Things to do in Derry – Londonderry, Northern Ireland
Looking for things to do in Derry? We have you covered. We have visited the city of Derry twice before, and finally had the chance to really dig into exploring Londonderry on our latest trip to Northern Ireland this past summer.
Located in County Derry, Londonderry always seemed to be a quick stopover on our Irish road trip as we were on our way to explore places like the Causeway Coastal route or Belfast. But after a stay this past summer we realized that we never gave this underrated Irish city the time that it deserved.
Top Things to do in Derry
Officially, the city of Derry is named Londonderry. Derry Londonderry is often used to cover all bases. If you are British you most likely will use the official name of Londonderry. However,
After a beautiful day’s drive from Belfast, we arrived at our hotel The Hotel Maldran Derry which is located directly beside the walled city.
This was one of our favorite places we stayed in all of Ireland with a perfect view of the Peace Bridge and River Foyle. We were within walking distance to all the main attractions in the city of Derry, so after parking our car, we set out on foot to explore Derry.
The London Derry Attraction Pass is an excellent pass to purchase in advance of visiting Derry. It offers access to 10 derry attractions letting you see the best the city of Derry has to offer. The pass includes entrance to the Saint Columba Heritage Centre, Siege Museum, St Augustine’s Church, St Columb’s Cathedral, St Eugene’s Cathedral, The Guildhall, The Museum of Free Derry, and the Tower Museum plus a Bogside History Tour, or a Martin McCrossan City Walking Tour. See more details here.
1. Walk The Derry Walls
The City Walls date back to 1613 and surround the Old City. A walk along the Walls of Derry is a great way to start your stay in Derry as it offers views of the entire city from all angles. It is an easy walk around the walls and they are not to be missed. The still intact City Walls are one of the finest examples of Walled Cities in all of Europe and Derry is the only completely walled city in Ireland.
It is 1.5 km walk all around the entire inner city with seven gates in total. Take a stroll to see the cannons and beautiful lookout points. The Walls of Derry have never been breached which is astounding with all of the troubles they have seen. They were regularly under siege from 1649 – 1689, and during the troubles, they were used as a divider in the city. A great place to start you walk on the Derry Walls is at Butcher’s Gate, 6 Magazine Street Upper, Londonderry, Ireland.
This Highly Rated Private Walled City Tour takes you on a guided tour dating back six thousand years through Derry’s past. The 1.4 km walk goes along the walls where you’ll hear stories of how the walled city came to be, why the name Londonderry is still contested and you’ll learn about the Siege of Derry, The Apprentice Boys and more.
2. Peace Bridge
We had a beautiful view of the Peace Bridge spanning the River Foyle from our hotel room and couldn’t wait to get down to the waterfront to go for a stroll. Opened in 2011, the Peace Bridge is a pedestrian link between the city centre to the old army barracks at Ebrington Square on the Waterside. You can cycle across the Peace Bridge as well and during sunset, it is a bustling place with locals walking home.
On either side of the river, there is a lovely River Walk to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and it is just a short walk to the Manor House at St Columb’s Park from the Peace Bridge.
3. Bogside Murals
The People’s Gallery in Bogside is definitely one of the top things to do in Derry. A walk through the Bogside area takes you on a visual journey recounting the conflicts and injustices that took place during the troubles. Today, there are also murals of social injustices around the world.
Located by Free Derry Corner outside the walled city, the Bogside artists consist of brothers Thomas and William Kelly and their friend Kevin Hanson who spent a decade painting murals on walls of buildings in the Bogside area. The murals depict important moments from the civil unrest that took place across six counties in Northern Ireland for more than 30 years.
They not only pay tribute to the people of Derry City but other human rights activists like Nelson Mandella, Martin Luther King Jr, and Mother Theresa. It is a sobering display of just how difficult the times were with paintings depicting the horrors of war. The Derry Murals Tour gives a good overview on a guided tour sharing what the murals are about and the history of Derry.
4. Bloody Sunday Monument
One of the most significant events of the time was Bloody Sunday which took place on January 30, 1972, when British paratroopers opened fire on protesters. 14 civilians were killed that day by British Soldiers and more were injured. There is a monument dedicated to those who died where you can pay your respects.
One of the most significant murals depicts a young schoolgirl who was killed on that day. Anette McGavigan was only 14 years old when she was gunned down. She was still in her school uniform and the objects that she was collecting for a school project are at her feet. Her killing marked the 100th civilian death in The Troubles.
We highly recommend taking a Bloody Sunday Bogside Tour to learn of the modern history of Derry. There has been a lot of unrest and conflict from the separation of Ireland to the Battle of the Bogside, The Bloody Sunday massacre and the Civil Rights period. A tour gives insight to Derry’s history and how things are today.
