Why go now?
The launch of Bmi’s twice-daily flights from London Stansted to Derry in May makes a weekend in Northern Ireland’s second-largest city an easy jaunt. Especially given the flight is barely an hour long. The once-divided city is now flourishing, with the redeveloped waterfront and Guildhall area capitalising on the riverside setting and new hotels, restaurants and museums springing up on either side. Much of the makeover was in preparation of the city’s year as UK City of Culture 2013 and, capitalising on this, Derry has just launched a joint bit with Belfast for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2023. While the city is more usually known colloquially as Derry, Londonderry is also commonly used and remains the legal name.
Get your bearings
Diminutive Derry straddles the winding River Foyle, its historic Walled City (1) on the west bank now symbolically connected to the east by the softly S-shaped Peace Bridge (2). Built in 2011 ahead of the city’s stint as UK City of Culture, it’s a symbolic and practical way to link historically divided communities. There’s much to see on either side, with the previously no-go area of Ebrington (3), the former British Army barracks, now a peaceful square home to cultural events and exhibitions. Dropping down below the city walls to the north, the Catholic Bogside area beckons with its famous slogan “You are Now Entering Free Derry” loud and proud at Free Derry Corner (4) on Rossville Street. There are compelling tours of the 12 murals that decorate the gable ends of houses given by those who lived through the events they depict and the newly opened Museum of Free Derry (5) that chronicles its history.
At the start of Foyle Street, the Visit Derry Tourist Information Centre (6) (028 7126 7284; visitderry.com) is open from Monday to Saturday, 9am-6pm; Sunday, 10am-5pm.
Take a hike
A good way to understand Derry’s complicated history, while getting your bearings, is to begin with a tour of the old city walls (1). Local guides such as Garvin Kerr of Derry City Tours (028 7127 1996; derrycitytours.com) regale tourists with lively, historical details bringing the well-maintained ramparts to life. A good starting point is the southern stretch of the wall at Bishop’s Gate, with access from Bishop Street Within (7), across the road from St Columb’s Cathedral (8).
The southwest corner is home to Roaring Meg (9), the most famous of the cannons used during the Siege of Derry. Then you come to the section called Grand Parade, which allows you to take in the small but important Bogside area just below, with its emotive gable-end murals recreating defining moments such as the Battle of the Bogside in 1969.
Visitors can learn more about Derry’s history on a city walls tour (iStock)
Lunch on the run
Well-placed in the Craft Village (10), a reconstruction of a Victorian courtyard with local ceramic and tourist shops, Harry’s Derry (11) (028 7137 1635) is probably the best lunch stop in town. It opened this year with a wholesome menu brimming with local dishes such as Mulroy Bay mussels cooked in Northbound 26 ale and barley (£6) and Greencastle plaice with persillade, cockles, bacon, capers and parsley root puree (£12). Open Tuesday from 5.30-9pm and Wednesday until Saturday from 12.30-3pm then 5-9.30pm; closed Sunday.
Selling everything from local crafts such as hand painted chairs and framed art to locally produced artisan foods, Above and Beyond the Warehouse (12) (028 7137 4377; facebook.com/aboveandbeyondthewarehouse) is housed in a listed building beside the restored neogothic Guildhall (13), as famous for its magnificent stained glass windows as for the Sunday Bloody Sunday inquiry. While you browse, look out of the windows to see the historical five trading continent figureheads. Open Monday to Sunday 10am-5.30pm.
Craft Village is a reconstruction of a Victorian courtyard (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Early evening is a mellow time to stroll along the waterfront and across the Peace Bridge (2) to Ebrington Square (3) where the hulking British Army barracks have been transformed. Here the Walled City Brewery (14) (028 7134 3336; walledcitybrewery.com) overlooks the former parade ground, now a public square overlooking the city and river. If anywhere symbolises the city’s rebirth it’s this multipurpose space, with a hotel and whiskey distillery due to open in 2018.
