6 Top Things to Do in Derry-Londonderry.
Derry is a city of culture and character, with a colourful past and a bright future. Those seeking an experience away from the classic tourist trail should read on for my top things to do in Derry, as well as where to stay and how to get there with Loganair.
“It’s a beautiful wee city”, proclaimed our legendary tour guide Garvin in a thick local accent. Having visited twice in one year, I cannot disagree. Derry is a compact city on the River Foyle, its centre cutely contained within a circuit of historic walls. Wedged between the Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway Coast route, a visit can be combined with a longer adventure, although Derry itself warrants a city break alone – there are many wee gems waiting to be discovered. Expect traditional pubs, quirky eateries, cultural sights, and pretty photo opportunities.
They say it’s the people who really make a place, and Derry’s people have as much character as the city itself. The community is more like a town than a city, where family businesses are the norm and locals warmly greet each other in the passing. Life’s greatest characters are those who have really lived, and Derry has survived through troubled times. It is quickly emerging as a vibrant tourist destination, minus the swarms of tourists – at least for now. The perfect time to visit, if you ask me!
Want to get involved? I don’t blame you. Read on for my top recommendations for things to do in Derry.
1) Walk the City Walls.
Derry is the only completely walled city in Ireland, and 2018 marks the 400-year anniversary of the iconic walls. Let me tell you, they’re looking pretty fine for their age! The inclines and dips on the one mile circumference provide a pleasant burst of exertion, as well as unrivalled vistas of the city surrounds. Look out for the original gates to the city, and the cannons which were fired during the seventeenth century conflict. To really enhance your experience on the walls, book a guided walk with Martin McCrossan tours; I’ve done it twice! Our charismatic guide Garvin had our group laughing and crying, as we journeyed around the walls, and learned about the city he proudly calls home.
- Tours leave daily from 11 Carlisle Road (BT48 6JJ) at 10.00, 12.00, 14.00 and 16.00
- Cost is £4 per person and pre-booking is not necessary – just turn up
2) Indulge in the thriving food & drink scene.
Derry is a city of seriously good taste. Local restaurants are moving with the times, and embracing the fine regional produce on offer. In fact, the city was shortlisted for ‘Foodie Destination of Ireland 2018’ for its culinary efforts. I’m a big fan of local ingredients, made with love, and served in a quirky setting. I was pleased to discover a number of cute eateries which completely fit the bill.
My top recommendations are The Warehouse Café & Bistro for breakfast/brunch (and amazing tray bakes), Brown’s in Town for the contemporary set lunch menu, and Brickwork for dinner with an international twist. I was super-impressed by the quality of food and value for money in Derry. FYI – everything comes with a potato side dish of some description.
If it’s post-dinner tipples you’re after, head to popular traditional pub Peadar O’Donnells for live music with the locals. Craft beer fans will love the Walled City Brewery on the other side of the River Foyle. The former army barracks have been transformed into an award-winning gastro pub and brewery, with beer bottle chandeliers and a mosaic feature wall – also made from beer bottles.
- Check out the Warehouse Bistro & Café menu
- Get tempted by the Browns in Town menu
- Drool over the Brickwork menu
3) Learn about the city’s turbulent past.
Derry has no shortage of complex history, and you only have to mention the double-barrelled name (Derry-Londonderry) to gain a quick insight into this. The locals that I encountered are very willing to share their experiences in a personal and factual way, for the purpose of promoting peace and understanding. The Siege Museum, which opened in 2016, tells the story of the thirteen Apprentice Boys who closed the gates to the city during the siege led by James VII & II in 1689; in 105 days, over 10,000 people within the city walls died from disease and hunger.
To delve into the more recent history known as ‘the troubles’, you can join a Bogside History Tour which ventures around the area where some of the key events and atrocities took place. Our tour guide George – yet another local legend – gave a passionate, personal account of events, before busting out with an impromptu dance while humming Girls Aloud, just to lighten the mood – brilliant. He told us the stories behind the symbolic murals in the area, and pointed out that Northern Ireland’s peace process is something that other countries can continue to learn from.
