LONDON (Reuters) - Known as Ireland’s most Irish city, Galway is making a name as its cultural capital.
Located 130 miles (210 km) west of Dublin, at the edge of Europe, the city’s remote coastal position has not deterred visitors that over the years have included Christopher Columbus, John F. Kennedy and the Spanish Armada.
Also known as “the city of tribes” after the 14 merchant families that ruled between the 13th and 19th centuries, Galway has the highest concentration of native Irish speakers. It is the birthplace of James Joyce’s wife and muse Nora Barnacle.
The university draws youth into this medieval city whose arts and music scenes are thriving despite Ireland’s near economic collapse and painful austerity policies.
Live music is standard fare in the pubs, so don’t be surprised if a group begins what looks to be a spontaneous session.
Galway’s festival season that used to run from May to October is expanding to meet the demands of increasing tourist traffic. The city is preparing for science and visual arts festivals in November and the Continental Christmas Market.
Here are tips for getting the most out of the Galway area from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.
Mark Twain could have been talking about Galway instead of New England when he said “if you don’t like the weather just wait a few minutes” as you’ll need to pack sunglasses and an umbrella for the daily rain, hail and sunshine.
Nestled in the Galway Bay, the combined effects of the Atlantic ocean and Twelve Pins mountains mean the weather is far from boring.
The city is a gateway to the rugged Connemara region, while the wild ocean is a favorite among water-sports enthusiasts.
One of Galway’s assets is its compact size. Its historic landmarks are conveniently located with 10 minutes’ walk of each other, meaning they can all be visited in an afternoon. Galway is best explored by foot as public transport is limited.
Following the Salthill promenade walk, which begins at the edge of the city near the Spanish Arch - built in 1584 as an extension of the city’s ancient walls - you will see the Claddagh area, famous for its old Irish wedding jewelry, and the three beaches of Salthill, an old seaside resort.
The hills of Clare can be seen on the walk and on a good day the Aran Islands - Ireland’s most famous islands, that can be visited from Ros a’ Mhíl, a port 23 miles west of Galway.
By the end of the seaside walk visitors should follow locals who “kick the wall” - a tradition whose origins are unknown - before turning back, and for the brave, a refreshing dip into the bay off the Blackrock diving boards is a must.
In a city surrounded and divided by water, those looking for a river tour can take the Corrib Princess from Wood Quay to Lough Corrib, Ireland’s second largest lake.
Galway’s high-profile visitors have been making their mark for centuries so to retrace their steps start with a visit to the central square (Eyre Square to locals) renamed Kennedy Memorial Park after a visit from the U.S. president.
From there, meander down Shop Street - a pedestrianised walkway where you can buy Claddagh jewelry, Aran sweaters and other Irish goods.
Midway down the street you’ll find Lynch’s Castle, once home to one of the most powerful tribes in the city but now a bank.
While some visitors might be drawn by Galway’s cathedral whose green copper dome can be seen from many vantages of the city, locals favor St. Nicholas cathedral where Christopher Columbus is believed to have stopped and prayed in 1477.
Two minutes from the church is the family home of Nora Barnacle which claims to be the smallest museum in the country.
From there a walk along the river Corrib will take you to the Bridge Mills, built over 400 years ago, which is the start of “The West” where trendy bars, coffee shops and restaurants have emerged, creating a booming food culture.
Although by this time of year the oyster and theater festivals have been and gone, the city’s new identity as an artisan haven means any time is a good time to visit.
It took a while to develop but Galway is now a city of foodies. Whether it’s the Michelin starred Aniar, McCambridges deli and restaurant or Kai that has just been named Ireland’s restaurant of the year, Galway is winning awards for showcasing Irish produce.
On Saturday the Galway market, held outside St. Nicholas Cathedral, bustles with stalls selling anything from doughnuts, to falafel to madras pea and potato curry.
Queues can be long for the cities favorite eateries at peak times of day.
(This story has been refiled to clarify origins of wall-kicking tradition unknown, in fourteenth paragraph)
Editing by Robin Pomeroy