This is the capital of the west of Ireland. So look for the salmon in the River Corrib, visit the Nora Barnacle Museum, home to James Joyce's wife, or relax in some of the friendly old tumbledown pubs

WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

Because winter is nearly over, the salmon will soon be running and sea trout will be making a re-appearance on menus after a harsh Irish winter of unfavourable fishing conditions. Musicians, poets, writers and artists will all be hurrying back to the city for the start of the university term, and the west coast's capital will be heaving with fiddlers, jiggers and drummers.

BEAM DOWN

Aer Lingus (0645 737747, www.aerlingus.ie) flies to Galway from a dozen UK airports, via Dublin, with fares from around £170. The airport is 10km from the city centre. Alternatively, especially if you are intending to stay on in Ireland and have hired a car, Shannon airport is a manageable one-and-a-half hour's drive from Galway City. Ryanair (0541 569569, www.ryanair.com) flies to Shannon from London Stansted four times daily, from £70.

CHECK IN

Ireland is brimming with beautiful cottages that offer bed and breakfast, and Galway is no exception. Mary Sexton offers the most central, and homely, rooms for IR£18 (£14) per person at St Martin's B&B (2, Nuns' Island, 00353 91 568286). She will even put hot water bottles in your bed. At the other end of the scale is the old Spanish Arch Hotel (Quay Street, 00353 91 569600). Richly decorated rooms overlook the main pedestrian street and are a reasonable IR£100 (£80), until April.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

The River Corrib whirls through the city, cutting it into east and west. This tumbling river is an outlet for Lough Corrib and it opens out into Galway Bay at the southern edge of the city. Beautifully still canals have created small islands, and three bridges join the two parts. Galway is quite small, so nowhere is too far from anywhere else but you'll probably find most places of interest in the northern part of the city. For more advice, contact the Tourist Information Office on Forster Street (00353 91 537700, www.irelandwest.travel.ie).

TAKE A HIKE

Starting at St Nicholas' Cathedral, cross over Salmon Weir Bridge, not forgetting to check the cool, peaty water to see if the salmon are gathering, before making a dash for Lough Corrib. Follow the riverbank footpath south to Wolfe Tone Bridge and travel along the quayside, past pretty, painted houses, until you reach a large, grassy area that looks out into Galway Bay. The Aran Islands can be seen from here, and on a good day they will be bathed in glorious Atlantic sunshine. On the opposite side of the river are the remains of the Spanish Arch.

WINDOW SHOPPING

Galway is a bookworm's paradise. On the High Street, Kenny's is a Galway institution, with room after room of new, second-hand, antiquarian, English and Irish language books. For more books there's cheap, well-stocked Charlie Byrne's in the Cornstore, on Middle Street. Nearby, at 5 Middle Street, is a terrific Irish music shop, Mulligan Records. Pop in for a Dubliners' CD or Irish Songs of Resistance, in case you're involved in a singsong later on.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

The city is heaving with bright, cheap cafés where you can get anything from Indonesian squid at the River God Café (2 Quay Street, 00353 91 565811), to oysters and fish and chips at McDonagh's (22 Quay Street, 00353 91 565011). Most pubs offer versions of creamy fish chowder and, along with deliciously tasty Irish soda bread, this makes a warming and filling lunch.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

Take a break from the shopping at Kenny's by popping into the in-store art gallery. Like An Gailearai Beag on Flood Street, the newly opened gallery, it houses works by local artists. For something a bit different, book a table at Le Graal (38 Lower Dominic Street, 00353 91 567614), a restaurant that shows Irish abstract work. The high population of artists in Galway means that there is always something to see; the free Galway Advertiser has full listings.

TAKE A RIDE

Take a bus 20km out of Galway to Kilcolgan, where the annual oyster festival is held each September (bus information 00353 91 562000). Here, in Dunbulcan Bay, where the oysters are caught, is a wonderful thatched restaurant, Moran's Oyster Cottage (00353 91 796113). It's 2km off the main road - where the bus drops you - but the fresh salty air will give you a good appetite for the local Clarinbridge oysters, which are a bargain at IR£15, or £12, a dozen.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

The Nora Barnacle Museum at 8, Bowling Green (00353 91 564743) was once home to James Joyce's wife, and Joyce apparently visited the house several times in the early part of the 20th century. The small museum housed here, which is dedicated to the couple, officially opens on Bloomsday (16 June) but if you want to go now, you can call up and arrange an appointment during the winter.

BRACING BRUNCH

For the best meal of the week, take your time enjoying the delights of the Spanish Arch Organic Café (Quay Street, 00353 91 569600), where the coffee is strong, the oatmeal winterberry pancakes with organic Burren honey delicious, and the Toast Quebecois (eggy-bread) the best you will find. It is all organic, and better still, it's cheaper than a fry-up at your average greasy spoon.

A WALK IN THE PARK

Follow the quayside to Galway Bay and continue west for 3km until you reach the three beaches of Salthill. Here you will find an old-fashioned beach resort and, on Blackrock beach, locals kicking a rock. It's traditional to do this at the end of your walk, before turning around and starting the journey home. If you want to stay awhile, take your swimming gear - there's a diving board here, and people plunge into the water all year round.

SUNDAY MORNING... GO TO CHURCH

Most imposing of Galway's churches is the Catholic St Nicholas' Cathedral but the Protestant Collegiate Church of St Nicholas of Myra, a huge church dating from the 14th century, is more interesting for visitors. Outside the church is the Lynch Memorial Window, a ghoulishly spooky wall bearing a skull and crossbones. An inscription tells the story of the Lynch family, one of the ruling tribes of 15th century Galway, and marks the spot where one Lynch hanged his son for committing murder. What's more, Christopher Columbus once visited the church on his way to the New World.

DEMURE DINNER

The oldest lane in Galway is Kirwan's Lane which is home to one of Galway's finest dining spots, Kirwan's Lane Creative Cuisine (00353 91 568266). Sparkling to look at, it offers fresh and interesting dishes such as crab and salmon tartar (IR£6.95, or £6), or baked hake fillets with horseradish crust (IR£16.95, or £14). Vegetarians might have a tough time of it, but the River God Café, around the corner, does a mean Jamaican curry with no less than 10 different types of fresh vegetables for IR£8.95, or £7.

AN APERITIF

Galway has lots of wonderful small, tumbledown pubs with dark shiny wood polished to perfection. Still standing and unchanged after 100 years is the tiny Seagan Ua Neachtain (17 Upper Cross Street) complete with roaring fires, small booths and long-haired musicians. The Snug, a tunnel-like pub entered through a tiny door on William Street, is a friendly place for a Guinness, and Taaffes (19 Shop Street) is larger but similarly sublime; my visit there coincided with two fiddlers and an accordion player giving an impromptu recital.

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