The only walled city in Ireland, Derry is a fine example of a walled European city. Derry’s walls have been standing for over 400 years and date back to the 6th century.
Walk the historic walls, hunt for giant murals, lose yourself in museums and down a few pints of Guinness. Here are some things to do in Derry to get you started.
Also read: 20 Incredible Landmarks in Ireland.
- 15 Incredible Things to do in Derry
- 1- Walk the Walls of Derry
- 2- Visit St Columb’s
- 3- Tour the political murals
- 4- Explore The Free Derry Museum
- 5- Visit The Tower Museum
- 6- Follow the Fiddle
- 7- Shopping and Theatre
- 8- Derry Jazz Festival
- 9- Cruise the River Foyle
- 10- Step Back in History at the Ulster American Folk Park
- 11- The Siege Museum
- 12- Explore Sion Stables Museum
- Things To Do Near Derry
- 15 Incredible Things to do in Derry
15 Incredible Things to do in Derry
1- Walk the Walls of Derry
Soak in hundreds of years of history as you walk on the Walls of Derry.
Dating back to 1618, these walls form a promenade around Ireland’s first planned city and were originally constructed to defend settlers from England and Scotland.
The settlers, known as planters, were enticed to Derry as part of the plantation programme instigated by King James I of England.
Catholic Irish locals were forced to give up their lands to Protestant settlers.
The name of the city was officially changed to Londonderry, but most Irish continue to refer to it as Derry.
These magnificent walls, which are eight meters high and nine meters wide in some places, have never been breached.
The famous 105-day Siege of Derry occurred in 1689 when Catholic King James II, whose crown was under threat from Protestant William of Orange, ordered his soldiers to take the fort.
The Protestant garrison shut the doors and refused to let them in; the price was thousands of people died of starvation.
The walls are well maintained, as are the four original gates – Shipquay, Ferryquay, Bishop and Butcher.
The cannons mounted along the walls serve as a reminder of past battles and were donated by the Guilds of London in 1649.
These walls are open to the public from dawn until dusk and guided tours available all year round.
2- Visit St Columb’s
St Columb’s was the first cathedral erected in the British Isles after the Reformation.
It was built in 1633, for the English and Scottish planters.
It’s a Gothic cathedral that was restored in the 19th century.
Inside is a small museum with relics from the 1689 Siege of Derry. In the vestibule is a hollow mortar cannonball fired into the city by James II’s army.
The cannonball carried terms for surrender.
The Protestants within the walls defiantly replied “No surrender”, a common phrase used by Ulster Loyalists up until the present day.
3- Tour the political murals
The giant wall murals of the Bogside, Fountain and Waterside areas of Derry commemorate the bloodshed that occurred in Derry’s recent history.
In the Catholic Bogside area, there are 10 murals that illustrate the post-1969 Troubles.
There’s a mural that depicts the events of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Derry, on 30 January 1972, when the British Army opened fire on a Civil Rights demonstration killing 14 people.
Another striking mural is that of 14-year-old Annette McGavigan, the first child victim and 100th victim of the Troubles.
This mural poignantly portrays Annette’s innocence against the chaos of those times.
Now that the Troubles are kind of over, you can pop into the Bogside Artists studio and visit the artists that painted the murals.
All of the artists can tell you about their own experiences through those difficult times.
In contrast, royalist murals of King William, the Red Hand of Ulster and Union Jacks can be found in Loyalist Protestant areas like Fountain Estate and Waterside.
Mural tours depart daily at 10 am and 2 pm from Pilots Row Centre on Rossville Street.
4- Explore The Free Derry Museum
If looking at the murals whets your appetite for more information about the Troubles, head to the Museum of Free Derry.
This is where you can learn more about the civil rights era of the 1960s, as well as the early Troubles era of the 1970’s.
Packed with old photographs and displays, this recently opened museum is located right at the heart of the Bogside battleground.
