The Most Beautiful Beach in Ireland.
As the summer rolls on, so do my staycations in Ireland, and I’m totally cool with that. My recent trip across the country to the West included exploring more of Co. Galway and the biggest of the Aran Islands, whilst ticking off a few new things and finding my favourite beach in Ireland.
TRAVEL & ACCOMMODATION DETAILS
Myself, Mei Ling and Lorna headed over to Galway City from Dublin on a Friday morning with a 2.5 hour drive ahead of us. We stayed in Salthill, moments away from the promenade in a nice apartment, but one that could do with some TLC from the host.
Salthill Seaside Apartment is run by Malcom, which I booked via Airbnb. At first the apartment was a bit hard to find, and check-in was tricky as our host didn’t give me the correct codes to enter the building. He did respond after about 5 minutes of calling him, and so eventually we got through the two sets of doors.
My room featured a double bed, vanity table, wardrobe, with an en suite and a balcony that connected to the girls’ room. Mei Ling and Lorna shared the second bedroom, which also featured the same facilities but with the bathroom in the next room. The mattresses in both rooms weren’t the most comfortable but doable, though the sheets were quite thin, which was helpful for the heatwave conditions.
My en suite bathroom had a standing shower, toilet and sink but with only one spot to hang a towel, and there were no complimentary toiletries nor hand sanitiser – however the previous guest’s left-behind shower gel was still in the shower cubicle! The living room had two couches, a small coffee table as well as a telly; while the dining table was surrounded by four chairs. The balcony was littered with cigarette stubs and a left-behind beer can, though the clothes horse was handy for drying our swimwear.
As aforementioned, our host did not leave us any toiletries or complimentary groceries, which, given the price we were paying of €80 pp/night, I felt was a bit stingy. The kitchen cupboards had some of the essentials such as tea & coffee, pots & pans, cutlery & delph, glassware and the likes – however we did thoroughly wash the mugs and glasses before use as they were a bit smeared. The fridge/freezer had a lot of food that was clearly left behind from previous guests and not thrown away by the host, which we found quite unprofessional and rather unhygienic given the COVID-19 times we’re still in.
Overall, it was an adequately nice stay, in a great location, but I must say the apartment needs some TLC.
RECOMMENDATIONS – SIGHTSEEING
We spent three days around Galway, starting off in Galway City, then to Inis Mór and lastly around Salthill. Ireland has a plethora of wonderful sights to see, and a number of things were ticked off the list, resulting in what was only one weekend in Galway feeling like a much longer staycation.
Fun Fact: I’ve never spent time or really been to Galway City itself!
On our arrival Day One, we stopped and had lunch at The Jungle Café, which is a fabulous spot on Forster Street just down from the iconic An Pucán pub. It’s as though you’re walking into a Caribbean jungle with all of the greenery and fauna. Afterwards, the girls and I went on a wee tour of all the main streets and areas around the city including Eyre Square, Shop Street, Quay Street, the Latin Quarter, and then to the infamous Spanish Arch, across Wolfe Tone Bridge and the O’Briens Bridge too. There was quite a busy buzz about Galway City, even amidst the ongoing pandemic, and was very populated around these main streets.
There was a lot to see and read around the city, which I alway love. The exterior design, painted walls & murals and architecture of Galway City is very admirable, notably many of the pubs such as The King’s Head, Tigh Neachtain and Monroe’s Tavern.
As well as these pubs, the Treasure Chest on the corner of William Street and Castle Street still stands beautifully, it was established in 1966, while Cupán Tae on Quay Lane has such an adorable window display with hanging cups and the abundance of floral bouquets. I also loved learning more about the iconic Claddagh ring, where Thomas Dillon on Quay Street are the original makers of the Claddagh ring, which was established back in 1750!
Salthill is only a 10-minute drive from Galway City, and after checking-in to our accommodation we had a wander about the village and then wanted to go for a swim at Grattan Beach.
Unfortunately for us…there was a bit of a thunderstorm with all the lightning! We were only seconds in the sea when the lifeguard came running towards us to get out of the sea: because if lightning hits the sea, it goes across the water like a sheet and if we’re in it at that time…we could die. So, that was us told!
Inis Mór (Inishmore)
On Day Two, we were up early for a full day trip to Inis Mór, the biggest of the Aran Islands. The ferry leaves from Ros a’ Mhíl (Rossaveel), which was only a 45-minute drive from Salthill, though I would allow an hour’s drive with traffic. We booked in advance via Aran Island Ferries (€30 pp), nabbing the 10.30am ferry to Inis Mór and the 5.00pm return.
It was such a calm trip across the North Atlantic Ocean with blue skies, blue waters and sunshine. You will need to wear your face mask throughout the ferry trip and there’s hand sanitiser on board too. The ferry crew are also very helpful with answering any sightseeing questions or giving recommendations – kudos to crew member Andy for his brilliant tips and bants on board.
Although we didn’t pre-book bicylce hire, upon arrival the queue for the Aran Island Bike Hire (the one on the right-side of the pier) moved very swiftly. Bike rental is €15 pp, however there is a €20 deposit per group, which you do receive back upon returning the bikes. My main tip here is that they’re cash only – so be sure to have enough or visit the Spar first (where they have the only ATM on the island!).
