The huge variety in the things to do in Derry make it somewhere all visitors will enjoy. Derry (Londonderry) is located in the province still part of the United Kingdom and its success in establishing peace after conflict is something that will surely impress every visitor.
Derry, like many Irish cities, benefits from the character of the Irish people and the way history has fashioned it into what visitors will experience today.
By day, there is plenty to see in its main landmarks and by night its bars and restaurants will satisfy even the most discerning traveller.
Activities in Derry include visiting museums and cathedrals, admiring the great architecture and colourful murals — and more! History greeted me at every turn during my stay, while the countryside that surrounds the city was beautiful.
My background in history and politics led me to locations that illustrated the troubling times starkly indeed. However, the things to do in Derry go far beyond such matters and the genuine hospitality of locals during my time there made it difficult to imagine there was ever serious religious conflict.
Many of the best things to see in Derry are all within walkable distance of each other, and even if you just visit on a weekend, you’ll be able to experience much of the city. This post lists 15 things to do in Derry that you should not miss during your visit!
15 Best Things to Do in Derry
In This Post:
- 1. Walk the Impressive Walls of Derry
- 2. Drink Guinness While Enjoying Live Music at Peadar O’Donnell’s
- 3. Learn More in the Tower Museum
- 4. Visit The Beautiful Guildhall
- 5. Admire Derry’s Oldest Monument
- 6. Pay Your Respects at St. Eugene’s Catholic Cathedral
- 7. Walk Across The Award-Winning Peace Bridge
- 8. Understand the Meaning of “Free Derry”
- 9. Check Out The Street Art at People’s Gallery
- 10. See Film Locations of The Derry Girls
- 11. Go For a Walk in Ness Country Park
- 12. Take a History Lesson — With a Hanging or Two!
- 13. Enjoy Clifftop Views at a Game Of Thrones Film Site
- 14. Visit HomePlace of Poet Seamus Heaney
- 15. Eat at Pyke ‘N’ Pommes
- Now You Know What To Do in Derry!
1. Walk the Impressive Walls of Derry
Derry’s Walls have never been breached in the four centuries that they have surrounded what is now the inner city. They were built to protect the city from English and Scottish ”invaders” and they even withstood a 105-day siege during the struggle between William’s supporters and the Jacobites.
The Walls stand around 5 metres high and stretch for 1.6 kilometres. I walked the walls past towers, cannons and bastions, looking down on the layout of the inner city.
It is a great way to start your visit to Derry because you can get your bearings before moving on.
You can walk the walls day and night for free although walking tours are available. Click here to learn more and to book online.
2. Drink Guinness While Enjoying Live Music at Peadar O’Donnell’s
You should not leave sampling Ireland’s famous stout, Guinness to last. I had a pint as soon as I reached Ireland! Irish hospitality and friendliness are famous; forget the former problems in Derry while enjoying a pint.
The best place I found in Derry for a drop of the ”black stuff” while enjoying live entertainment was Peadar O’Donnell’s. Located in Waterloo Street, it offers both traditional and contemporary music and you will enjoy the classic, if fairly quirky, surroundings.
Having a pint of Guinness is one of the best things to do in Derry — and Ireland as a whole.
Even if you are only in Derry for a short time, it is likely to become your local as it did for me. Monday to Saturday, opening hours are 11:30am – 1:30am, while Sunday is 12:30pm – 12:30am. Click here to find Peadar O’Donnell’s on the map.
3. Learn More in the Tower Museum
Whilst at the Walls, I got my first lesson about the origin of Derry, its history from the very early days. A separate galley houses artefacts from one of the Spanish Armada’s ships, La Trinidad Valencera which sunk off the Coast.
The Wreck was only found by divers 50 years ago and that was during the period of ”The Troubles.” The causes of The Troubles, major events during that time, and the peace process are all explained within the Tower Museum.
On the top floor, level 5, there are further great views of Derry and the River Foyle. The Museum opens 7 days a week, 10:00 – 17:30 with adult tickets £3.50 ($4.50), children half price and family tickets £7.50 ($10). Click here to find the Tower Museum on the map.
