy and literature and a carnival to finish the proceedings. The programme is a mixed bag, comprising events like talks by Christina Lamb, one of the first war correspondent to comment on contemporary Afghanistan and Pakistan, to show-thumping music legends like Blondie. Outside these times you'll find always find cultural fixes at the Town Hall Theatre or the Bold Art Gallery. For hearty Irish grub and the town's famous seafood, try Martine's Quay Street Wine Bar, or Artisan restaurant found just down the road (+353 91 532 655).
Aer Arann claims its aircraft emit fewer carbon emissions, and fly from London Luton to Galway from £42 one-way, and Manchester to Galway from £32 one-way, both prices include taxes, it also flies from Edinburgh, Newcastle and Cardiff. For reservations call 0870 876 7676.
For more information on Ireland, click here or call 0800 039 7000.