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.