Derry is Northern Ireland’s second largest city and offers a surprising amount of things to do for visitors. Often overlooked by visitors in favour of Belfast or cities in the Republic, Londonderry / Derry’s troubled history may have hampered the city’s tourist industry in past decades.
But, Derry has come leaps and bounds in recent years. The city is now attracting visitors with its varied history and Irish charm. Today you’ll find a thriving cultural city with good food, beer, and friendly locals.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I have family in the city, which brings me here at least once a year over the past 10 years, it is unlikely Derry would have been high up on my choice of cities. But my first visit in 2011 surprised me. And I have continued to be fascinated by it ever since and always look forward to my visits to my granddad. Here’s what to do in Derry, Northern Ireland.
Stroll along the River Foyle
The River Foyle runs through the heart of Derry. It’s also a great place to start exploring. Start by taking a relaxing walk along the Quayside. Don’t forget to cross over the Peace Bridge at some point during your stay. It opened on 25 June 2011, connecting Ebrington Square with the rest of the city centre. The bridge now symbolises the unification of a once deeply divided place.
Further along, you’ll come to the Foyle Point Marina where you’ll find some nice coffee shops and cafes such as Primrose on the Quay and Patricia’s Coffee House. Grab a table outside if the weather is dry to enjoy the view of the boats and harbour.
This bank is called Foyleside and is the side most of the tourists sites are on. Over the bridge however, you’ll find a good place for a meal and craft beer – Walled City Brewery. Just make sure to book ahead to avoid disappointment. We last visited over Halloween and weren’t able to get a table the entire time.
Tour the murals in the Bogside and Free Derry corner
Back Foyleside, you can explore Derry’s long history.
The murals tell the story of the most turbulent time in Derry history. Known as the Troubles, the city was deeply divided along Catholic and Protestant lines. Starting in the 1960s, the city experienced civil uprisings, riots, and violence, marking perhaps the darkest time in its history. The murals along the Bogside tell a story of life during this time, which began with Bloody Sunday.
Starting at Free Derry Corner, take a walk around the Bogside to see the murals. The picture the murals paint is a harsh one but brought to light by the artists in hopes that by examining its painful past, it can truly learn to heal.
John Caker Casey painted “Free Derry” on the side of a house on 5th January 1969. The name “Free Derry” was given to the areas of the Bogside, Creggan and Brandywell that were barricaded off from the security forces between August 1969 and July 1972. The wall remains today as one of the most enduring symbols of the Troubles.
End your tour at the Free Derry Museum. The museum, located in the Tower, focuses on the 1960s civil rights era known as The Troubles and the Free Derry Irish nationalist movement in the early 1970s. Or, for a guided tour of the murals, sign up at the Free Derry Museum.
Shop the Derry Craft Village
Around the corner from the Free Derry Museum, the Craft Village is the perfect spot to find some treasures to take home or grab some lunch.
Nestled off of Shipquay Street, the old-world vibes village, complete with a traditional-styled thatched roof cottage, features art galleries, Waterford crystal, book shops, handmade items, and souvenirs along with some cafes. You can find a list of shops here.
Walk Derry’s City Walls
Derry is known as the walled city and remains the last completely walled city in Ireland. One of the best ways to sightsee around it and learn a bit about its history is to walk the walls. Start near the Guildhall, making your way around the old city centre. Along the way, you’ll encounter views of the Bogside on one side and the fortified centre on the other.
Visit the Tower Museum
The Tower Museum, across from the Guildhall and just inside the city walls, provides an excellent overview of local history. Explore the settlement of the city, to its growth in the 18th and 19th century, through to the Troubles that so defined the 20th.
See the Guildhall
The Guildhall is perhaps the most emblematic building in the city, dominating its skyline. After being rebuilt twice, it remains at the heart of modern Derry’s culture.
Head inside for an exhibition on the history of Derry city and a look around the main hall and mayor chambers.
Have a Night Out
No trip to an Irish town would be complete without a proper night out at a traditional pub. And there’s nowhere better to spend (or start) your night that Derry institution Paeder O’Donells. Located down Waterloo Street, which features a number of traditional bars and pubs, the pub features lively music, a good atmosphere, and a top-notch pint of Guinness. If you are looking for a great meal beforehand, try the Gown Restaurant at Bishop’s Gate Hotel, high-quality food and drink with great service at a surprisingly good price or head to Pyke and Pomme for some casual street food.
