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The city of Galway is the heart of the county, sandwiched between Lough Corrib and Galway Bay, and has strong links with Ireland’s past – a large proportion of citizens speak Gaelic as well as English. The many pubs make the city swing to the beat of the bodhran and fiddle, but Galwegians’ appetite for fun is tempered by a healthy regard for Galway’s heritage. The old city includes a medieval church, parts of the city walls and other buildings from the time when the 14 “Tribes” – merchant families – ruled Galway.
Elsewhere in the county, visitors can find castles at Athenry, Dunguaire, Aughnanure and Claregalway, several dolmens and other Neolithic standing stones, and Thoor Ballylee, the 16th century keep that poet W B Yeats restored and lived in.
Connemara National Park is one of County Galway’s jewels, studded with mountains, peat bogs and forests. Diamond Hill has a popular nature trail and circular walk, while the spiky Twelve Bens offer superb views of the county on a clear day. To the north, the Maumturk mountains are smaller, with fewer visitors.
Lough Corrib is a peaceful refuge from the bustle of Galway city, with fantastic spots for anglers and other watersports. Nearly 400 islands dot the waters of Corrib, with abundant wildlife and birdwatching opportunities, and several islands are home to churches, monasteries and tiny villages – some in ruins, some still going strong.
The wild western coast of Galway has some of Ireland’s best beaches, all white sand and roaring waves, with Dogs Bay, Silver Strand, Coral Beach, Carraroe, Salthill and Kilmurvey all worth seeing and there are many other blue flag beaches to visit.
The three islands of Aran are starkly beautiful places and their windswept magnificence attracts thousands of visitors prepared to take a 45-minute ferry journey from Galway city. The islands have two of the oldest forts in Ireland, Dun Aonghasa and Dun Chonchuir, Iron Age fortifications that have survived the centuries, along with the thousands of miles of stone walls that criss-cross the islands. There is also a thriving local arts scene and weavers who make the traditional Aran sweater.
With so many places to enjoy the scenery and fresh air, it’s no surprise that Galway is a prime destination for all sorts of outdoor activities, from sea kayaking along the shoreline to exploring the countryside on horseback. Walkers and cyclists can easily lose the crowds either along the coast or in Connemara, and of course there are many, many golf courses to choose from.
Galway city is the best place for the dedicated shopper – the city market in Church Lane has been trading for centuries. For fairies, handicrafts, Aran jumpers, druidic paraphernalia and all things Celtic, there are few places that can match Galway.
The city is also the venue for a horseracing festival in Jul, and the Galway Arts Festival takes over the streets the same month. The Clarinbridge Oyster Festival is a must for seafood lovers – in fact it’s possible to find high class seafood across the county.
The delightful county of Galway, with its spine-tingling scenery, mysterious history and welcoming people, is sure to charm nearly every visitor.