The social event of the year for race goers is almost upon us, so it's time to dust off the hat and get ready for a week in the west at the 148th Galway Races Summer Festival. The Galway races are not just about the racing – there's lots of music, great food, fashion and style and some serious people-watching too. The political tents may be a thing of the past, but lots of our elected officials will still be mingling among the expected 150,000 attendees. If you're planning to attend, here's what you need to know
If you haven't booked accommodation yet, here is a list of Galway hotels and B&Bs. The most expensive nights are Wednesday and Thursday, ranging from €260 to €630 in hotels, with B&Bs more expensive than normal. When it comes to Airbnb there is still availability for rooms in private homes from €44 - €150 per night and apartments and homes from €144 -€550. Homeaway vacation rentals is sold out for Race Week.
If you're feeling flush (before the betting starts), the best way to get to the Galway Races is by private helicopter transfer from Galway Docks with executive-helicopters.com; there were 420 helicopters trips last year. It costs €150 one way and €250 return. For the rest of us mere mortals, there are buses from Eyre Square for €6 one way and €9 return. If you are driving, be prepared for long traffic delays. Some pre-race events in the city will include coach transfers to the race course in the ticket price.
At the races
Arrive early and pick up a race card. The racecourse opens two hours before the first race. Women would do well to pack a spare pair of flat shoes. Increased security measures this year mean backpacks are not allowed and the maximum bag size is no greater than an A4 sheet of paper. Establish a base; you can buy reserved seating in the Millennium Stand at the race course from €10-€20. There are lots of outlets for food and drink including the new Festival Village at the Mayor’s Garden, with artisan food and craft beers, and the Budweiser Tent. The Champagne bar is a must visit and the Champagne of choice for Galway is Moet Chandon.
Take a trip to the parade ring to gauge the interest in the favourites, it is also nice to see the horses up close, you may change your choice when you see how they move.
Monday July 31 - first race 5.20pm, entry €20
Gather your tribe at the parade ring. There will be a new special opening ceremony for the first day. Race goers will be treated to spectacular tribal drummers at both entrances. At the parade ring there will be a special performance by the Galway Tenors Frank Naughton, Sean Costello and Alan Greaney. The highlight race of the day will be the Connacht Hotel, Qualified Riders Handicap with a prize fund of €100,000.
Tuesday August 1st - first race 5.20pm, entry €25
The Ardilaun Hotel, Taylors Hill kicks off the day with the First Furlong lunch in aid of Breast Cancer Research. Meet your friends for a four-course lunch before taking a coach to the races. Special guest and judge will be Lisa McGowan of Lisa's Lust List, winner of the best dressed lady last year. Lisa will judge the Raciest Lady and Bookies' Favourite Gent sponsored by Anthony Ryan's Department Store. Tickets are €75, 091-521433. Later back at the hotel, dance into the night with the Guinness Jazz Band.
Racing that evening centres around the Colm Quinn BMW Mile Handicap with a prize pot of €120,000 designed to attract the best handicappers in this division in Ireland.
Wednesday August 2nd - first race, 3.15pm, entry €25
One of the most famous races will be run today, the Galway Plate. Established in 1869, this thrilling race carries the heritage of the Galway Races and is sponsored by the Tote and has a prize fund of €250,000.
The race lunch package at the Radisson Blu Hotel begins at noon and includes two courses and coach transfers for €45. After the races the Luna boys are playing in Coopers Bar and the best-dressed competition will take place from 8pm. See radissonhotelgalway.com. You can also dance the night away with Manilla Strings in the Meyrick Hotel on Eyre Square.
Thursday August 3rd - first race, 1.40pm, entry €30
The Guinness Galway Hurdle Handicap has an impressive prize fund of €300,000 and is the pinnacle of the racing and fashion calendar, as it's also Ladies' Day at Ballybrit. This is where you will see the best of Irish fashion and millinery, as judges fashion editor Bairbre Power, actor Aoibhinn Garrihy and TV personality Baz Ashmawy pick a winner for the top prize of €10,000 for best dressed lady and €2,000 for the best hat.
There will be another opportunity for fashionistas to show their style at the g Hotel back in the city, with the Best Hat and Dapper Gent competitions in the g Suite Lounge that evening. Prizes will be a Philip Treacy creation for the best hat, and for the gent, a Hugo Boss suit from Brown Thomas. Over in the Meyrick Hotel Lorraine Keane will be judging the most fashionable lady and gent.
Friday August 4th - first race 5.10pm, entry €25
With seven very competitive races on the card, Friday is always a hugely popular evening race meeting, and a great way to kick off the Bank Holiday weekend. The first race starts at 5.10pm with all races sponsored by Guinness and the highlight is the Guinness Handicap with €100,000 prize.
It's also the day to take part in the 'Friday's Fair Lady Competition' which is judged this year by Doireann Garrihy, Marietta Doran and Jane Swarbrigg (Inglot). There will be a BBQ in the Connacht Hotel on the Old Dublin Road in Galway city, and the Cardinal Sins will be playing until 12.30am.
Saturday August 5th - first race 2.30pm, entry €20
It is family fun day on Super Saturday; children have free entry and lots of entertainment. There will be bouncy castles, slides, face painting and special food menus. The featured race is the Galway Shopping Centre handicap with a prize fund of €100,000. If you are planning to attend on Saturday, be sure to check out the Weekend Special Hospitality Packages in the Killanin Stand starting from €80 pp for a four-course meal, reserved table, Tote betting and bar facilities.
Sunday August 6th - first race 2.15pm, entry €20
The last day of the races is all about having fun. The final day is the Madhatters competition, and the sponsors, Ireland West Airport and Ryanair will be looking for the maddest, funniest, most colourful, crazy and creative hats. The feature race of the day is the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Ahonoora Handicap, sponsored by the European Breeders Fund with a prize fund of €100,000. The weekend hospitality package will be €70pp in the Killanin Stand.
Where to eat and drink in Galway
There is no shortage of places to eat and drink in Galway and all week there will be race specials on menus all over town. Expect lots of music too with entertainment in all the bars and hotels every night. Check out a selection of the great pubs here (Ed Sheeran fans might like to visit O'Connell's Bar on Eyre Square, which featured in his recent video for Galway Girl) If you fancy a break from the racing, there is also the Galway Whiskey Trail which can be booked on galwaytours.ie. Find lots of things to do on galwaytourism.ie.
Galway's west end is becoming a very popular area to eat, drink and have fun. When you cross the Salmon Weir, O'Brien's or Wolfe Tone bridges you are in the Wesht. Find some great restaurants such as Hooked and Dela, and lively pubs with music such as Monroe's, the Bierhaus, John Keogh's. You can read more Galway's West End here.The selection of restaurants in Galway covers all types of cuisine, from fish and chips in McDonagh's to Michelin starred food from Loam and organic food at its best in Kai Cafe. Others worth a look include Tribeton, Kasbah over Neachtains, Ard Bia, Caprice, Sheridan's Wine Bar, Quay St Kitchen and Petit Pois. JP McMahon, proprietor of another Michelin-starred restaurant, Aniar, will not be opening his eatery during Race Week following his comments last year about "Abusive customers" who he called "drunk and disrespectful". However, sister cafe Cava Bodega will be open for tapas and vino.
Get in the mood with a video of the anticipation of the races.