I’ve always said that a mere one night is a paltry amount of time to spend in any city. A city is a vibrant and dynamic place, full of life, culture and a vibrancy that must be peeled back slowly, layer by layer. Visiting a city for a single night is a bit like going to the Louvre and only visiting the gift shop – it’s pointless, unsatisfying and will leave you with a deep pit of yearning that will last you for at least the next couple of days, no matter how many times you tell yourself, “There’s always the next time.”
Alas, there I was – sitting in the uncomfortable confines of a Ryanair flight on my way to a city that I had thus far only heard about through the lyrics of a certain chubby, ginger man with a beautiful voice. I was scheduled to meet some prospective clients for my advertising firm and looked likely to be tied up in meetings for the entirety of the day.
With my return flight scheduled for 9:00 AM the next day, I only had the night (and possibly the wee hours of the morning) to explore the majestic city of Galway, Ireland. I’ve been told by many of my well-travelled friends that Ireland is a country that defies belief and was fuming when my stubborn old boss refused to let me have an extra day there.
I decided to make the best of it and after almost six hours of meetings and presentations I returned to my hotel room, showered, changed and prepared to see as much as I could of this gorgeous Gaelic metropolis!
The first thing that struck me was how vastly different the city seemed to look at night. I had arrived bleary eyed at 7:30 AM local time and while it certainly appeared quaint and pretty over the course of my drive from the airport, it didn’t really look all that different from any other medium sized town in the United Kingdom. However, as I stepped out of my hotel into the crisp, cool night air, I was blown away at the sheer luminescence of this harbourside city. The glow from nearby apartments, streetlights and harbour storefronts all seemed to coalesce into a kaleidoscope of colour with every doorway window radiating a palpable warmth and beckoning would-be visitors to come inside.
I was staying relatively close to the city centre, at a charming hotel known as the Cross Street Boutique Townhouse, and the weekend revelry was already in full swing. A party of men pranced down the main street singing an obnoxiously loudly in an unfamiliar tongue (a Spanish stag do I suspect). Locals, tourists and lovestruck couples walked hand in hand peering into the numerous shops and cafes that lined the street. A group of rowdy children were playing a rather boisterous game of street football in a nearby alley as a busker on the opposite corner added a lively soundtrack to proceedings. Amidst all of this, I suddenly felt a menacing rumble in my belly which reminded me that I had forgotten to eat lunch amidst the chaos of the day’s meetings and decided that my first stop would be to one of Gallway’s many fine restaurants.
After consulting with a group of friendly locals who took pity on the stereotypically puzzled tourist in me I decided to head to ‘Ard Bia’s at Nimmo’s’, a restaurant where I was promised I would find authentically wholesome Irish and English cuisine. A reasonably short taxi ride later I found myself outside the restaurant, with an array of welcoming smells warmly beckoning me inside.
Ard Bia is located near the historic Spanish Arch in Long Walk, Galway City and has a menu that is both elegant and exceedingly scrumptious. The interior is brightly lit, homely and is very much akin to a modern European home rather than a posh restaurant. Wooden furniture and panelling is also present here in abundance with numerous colourful decorative plates providing the perfect contrast to the relatively conservative décor.
I was ushered in by a charming maître d’ whose name I unfortunately did not manage to get. As the restaurant was completely full, I was made to wait for roughly ten minutes but needn’t have worried as my new friend saw fit to keep me entertained for the entire duration of my wait – talking my ear off about the current state of Irish young football. I was eventually seated at a corner table, handed a menu and left to peruse the menu at my leisure.
The food on offer at Ard Bia is a combination of typical Irish staples like beef Wellington, shepherd’s pie and black pudding as well as pan European favourites such as chicken roulade and smoked salmon. They also have specialized breakfast and brunch menus along with an extremely well stocked wine and beer list. I’m normally awful at picking the right dish so I decided to go with a classic beef Wellington and a pint of Murphy’s Stout. The Wellington was par excellence with a delightfully flaky crust encasing a tender, juicy side of medium rare beef. For dessert I settled on a steamed goats yoghurt with roasted rhubarb and pomegranate which was light, frothy and the antidote end to the richness of the Wellington. The portions served here are extremely generous and are perfect for travellers with mammoth appetites! After paying my bill I bid farewell to the gregarious maître d’ and ventured out into the Irish night in search of adventure.
Initially, I strolled aimlessly along Spanish Parade Road occasionally wandering into the odd boutique or trade shop and conversed with the locals inside. They directed me towards a pub known as An Pucan, which as I later learned, is one of the more happening nightspots in Galway. After getting the address, I hopped into a cab and made a bee-line for Forster Street, excited at the prospect of experiencing my first authentic Irish pub. Along the way I passed the Galway City Museum which had closed its doors for the night and made a promise to visit it the next time I visited.
My experience at An Pucan was absolutely delightful and possibly one of the best experiences I have ever had in a pub. If you were to picture a stereotypical bar in the U.K, An Pucan more or less fits perfectly into the very same mould with its wooden paneling, old timey barstools and rows of delightfully oversized pint mugs. What makes An Pucan unique is the positively electric atmosphere within it.
The place was buzzing with noise, revelry and excitement as a traditional Gaelic band serenaded a raucous crowd of punters, tourists and local families alike. A dedicated team of waiters hustled and carried about back and forth bearing steaming trays of chips, dip and burgers for hungry patrons. I was seated outdoors in the beer garden where a football game was being watched with rapt attention by all those present. The Republic of Ireland was playing Scotland in a friendly match for the ages and despite the home team losing by a couple of goals, spirits were still relatively high. I ordered a pint of Guinness and some chips for my table and took in my surroundings.
It wasn’t long before I was befriended by a group of American graduate students at a neighbouring table. The five of them were on a holiday travelling the world and were also celebrating the engagement of one of their number. They regaled me with stories of their travels across Europe, Asia and Africa and pint after pint of Guinness flowed making time ebb away before my eyes. Before I knew it was 4 AM in the morning! I told my new American friends about my morning flight and tried to leave but thankfully for me they were having absolutely none of it. After much arm twisting and cajoling they convinced me to accompany them for an impromptu trip to Carraroe Beach.
It was an admittedly tight squeeze to fit into the tiny Citrogen they had rented but we managed to nonetheless. As we drove through the streets I gazed out at the teeming masses of revellers singing, dancing and laughing the night away without a care in the world. The best thing about Galway is the positive, cheery spirit of its people that was so infectious that it had allowed all the stress and worry of the morning to dissipate into nothingness.
A little while later we arrived at the stunning Carraroe Beach. The sun was just beginning to come up, bathing the shoreline in a gorgeous faint orange glow. A flock of seagulls flew overhead as the waves crashed against the rocks in the distance. An old man and his wife walked across the sand, hand in hand as a dog trailed eagerly behind them. We sat there, just a little behind where the tide was coming in, in complete silence, completely floored by the spectacle we were witnessing. By the time we left, the sun had fully risen and I noticed the piercing emerald hue of the water itself.
After realizing what the time was and that I had a flight to catch, I bid the Americans farewell and took a taxi back to my hotel. I packed my things, had another shower and departed for the airport with a heavy heart, with the memories of the previous night still fresh in my mind.
I haven’t changed my mind and I still firmly believe that spending a single night in a city is an injustice to the soul of any traveller. Having said that, my short trip to Galway still stands as one of the most exciting travel experiences of all time. While I will ensure that I visit for longer at some point in the near future, I wouldn’t trade this particular trip for anything in the world. I can only hope that you have a similar experience. Happy travels!