With a population of 73,000 as of 2006, Galway is Ireland's fastest growing and third-largest city. Located on the west coast of Ireland, a 2008 poll ranked Galway as the 14th best tourist destination in Europe and, behind Dingle, the second best in Ireland. It ranked ahead of traditional tourist destinations such as Venice and all European capitals except Edinburgh.
Galway is Ireland's most Irish city, with over half of the population fluent in the Irish language Gaeilge. Galway has seen phenomenal expansion and major redevelopment towards the end of the 20th century. However, a stroll down the main thoroughfare -- the cobbled Shop Street will reveal the old-fashioned Ireland. Kirwan's Lane is another such thoroughfare that has been restored to its medieval charm. The finest example of medieval architecture is a townhouse known as Lynch's Castle, which is now serving as a branch of the Allied Irish Bank. And the Church of Ireland is well represented here with St. Nicholas's Collegiate Church. Founded in 1320 and enlarged in the subsequent two centuries, it is the largest medieval church still in everyday use in Ireland.
Another area to visit is the ivy-covered 19th century quadrangle building of the National University of Ireland. Built in 1849, it is one of three colleges of the Queen's University of Ireland. Another building of interest is the city's oldest hotel still in operation, the Hotel Meyrick, built by the Great Southern Railway Co. in 1845.
The two-part Galway city Museum features a display of modern Irish artists, along with the city's history. As Ireland's cultural heart, Galway features many music, arts, sporting and other events. The largest of these annual events include the Galway International Oyster Festival in September and the Galway Arts Festival in July.
Another reason Galway is such a popular spot is the fact that Galway has the lowest crime rate in the country -- it has been claimed that Galway is the safest city in Ireland.