Dine with the locals
Bond’s Hill (15) is home to Browns Restaurant (16) (028 7134 5180; brownsrestaurant.com), the first in the large culinary empire of former ex-River Café alumni Ian Orr. It’s a popular spot so you’ll need to book, but worth it, with delicately turf-smoked beef with wild mushrooms and egg yolk, and seared scallops with smoked caviar, cauliflower and baby leek on the menu. Needless to say it’s all local and seasonal with vegetarian and vegan tasting menus also available. Six courses from £40 and three courses from £22.95. Open daily except Monday.
Derry’s Peace Bridge connects the east and west of the city (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Out to brunch
It will be worth turning brunch into lunch at Brickwork (17) (02871 372888; brickworkderry.com). Set within the Walled City (1), on the corner of Castle Street and Magazine Street, this urban-industrial restaurant has a menu that mixes fusion dishes with street food to great success. The dragon chicken wings served with blue cheese aioli, meaty barbecue back ribs and crispy kimchi chicken are all recommended. Two courses £15.
A walk in the park
Head to St Columb’s Park (18), a rambling expanse of greenery just above Ebrington (3), topped by the Foyle Arena (19). The grounds contain the ruins of a small church and the larger St Columb’s Park House (20), an 18th century manor house with a café as well as conference and residential accommodation.
The Guildhall is a restored neogothic building (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Take a ride
Stay in the park and head to the main house to meet Lorcan and team for a new, guided Boom Board tour on a Hawaiian long board (07775 911198; farandwild.org). First comes a lesson, before you find your way over the Peace Bridge (2) towards the marina, then back past the Guildhall (13) returning over the bridge to the Walled City Brewery (14) for a tasting.
The Museum of Free Derry (5) (028 71 360 880; museumoffreederry.org) re-opened in February at Glenfada Park in the heart of the Bogside area, after a £2.4 million redevelopment project. A short downward walk from the city centre, the museum’s main focus is the infamous Bloody Sunday when 14 civil rights protestors were shot dead by the British Army on 30 January 1972.
The stories of the civil rights era, the Battle of the Bogside and other events are chronicled through photographs, newspaper reports, film clips, interactive displays and the accounts of first-hand witnesses (many of the staff lost loved ones during The Troubles). Open daily, Monday to Friday, 9.30am-4.30pm; Saturday, 1-4pm (April to September); Sunday 1-4pm (July to September). Entry costs £4.
Bogside has murals depicting the area’s violent history (Getty Images)
Bmi regional (0330 333 7998; flybmi.com) flies twice daily from London Stansted to the City of Derry Airport (21), except Saturdays when there is just one daily flight. From £44 one-way.
Seven miles from the city centre, a taxi from here costs £12; the hourly bus costs £3.50 one-way.
Once a gentleman’s club, the Bishop’s Gate Hotel (22) (028 71 140 300; bishopsgatehotelderry.com) is a listed Edwardian building, which recently re-opened in the Cathedral Quarter. Leaded, stained glass windows and sweeping staircases keep things grand and traditional while the 30 modern rooms are boutique sleek. Hearty breakfasts in the all-day Wig & Gown restaurant include big bowls of porridge with banana and a generous slug of Irish whiskey. Doubles from £129, B&B.
Ensconced in 32 acres of woodland and lakes, Beech Hill Country House Hotel (23) (028 7134 9279; beech-hill.com) is a gleaming cream-painted Georgian pile barely two miles from the walled city centre. Used as a US Marine base during WWII, a related exhibition and archive is now available within the hotel, and outside, 6km of woodland trails reveal the remains of the camp. Doubles from £95, B&B.
Set within the city walls, the modern, unfussy Maldron Hotel (24) (028 7137 1000; maldronhotelderry.com) has pared back rooms with splashes of bright yellow and views of the River Foyle. There are two restaurants and the gym is free for guests. Doubles from £99, B&B.