As the only remaining completely walled city in the British Isles, Derry, also known as Londonderry, is famous as the home of one of the best city-wall walks available anywhere in Britain or Europe.
There is some 1,500 years of history locked into the seventeenth-century walls.
But today’s Derry is not about living in its chequered past; in fact it is widely regarded as an emerging cosmopolitan city with a vibrant present to be reckoned with.
What makes Derry so delightful is the juxtaposition between its ancient fortifications and a new-found energy.
Just stand on its magnificent walls and flip on the Derry~Londonderry app to discover the latest in array of things to do in a city bursting with attractions, artistic expression and real get up and go.
In 2013 the third largest city on the island of Ireland becomes the UK´s first City of Culture.
The optimism around this in the Derry air is palpable, for the walled city has bounced back in spades, revitalised and rejuvenated after life in the ‘Troubles’ and years of decline.
Yes, it acknowledges a divided past with tours, exhibitions and re-enactments of painful episodes, but nowadays the city prefers to walk forward in peace, bringing people together.
The Derry people are friendly, really friendly – great laughers and leg-pullers – and the city’s youthful population is full of hope and a determination to move on.
As the city gears up for the unforgettable year-long cultural feast, art lovers, music fans, festival goers, adventure aficionados and the just plain curious aren’t waiting: Derry is already on the must-see map.
Just ask the thousands of visitors who are expected to flock to the city when it hosts the ten-day Clipper Homecoming Festival this summer (29 June to 8 July) on the banks of the River Foyle.
A jam-packed programme on and off the water will celebrate the arrival of the 10 yachts currently competing in the Clipper Round the World Race – the world’s longest ocean race.
The city’s own yacht, the Derry~Londonderry, is competing in the race to highlight its UK City of Culture 2013 status in ports around the world, but for all of the 68-footers the local population is preparing to provide an Irish welcome home festival like no other.
On the arrival weekend alone an exquisite Flavours of the Foyle Seafood Festival will run and the finest musicians from the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention – the Olympics of the fiddle world – will also be in full flow, featuring the likes of the Chieftains among their ranks.
Viking longboats and Zapcat powerboats will be just two of the on-water spectacles in the ten-day festival, while from 2 July to 4 July visitors and locals will be able to board the Clipper fleet itself, meet the crews and learn all about their extraordinary experiences.
On 5 July to 8 July the Legenderry Festival will kick in.
Highlights include a marine environment zone with visiting boats, a heritage zone telling the story of the River Foyle, Northern Ireland’s largest continental market and sizzling musical entertainment and creative family events every day.
The long summer evenings will provide a perfect backdrop for the Legenderry concert featuring local talent on 5 July and on 6 July while a Clipper Connections musical evening will be followed by a colourful River Foyle fireworks display – a wonderful send-off to the Clipper fleet on 7 July.
If festival goers can tear themselves away from the events on the banks of the Foyle, they will find Derry charmingly compact and hilly, with a whole host of attractions contained within the city centre.
Most of the sights and key experiences can be discovered easily on foot, and top of the must-do list is of course a stroll around Derry’s walls.
Approximately a mile long, the walls form a walkway around the inner city and provide a unique rampart from which to view the layout of the original town.
If you fancy a wander, museums, arts centres, a craft village, cafes and restaurants, pubs where the bands such as the ‘Teenage Kicks’ Undertones cut their teeth and an Oscar-nominated multi-media complex are all located in and around the walls.
A guided tour is perhaps best though, as it will take you expertly and entertainingly through 400 years of Irish history – the knowledge will enhance your visit no end.
The walls were first built in 1618 to defend Protestant settlers during the colonisation of Ireland and despite three major sieges were never breached (which is why Derry is also called the Maiden City).
The most famous was the Siege of Derry in 1689, when 7,000 people out of a Protestant population of 30,000 died holding out against the forces of the Catholic King James II.
Some of the original cannons from the era remain on the walls today, including Roaring Meg, so named because of her ferocious sound in battle, said to be more terrifying to the enemy than the contents of the charge.
A city walls tour also takes in recent Irish history, which is commemorated on murals on walls of a more modern vintage in the Bogside neighbourhood.
This area is overlooked by the city ramparts and during the Troubles it was often the focus of news headlines around the world.
