The plane touched down bright and early on a sunny day in Ireland. After a long flight from Singapore, we had returned, for a third time to the Emerald Isle. We had an excellent reason to return this time, the Galway Oyster and Seafood Festival.
Last year we spent some time road tripping around the Coastal Causeway, ducking into Northern Ireland, and enjoying the coastal areas of Donegal. However, besides a quick trip to see the Halloween Parade, we never explored much of Galway.
It left us wanting more. Ireland may look like a small country on a map, but to explore all that the island has to offer would take years! The glory of the country and what continues to draw visitors back and back again are the stories of the land and people.
The story for us this time was about was one about the sea, food, mountain vistas, and history all culminating in the Galway oyster festival. Who can complain about any of those things?
Galway is a City of Festivals
The city of Galway has been dubbed “Festival City” and is well known as the festival capital of Ireland. Throughout the year the city draws in visitors from all over the world for world-class events, like St. Patrick’s Day in March, the Galway Races in the summer, Galway Jazz Festival, the Comedy Festival, and Galway International Arts Festival in October. A lot is happening in this little Irish city, and that extends beyond the song “Galway Girl” and enticing pubs that are world famous.
Last October we visited for their annual Halloween parade which may have been the best we have ever witnessed. It’s more a gorgeous art show than a parade with beautiful costumed performers and floats that tell a narrative. To this day, it’s one of the most incredible parades we’ve ever seen and can not recommend the event enough. If you happen to be in Ireland during Halloween add this to your list! Macnas has been putting on the festival for 32 years check out their site for the details.
However, this year piqued our interests even more than before, I mean can you not drool over thousands of Galway Flat Oysters? Let’s dive into this seafood festival head first!
The Galway Oyster Festival
The native Galway Flat Oyster comes into season every September through April. There’s no better or Irish way to celebrate this wild Atlantic and salty oyster than with a giant festival, a few pints of Guinness, and live Irish music in Galway Bay Harbour. In celebration of the season, the Galway Oyster and Seafood festival happens on the last weekend of September every year and has over the previous 64 years.
It may have started as a little gather of a couple of dozen people, but since has grown to include several thousand people and truckfuls of oysters. While you can enjoy oysters all year, like Oyster Pacific Oyster or Giga, the festival highlights the native flat.
Learning To Shuck, an Oyster
We launched the event with a live stream on Lonely Planet’s Facebook channel. It was a great chance in which we hooked up with Michael from Kelly’s Oysters. They’re the ones responsible for supplying all of the delicious bivalves. We were in good hands while Tasha learned to shuck an oyster on live “television.”
I’ll let you all in on a secret, Michael was kind enough to break the back for her before giving it a go live. In real life, it’s super hard, and we have to give major props to the professional shuckers out there! I gave it a try myself and broke the joint on three different oysters before finally getting it right on my fourth.
Galway Oyster Festivities
The festival takes place over three days with several events extending the weekend. We visited the festival’s 64th year, which makes it the longest running Oyster Festival in the world. That’s right the festival has been running since 1954 and has served up millions of oysters over the years.
Over the three days, you can come to expect plenty of parties and live music. All of it is sure to grow your appetite as the whole city takes part in the festivities with outdoor shuckers, specials in restaurants, and specialty food tours.
We got to learn more about the fantastic food scene and the terroir of Galway at the Michelin Star restaurant Aniar. Chef J.P. McMahon taught us more about the incredible food products and flavors available in the surrounding region; of course, the sea was a highlight. What amazed us most was his adherence to local avoiding everyday kitchen staples like chocolate, pepper, or vanilla.
Visitors can learn more about seafood and enjoy oysters as the festival brings about a “Seafood Trail” across the city. A collection of local restaurants serve up fresh oysters and seafood specialties all across the city center.
The main event occurs on Saturday when a parade of oyster shuckers led by local school bands that march down to Galway Harbor. Once the procession arrives, the party starts with plenty of oysters, champagne, and stouts of Guinness.
With a live band on the stage throughout the day and plenty of food and drink the atmosphere buzzes. A day built totally around oysters is one we were happy to partake in having several dozen oysters ourselves over the day, because why not! As they say, “when in Galway…”
Every ticket into the Oyster Festival includes a plate of a dozen oysters, wine or beer, and two plates of food from the other seafood venues – and of course a full day of fun!
