Get out and explore
There’s nothing like that unique combination of eating, browsing and chatting with locals to get a real taste of a place – Galway’s markets have it all it in spades. The Galway Farmers Market has been going for centuries and while it still does the staples, these days it has more flair with a huge array of food stalls, local crafts and live music to boot.
In the months of November and December, Eyre Square hosts the city’s festive Christmas market – a pretty good take on a classic German Christmas market with over 50 cute wooden chalets selling everything from Gluhwein, crêpes, bratwurst and crafts. There’s also as a 32-metre high Ferris Wheel, a carousel and a chance to visit Santa in his grotto.
Keen sea swimmers will already have Salthill tipped as a favourite swimming spot, particularly in winter when the summer crowds thin out and the dyed-in-the-wool dippers take to the waters at Blackrock. You won’t be alone; go at high tide on a Sunday and you’ll be joined by at least 50 others.
If you’re seeking more thrills, the adventure centre Wildlands is just 10 minutes from the city. On cold winter days head in for all-weather activities like indoor climbing and Crystal Maze-style challenges in an Irish-mythology-themed arena. Enjoy an active afternoon followed by a firebrick pizza and a craft beer at Olive Tree Kitchen. There’s also 20 acres of natural playground to explore, with zip trek courses, climbing walls, bushcraft, walking trails, fairy trails and archery.
The city’s cold-weather credentials also include a handful of great indoor cultural venues. Catch a play, a concert or a festival at the 200-year-old Town Hall Theatre, or soak up some history at the Galway City Museum at Spanish Parade. They run a well-curated series of exhibitions relating to the people and history of the city, including a traditional wooden Galway Hooker fishing boat on display. See an arthouse film at Palas Cinema in the Latin Quarter or escape the bustle and enjoy a lunchtime classical music recital which takes place every Tuesday at the 700-year-old St Nicholas’ Church, built by the Knights Templar and once visited by Christopher Columbus. To see which shows, exhibitions and more are running this season, check out what's on in venues across Galway city.
Wine and dine
Galway is a real gourmet hub, with restaurants that shine all year round. Ard Bia is a firm favourite, and for good reason. It’s modern Irish menus approach local produce with a contemporary twist in an understated yet charming stone building: think winter menus of hot smoked mackerel tacos for lunch and pork fillet with truffle polenta and squash and whiskey pepper for dinner, with views of the River Corrib.
Michelin-starred Aniar dishes up West of Ireland delicacies, often wild and foraged, using traditional cooking methods such as curing, pickling and fermenting. For something quintessentially Irish try the oysters at award-winning seafood bar Kirwans Lane – fine dining without the pomp.
Galway does casual fare well too. The Dough Bros are currently giving Naples a run for its money as some of the best pizza around at their charming pizzeria on Middle St where you can chow down on one of their delicious creations washed down with a craft beer. The humble burger has also had a Galway makeover courtesy of best friends Rory McCormack and Cathal O’Connor at Handsome Burger, winning ‘best burger' at the Irish Takeaway Awards 2023.
Head to the Hyde Hotel for a meal and a killer cocktail at the Hyde Bar or grab a coffee and lunch from the hotel’s Wylde Café where the focus is on sustainable grub. It’s hard to sample all of Galway’s stellar offerings in one visit, but by joining up with Galway Food Tours, you can taste a variety on their daytime and night-time tours, including cycling tours and whiskey tours.
Galway’s beer game is equally exceptional: The Salthouse Bar is a good spot to while away an afternoon with a crafty pint. Learn the art of whiskey, gin and poitín making at the Micil Distillery, now owned by the sixth generation of the O’Griallais family.
If you need a respite from the throng of Eyre Square, nip into the Galway City Distillery just off the square where you can take part in a spirit making masterclass. The distillery is also the manufacturing home of American Village Apothecary, an innovative cocktail bar whose premise is to improve the quality of what we drink using local ingredients.
In a city filled with excellent watering holes, there’s nothing like a cosy pub snug on a winter’s evening. You’re likely to find some spontaneous traditional Irish music alongside your pint at Tigh Neachtain’s, O’Connell’s Bar, Tig Cóilí, Freeney’s and Barr an Chaladh – or you sample a few venues at once on the Irish Whiskey Trail.
Stay a while
Top of the boutique lot is The Twelve, which walks the line between cosy and luxurious. The hotel has several offers that run throughout the winter including added extras such as a free breakfast and even an extra night stay at the hotel.
In the city centre, The House Hotel beside the Spanish Arch and The Snug Townhouse are good modern options that are both welcoming, comfortable and stylish. Nearby city centre boutique The Residence Hotel has 20 individually-designed rooms to choose from. Nox also makes for a chic option, offering contemporary rooms at affordable prices and a great bar and grill for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For front-row access to the Christmas market, Victorian four-star The Hardiman right in Eyre Square will get you in the spirit. For a city stay that has the vibe of a country escape, nothing beats hunkering down in one of The Galmont Hotel’s luxury bedrooms overlooking Lough Atalia in the wilds of winter. They have special winter offers for couples, friends and spa lovers. The Connacht Hotel off the Dublin Road makes a great home base for a trip in and around Galway and has a kids club for family escapes.
Shop for treasures
Wandering up the aptly named Shop Street is a good place to start to get your retail fix, with the likes of Brown Thomas, Galway’s own department store Anthony Ryan’s, Eason and Lifestyle Sports. There’s plenty of hidden gems off the main artery on the tiny laneways where you’ll find everything from old books, vintage finds and local pottery to a traditional Aran jumper.
Pop into Charlie Byrne’s for a quiet browse through their impressive collection of 100,000 books and soak up the character of this lovely old bookshop. Bookworms should also check out Kenny’s Bookshop, which has been selling new, used and rare books since 1940. Follow the scent to Cloon Keen Atelier – a stamp-sized space that invites browsing with luxury scented candles and skincare, all made in An Spidéal (Spiddal).
For that bit of bling to bring home, Hartmann’s has your fine jewellery and luxury watch fix covered, and you’ll find a great selection of vintage jewellery and furniture at Tempo Antiques. The clue’s in the name at Treasure Chest – a collection of homewares, toys, fashion and accessories. Looking for an Irish gift? Head to My Shop… granny likes it, 2 Wild Geese and Judy Greene Pottery.
Pick up an authentic Claddagh ring for your loved one at Fallers Jewellers and cute traditional wooden toys at Wooden Heart. Browse the latest street wear and pick up some stylish accessories for your home in lifestyle store Kind Folk. The added bonus of an in-store café means you can linger a while in the lovely space and enjoy the surrounds.