4. Visit The Beautiful Guildhall
The Guildhall, a red sandstone building finished towards the end of the 19th Century, acts as the Council Offices and it was the place that held the ”Bloody Sunday” Enquiry — more of that later.
It’s a tourist attraction in itself, built in a neo-Gothic and Tudor style.
This is Derry’s most recognised building with its stained-glass windows worth close inspection. One of them depicts Bloody Sunday when British troops fired on unarmed people in the Bogside area of Derry.
Guildhall is open every day between 10:00 and 18:00 and while admission is free, booking in advance is advisable.
5. Admire Derry’s Oldest Monument
Built just after the Reformation, St. Columb’s Cathedral was the first non-Catholic church to be built in Western Europe and one of the main things to see in Derry.
It is dedicated to an Irish monk who was exiled from Ireland before spreading Christianity into Scotland and Northern England. It was damaged and then destroyed before reconstruction in the 1630s.
It has a number of portraits, including William of Orange, valuable old documents and the original keys to the city. Taking the hop-on, hop-off bus tour is a great way to see it. And at just £12 ($16), it’s a good deal. Click here to reserve tickets online, and click here to find the cathedral on the map.
6. Pay Your Respects at St. Eugene’s Catholic Cathedral
This Cathedral was built after the 1829 Roman Catholic Relief Act permitted the construction of a catholic church. Eugene de Mazenod was a French Bishop was died in Marseille in 1861.
Fundraising for the work began in 1840 with money received from all over the world and continued for the rest of the century.
The Cathedral opened in 1873 but it took another 30 years before sufficient money allowed the stained-glass windows and the bell tower and the spire to be completed.
There has been extensive restoration work here over the years and I was certainly impressed by what I saw during my visit. Definitely think of this as one of the places to see in Derry with the £12 ($16) bus tour a way to do it. Find St. Eugene’s on the map here.
7. Walk Across The Award-Winning Peace Bridge
The newest of the three bridges over the River Foyle, the Peace Bridge is strictly for pedestrians and cyclists. It was completed in 2011, linking the largely Unionist east bank of the river to the Republican west bank.
Sloping pillars at either end symbolise a ”coming together” of the communities.
Among those attending the opening were Peter Robinson, the Unionist leader and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness who were First Minister and Deputy at the time, as well as the Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
The Bridge is 235 metres long and 4 metres wide, it’s one of the free attractions in Derry you won’t want to miss. Find it on the map here.
8. Understand the Meaning of “Free Derry”
Derry was very much a protestant city in its early days but today it is 70% catholic. Free Derry was a catholic neighbourhood that declared itself autonomous in 1969 with the name painted on the side of a terrace of houses in the Bogside.
It existed as an area where the struggle between the British and local Republicans lasted for four years. Electoral reform allowed the catholic community to get control of the Council and the area has undergone redevelopment in recent decades.
The message still exists and a visit to the Museum of the same name is definitely one of the best things to do in Derry.
I enjoyed reading about the struggles between 1969 and 1973, ”Bloody Sunday”, the terrible event in 1972, and the reforms which were implemented allowing the possibility of peace.
Join a walking tour to cover many of Derry’s attractions and to learn more about the history here. This tour is highly rated and includes the Free Derry wall and murals. And at just $25, it’s well worth the money. Find the Free Derry museum on the map here.
9. Check Out The Street Art at People’s Gallery
Anyone enjoying street art is certain to love these murals in Rossville Street in the Bogside. The announcement of ”Free Derry” is plain but the quality of the visual art on walls in the Gallery in the now peaceful Bogside is stunning!
It’s the work of two brothers, Tom and William Kelly and their friend Kevin Hasson who began in 1994 to portray events, mostly between 1969 and 1973.
The Battle of the Bogside, Bloody Sunday and the 1981 Hunger Strike are prominent and ensure that people never forget the problems that Derry faced in its recent history.