The murals, now an essential part of Derry’s tourism landscape, capture key moments of the Troubles such as the Battle of the Bogside, which many believe kick-started the Northern Ireland conflict, the civil rights marches through the city and the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre.
A related tour of the People´s Gallery on William Street provides a chance to meet the Bogside Artists and includes a presentation and a question and answer session.
If a walking tour is not your thing, then you might like to tour in a taxi, the Legenderry road train, an open top bus or even a cruise along the glorious River Foyle; perfect in summer.
Top things to do
There is so much to do in Derry that you need to give yourself plenty of time to explore.
In a city alive with music and culture you can catch a show at the Millennium Forum or drop into a live band or traditional seisiún in one of the many pubs – there’s music seven days a week in dozens of venues from Sandinos to Peadars to the Nerve Centre.
Hungry? Sample a bowl of Irish stew at Caife Fáilte in the Culturlann language and arts centre, a beacon for locals and tourists and home to the city’s Irish-speaking community.
This is a peaceful space where Irish speakers and learners can practice their language skills and culture seekers can take classes in traditional music and dance.
The neo-gothic Guildhall, the civic and cultural centre for Derry, is also well worth visiting, as the stained-glass windows are considered the finest in Great Britain.
Or spend a couple of hours at the Riverwatch Aquarium and Visitor Centre, a great attraction located just outside the city centre. With free admission it´s a must for families and visitors.
Derry is laced with museums and another top place to get immersed in the city’s story can be found in the impressive Tower Museum.
There are two permanent exhibitions. One takes the visitor on an artefact filled high-tech audio-visual tour covering the first evidence of human habitation in Derry in 7000BC through to the Troubles and the peace process. The other is based around an Armada shipwreck discovered in local waters.
If the weather is good it’s worth heading to the Amelia Earhart Centre and Wildlife Sanctuary set in Ballygarnett Country Park. It commemorates the unexpected landing of Amelia Earhart in Derry on her historic solo flight across the Atlantic in 1932.
For a modern, living history vibe drop over to the iconic Free Derry Corner to have your photo taken, then visit the Museum of Free Derry, just off Rossville Street.
It chronicles the history the civil rights movement and the events of Bloody Sunday through photographs, newspaper reports, film clips and the accounts of first-hand witnesses.
Cross the river via Derry’s new and iconic Peace Bridge and you come to the Waterside district.
Here you´ll find the Workhouse Museum housing the Atlantic Memorial exhibition, dealing with the extensive part played by Derry in the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II as well as artefacts and archives relating to workhouse life, 19th century poverty and the Irish Famine.
On the Waterside you will also find Ebrington Square, a former army parade ground and now a public space that will be the venue for the Peace One Day concert on midsummer’s day, 21 June.
This is actually the opener for the London 2012 Festival that will run alongside the Olympic Games.
International acts such as Pixie Lott, Imelda May, Newton Faulkner, Guillemots and Wonder Villains will rock the city.
UK City of Culture
But the Peace One Day concert and the Clipper festival – even Derry’s massive Banks of the Foyle Hallowe’en Festival, the biggest in Europe – are but lead-ins and tasters for the delights to come during the UK City of Culture year.
The opening event for the year of culture will be a massive ´Sons and Daughters´ concert in January 2013.
Featuring all the city´s top names from stage and screen, including the Undertones, Phil Coulter, Paul Brady, and the Priests, the event will be hosted at Ebrington Square.
Ground-breaking projects in music, theatre, dance and visual art will be among the highlights – in fact there won´t be such a condensed array of different sorts of art forms in one place in one time anywhere else in the world than in Derry in 2013.
The All-Ireland Fleadh will bring Irish traditional music, language, culture and 300,000 people to the city for 10 days in August.
October 2013 will see the Turner Prize, the most important event in the UK´s contemporary art calendar and one of Europe’s most prestigious awards, leave London for the first time and come to Derry. Some 70,000 art lovers will be in the city to view the Turner Prize exhibition.
Derry, Londonderry, the Walled City, the Maiden City, Stroke City (Derry-stroke-Londonderry) and the latest addition to the city’s nomenclature, Legenderry.
The city has many names to go with its many characteristics.
Whatever you call it, one thing is sure: it will never disappoint.