5. Free Derry Corner
As you enter the Bogside Area, the first thing you will see is the mural stating, you are now entering Free Derr. This is Free Derry corner. From 1969 to 1972, this area was a self-declared autonomous region that acted outside the government. It was the location for the Battle of Bogside and Bloody Sunday. While the troubles have settled, the walls and murals remain.
As you walk along Lecky Road you’ll come across many monuments depicting Derry’s turbulent history. There are photographs of activists that were shot showing how they had no way to survive and how they were left by the police to suffer with their wounds until their death. There is a monument dedicated to the hunger strike victims who died in jail. The Irish Republican Prisoners were protesting the fact that the British government struck down the provisionary status that they were not prisoners of war but criminals.
6. Hunger Strike Monument
One hunger striker was elected during his 66 days. Bobby Sands eventually died of starvation along with nine other protestors. To read the stories and see the photos from these times is truly astounding. We had heard very little about it in Canada at the time but to visit the memorials in Derry puts faces to those who suffered. Their stories are told and they will be remembered. I
We found that we could spend hours at the memorials and murals of Derry. As we read each memorial, we reflected on the times we are living in today and see that the human race has this uncontrollable pattern of repeating its cycle of hate and violence. I only hope that one day we will find our way.
7. Free Derry Museum
Once you have seen the murals of Bogside, The Free Derry Museum is a good place to make your way to next. The Museum opened in 2007 and focuses on the civil rights era of the 1960s and the Free Derry troubles of the 1970s. Located in the area where the Battle of the Bogside, Internment, Bloody Sunday, and Operation Motorman took place. The Free Derry museum tells the story from the point of view of those who were there and lived through troubling times. Entry to the Free Derry Museum is included in a Londonderry Attraction Pass
Make sure to go inside Guildhall. We nearly didn’t as there was a private event the day we arrived. Luckily, we went back the next day and went upstairs as it is beautiful. But not only that, upstairs on the second floor is where the Bloody Sunday hearings took place.
I expected to walk through the hall and snap a few photographs of its rooms but it was while there that I learned this was where testimony was heard for four years from 2000 – 2004. I watched the videos of the hearings that took place so many years later. While the military was found to be at fault, nobody has been officially held accountable and to this day, the victim’s families have not seen justice.
Guildhall stands on Guildhall Square which is a lovely square in just outside the walled city. There is a lovely view looking down from the Derry Walls,
9. Siege Museum
We may know a lot about the IRA troubles between the Catholics and Protestants in Derry, but this city has had a long history of war and violence. The Siege Museum tells the story of the Siege of Derry in 1689. The siege lasted 105 days but they held their ground against the Jacobites who supported the deposed King James II. Entrance to the Siege Museum is included with your Londonderry Attraction Pass
10. Derry Girls Filming Locations
Derry Girls is a popular TV show about growing up in Derry in the 1990s which were the final years of The Troubles. It has gotten more attention since the premier of Bridgerton (at least that’s how it caught our eye) as it stars Nicola Coughlan who plays Penelope Featherington.
While most of the show is filmed in Belfast, exterior scenes are shot in Derry and of course, all of the locations referenced are located in Derry. You can take a walking tour of Derry to see such places like Bishop’s Gate, Long Tower Church, and Dennis Wee Shop. Don’t miss the Derry Girls Mural, they even have their own mural in Derry city.
The Derry Girls Tour to some of the show’s most iconic filming locations, such as Bishop’s Gate, Long Tower Church, Dennis Wee Shop, and the Derry Girls mural located on the side of Badger’s Bar.
11. Tower Museum
Located within the Derry City Walls, the Tower Museum cannot be missed. Meaning, that you literally can’t miss it. The museum has two permanent exhibits, The Story of Derry and An Armada Shipwreck – La Trinidad Valencera. The Spanish ship sank off the Donegal Coast in 1588.
The Tower Museum also has the only open-air viewing platform in the city located on the fifth floor. Entry to the Tower Museum is included in the Londonderry Attractions Pass
12. St Columb’s Cathedral
No tour of an Irish city would be complete without mentioning its cathedrals. We sauntered into the grounds of St Columb’s Cathedral and when inside found a pleasant surprise. Volunteers welcomed us with open arms and told us the story of the cathedral pointing out interesting pieces within. It was the friendliest cathedral we’ve ever stepped foot in.
It is a must-see as it was the first protestant church built in Britain or Ireland following the reformation. It is one of Derry’s oldest buildings dating back to 1633 which is saying a lot as it survived the Siege of Derry and The Troubles.
