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Galway: Cultural overload in Irish festival capital

Gareth Cotter-Stone explores the magical city of Galway on the west coast of Ireland

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Connemara National Park

Connemara National Park

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Katie's Claddagh Cottage

Katie's Claddagh Cottage

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Galway Arts Festival

Galway Arts Festival

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Connemara National Park

Nestled on the scenic coastline of western Ireland, also known as the Wild Atlantic Way, lies a magical city brimming with colour, culture and tradition. Galway, often referred to as the "city of the tribes", has a history as vibrant as its rainbow-hued houses and is home to the largest Irish-speaking community, or Gaeltacht, in Ireland.

The county boasts 35 heritage sites, 31 museums and 10 art galleries and is the birthplace of the symbolic Claddagh ring, as well as the traditional fishing boats known as Galway hookers.

It's also the festival capital of Ireland, hosting more than 100 festivals and events per year, including the Galway International Arts Festival, the Galway Comedy Festival and the Galway Food Festival.

The city's newly achieved status as European Capital of Culture 2020 really says it all.\

From foodies to film buffs, oyster guzzlers to literature lovers and art fiends to music fans, it's a bustling hive of activity that caters to everyone.

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Galway Arts Festival

Galway Arts Festival

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Galway Arts Festival

A year-long programme of extraordinary events will showcase artistic richness, creative ingenuity and cultural diversity throughout the year. It is a celebration of not only Galway city, but of its islands, country, language and, most importantly, its people.

The Latin Quarter is known for its cobbled stone streets, boutique shops and quaint restaurants. It's is only a short amble from the famously fast-flowing River Corrib. Defined by some of Galway's most historic landmarks, such as the Spanish Arch, this is where Galway really comes to life. Fancy some window shopping or an afternoon tipple in a quirky bar? This is the perfect spot.

Magpies and bookworms, keep your eyes peeled for hidden gems at Tempo Antiques or the characterful Charlie Byrne's Bookshop.

If you're looking for somewhere to heighten your senses and peruse a range of fresh, local produce, then Galway market is the place to go.

The market, situated next to St Nicholas' Collegiate Church, is brimming with friendly local traders, as well as handmade arts and crafts stalls.

Enjoy the sights and the smells of baked bread, freshly ground coffee or, if you're up for it, the enjoyable pong of Sheridans Cheesemongers. It's almost impossible to leave without indulging in some famed Galway Bay oysters or even bagging a jar of Cobie's homemade jam - what a treat.

St. Nicholas' Collegiate Church (Church of Ireland) is the largest medieval parish church in Ireland still regularly used.

It's said that Christopher Columbus worshipped here during his visit to Galway in 1477 - an experience he documented in the margin of his copy of Imago Mundi.

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Katie's Claddagh Cottage

Katie's Claddagh Cottage

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Katie's Claddagh Cottage

A vibrant medieval pub in the centre of Galway, The King's Head (thekingshead.ie) is a prime location for either an extended hearty lunch or a swift half of the local Blood Red Ale.

Steeped in rich and riveting history, this grand establishment is one of the oldest pubs in Galway and provides a strong variety of entertainment, including live music, comedy and sport, or ceol agus craic, as the locals might say.

If you're lucky, you might even be able to commandeer a chair by the fireplace, built in 1612.

Some say it's the best seat in the house - and I'd have to agree.

The programme of events for Galway 2020 is available at galway2020.ie/en/programme

Belfast Telegraph