If you are a craft beer fan, you’ll find plenty of local brews in Derry’s bars and pubs. I recommend a trip to the waterside to visit the Walled City Brewery which has several in-house beers and a street food style menu. Book ahead, it is a popular spot. On our recent trip, we stopped by the Guildhall Tap House, a tiny bar featuring a selection of small local brews. One of our favourites we tried was from a craft brewer called Dopey Dick Brewing Co, named after the subject of a local story where an orca whale swam up the Foyle River to Derry City during the troubles, captivating a divided population.
Take a day trip from Derry to the Giant’s Causeway
It is fairly easy to get to one of Northern Ireland’s most famous attractions – The Giant’s Causeway. It’s just a short one hour drive from Derry to the Giant’s Causeway or you can take a scenic train from Derry to Coleraine and then a bus from Coleraine to the causeway. By transport, it should take you just over two hours to get there.
Find my full guide to the Giant’s Causeway here.
Cross the Border to Donegal
You are only right over the border from gorgeous Donegal. So make take a trip into the Republic to Derry’s neighbour county. Buses run daily to the seaside town of Buncrana and Letterkenny for a day trip out. If you have a car, there’s a few routes you can choose to take for an incredible beautiful drive. I recommend taking one of two loops., which is just a short drive from Derry. We recently took the loop around the Fanad Peninsula taking us past spectacular sea and lake views, mountain backdrops, to lighthouses and old castle. Not a second of that drive wasn’t drop dead gorgeous. We started and ended in Letterkenny, a friendly little town that is great for a pub lunch or an evening beer after you drive.
Another loop will take you from Derry up through Moville up to Malin Head, the most northerly part of Ireland. While you are exploring, make sure to take some time out to visit the Famine Village which tells the story of old Irish life and one of the most trying times in the country’s history and travel along the coast down to Buncrana, taking in historic forts, waterfalls and more.
Visit the filming locations of Derry Girls
Derry recently graced TV screens as the backdrop of Derry Girls. Hugely popular in the UK and Ireland, the show is a comedy series centred around the lives of a teenage girl during the Troubles in the 90s and her friends and family. The show is absolutely brilliant and I’d highly recommend it. But if you are already a fan, you might want to check out a few of these spots.
- Derry Girls Mural: Badger’s Bar in the town centre has recently been graced with an entire wall painted with a mural of the girls (and the wee English lad). You find it just outside and you can also spot it from on top of the walls.
- Dennis’s Wee Shop: This general store appears a few times in the show and is a real shop. I would note that I didn’t pass by it last time I was in Derry and hear it may have closed?
- Pump Street to grab a cream horn
- Orchard Row
- Limewood Street
- Derry’s other famous landmarks such as the Peace Bridge, Guildhall Square and the walls
Other tips for visiting Derry
Getting to Derry
Derry has it’s own airport but it is very small and flights are limited. I’ve only flown into it once as from London you have to fly Ryanair from Stansted. If you do manage to get a flight in, taxis into the city centre will cost about £12-£15 or you can grab a bus outside. Download the Translink app to pay. You’ll need it for any of the buses around Derry anyway.
I usually fly into Belfast International and get a private transfer, called the Airporter, which drops me off on the Foyleside. It costs about £30 for a single or £50 for a round trip . You can also catch it from Belfast City Airport.
If you are stopping off in Belfast, you might find it easiest to travel by train which leaves hourly and takes about 2 hours.
Otherwise, you might be heading to Derry from the south. From Dublin, you can either grab two trains (about 5 hours) or a bus (4 hours).
Do I call it Derry or Londonderry?
A question many visitors have and one without an easy answer. It is quite a political subject. I have always called it Derry and no one has ever corrected me and it is likely you’ll find the same. For the most part, just avoid saying it.
Pack for all weather
Derry tends to be quite a rainy place to visit but the weather can be unpredictable. A warm sunny day can quickly descend into cold windy rain so bring layers, waterproofs, umbrellas, etc.