10 reasons to visit Galway, this year's European Capital of Culture

Rebecca Wilson
Photo credit: lucafabbian - Getty Images

From Prima

The Irish coastal city of Galway is full of history, live music, craft and tradition. It’s where you can experience some of Ireland's top festivals, feasts and marvel at the finest landscapes. It's no wonder that Galway was selected as a European Capital of Culture for 2020.

A harbour city that sits on the edge of the Wild Atlantic Way, Galway is best explored at a slow pace and the locals will tell you to just go with the flow, allowing you to stumble upon an incredible view of the River Corrib, an excellent pub or a quaint independent bookshop.

There's plenty to see in the exciting city, which you can get to know on Prima’s solo holiday to Ireland this September. To show you why a trip to Galway is a must for 2020, we’ve shortlisted 10 fabulous experiences to have in the friendly city.

1. Walk the prom

Salthill Promenade is a must-see in Galway. This lovely coastal walk will fill you with sea air and gorgeous views. You could begin your walk in the Claddagh, the oldest part of Galway and follow the coast around to Salthill and diving board Blackrock.

Photo credit: Michelle McMahon

Yes, people swim from here! You’re likely to find brave bathers at this spot year-round. Although it’s popular with joggers and roller-skaters, the walk is tranquil and rarely feels too busy.

2. Window shop on Quay Street

In the Latin Quarter's picturesque and colourful Quay Street, among buskers, punters, locals and visitors, you’ll find a wide array of quirky shops. The shop fronts are mismatched and colourful, many with hand-painted signs.



Passing down the cobbled lane, you’ll find antique toy shops, bookstores, fish and chip shops, wine bars and traditional Irish pubs. Chalk artists paint the streets and the general bustle makes for a wonderful afternoon of wandering.

3. Shuck shellfish at the Galway Oyster Festival 2020

Live music, revelry, family activities and mouth-watering seafood – what more could you want from the annual National Oyster Festival? This September weekend of celebrations begins with the National Oyster Opening Championship (yes, it exists!), where participants show off their shucking skills.

This is followed by cooking demos from national chefs and plenty of activities for kids. Launched in 1954, this is the oldest oyster festival in the world, and one of Europe’s longest-running food shows.

4. Step inside Galway Cathedral

You can’t visit Galway without taking a trip to the cathedral in Nun’s Island, an easy walk across the ivy-clad Salmon Weir Bridge. Despite the historic feel, it’s Europe’s youngest great stone cathedral and is perfect for strolling around with a friend.

Photo credit: photography by Robert Riddell - Getty Images

The cathedral’s tall limestone arches are lit by atmospheric coloured LEDs and its dome pulls a tunnel of light into the interior. The cathedral also houses an impressive art collection, including a large crucifixion mosaic and rose windows. On your short walk back into town, look out for rowers training or racing on the river – there are two rowing clubs based in Nun's Island.

5. Soak up the atmosphere in the local pubs

Ireland is famous for its traditional pubs, warm and generous, with live music that pours through the doors as you step inside. Punters toast each other with a pint of 'black stuff' (Guinness) in hand and you’re likely to catch a céilí (pronounced 'kay-lee'), a traditional music and dancing session, or a spontaneous seisún (pronounced 'se-shoon') if you go in the evening.

Galway’s drinking holes are brightly painted, with traditional Celtic signage and Irish flags adorning the doorway. Visit the famous Róisín Dubh for music and comedy. As well as supporting emerging artists, its stage has seen Franz Ferdinand, Ed Sheeran, Candi Staton and Billy Bragg perform, with comedy from Michael McIntyre, Lee Evans, Alan Carr and Sarah Millican.

6. Shop in local markets

A vibrant gathering of locals, the street market on Church Lane just outside St Nicholas' Church has been going on for centuries. The liveliest market day is Saturday, when you can peruse fresh farm produce, admire arts and crafts and taste hot local food such as warm crepes and handmade cookies, to the soundtrack of local buskers.

The market lights up at Christmas with festive treats and seasonal produce on sale, illuminated by candles and fairy lights. To hear locals hawking their produce in Gaeilge, head further into the Connemara region where Galway is situated, as this is part of the gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area).

7. Learn about Celtic mythology at Brigit’s Garden

Journey through time at Brigit’s Garden, an open-air museum dedicated to the Celtic goddess Brigid and the Celtic calendar and nestled in 11 acres of native Irish woodland and wildflower meadows. The garden is a shrine to Celtic mythology, designed by Chelsea Flower Show’s 2002 Gold Medal winner, Mary Reynolds.

Wandering through the four magical gardens, each inspired by one of the seasonal Celtic festivals Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasa, you’ll get a vibrant insight into Celtic heritage and garden design. Stop off in the café for refreshments afterwards, where salads and herbs from the gardens feature on the fresh food menu.

DISCOVER BRIGIT'S GARDEN ON PRIMA'S TOUR

8. Ogle the (free) Galway City Museum

Galway City Museum collects fascinating artefacts and holds exciting exhibitions. Past exhibits have explored Irish cinema, 1950s' ballrooms and the Swinging Sixties, and Galway’s relationship to the sea.

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In the collections, you can admire Medieval silks, WWI photographs, original poetry books and 19th and 20th-century tea sets. The museum is fully accessible, with two wheelchairs to borrow and there’s the Kitchen Café overlooking the Spanish Arch, perfect for a coffee and a bite to eat – a fantastic day out, all in all!

9. Try traditional Irish cuisine

Have you ever tried Boxty, Irish potato cakes? Or colcannon, a mash of buttery potatoes, kale or cabbage and a sprinkling of spring onions? Or even coddle, a stew of boiled bacon and veg? Time for some Irish cuisine! An Púcán, off Eyre Square, serves Irish breakfasts (like a full English, with tastier potatoes and the healthy addition of white pudding and soda bread), deliciously fresh seafood, daily live music and a choice of over 180 different whiskies from around the world.

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Warmly enclosed within its stone walls on Quay Street, Galway’s antique-decorated 1520 Bar serves home-cooked rustic bar food, Irish lamb and native root veg stew, Galway goat’s cheese and Galway Bay creamy seafood chowder – all to the soundtrack of live music. Tuck in!

10. See world-class acts at Galway International Arts Festival 2020

To fully celebrate Galway as the European Capital of Culture for 2020, head to the Galway International Arts Festival. It’s been running for over four decades and this year the diverse programme includes iconic artists The Pixies and Sinéad O’Connor, as well as the Flaming Lips and ambient producer Jon Hopkins.

Photo credit: rihardzz - Getty Images

There will be live art instalments, such as John Gerrard’s ‘Mirror Pavillion’, a reflective structure that blends into the scenic Galway countryside using local sustainable energy. The festival also ensures that at least 25% of its programme is free to the public.

Tempted yet? Visit Galway on a Prima tour of Ireland, perfect for single travellers and friends.

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