World Oyster Opening Championship
The festival’s culmination and the central event for the Galway Oyster and Seafood Festival are the World Oyster Opening Championship. As revelers dine on bushels upon bushels of oysters the best shuckers from around the world belly up to the table to show off their skills. The Galway Oyster and Seafood Festival is a world event that draws in contestants from every continent to show off their skills.
Each contestant has 30 oysters that they must open as fast and clean as possible. The quality of each oyster is vital as contestants receive penalties for damaged or dirty oysters. So even if a shucker finishes first, it does not mean he has won. This year the reigning champ, Anti Lepik, returned to win it all representing both Ireland and his home nation of Estonia.
Learn More About Galway
When you visit a city like Galway, you should take some time to learn a bit about its colorful history. We hit the streets of Galway on walking tour with Galway City Tours and the owner Shane.
It was a great chance to learn about the various famous landmarks and history in the city. We’re big fans of having a guide to explore just about any destination as it always provides us with a greater understanding rather than walking around aimlessly. The highlight was learning how to make the Claddagh Ring, a traditional Irish ring, which represents love, loyalty, and friendship!
Where to Stay In Galway?
It’s tough to get a better location that the Jury’s Inn. It’s located smack dab in the middle of Galway only a few minutes walk to just about everything.
The Galmont Hotel & Spa
A posh waterfront hotel that is set on the Lough Atalia. It only 230 m from the Galway railway station and a 5-minute walk from Eyre Square.
We often opt to stay in Airbnb while traveling as it allows us to cook and relax in the comforts of a home. We didn’t stay in one for the festival as to add to growing rent prices in the city, but we did stay in this lovely home on the coast after the festivities.
If you want to know more learn about our best Airbnb tips or want to pick up a coupon, read our post about Airbnb.
How to make the most out of a trip to Galway?
Of course, you can’t travel to Ireland to stay in Galway only. Although it’s a fantastic city, we recommend getting out of it for a bit and seeing the countryside. If you can swing it, I would highly suggest staying at least a week in Ireland. Allocate two to three days to Galway and then rent a car and spend the rest of the week seeing a bit more of Ireland. Like with any trip abroad you’ll have to get out of the city to see the more rural, and often more enjoyable, ways of life. Here’s what we got up to this time around if you want to follow our exact route.
We started our trip back to Ireland with some sightseeing in the Western part of Ireland. Connemara is arguably one of the most breathtaking regions of Ireland and draws a comparison to the Scottish highlands. It’s a coastline of small villages, rolling hills, lakes, and mountains.
The Twelve Bens are the monuments of the region. It has a wild expanse of bogs and lakes along with wildlife. That extends to a wild herd of Connemara ponies who live in the Connemara National Park.
With a few extra days to the lead up of the festival, we spent some time exploring the region. The natural beauty took us by total surprise and on our drive in, and we found ourselves pulling off to the side of the road to take a walk or photo multiples times. We hadn’t had that feeling since we drove around the Scottish Coastline on the North Coast 500.
Clifden is the beating heart of the region and the best place for tourists to make a hub to explore Connemara National Park, at least in our opinion. It’s a Victorian-era town set along the famed Wild Atlantic Way. That means it’s a coastal town set along the mouth of the River Owenglin with access to the sea via a long narrow bay.
It’s well known for its music scene with several pubs offering live music almost every night of the week. We had just come off an 18-hour flight and drove three hours from Dublin, but still managed to poke our heads into Lowry’s tavern for a “welcome to Ireland pint.” As with almost every night in Clifden, we were greeted by live music and a spirited crowd.
There are also several lovely cafes and tasty restaurants in the town. We enjoyed Guy’s Bar, Twelve Darcy, and the Steam Cafe. If you’re looking for activities in the area, there is also a bike shop in town that was calling our names, but with only so much time we didn’t have a chance to give it a go.
Cnoc Suain may be the best cultural experience you can have in the Galway region. And that’s in an area that is brimming with cultural experiences! Cnoc Suain is a collection of small cottages set on on top of a hill. It all plays well to the name since Cnoc Suain means “restful hill” in Irish, although we still can’t pronounce it!
Your hosts Dearbhaill and Charlie could not be more welcoming and eager to teach more about the history of the property and Irish culture. The two teach you about Irish food, history, music, and the surrounding landscape.
Their passion for their culture is evident, and they reel you in getting excited when you drive a pole deep into the surrounding bog or taste a traditional dessert made from algae.
We can’t recommend visiting them enough. If you want to do so visit Cnoc Suain website and fill out the contact form. They also run a lovely Airbnb we wish we’d known about in advance, but hope to stay there next time. (Oh, Ed Sheeran may or may not have visited if there are any fans out there).