We first cycled towards Dún Aonghasa, which is an historic fort set on dramatic 300ft cliffs. This was a 40-minute cycle from the pier, with a few stops along the way including seal spotting at the Seal Colony Viewpoint and petting a few lovely horses too! The 20-minute uphill hike to the viewpoint at Dún Aonghasa is steep, so for anyone with bandy knees, please take your time!
Afterwards we went in search of the renowned Poll na bPéist (The Wormhole), which was a 20-minute wander across limestone fields. The views at both Dún Aonghasa and the Wormhole are rather stunning, the latter where you’ll see many mad yokes jumping in too! Poll na bPéist is a naturally-formed rectangular shaped pool into which the sea ebbs and flows, and was used for the Red Bull 2017 Cliff Diving World Series. There are a few different walks to get here, and three different levels too, but we made our way to the top tier for the best views.
After all the exploring in the hot temperatures, we were itching for a swim in the sea and walked back to Kilmurvey Beach which is absolutely beautiful. Tranquil yet full of life, this beach is a popular swim spot on the island amongst locals and tourists with white sands and turquoise waters. This is the Caribbean of Ireland.
The swim here was most welcomed, though there were a lot of non-poisonous jellyfish in the water and along the beach too – so keep an eye out if you’re a bit nervous! After our swim sesh, we cycled back towards the Inis Mór pier for our 5.00pm ferry ride back to the mainland.
On Day Three, we opted for a bit of a lie in before a morning on the water. We headed to Blackrock Beach in Salthill, which is a popular spot amongst locals and is also home to the area’s Diving Board. The water was so calm and clear, it’s a glorious swim spot! We had great fun on the beach and in the water, plus I went out on my first solo paddle board thanks to Lorna, a.k.a. Instructor Boss! I really enjoyed the peace and quiet of being out on the ocean with the blue skies and sunshine above, and even saw a few schools of fish on my paddle.
Wine & Dine – Eating Out
As a foodie, there’s always a list I’d like to tick off when dining in a new city. Having garnered a number of recommendations from my colleague and the Tripadvisor community, I knew where I’d love to wine and dine with the gals. Unfortunately though, not only was Ireland still in an outdoor dining-only restriction at the time of visiting Galway City, but many restaurants were also operating on a walk-in basis, while those that took reservations were booked weeks in advance. Therefore, we really had to wing it!
As mentioned above, we had lunch at The Jungle Café, where I ordered the Açai Smoothie and the Smoked Salmon with Ricotta Cheese & Dill Sandwich. Both were absolutely and a great feed after the long drive over. The vibe, the greenery and the Caribbean decor of The Jungle Café are bang-on, and it really took me back to Mexico! The sandwich was flavoursome and fresh, and the açai smoothie had a lovely fruity punch to it – and I adore the Kilner glasses! I do recommend visiting The Jungle Café when in the area.
Due to the thunderstorm, we decided to dine locally in Salthill on Friday evening, but due to the nature of walk-ins or reservations with outdoor dining only, we found it difficult to find a spot for dinner. We walked the main Upper Salthill Road up and down before returning to R.M.McCabes Gastropub, where we were seated at a barrell on the path by the outdoor dining terrace – we then nabbed the outdoor bar top table when it became available!
I ordered the McCabes Fish & Chips, which was served with Chips, Mushy Peas and Tartare Sauce. It was a very tasty dinner, with two very generous portions of fresh fish and plenty of chips. And though I’m not the biggest fan of mushy peas, these ones were damn tasty! The service was good and the staff were friendly. Alongside a glass of Mór Gin on ice, myself and the gals had a lovely dinner…even if we were sitting roadside.
Hoping to have a fancier dinner in Galway City on the Saturday evening, we headed towards a few restaurants that were on my list. But again, due to the aforementioned problem, we had to do a few rounds and asks at restaurants, before deciding upon John Keogh’s Gastropub.
We did have to wait about 15 minutes but were then given a smaller table than a group who were in the queue behind us, even though both tables were available when we were being seated. The menu was also much more limited than anticipated, with only one fish option. In fact, there was only six items on the menu, none of which were specifically starters nor main courses.
Hesitantly, I ordered the Beer Battered Atlantic Hake. It was served with Triple Cooked Maris Piper Chips, a curry aïoli and a salad. Having had a fish & chips dinner the night before, this did not compete. The chips were crispy, and though the fish was okay, that curry aïoli does not go with fish. In my opinion, the flavour profiles were just wrong. I asked if they might have tartare sauce or garlic aïoli, to which the server said “they don’t do tartare sauce” and only gave an option of plain mayonnaise. I was also disappointed that there were no fresh vegetables. As for the salad? Well, sadly…it wasn’t much of a salad.
Before heading back out on the 2.5-hour drive back to Dublin, we stopped into The Neighbourhood Café in Doughiska for lunch. I nabbed an Oreo Bite and a Kinder Bueno Milkshake, as well as the Cajun Chicken And Jalapeño Ciabatta. The sweets were delicious, and the toasted sambo was just what was needed after the morning swimming and paddle boarding. I highly recommend their milkshakes if you’re parched and in the mood for something sweet!
PLEASE NOTE DURING ALL CLOSE-PROXIMITY ACTIVITIES ON MY TRIP, I DID WEAR A FACE MASK, WASH MY HANDS AND/OR USE HAND SANITISER, AND KEPT A 2M DISTANCE FROM OTHERS TO ABIDE COVID-19 GOVERNMENT GUIDELINES
Photographs © Nirina Plunkett