From the panoramic terrace that wraps around Sophie’s, the rooftop restaurant in Galway’s slick new Dean hotel, I can see right across the city.
Turning one way, I get a glimpse of the lead-grey Atlantic at the mouth of the harbour; turning another, I can see some of the region’s impressive mountains rearing up in the distance.
But it’s a little chilly out here on this late summer evening so I head inside to the buzzy, airy space, stylishly decked out with black leather booths, floral- print chairs, modern chandelier-style lighting and a horseshoe-shaped bar.
A mix of locals and tourists are tucking into the likes of grilled sea bream, beef fillet and seafood linguine, and when I devour my beef cheek and burnt leek croquettes (£11) and pan-fried hake with samphire (£22) I’m pleased by how good it all is – but then Press Up, the group that owns The Dean, has a good reputation for bars and restaurants as well as hotels (one, The Clarence in Dublin, is part-owned by U2). Their vibe is fun and funky.
I love the bubblegum-pink walls, the teal subway-tiled bathroom with gold fixtures and the green velvet tub chairs.
Epic touches include a record player and a shelf marked ‘munchies’, which stocks classic Irish snacks such as Tayto crisps and Skelligs Irish whiskey creme chocolate bars, as well vinyl 33s.
There are 101 rooms in total, which vary from a ‘ModPod’ – small but still decently sized – to the rock ’n’ roll-sounding suite that sleeps up to six.
Galway is both a university town and a prime tourist location so the vibe skews young, with animated, casually dressed couples and sets of mates mixed with overseas tourists.
The hotel’s second, hip restaurant is Elephant & Castle, a US diner.
The local vibe
You only need to spend half an hour or so walking down past grassy Eyre Square and through the colourful medieval lanes of Shop Street and Quay Street to soak up the atmosphere. Pubs abound.
One evening I find myself in a packed throng listening to traditional Irish music at Tigh Chóilí in the lively Latin Quarter.
But do head further afield – the Wild Atlantic Way offers picture-perfect fishing villages such as Roundstone and Cleggan, and pretty market town Clifden.
Stately Kylemore Abbey, once a rich family’s home, now a convent, is well worth a visit, especially for the cute Connemara ponies in the grounds (tickets from £12.50).
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