Connemara National Park
If you’re looking for hikes in the area, this is the place to head. The park covers around 2,957 hectares of sprawling mountains, deep bogs, grasslands, and woods. Several of the Twelve Bens are within the park.
Several walking trails begin at the Visitor Center that provides you a chance to explore the landscape. It includes some stunning views from the 400 meters high Diamond Hill. We had our minds set on climbing the hill despite some bad weather, but it wouldn’t let it up, and we found ourselves staring at a wall of low lying clouds late in the afternoon. So no photos from us! For wildlife lovers like ourselves you the park is home to some wild ponies, red deer, and an abundance of bird-life.
If you’re seeking a property with the best setting in Ireland, then look no further than the picturesque Kylemore Abbey. The abbey and its Victorian Walled Garden are a highlight of Connemara. Even if you don’t have plans to explore the surrounding area you should make the one hour drive out from Galway as the ride is jaw-dropping.
Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden is the ideal destination, at any time of year, for a day out in majestic Connemara. Located just over an hour’s drive from Galway City, a visit to the beautiful 1,000 acres Kylemore estate will rank as an unforgettable memory.
This town is in the interior of Connemara. After spending some time at Cnoc Suain, we went to this little Irish town to spend the afternoon relaxing on the banks of Lough Corrib before the water starts its journey to the Atlantic Ocean. We had some of the best mussels we’ve ever had at Powers Thatch Bar and Restaurant! Of course, a Guinness and Irish Coffee were enjoyed too, perfect end to a day.
Where to Stay in Connemara and Galway Region?
Clifden Coach House
We found this little bed and breakfast to be super charming. It’s no frills but offers guest clean and comfy rooms along with a common area lounge. The best of it
We haven’t stayed at this famed castle as of yet! However, if you’re looking for the best hotel in all of Ireland this place will certainly make the list. It’s also a Natoinal Geographic Unique Lodge, which we’ve stayed at two of earlier this year in Costa Rica and Ecuador.
We often opt to stay in Airbnb while traveling as it allows us to cook and relax in the comforts of a home. If you want to know more learn about our best Airbnb tips or want to pick up a coupon read our post about Airbnb.
Quick Ireland Tips
- ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank You’ in Gaelic: “Dia dhuit” and “Go raibh maith agat”
- Currency: Euro – (EUR) – €
- Visa: The Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland are separate countries on the island of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland known as ‘Ireland’ grants 90-day visas. Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom also grants 90 days.
- Weather: Expect lots of weather! Ireland is known for having rapid shifts in and lots of rain – it’s only the only reason a country like Ireland remains so green and fertile. See our full packing list here.
- When is the best time to visit Galway? Ireland is a fantastic country to visit year round. Though you’ll find crowds during the summer. My favorite time to visit Ireland is in September when the weather is cool and the crowds are low. Plus it’s when the famous Galway Oyster Festival happens!
What to Pack for Ireland
It should go without saying that the weather in Ireland can be a bit rainy, this is the most important item in your suitcase. You have two options for style of rain jackets. The first one we recommend is a classic outdoor rain jacket that is a solid choice for outdoor adventurers. The second option being a trench coat for those looking to maintain style while dodging puddles. One of the best raincoats for travel is the North Face Resolve.
The fleece sweater is a perfect layer when combined with an outer shell to keep you warm. We purchased wool sweaters from independent retailers in Ireland, and good ones were fairly easy to find for a decent price. For those with less time a little bit of online shopping for wool sweaters will suffice. Start here!
Hiking PantsTechnical pants like these
are water resistant and dry quickly, not to mention they’re comfortable on long walks. These pants can be pretty ugly, but if you’re serious about exploring and hiking in Ireland I would suggest picking up a pair.
It’s wet in Ireland and you can expect a lot of boggy weather year round so packing a pair of good waterproof boots for hikes is crucial for protecting your feet. Good Boots or hiking shoes for Ireland are essential.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem everywhere so it’s best not to contribute to the problem by buying plastic water bottles everywhere – plus the water from the taps in Ireland is perfectly safe to drink.
We’ve shifted to using an insulated aluminum water bottle as it handles the hot sun well. However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottles for travel in our post.
We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen in a foreign country and it’s best to be prepared. World Nomads provides good short term coverage.
Remember that Ireland uses the three-prong British plug. Make sure you have a universal travel adaptor like we have before landing!
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