Set to be the European Capital of Culture in 2020 – alongside Rijeka, Croatia – Galway is one of Ireland’s best-loved cities for good reason. With a burgeoning foodie contingent, flourishing art scene and a host of live music venues, there’s always something on in Galway, even if you’re on a budget. Here are ten free things to do in the ‘City of Tribes’.
Open year-round on Saturdays and Sundays – plus Bank Holidays and additional days during Galway Arts Festival and certain summer months – the popular Galway Market is held in a lane by St Nicholas’ Church, promising hundreds of stalls of locally made food, art and crafts. Here you can get some organic goodies for your evening meal, or just wander through and peruse the stands. During the run-up to Christmas, it becomes a festive Traditional Christmas Market, running daily from 9am to 6pm.
The Galway Arts Centre cultural hub hosts regular events and courses as well as exhibitions – it is home to a light-filled, 3,000-square-foot gallery with free admission. Currently on its walls (until January 14, 2017), you will find We Are Hurtling into the Future, a solo exhibition by the Dublin-born artist Joanna Kidney, meditating on the human relationship with the universe. Also affiliated with Galway Arts Centre is the Nuns Island Theatre, an 82-seat space which regularly runs performances by local theatre and dance groups (these are ticketed, but generally reasonably priced).
Locals may roll their eyes at the inclusion of this slightly clichéd attraction, but first-time visitors would be sorry to miss it. Salthill’s apt Irish translation is Bóthar na Trá, or ‘the road by the sea’. This two-kilometre walk from the city’s edge takes you along the scenic shores of Galway Bay, with incredible views looking out towards the Aran Islands.
The Spanish Arch is actually two arches, the only two remaining from the Ceann an Bhalla or Front Wall, originally built to protect the city quays in 1584. In 1755, the arches built to extend the wall were partially destroyed by the tsunami that followed the Great Lisbon earthquake.
Like many of Ireland’s museums, admission to Galway City Museum is free; therefore, you can explore Galway’s prehistoric, medieval and recent history to your heart’s content. Formerly housed inside part of the Spanish Arch, it is now located nearby in the city’s Spanish Parade area. The museum runs a calendar of free events like talks and children’s art classes, for which online booking is recommended.
The high point of the domed Galway Cathedral is over 44 metres (145 feet) tall, making it one of the city’s most imposing buildings. Standing on the site of a former prison, the cathedral has known some controversy. Designed by a prominent architect who also designed many other Irish churches, it has drawn criticism from a wide variety of sources, including The Irish Times newspaper, and been called a ‘monstrosity’. Visit and decide for yourself.
The area of Galway known as Claddagh has primarily become famous for the well-known Claddagh ring that was named after it, but is also regarded by some as the country’s oldest fishing village. Located at the mouth of the River Corrib, it is now home to the new Claddagh Arts Centre – a showroom of local design. (Galway city is also home to The Claddagh Ring Museum, where you can view some of the first Claddagh rings made, and what is apparently the world’s smallest Claddagh ring, on the top of a tailor’s pin.)
The land that would become the public park Eyre Square was gifted to the city in 1710 by Mayor Edward Eyre. Following the death of US President John F. Kennedy, it was renamed in his honour as a memorial park, but it is still widely known as Eyre Square. Following the financial crash, the park hosted the third longest-lasting Occupy camp in the world. Today, it’s the perfect place to sit with a coffee and soak up the Galway atmosphere. It also hosts a continental market at Christmas time.
Said to currently be the largest expanse of urban woodland around Galway city, Merlin Woods is home to Norway and Sitka spruce trees, native hazel woodland, beech, oak, and more. There are also areas of exposed limestone pavement, similar to The Burren area in County Clare, and the woods are home to rare species of plants, flowers and wildlife (including 17 species of Irish butterflies). In May 2017, Friends of Merlin Woods will run a Biodiversity Week – a week of free events celebrating the biodiversity of the area.
The beautiful St Nicholas’ Church is Ireland’s largest medieval parish church in continuous use. Named after St Nicholas of Myra, the patron saint of children (Santa Claus) and mariners, it is thought to date back to around 1320. St Nicholas’ Church holds regular free music concerts as well and meditation groups. On the first Tuesday of each month at 1.10pm, it hosts a lunchtime recital of classical music.
If you don’t see anything here to tickle your fancy, keep an eye out for the Galway Events Guide – a free event magazine that spotlights free and discounted events across the city and county.