Looking for the best things to do in Derry? Well, you’re in the right place.
To get to grips with Northern Ireland’s history, a visit to its cities is essential. You can choose Belfast where grand public buildings line its streets, explore the cathedral town of Armagh where St Patrick is said to have established Christianity in Ireland or visit Derry which has grown around the well-preserved walls of its medieval antecedent.
Derry is a compact city on the River Foyle wedged between the Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway Coast route known by two names each with different connotations attached that involve distinct histories, different religious beliefs and opposed political values.
The city has found new fame in recent years as the setting for the comedy TV series, Derry Girls, which tells the story of a group of local girls growing up there.
Derry is a fun and exciting city break – less than two hours away from Sligo and an hour and a half from Belfast. There are plenty of fantastic shopping opportunities, cosy cafés, and attractions that can cheer up even the greyest of days.
#1. Walk over the Peace Bridge
Derry is situated along the River Foyle which can be crossed by the Peace Bridge allowing pedestrians and cyclers easy access to both sides of the river. The bridge marks a 400-year-old physical and political gap between two sides of a once, harshly divided community and is an essential stop on any Derry and Northern Ireland travel itinerary.
Funded by the European Peace Fund, designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects in London and opened in 2011, the pedestrian Peace Bridge with its unusual S-shaped is the most striking of the three bridges that cross River Foyle.
The bridge is conceived as a pair of self-anchored suspension bridges that overlap visually and structurally at the middle of the river in a symbolic demonstration of unity and concord.
Interesting Facts about the Peace Bridge:
- The design of the bridge was inspired by the sculpture “Hands across the Divide” by Maurice Harron, which can be found near the bridge.
- The Peace Bridge is designed to withstand impact from vessels up to approximately 30 tons moving at up to 5 knots.
- The bridge has won the Structural Steel Design Awards 2012
- It is the only self-anchored suspension bridge in the island.
- It weighs a total of 1,000 tons.
#2. Visit the adorable Craft Village
Located at the heart of the city centre, Derry’s Craft Village is hosting an array of businesses such as Ivy Gate Coffee House with a pretty flower arch at the entrance, No. 19 Craft & Design selling contemporary crafts and artisan giftware and contemporary art gallery Cowley Gallery showing quality Irish art and ceramics.
If you are a book lover looking to find a good read, you’ll be pleased to find out that the second-hand book shop Foyle bookstore sells both old and new books at a small price for both adults and children.
Located at the bottom of Shipquay Street the charming Craft Village is easily accessible and well worth a visit. As you walk through you see Edel McBrides Wool Shop and on the wall to the left the magnificent Factory Girls Mural showing the history of the City’s famous shirt factory industry the world leader in days gone by.
You can walk on through here and come out on Magazine street and the famous Derry Walls are right in front of you.
#3. Stop by The Guildhall
Fashioned in a neo-gothic style and located in Guildhall Square, the Guildhall is one of Derry’s most outstanding landmarks and has been so since the 1800s. The iconic building that has seen many events and witnessed history in the making is located within easy reach of its famous 400-year-old Walls and is open for visitors free of charge.
Anyone visiting Derry should stop by it as the new interactive tourist information point with interpretation panels can be found in the building as well as an exhibition that explores how the Plantation has shaped the City’s history.
The building – which was almost completely destroyed by fire and bombings in Victorian times – is also home to the City’s Council’s chamber and Mayor’s parlour and one of its alluring features is its collection of stunning stained-glass windows. The main hall has a capacity of up to 600 visitors standing or 400 seating, perfect for conferences, civil ceremonies and corporate events.
Did you know – the Guildhall Square was the venue for the opening ceremony in the London 2012 Olympic Games.
#4. Walk the City Walls
The Derry City Walls are one of the city’s most amazing historical monuments and a walk around the top of the ramparts is the top thing to do for any visitor and witness views of a still divided community, despite years of the Peace Process.
17the Century walls are approximately 1.5km in circumference and are an incredible way to get an alternative view of the city. They were constructed between 1913 and 1618 in order to protect the Scots and English settlers of the new town that was established as part of the Plantation of Ulster. The Honourable, The Irish Society was established to look after the plantation and funds were obtained from the City of London to construct the walls.
Being 400 years old, today they are an important historic monument adorned with many gates, 24 skilfully restored cannons, including the impressive Roaring Meg located on the double bastion and many viewpoints that provide fantastic views of the cities neighbourhoods.
Make sure you use access steps to come down from ramparts and walk through the gates and around the walls to fully appreciate them. Some of the notable ones worth seeking out are the original four original entrances to the city – Shipqaue Gate, Bishops Gate, Butchers Gate and Ferryquay Gate.
Did you know: During The Troubles, it was closed to the public because it was a prime location for snipers.
#5. Experience the world-famous Halloween celebrations
Did you know that Derry is famous for Halloween celebrations? From spooky costumes to spectacular light shows and indulging in everything pumpkin-spice-flavoured, there’s so much to anticipate during this frightfully fun October holiday that simply never gets old.