13. St Eugene’s Cathedral
We didn’t go inside St Eugene’s Cathedral, but we saw it at every turn from the city walls. It is a Roman Catholic cathedral dating back to 1873.
14. Craft Village
We had the hardest time finding the Craft Village and it was located just down the street from our hotel. But it is so well hidden. We finally had to ask someone where to sneak into the unassuming alleyway but once inside we were so glad we searched for it. When we left from the other side, we noticed it wasn’t hidden at all we just entered from the back.
Anyway, this lovely alley is filled with gift and craft shops leading to Village Square in Derry city centre. The village square is covered and a great place to pull up a seat and have a pint. There is an unmissable thatched cottage in the village that is very picturesque and perfect for your Instagram moments.
15. St Columb’s Park
If you are looking for a little greenspace or a spot to have a picnic, St Columb’s Park is located just across the Peace Bridge from the Old City on the right bank of the River Foyle. You can cycle or walk to it to see st Columb’s Park House, an 18th century manor house and a walled garden. There’s a cafe, pathways, and even a running track.
Another tranquil park just outside of Derry Londonderry is Ness Country Park. Ness Country Park conists of 55 hectares of parkland where you can do some riverside walks and a hike to a waterfall.
16. Browns in Town
We ate at Browns in Town and it had a great ambiance. It is a trendy casual restaurant located in the heart of Derry. Prices are reasonable and besides being a wine bar, it has fantastic cocktails and serves local craft beer.
Walled City Brewery
If you are looking for something unique to do in Derry, make your way to the Walled City Brewery. The Walled City Brewery doesn’t offer tours, but you can enjoy an interactive experience where you will learn about the 9000 year olf history of brewing. All while tasting 10 craft beers that are paired with snacks. You can book tours and tastings on their website.
When looking for Derry Nightlife, make your way to Waterloo Street and go pub hopping. It runs along the Derry walls. We strolled from our hotel at Butchers Gate and followed the sound of live music down to the river.
Europe’s Biggest Halloween Celebration
Ireland is where Halloween originated and when visiting Londonderry Ireland during Halloween, you can count on the biggest Halloween celebration in Europe. When it originated, Halloween was not the celebration it is now. Instead it was a day that the ancient celts dressed up in animal skins to ward off evil spirits and avoid being taken away.
In late October get a chance to experience the country’s largest all hallow’s eve festival in Derry. The Londonderry Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival offers a spooktacular four-day celebration during the last week of October every year. It features parades, bonfires, and of course, people of all ages dressed as their favorite ghosts, ghouls, and monsters. Dublin still celebrates Samhain. Places to Visit For Halloween – Around the World
Where to Stay in Derry
We stayed at the Maldron Hotel right in the city centre. It had beautiful views of the River Foyle and is located right next to the Butchers Gate by the Derry City Walls. There is a fitness center with sauna and there is parking on site. For parking, make sure to arrive early as it is available on a first come first serve basis. There is a parking lot nearby if the hotel lot is full.
- Address Butcher St, Londonderry BT48 6HL, UK
How to Get to Derry
Derry Londonderry is located in County Derry and is just a three-hour drive from Dublin and just under two hours from Belfast.
When you visit Derry, chances are you will come touring from Dublin or Belfast on an Irish Road Trip so you will probably enter county Londonderry by car. Derry City does have an airport, The Derry Ireland Airport. Flights arrive from the UK but we drove from Belfast where we rented a car. We have also driven to Derry from Dublin and it is also a very nice scenic drive.
Day Trips from Derry
The Derry Colerain train journey is ofted touted as one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. The Derry Colerain Railway travels between Derry~Londonderry and Coleraine passing long sandy beaches, mountains, and seacliffs. A highlight is most certainly the long sandy beach of Benone Strand. We actually crossed under the train tracks to walk along this beach which is considered one of Ireland’s most beautiful and unspoiled beaches.
The journey isn’t long, but during it, you’ll pass through two of Ireland’s longest tunnels and it ends at Colerain where you can carry on your journey through the Causeway Coast.
The Causeway Coast is a spectacular scenic drive with plenty of stops including the Giant’s Causeway, several Game of Thrones Filming Locations, The Dark Hedges, Bushmills Distillery and The Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. This is much more than a day trip and even though it can all be driving in one day, we suggest at least 4 days to explore the Causeway Coast. It can be done on a bus tour if you aren’t ready to drive on the other side of the road.
Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne
Overlooking Benone Strand is Mussenden Temple. The temple is located on the cliffs of Castlerock also overlooking Downhill Strand. It is operated by The National Trust and you can tour its grounds including the manor house. Downhill House was once a grand Italian-inspired villa built by the Earl Bishop of Derry. It was devastated by fire in the 1800s but there are still remnants of its grandeur.