Galway’s Harbour Hotel is ideally positioned just a few minutes walk to the city centre. Better still, it’s just had an extensive refurbishment,checks in.
We timed the journey badly. Very badly in fact. Kick-off in the Ireland V Wales Six Nations game was about to begin as we pulled out of our drive heading for Galway. This meant the only voices in the car for the entire trip were Michael Corcoran, detailing the action, and my better half roaring his advice as he frantically gripped the steering wheel.
Despite only a passing interest in rugby, I got totally caught up in the thrilling encounter, so when we pulled into the carpark of Galway’s Harbour Hotel with five minutes to go before the final whistle, we tore through the lobby and straight to the bar like a couple of thirsty pilgrims about to end a Lenten fast.
We were just in time to witness Jacob Stockdale surge past the Welsh defence to keep Ireland’s Grand Slam hopes alive (and we all know how that wonderful story ends) and the bar erupted into chants and cheers. As a result, the atmosphere in the hotel, as in the city as a whole, was electric, on what was an otherwise bitterly cold and overcast Saturday. Indeed, Galway always has a good vibe to it, despite its often dismal weather, making it a great weekend destination.
The Harbour Hotel, unfortunately, doesn’t offer panoramic views of Galway Bay as its name might suggest, but is ideally located on the city’s docks, just a two-minute walk from the hustle and bustle of Eyre square, and with secure, on-site parking.
Built in 2001, the hotel is part of the the MHL Hotel Collection, and keeps good company with the 5-star Glenlo Abbey, Limerick Strand, The InterContinental, The Westin, Hilton Hotel Charlemont, and Trinity Hotel, Dublin. It’s just had 30 of its bedrooms revamped along a nautical theme, giving them that spanking new, never-slept-in-before feel. Bright and comfortable, the rooms offer plush king-size beds, Nespresso machines, super-fast wifi, USB ports to charge your phone or tablet, flat-screen smart TVs, and an unexpectedly spacious and powerful walk-in shower.
Given its central location, the hotel is targeting the 30-40 age group (which we fit into by virtue of outlook, even if our birth certs say otherwise), professional couples looking for a weekend, or midweek break.
The fact it doesn’t have a swimming pool means it’s less likely to attract the family market, a plus for us as there were no noisy kids screeching in the corridors, or grabbing the best bits at breakfast. With our two left at home in the care of granny, we were like a couple of 20-year-olds let loose and keen to sample what the city has to offer.
After our frenetic drive and the excitement of the rugby, we wrapped up well and headed out for a stroll. The place was literally hopping, with fans clearly intent on making a day and a night of it, and a surprising amount of tourists soaking up the atmosphere. No trip to Galway would be complete without a visit to the iconic Quays pub. I’d never been before and was wowed by its interior, with fabulous stained glass, carved wood, Gothic arches and pews, but a bit put off by the heaving throngs. Next stop was the less crowded Dail bar, which has a real ‘old Irish pub’ feel to it without being cliched. Imagine our surprise when we discovered it’s only been in existence for a number of years.
Galway, like Kilkenny, has managed to retain a healthy and eclectic mix of local shops and independent cafes holding their own against the high-street usuals, which lends it much of its charm. Restaurants were keen to advertise their ‘locally caught’ and ‘locally sourced’ produce, and at prices that wouldn’t break the bank and talented buskers on almost every street corner added to the festive atmosphere.
We headed back to the hotel, and after a quick wardrobe change, enjoyed a pre-dinner drink in the bar. At this stage, many of the rugby revellers had thankfully departed, and the bar had taken on a relaxed, comfortable vibe, perfect for enjoying a refreshing Hendricks over ice (I know, since when did a simple G&T become so complex?). There’s also a wide selection of cocktails on offer which had me tempted.
Dillisk on the Docks restaurant was revamped a year ago, and if the night we stayed is anything to go by, is a popular spot for both hotel residents and locals. My heart did sink a bit when I spotted the large hen party but they were remarkably low-key and well behaved; I wonder was the same true at 2am?
As the name suggests, the menu embraces the best the west coast has to offer, and I was swayed by delicious pan-fried prawns with chili and garlic to start, and a quinoa-coated fish burger, served with sweet potato fries and a lime coriander spiced crème fraiche, making me feel very virtuous. My better half went for the more traditional offering of a Hereford prime 8oz steak, with home cut chips and sautéed onion with mushroom and asparagus. And keeping a bit of room, he managed to squeeze in a lime creme fraiche cheesecake, with ginger nut base.
On the a la carte menu starters range from €6 to €12 (for the seared scallops), while mains go from €15 to €25, with plenty of choice to keep the carnivores, vegetarians and pescatarians satisfied. For the sweet-toothed, dessert will set you back €6-€7, and there is also a table d’hote menu.
The wine list nicely mixes the old and the new, and ranges from €24 for the likes of a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc to €45 for a heavy-hitting Valpolicella. Being French fans (except on the rugby pitch), we opted for an Organic Muscadet de Sevre et Maine, deliciously refreshing (€32).
There’s live music in the bar but well sated and in need of a bit of fresh air we (bravely) headed back out into Galway’s nightlife. Based on a recommendation we tried Tribeton, one of the city’s newest additions and an impressive spot to behold, but the place was literally packed to the rafters.
Instead we headed for the more sedate surroundings of the Hotel Meyrick on Eyre Square, which I was last in when it was the Great Southern (God, we’re getting old). We called it a night just before the witching hour, which meant we were up bright and early to enjoy the buffet breakfast at the Harbour Hotel, where the pancakes went down a treat.
We gave a (very) fleeting thought to availing of the hotel’s fitness suit, before instead wisely opting for a bit of last-minute shopping, a warming cup of coffee in the very charming An Cupan Tae, before a much more sedate journey back to Cork.