Destination Derry: An insider’s guide
What you need to know about the Walled City.
Named the first UK City of Culture in 2013, Derry has experienced a bit of a renaissance in recent years. A city of contrasts, new craft breweries and modern museums count listed buildings and churches from the 17th Century as neighbours.
Derry’s history can be seen everywhere you look from the impressive city walls to the murals that have survived from the years of the Troubles.
They certainly know how to throw a party too - the city’s Halloween Festival has been running for over 30 years and was voted the best in the world by USA Today. But up in Derry, you can expect culture and craic every night of the week.
This wee city is full of surprises but here is just some of what you can look forward to:
Walking the walls
When it comes to history, Derry is a city unlike any other. It is the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland and a guided tour along the walls is the best introduction to Derry.
The 1.5km long walls enclose the city centre and act as the perfect vantage point to spot all the most well-known sights. And the view isn’t bad either!
City Walking Tours manages to fit 1500 years of history into just an hour with tours setting off from outside the Foyleside Shopping Centre four times daily - no matter what the weather! Considered to be one of the best walking tours in the world, it has won countless awards over the years.
Led by an expert local guide, you learn about the history of Derry from way back when the walls were first built in the 1600s to the beginnings of the Troubles in the late 1960s to modern day Derry. All that for just £4, not forgetting the complimentary cup of tea!
Across the divide
Derry is a city with two names, two sides, two stories. Symbolised by the Hands Across the Divide sculpture at the foot of the locally named “Big Blue Bridge” and the new Peace Bridge, modern Derry is about the bringing together of two communities.
The recently refurbished Museum of New Derry in the Bogside is dedicated to the Civil Rights movement and the beginnings of the Troubles in the late 1960s which started in Derry. Most of the museum’s exhibits, over 25,000 items, have been donated by locals. The area is also home to some of Northern Ireland’s most recognisable murals from the Troubles including the iconic “You are now entering Free Derry” piece.
Just five minutes away is the new Siege Museum which recounts an important moment in history for the unionist community, the Siege of Londonderry. The museum includes artefacts as well as interactive exhibits. It also contains the story of the Apprentice Boys of Derry, 13 of whom closed the city gates during the Siege.
The heart of the City of Derry is the Guildhall. The original town hall was destroyed during the Siege and the Guildhall was frequently bombed during the Troubles. The current Guildhall is regarded as one of the most beautiful buildings in Northern Ireland.
It has 23 stained glass windows illustrating the history of the city as well as the contents of a recently uncovered time capsule which was buried when the foundation stone was laid way back in 1887. There is no better place in the city to enjoy a sunny afternoon than in Guildhall Square.
The oldest and most historic building in Derry is St Columb’s Cathedral. It was built in 1633 and contains some of the city’s most valuable artefacts including the original padlocks and keys to the city gates and Governor George Walker’s sword from the Siege of Londonderry.
Reproductions of folios from the Book of Kells have been recently added to the collection and can be viewed in the Chapter House.
Where to eat
Recently crowned “Destination Delicious” at the Year of Food and Drink Awards, what sets Derry apart as Northern Ireland’s foodie capital? Derry institution Brown’s has restaurants on Bond’s Hill on the Waterside and a second spot in the city centre.
It has established itself as one of the best restaurants in the country offering up local produce in the form of fine dining. McKenna’s Best in Ireland plaques stuck onto the side of a shipping container? Something you haven’t seen, until now.
Pyke’n’Pommes is the brainchild of local lad Kevin Pyke who serves up some of the meanest eats in Derry out of a repurposed shipping container along the banks of the Foyle.
The resident King of Street Food has become famous for his Wagyu beef burger called the “LegenDerry” and it certainly lives up to its name. Don’t miss a chance to tuck into Northern Ireland’s unofficial national dish: the Ulster Fry.
Primrose Café on the Carlisle Road does one of the best fry-ups in the city.
North West nightlife
Derry is known for its special brand of culture and craic, the city has a nightlife scene that cannot be matched. Make the trip across the Peace Bridge to the Walled City Brewery in Ebrington Square, the city’s first craft brewery in over 100 years.
Taste the history of Derry: each of the brews is named after a part of the city’s heritage like “Stitch” in tribute to the former shirt factories or “Kicks” after Derry’s most celebrated musical exports, the Undertones.
The city’s most loved pub is arguably Peadar O’Donnell’s on Waterloo Street which is famed for its great pints of Guinness and even better traditional music.
Travelling as a couple? New joint Blackbird boasts the best craft beer from all over Ireland as well as some of the tastiest cocktails in the North. Make sure to check out the Grand Central Bar on the Strand Road: this traditional Derry pub has been a local favourite since 1922.
Where to stay
In the middle of the city is Bishop’s Gate Hotel. The Grade B1 building dates way back to 1899 but opened as a hotel just last year. It didn’t take long for the boutique hotel to make a name for itself, it was the second highest rated hotel on TripAdvisor in the whole of the UK in 2016.
All of the rooms have been designed with the building’s Edwardian heritage in mind: you are assured modern luxury with an authentic old-world feel. The best part? The location, you are within walking distance of the best sights and pubs in the city.
If you are looking to stay further afield, Beech Hill Country House is located just 2 miles outside of Derry. The period property is set on 32 acres of woodland and gardens, a real surprise given it is only ten minutes from the city centre.
It has long been a firm celebrity favourite – counting Bill Clinton and Derry’s most famous son, Seamus Heaney, among their former guests.
Experience wall-to-wall culture in the 2013 UK City of Culture, Derry~Londonderry. The last completely walled city in Ireland, it’s a fascinating mix of past and present. With a spectacular selection of museums, food and drink tours, and vibrant nightlife, it’s the perfect city break destination.