The Galway Arts Festival is a wonderful excuse to spend a few says in one of Ireland’s most charming cities. With a population of only 75,000, the university city of Galway is always a vibrant, friendly place – it’s considered to be the ‘safest’ city in Ireland and, was recently voted one of the world’s sexiest cities – but at Arts Festival time it really does become extra-special. The people along Shop Street and in the plazas at Eyre Square and Spanish Parade can enjoy lively, creative street entertainment and then go along to one of the city’s 51 different venues for more organised events later in the day.
In 2008, the Festival Big Top Arena was introduced and became an immediate success but there are also many smaller, more intimate performance venues – and quite a number of free events. It is little wonder that now more than 150,000 visitors decide to visit the festival during the last two weeks of July every year.
The Galway Arts Festival has been Ireland’s prime arts festival almost since its beginnings in 1978. It has become two weeks of wonderful dancing, street theatre, art, music, comedy, music, literature and children’s events to rival any summer festival anywhere in Europe. Indeed, famed Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington, writing of the 2008 Festival, compared it favourably with its Edinburgh counterpart because of its more ‘human and manageable scale’ and because it was, being in Ireland, a far more relaxed environment.
The Festival is, of course, a showcase for Irish artists and performers and has initiated and commissioned much new work. Furthermore, though, it is also now a firmly established international venue, having attracted overseas names as diverse as Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, the Royal Court Theatre, London, Joni Mitchell, Blondie, David Gray and the Brodsky String Quartet. One of the great strengths and delights of the Galway Arts Festival is the breadth and depth of its programme – it just cannot be pigeon-holed in any way. It can simply be described as a stunning two weeks of high quality, varied cultural happenings, taking place in a city by the sea with winding, medieval streets and lots of good food and drink.
For a city situated on the west coast of Ireland, Galway is surprisingly reachable. As well as its own airport, it is only 55 miles from Shannon International and 53 miles from Ireland West Airport at Knock, so there are many incoming flights. Additionally, there are 7 trains to and from Dublin each day, with a journey time of 2 and a half hours across some of Ireland’s most scenic countryside. The ferry ports of Dublin, Cork and Rosslare are, respectively, 3, 3.5 and 4 hours away from Galway by road. There is just no excuse for not getting there!
The accommodation available for visitors to the city is as varied as might be expected. There are a number of good quality hotels and some very fine hostels. The city additionally has a number of self-catering centres and, as this is in a part of Ireland popular with campers, there are very many camp sites within a few miles. Because of the numbers of visitors expected, however, it is best to reserve your accommodation as far in advance as possible.
Tickets for the festival can be ordered via the official website and picked up in person from the Festival Box Office.