Derry, Londonderry, Doire, the Maiden City, the Walled City, Stroke City – Northern Ireland’s second city has many names and flavours, depending on who’s talking about it. My personal favourite nickname is Legenderry, used for a lot of the publicity material when it was the UK City of Culture back in 2013. It’s a small city visibly full of culture and history, and as well as its recognition as the best city in the world in which to celebrate Halloween, it’s recently found new global fame with the hit comedy show Derry Girls.
Set in the 1990s towards the end of the Troubles, the Channel 4 (UK) show follows a group of teenaged girls – and the wee English fella who ends up at their nun-run girls-only school – as they navigate life, family, friendships and romance in a city not quite like any other. It’s available on Netflix US and on All4 in the UK, and the second series is coming very soon. Derry Girls has been embraced enthusiastically by the city, and its stars have already been immortalised in a mural!
One of Derry’s main attractions is the 17th century wall around the centre of the city, described in an earlier Touring Tuesday by James Shields. The walk around the walls is only about a mile long though steep in parts (I recommend going anti-clockwise for the less steep way round), and it’s a great way to learn about Derry’s history from its frequent information boards, and get some excellent views over the city, the Foyle river which runs through it, and out towards the Donegal hills. And also over many of the other murals in Derry, which illustrate Derry’s past, its future hopes, and many significant historical figures – not all of them from the local area.
Derry is a city with a violent history, particularly in the late 1600s during the Siege of Derry and again in the late 1900s with the Troubles that racked Northern Ireland. There are small museums dedicated to both – the Siege Museum within the walls and the Museum of Free Derry in the Bogside to the west of the city centre. The Tower Museum is a more general museum of artefacts from the area, including from the La Trindad Valencera, a 16th century Spanish Armada ship wrecked off the nearby coast, and there’s also a free exhibition about Derry and Ulster plantations in the Guildhall. The Guildhall’s well worth a quick visit in its own right especially if you’re interested in stained glass! Many of its windows were donated by the Guilds of London, hence the hall’s name.
Although Derry is easy enough to navigate by yourself, and there are lots of online resources for learning more about the city and the area, there are plenty of walking tours which will take you around the walls and into other interesting areas, including the award-winning Martin McCrossan City Tours.
Derry has a good selection of restaurants and bars, from classic Irish pubs with wooden floors and booths and regular trad music, to more modern bistros serving good food and an impressive array of craft beers, whiskeys and gins! There are several local distilleries (including Muff Liquor from just over the border) and breweries – for both beer and food, I recommend the Walled City Brewery, a short stroll across the Peace Bridge in the former Ebrington barracks, and the Guildhall Taphouse whose beers are named ‘Dopey Dick’ after the killer whale which famously got a bit lost up Lough Foyle in the 1970s.
Derry is a small enough city that you could easily spend just a few days getting a good feel for what it has to offer visitors. But it also makes an excellent base for travelling further afield in the surrounding counties – you can reach the Giant’s Causeway, the Fermanagh lakes, the Sperrin mountains, Belfast, or the beautiful scenery of Donegal all in an hour or two’s drive.
For more information about Derry and the local area, see Visit Derry.
Catherine Sharp has lived happily in the Derry area for nearly 20 years although she’s originally from Wales. She’s an avid reader, viewer and (unpublished) writer of fantasy and sci-fi, and is a member of the Octocon committee as well as on programming staff for Dublin 2019. Find her on Twitter @CSharpWords.
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