When asked what city I should spend the most time in, every person I asked gave me the same answer: Galway.
Galway is located on Ireland’s west coast, an area known to be one of the most scenic parts of the country. I left for Galway on the CityLink bus from Dublin. Thankfully, another easy find as the bus stop was located right near my Dublin hostel along the river. The ride is about 2 hours and 20 minutes, making it the perfect time for a busy traveler to get a nap in.
The fabulous thing about Galway is that it’s not a super big city and everything is very central. I only walked a mere 3 minutes from the bus stop to my hostel. Galway City Hostel is in a prime location at the corner of Eyre Square in the heart of the city.
I checked into my hostel and began what would be a mild flirtation/sarcastic report with the guy working the front desk. Hey, when in Ireland right?
This was also another very nice hostel - very clean, safe, and they even provide a free breakfast in the mornings. Did I mention this place also has a hair straightener and dryer on hand?
Upon entering my room, however, I quickly learned that while most people at hostels are thrilled to meet new people, the girls I was sharing a room with were the definition of anti-social. Not all was lost - there would be more people to meet eventually.
I took it pretty easy that first day. I walked around the city and checked out Galway’s famous Latin Quarter. Dinner was actually a pretty easy choice that first day. There was a great restaurant/bar right across the street from my hostel called Garvey’s. It had a really cool 1800's design inside. It was also very cozy, which made it the ideal spot to enjoy a meal, a half-pint of Guinness and a good book once the rain set in that evening.
The following day was the big trip to the Cliffs of Moher. I will start off by saying the Cliffs of Moher was without a doubt one of my favorite places I visited during the trip. I lucked out that it wasn’t a rainy day too – win!
I got on the 350 bus to get there. The bus station was located right around the corner from my hostel. The station is called Eyre Square Station. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how conveniently located everything was. Now, it’s worth noting that that Cliffs of Moher isn’t close. By bus, it’s at least a 2 hour ride. In fairness, they make stops in towns along the way, and the ride itself is quite pretty. You get to see a lot of the countryside and cows – lots of cows! I don’t think I’ve seen so many cows in my life. They are literally everywhere over there. Now, this bus advertises WiFi access, but from my experience, it was non-existent. Another opportunity to nap though…
Once you get to the Cliffs of Moher, you pay about 7 euros for access in and then it’s pretty much just a free-for-all.
They have a fence there in the technical sense, but it’s really just a series of short stacks of wood piled together. They aren’t even over the edge either. If you go on the other side of the ‘fence’, you can go right to the edge of the cliffs. You can bet that's what I did too. It’s really thrilling look out over them, though it's definitely not for the faint of heart or anyone with a fear of heights. I couldn’t help but wonder how many putz tourists fell over that thing though. I would hope that’s not the case, but these days, the travel influencers are doing anything for the ‘gram so who knows. All joking aside, the Cliffs of Moher are worth it. It was truly one of the most memorable and beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Sure, it’s full of tourists and not a hip, off-the-beaten-path find, but it’s a must when you visit Ireland.
When I eventually made it back to my hostel that evening, I was greeted by a fellow American, a med student named Erin who was studying abroad in England and taking a short trip to Ireland. We got to talking and went out that night to a pub called Tig Cholli. This pub was super fun and they even had live traditional Irish music.
Day 3. Aran Islands. Well, one island to be exact. The island I was heading to was Inishmore and apparently the rain wanted to join in on the fun. Sure, you’re probably thinking that’s Ireland!'. Fair point. The thing is though, the best way to experience Inishmore is to take a bicycle and ride around the island. When there’s nothing but rain, you’re obligated to take a van tour of the island and it’s just not the same. So, that would be my number one piece of advice for visiting the Aran Islands: make sure to go on a day when it won’t be raining.
In my case, I had already bought my ferry ticket before I left for Ireland, so dagnabbit I was going. Even though I had purchased the ferry ticket online, I still had to pick up the ticket itself at Kinlay Hostel in Galway. I bought my ferry ride round trip through Aran Island Ferries. I then caught the bus to that would take us to the ferry. Heads up: even that bus trip is about an hour.
As I mentioned earlier, the rain means your best option to see Inishmore is by van tour. The good news is that these are done by locals that truly take pride in their home. Our tour guide had lived on Inishmore pretty much his entire life. Considering this is an island with roughly 500-ish people, it’s definitely a lifestyle choice you have to really love. Knowing me, I’d go crazy with boredom being there all the time, but he really seemed to love it. I can't even imagine what dating must be like there...
Perhaps the most interesting portion of my Inishmore adventure was the ferry ride back to the mainland. The waves were super choppy, making it a very bumpy ride. While I loved the excitement of it, the majority of older people that populated that ferry were not having it. Some joked, while others made good use of those motion sickness bags.
The next day was my last in Galway. I figured I would stick around town. Well, that got boring fast. I had already seen most of Galway the first day, and aside from shopping and hanging out at a pub it was only Noon and I didn’t know what else to do. I decided to enlist the help of Google to look up small towns nearby that were a short train ride away, which lead me to Athenry.
I walked over to the train station, got my ticket, and made my way to this quiet little Irish town. It was adorable in its sleepiness. My first stop was Athenry’s heritage center, which is essentially a historic church and cemetery. While I was able to see the outside of the building, I couldn't see inside due to a ceremony going on. It wasn’t all bad though. After the heritage center, I went over to Athenry Castle. I’m always fascinated by these small European and British towns I’ve explored that have these centuries old castles sitting among them. The world around has changed immensely, but still they stand, a constant reminder of the past.
Upon arriving at Athenry Castle, I was greeted by the kindest lady. She assumed I was a student, but when I told her I was not, she still offered me the student price. I’m not sure what was more awesome: someone thinking I was a college student or getting that discount. Keep moisturizing kids.
Athenry Castle was incredible, and the best part is that there weren’t a bunch of tourists either. I was literally one of three people visiting the castle at that time.
I then wandered over to the priory, which was also hundreds of years old. Unfortunately, this one was closed off to tourists but the building itself is quite open, so you can still see inside really well.
I figured my trip to Athenry wouldn’t be complete without a stop in a local pub, but I soon realized I should have just gone right back to Galway. I went into the first open pub I found, only to discover I was the only female there. It was me and a bunch of older, creepy men. Not exactly the scenario I was hoping for. Despite my initial desire to turn around and walk out, I wanted to be polite. Let’s be real: as an American right now, I feel an incessant need to be extra-considerate when traveling abroad. Yet my politeness was met with inappropriate comments, lingering stares, and more reasons why we need the Me Too movement. I was uncomfortable in every sense of the word, and I don’t think I’ve drank a Guinness faster in my life.
I hustled out of that bar and went directly to the train station, relieved to get as far away from there as humanly possible.
At least the day ended on a good note though. I met another fellow American back at my hostel and we went out for my last night in Galway to a bar called The King’s Head. It was the perfect last night in Galway. We were treated to live Irish music and dancing. I loved it.
Next up, it's off to Cork, where I explore Ireland’s most famous castle and have a very memorable kiss…
About the author
Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer, comedian, and television producer who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com