Derry is said to hold the biggest Halloween celebration in Europe with a week-long festival earning it the nickname ‘City of Bones’. There are dozens of different events including the Awakening of the Walls, the Carnival Parade, the Gothic Ball and the scare-fest at Jungle NI.
The last year’s celebrations, entitled ‘Awakening the Walled City” took place from Friday, October 29 until Sunday, October 31 from 5 pm to 10 pm. During those days, spectators were treated to magical storytelling, dazzling displays and several illuminated worlds spread across the city along with the island of Ireland’s first-ever digital LED installation.
#6. Go Museum Hopping
The Museum of Free Derry | established by the Bloody Sunday Trust in 2006 museum tells the story of the civil rights movement and the creation of Free Derry in the 1960s and 1970s. A visit to the museum is an absolute must for anyone eager to learn more about the history of Free Derry. Be prepared to be emotionally charged leaving this museum as you’ll learn about Bloody Sunday, Battle of the Bogside, Operation Motorman and Internment.
- Opening times: Tuesday – Saturdays 10:00 – 16:00, last admission 30 minutes before closing times.
- Admission: £7 adults, £6 concession and £5 groups.
The Siege Museum | It tells the story of the Siege and the 13 apprentices in pictures and words, and there are lots of exhibits as well as a short video showing Apprentice Boys celebrating their special day in August. There is also a corner dedicated to those Apprentice Boys who lost their lives in Northern Ireland’s Troubles.
- Opening hours: Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm (last entry 4.00pm)
- Admission: £5.00 per person, Concession £4.00, Under 12 – Free
Tower Museum | the award-winning museum situated within the City’s historic walls houses two permanent exhibitions using a range of display and interactive techniques. The first one is The Story of Derry which tells the history of the city from earliest prehistory to the present and the second one – An Armada Shipwreck – La Trinidad Valencera – tells a tale of one of the largest ships in the Spanish Armada which sank off the Donegal Coast in 1588 and was rediscovered by divers from the City of Derry Sub-Aqua Club in 1971.
- Opening times: Monday – Sunday from 11:00 – 16:00 with last admission at 15:00
- Admission: Adult – £4.00, Child Rate – £2.00, Concession Rate – £2.40
#7. Learn about the city’s turbulent past
Derry is steeped in political history.
One of the best ways to learn about the city’s turbulent past, its role during the Troubles and an in-depth look at Derry’s history is by going on a guided walking or a bus tour of Derry where you can see some of the city’s key murals and historical landmarks.
If you choose a private guide, keep in mind that most of the guides are family members of innocent civilians who were killed on Bloody Sunday so you’ll receive a passionate and personal account – be prepared to laugh and cry.
Most of the tours will take you on a journey about the history behind the city’s main tourist attractions, including:
- The Hands Across the Divide monument
- The Free Derry Corner murals painted by a locat teenega activist
- The Hunger Strike memorial located in front of the Free Derry Mural
- Derry City Walls
- Bogside Neighbourhood who was witness to two other tragic events in Derry history, the Battle of the Bogside in 1969 and Bloody Sunday in 1972.
#8. Explore nearby beaches or go on a day trip
If you’re looking to get out into the countryside for a few hours, you can certainly use Derry as a base to explore some of the surrounding areas and regions around Northern Ireland.
There are some great places to visit from Derry – the north coast of Northern Ireland is a very scenic place.
A fantastic way to see some lovely scenery is by catching the train that travels the Londonderry-Coleraine-Portrush train line as the route weaves along cliffs, through tunnels under temples, past over two runways and along the banks of Loch Foyle. Many famous train enthusiasts, such as Micheal Palin and Micheal Portillo, have written fantastically about the Derry-Londonderry line.
#9. Visit Derry during the Christmas season
Derry is fantastic at Christmas and the festive season is a truly magical time of year to visit – there’s magic in the air, good cheer and fairy lights. If your idea of Christmas heaven is wrapping up warm for an epic pub crawl, stopping by the renowned Walled City Christmas Markets and gazing in wonder at how different the City Centre suddenly looked, then Derry is a city for you.
The iconic city usually welcomes the festive season by the end of November and anyone who’s spent time in the city and seen the big Christmas Light switch on will agree that the twinkling lights make the street especially beautiful this time of year as do the Christmas events and shop window displays.
Getting to Derry
Derry is very accessible by air, sea, rail, bus and road.
By Air – Northern Ireland is served by flights into City of Derry Airport, Belfast International Airport and Belfast City Airport. The city’s airport is serviced by two airlines: Ryanair and BMI Regional. Direct access to the city airport is available from the following major airports: London Stansted, Liverpool, Glasgow International and Majorca.
- Good to know – Local multi- award winning public transport provider ‘Airporter’ provide a daily shuttle service between Derry and Belfast International and Belfast City Airports.
By Train – Derry is just 2 and half hours by train from Belfast.
By Ferry – Northern Ireland has first-class ferry connections with Scotland, England and the Isle of Man bringing both foot passengers, cars and other vehicles into the area through two ferry ports, Belfast and Larne.
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Now, over to you!
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