Because Ireland is my second home (I lived there for a few years after college and my husband is from there), my friends and family always ask me about St. Patrick’s Day — Is it amazing there? Is it worth it to plan a trip? Is it a do-this-before-I-die bucket list item? Where should I go? And my answers to all of those questions are always yes, yes, yes, and Galway.
Ireland is incredible on any given day (as long as it’s not sideways raining), and St. Patrick’s Day takes it to another level. While most people think Dublin is the best place to be, I always tell anyone who asks to go to Galway, a small city on the country’s west coast, which is where I lived and went to school. The city, which feels more like a town, has everything you could want when you think of Ireland: some of the best pubs in the country, the friendliest people, quaint little streets, sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, and breathtaking countryside. It’s less touristy and busy than Dublin, and is much more beautiful.
If you’ve never been to Ireland (or Galway) before, it’s easiest to fly into Shannon Airport, rent a car (essential!), and drive to Galway. The journey takes about an hour, which is better than the three-hour drive from Dublin Airport. The city also has a wide variety of B&B’s to choose from, but one that my family has stayed at numerous times and loves is the Petra House (Frank and Joan are the best, and their homemade scones will solve all of your problems). If you’re looking for something cheap and want to be in the middle of the action, go for Barnacles Hostel. It’s on Shop Street (the main cobblestone street where no cars are allowed), so you could literally fall out of the door and into the pub.
The St. Patrick’s Day festivities, like they do almost anywhere in the world, start early. Like, really-need-to-pace-yourself early. Galway has a parade that goes down Shop Street, and usually starts around 11:30 a.m. Before you can finish your full Irish fry breakfast (another must), the pubs are overflowing with people, and if the weather is nice, Shop Street will be packed with locals singing classic Irish songs and clinking their creamy pints of Guinness together in celebration. If it’s rainy and cold, fires will be roaring inside the cozy pubs and people will be sitting around them drinking hot toddies. You’ll hear music from live trad sessions spilling out of the nearest open pub door, and everyone is just . . . happy. You’ll feel that long talked about Irish welcome and hospitality, even at 4 p.m. in the middle of an all-day drinking session. It’s an indescribable feeling, and it’s something everyone should experience.
Shop Street is the main area for drinking on St. Patrick’s Day, as that’s where most of the pubs are, but Eyre Square in the city center is also a must-see. One of the best pubs in the entire city, O’Connell’s Bar, is on the edge of Eyre Square, and they’ve also started to turn the Eyre Square fountain green for the day. If you’re staying put on Shop Street, the best pubs are Taaffes, Tig Coili, The King’s Head, and The Front Door. And since they’re all a few steps away from each other, you can hit them all as the day goes on (although, if you can actually get a table or booth anywhere, I’d highly recommend hanging onto it). And if you need a midday snack, definitely try The Pie Maker (it’s right next to The Front Door). The flaky crusts and creamy fillings are just what you’ll need to soak up the rest of your pints.
While the St. Patrick’s Day drinking session is fun, my favorite part about spending St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is the next morning. When you’re feeling a little rough, just walk down to Salthill for the best cure. Soak up the salty sea air, have a 99 cone (it’s not 99 cents, but it’s 100 percent worth it), and, if you’re feeling bold, take a dip in the cold water to wake you up. You’ll look around at the scenery that truly looks like a painting, think of the epic day you just experienced, and feel really happy with your decision to celebrate Ireland in, well, Ireland. You will never regret it. In fact, I think you’ll want to make it an annual thing.