The Bogside is also home to the Museum of Free Derry, which opened in 2006 to tell the story of the ‘Free Derry’ civil rights movement, and the devastating impact the violence has had on the local community. Personally, this was the most harrowing and evocative experience of the trip. We were given a first-hand recollection of Bloody Sunday from John Kelly, whose seventeen-year-old brother Michael was among the thirteen civilians killed on that fateful day in 1972. The Bloody Sunday Trust is still campaigning for the soldiers responsible to be prosecuted for their crimes, and to see justice served for the victims’ families. As Derry continues to move forward and develop, the city should no longer be defined by its dark days. They will, however, never be forgotten.
- The Siege Museum costs £3 and is open Monday – Saturday 10.00 – 17.00 (last entry 16:30)
- Entry to the Museum of Free Derry is Adult £6.00 / Concessionary/Senior £5.00 / Groups (10+) £4.00 and the museum is open
- The Bogside History Tour takes 1 – 1.5 hours and costs £6 (or £9 combined with entry to the Museum of Free Derry
4) Walk over the Peace Bridge.
The Peace Bridge was built in 2011 to symbolise a new era for Derry, free from the tension and conflict which had impacted the city for centuries. Funded by the European Peace Fund, the steel bridge – which connects the predominately Catholic and Protestant areas – weighs 1000 tonnes and cost £14.2 million. As well as being a practical pedestrian link between the east and west banks of the city, it is also a beautiful and iconic structure. A walk over the Peace Bridge, day or night, promises a most pleasant stretch of the legs and lovely views of the city.
5) Visit the adorable Craft Village.
Derry’s Craft Village is my favourite wee pocket of the city. Step back in time as you wander around the reconstructed 18th century street and 19th century square. The brickwork and colourful buildings are totally charming, with the iconic Guidhall clock peeking over the rooftops. The Craft Village is home to a selection of quirky independent businesses and retailers; you’ll find crafts and cakes, books and homeware. The highlight for me was Soda & Starch, a cute little eatery with a delicious menu of locally sourced ingredients and freshly baked bread. A warm and satisfying dining experience is guaranteed!
- Check out the menus for Soda & Starch
6) Experience the world-famous Halloween celebrations.
Much to my recent surprise, Derry has been voted as the top destination to celebrate Halloween in the world. Who knew?! Once a small festival for locals, the spooktacular Halloween festivities have stretched from a one-day event to a whole week, and believe me, they do not do things by halves. Street performers, a Halloween parade, fireworks, illuminations and installations on the city walls, a Halloween ball, and everyone out on Halloween in fancy dress – kids, parents, grandparents.
Local businesses fully embrace the Halloween celebrations in Derry; I had toffee apple craft beer at the Walled City Brewery, pumpkin ravioli at Browns in Town, and spiced pumpkin and apple soup at Soda & Starch. I also had the pleasure (absolutely not the correct word) of attending the utterly terrifying ‘Fright Night’ at Jungle NI, which is a one-hour drive from the city. Imagine a forest park dressed up like a horror movie set, and being continually chased and screamed at by clowns, zombies, and freaks with chainsaws. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the ‘Claustroforest’. I’m still traumatised.
I LOVED spending Halloween in Derry, and it is definitely one of my most memorable and brilliantly random travel experiences. Get it added to your bucket list!
- For more information, visit the Derry Halloween website
Where to Stay in Derry.
- Maldron Hotel – this hotel is right in the centre of Derry next to the city walls and just a short walk to the Guidhall, Craft Village and Peace Bridge etc. The rooms are modern, cosy and comfortable and I thoroughly enjoyed the buffet breakfast (I’m always happy to see black pudding and haggis!)
- I’ve seen prices as low as £64 for a double room including breakfast. To check prices and book, have a look at the Maldron Hotel on booking.com
- Elagh Cottages – located in a rural area surrounded by country scenery. It’s hard to believe they are just a 10 minute taxi ride from the city centre
- The apartments are self-catering, and come well-equipped. Great value for money given the size. Our apartment was super clean and comfy, and the resident donkeys were an added bonus!
- Prices for a two bedroom apartment start at just £58. To check prices and book visit Elagh Cottages on booking.com
How to Get to Derry.
- Loganair have recently launched a direct route between Glasgow and City of Derry airport operating Thursday – Monday
- The journey takes just 45 minutes – less time than my train from Edinburgh to Glasgow!
- Fares include 20kg of luggage, and a complimentary cuppa and caramel wafer during the flight
I have flown to the islands many times with Loganair and it’s always such a novelty on the cute wee tartan ‘planes. It’s great to see them expanding their routes both inside and outside of Scotland.