Heading to the Galway Races? It's time to take a few tips from our very own racing expert on the best breakfast, restaurants and bars that Galway has to offer. And there's a few tips on how to survive it too.
There is a place, a magical place, where the air is hotter, the music is louder, the style is unrivalled, and you’re the odds-on favourite for some romance. And no, it isn’t Ibiza. It’s Ballybrit – the home of the Galway Races, the biggest meeting on the racing calendar, not just for the horses, but for the social aspect too. Friends come together, families reunite, and lovers rejoice.
Four years of living in the City of the Tribesmen has taught me that you can have it all at the races – the highs, the lows, and the gin. I have lived, died and been rebirthed, sometimes all at once, on Shop Street. And so can you. But even the most seasoned of racegoers needs a guide. It can be the trickiest of weeks. Meticulous planning and tactile decision-making are critical. Where do you drink and eat? How do you get there and, more imperatively, how do you get back? Because if you don’t know, you may well find yourself standing in the middle of the N6, with a drink and shoes in hand, butchering “Galway Girl” for the 20th time that day.
Breakfast and getting there
It’s best to get yourself ready for the week’s activities with some early morning soakage, as my generation would call it. Ard Bia and The Cellar are two of my top breakfast picks. Ard Bia for the pancakes and The Cellar for a classic full Irish, also known as the cure. You see, breakfast is the most important meal of the day in Galway. Meals are few and far between. You might try a hot dog, or maybe some chips and gravy from the carvery if you’re feeling fancy, but be prepared for hunger pangs. However, you won’t notice, because you’ll be too busy jiving to “Walk of Life” by Dire Straits with some lovely man you just met from Tipperary who said he may or may not have a tip for a horse.
Getting to Ballybrit is the easy part. You’re sober, full of hope, dreams, and money. Unfortunately, on your way home, you’re slightly inebriated and broke. Shuttle buses go from outside The Skeff in Eyre Square to the racecourse each day, and a return ticket will cost you only €9. The bus is by far the finest way to travel during the races. The pre-race journey is a quiet affair, solemn in nature, but the return journey is a Vengaboys-themed rave. If, like me, you enjoy a sing-song, make sure to belt out a version of “Travelin’ Soldier” at the top of the bus. You’ll get bizarre looks, but by God, you’ll get the crowd going.
Trust me, I know from experience.
Ladies Day delight
Ladies Day is by far the best for a girls’ day out, but it’s a long one, and hair can only stay perfectly curled for so long. Flats are essential, so make sure to bring a pair. Limping on the rocky terrain of the car park while you carry out your own episode of The Ultimate Quest for a Taxi is unforgiving and uncomfortable. The queues for the bathroom are neverending, but you will make some great friends who will give you scintillating life advice and a spare hairbrush. Make sure to take care of your headpiece. Many fabulous ones have been lost in these escapades. If you do lose it, do not attempt to ring the racecourse or email them to look for it at midnight. Once again, please, trust me. This is a past real-life experience.
Galway is blessed with a fountain of tantalising restaurants, which will fulfil all your post-racing needs. Your thought process may be hazy at this late stage, but you need fuel if you wish to continue the Galway Races dream into the early hours. The Asian Tea House is the place for a palate kick and some refreshing cocktails. Dough Bros does the best pizza and beer. And McDonagh’s is ace for a classic fish and chips.
Bars and chipper
Navigate the bars of Galway with straight-arrow precision. The Skeff and An Púcán are both located in Eyre Square, so are both perfect starting positions. Then, parade your way to the top of Shop Street, where Tig Cóilí wraps you in a hug of tourists and Irish music. Next up is The Front Door, where without a doubt, you will get lost inside. On your escapade to find your people, you will encounter many a rogue who will undoubtedly try and sell you a horse. They will offer you frankincense and myrrh, and a field in Navan. Be cautious and pay no heed to the words of these rascals. To conclude the night, you have your pick of the best nightclubs. Carbon is superb if you wish to relive youth and subsequently feel old, and Electric is ideal if you have a penchant for hipsters and house music.
And finally, the very best part: The Chipper. Do not try and fill me with false fallacies which say that Supermac’s is the heart of the Galway chipper scene. That crown is firmly set on the head of the city’s most outstanding chipper – The Charcoal Grill. Small in size, but big on flavour, the garlic cheese chip is the best to be found in all 32 counties. The profound joy on the faces of punters as they relish in the garlic goodness at 4 am is a sight to behold.
So, soak it all up – the pubs, the grub, the winners and the romance. Spend all your savings and don’t feel one shred of guilt. Warble your way through “N17” and be on your merry way. It only comes once every summer, so make the most of it.
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