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it's grins up north in derry

WHEN you think of going north of the border for a short break, the mind automatically thinks of Belfast as the obvious destination, but it has a new challenger.

Derry might be subtle about its potential as a tourist destination but locals brag that once they get you there, you'll definitely be back for more.

Steeped in history but young in tone, the city provides outlets for shoppers and culture vultures, combines old-fashioned market stalls with a vibrant nightlife and outdoor activities to clear the head.

Its main claim to fame is its status as the only fully walled city on the island, but as I happen to arrive on the weekend of its annual jazz festival, there is little time for the leisurely stroll.

The streets are heaving with people and the restaurants and pubs are competing to put on the best show. My group end up going to Mange 2, a delightfully placed restaurant overlooking the river Foyle.

Afterwards, it's on to sample some of the city's pubs and clubs, which are plentiful. The choice is actually better than in some bigger towns as most of the nightlife is within walking distance and it is easy to chop and change between venues.

The city has the youngest population in Ireland and it shows as the dancefloors are hopping, but the atmosphere is friendly.

However, the city's real attraction is its history and the way time is letting it embrace the two traditions that have often clashed in the past.

Derry is plotting to become the UK Capital of Culture for 2013, a title that will not just give it distinction but also the opportunity to develop its heritage and tourism potential.

City officials have already developed a state-of-the-art Tower museum which traces the story of Derry, all the way from The Apprentice Boys and the 105-day siege to Bloody Sunday and up to the Good Friday Agreement.

Outside, the wall stands as the obvious link to the past and a great way to overlook the famous murals on the Catholic Bogside and the Protestant Waterside.

It's hard to find many faults with the city as a destination for a short break. It has seven hotels and during the jazz festival occupancy is as high as 94pc.

Some shops are still offering a €1 to £1 exchange rate even despite a reversal in the market trend that saw thousands of Irish consumers flocking across the border, while hotels like City Hotel regularly offer special deals.

On a previous visit to the city I spent almost four hours behind the wheel of a car, but this time I flew Aer Arann from Dublin in just 30 minutes. A taxi from Derry airport to the city centre is about £15 (€17.50).

For further information contact the Northern Ireland Tourist Board on callsave 1850 230 230, see www.discovernorthernireland.com or visit the Tourist Information Centre, Suffolk Street, Dublin 2, for its free advice and booking service