Walk the historic walls, hunt for giant murals, lose yourself in museums and down a few pints of Guinness. Here are 10 things to do in Derry.
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.
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.
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 10am and 2pm from Pilots Row Centre on Rossville Street.
Free Derry museum
If looking at the murals whets your appetite for more information about the Troubles, head to the Museum of Free Derry 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.