5- Visit The Tower Museum
Located within Derry’s historic walls, the city’s main museum has displays that tell Derry’s entire story, from its geological formation millions of years ago right up to the present.
Interactive displays depict everything from the plantation to the Siege of Derry right through to the city’s political troubles.
The museum is also home to the Armada Shipwreck exhibition which documents the recovery of La Trinidad Valencera, a ship from the Spanish armada that was shipwrecked off the coast of Donegal in 1588.
For a breath of fresh air and city views, head to the open-air viewing platform at the top of the museum.
6- Follow the Fiddle
Follow the sound of Irish music to Peadar O’Donnells, Derry’s most popular music pub.
Join in the hand-clapping, feet tapping and singing as you down a Guinness or two.
Although local and visiting musicians often perform impromptu, the pub also has a pre-organised live Irish band that plays every night of the week.
7- Shopping and Theatre
The Millennium Forum is the heart of the city’s creative activities, with a programme that offers a variety of artistic performances ranging from ballet to comedy.
The area around Millennium Forum has been earmarked for development into an artistic precinct.
Pop into Foyleside Shopping Centre next door for fashion and food.
8- Derry Jazz Festival
Swing to the jazzy beat at the coolest bash in town.
Tap your toes in a traditional city pub, bop away in a swanky auditorium or listen to jazz as you lie back on a rug in a park.
Performances are spread right across the city and many are free.
The City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival is fast building a reputation and is attracting some of the UK’s top performers.
9- Cruise the River Foyle
Float along the River Foyle and enjoy this historic walled city from the water.
Cruises sail to Culmore Bay and Greencastle, taking in the lush emerald landscape of the Irish countryside.
10- Step Back in History at the Ulster American Folk Park
Learn about how thousands of Irish immigrants made their away to America.
Crossing the Atlantic, they endured an arduous journey to build a life in a new land.
The Ulster American Folk Park has log cabins, thatched cottages and costumed characters who demonstrate traditional crafts and how to cook food the old way.
The park’s 30 buildings, exhibits and replica emigrant ship provides a fun experience for families and history lovers.
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11- The Siege Museum
Learn about the siege of Londonderry at the Siege Museum.
The Siege of Derry was a rebellion against James II and one of the early attempts by Jacobite forces.
On 7 December 1688, the siege was foiled when 13 apprentices shut the gates.
12- Explore Sion Stables Museum
The former 19th-century stable belonging to Sion House is a museum that displays the history of the linen village.
Learn about the lives of the mill owners and workers who produced Irish linen.
The museum has a Herdmans Flax-Spinning Mill built in 1835 and a model village with a school, churches and other exhibits
Have a meal in the old-world setting of restaurant 1861.
Things To Do Near Derry
13- Discover The Sperrins
Explore the mountains and windswept moors of the Sperrins, where hill-walking festivals attract enthusiastic walkers.
Also popular is eel fishing. In winter, join the birdwatchers in search of the wintering wildfowl on the Foyle mudflats and Lough Neagh.
There are thousands of tombs and standing stones across the moors including stone circles at Copney, Aughlish and Beaghmore.
14- Drive The Wild Atlantic Way
Ireland’s west coast is a wilderness with soaring cliffs and lovely towns.
The Wild Atlantic Way is an Irish driving route that is worth putting on your bucket list and one of the longest coastal touring routes in the world.
The drive is an experience in Ireland that complements a historic visit to Derry with the natural beauty of the coast.
15- Explore The Giant’s Causeway
Soaring basalt columns of stone reach up towards the sky next to the North Atlantic Ocean.
This landscape of dramatic cliffs and 40,000 columns is known as the Giant’s Causeway and is the most popular UNESCO Heritage Site in northern Ireland.
The geological wonder is a stunning landscape with a wealth of history and legends abound.
You can learn about is origins at the Visitor Centre and explore the world-famous basalt columns with a ranger.
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