This 1.5 hour, highly rated street art tour is informative and will help you make sense of the murals. It’s £20 ($25) per person and reserving in advance is advised.
10. See Film Locations of The Derry Girls
It may seem strange to set a comedy programme at the time of so many problems but this TV series about teenage girls living in Londonderry became hugely popular.
I took a walking tour around many of the sites that were used in the filming and heard about how the show was planned and produced.
There is a mural depicting the stars of the show at Badger’s Bar & Restaurant in Orchard Street in the heart of the City. Channel 4 commissioned the mural as part of its promotional campaign for the show and every visitor looking for the best things to do in Derry should put the ”Derry Girls” on their list.
Book a £20($25) tour to see the filming locations and learn more about the hit TV series here.
11. Go For a Walk in Ness Country Park
Those looking for a longer walk can venture to the waterfall, while if you’re wanting a leisurely stroll, you can enjoy the gentle path through the meadows. This park is one of the best places to visit in Derry if you’re looking for some relaxation.
Ness Country Park is just to the south-east of the Derry either side of the Burntollet River. It is a mixture of woodland and meadow covering 55 hectares. There are good tourist facilities including car parking, a children’s play area, refreshments and toilets as well as 7 kilometres of walks to enjoy.
There is car parking with visitor facilities open between 10:00 and 17:00; entrance to the park is free. Click here to find Ness Country Park on the map.
12. Take a History Lesson — With a Hanging or Two!
When it comes to ideas of what to do in Derry, visiting one of Ireland’s most historic homes – Prehen House – should be on the itinerary.
It was the 18th Century home of Donegal MP Andrew Knox and it remained in the family until it was seized after the First World War.
Knox lived in this mansion with his wife, the Prehen heiress, Honora Tomkins. Their daughter Mary Ann formed a relationship with a friend of Knox’s John MacNaghten (“Half-Hung MacNaghten”) who had squandered his own inheritance.
After their relationship went sour, he planned to kidnap her for a ransom. The plot went wrong and Mary Ann was shot dead by mistake.
MacNaghten was found guilty of murder and was hung, only for the rope to break. That did not save him and the second hanging was successful.
The House, privately owned but opened for visitors, is a Grade A Building of National Importance. If you want to visit, contact the house directly. You can spend the night here, join a tour, or pop in for Afternoon Tea.
13. Enjoy Clifftop Views at a Game Of Thrones Film Site
Downhill Beach is a long stretch of sand that is overlooked from Mussenden Temple that sits on the top of a cliff. The beach was a filming location in ”The Game of Thrones,” the hugely successful series that used a number of locations in Ireland for filming.
The inspiration for the temple was the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy. It was built in 1785 as a summer house and library for the Bishop of Derry. A visit here is among the best things to do in Derry, especially for the wonderful views the clifftop location provides.
The temple is National Trust property and admission is free for NT members. Other can walk the area for nothing but must pay for temple entry. Booking in advance is advised, adults £4.75 ($6), children half price and family concessions available. Click here to find Mussenden Temple on the map.
14. Visit HomePlace of Poet Seamus Heaney
Seamus Justin Heaney who died in 2013 in his mid-80s, won the 1995 Nobel Prize for literature. A graduate of Queen’s Belfast, he was a poet, translator and playwright.
HomePlace is located in the small village of Bellaghy and celebrates his life and work. It is an easy drive from Derry and is a must for lovers of literature (such as myself) when planning things to do in Derry.
15. Eat at Pyke ‘N’ Pommes
When looking for somewhere to eat, try Pyke ‘N’ Pommes whose origins were in 2013 in a van in a disused car park. It subsequently used a former shipping container on a site close to the River Foyle where it serves delicious food but also hosts events.
A double-decker bus took its seating capacity up to 100. It prides itself on the use of fresh local produce and that includes Wagyu beef.
Pyke ‘N’ Pommes stresses that its food is simply street-style and it makes a strong case for treating yourself; I did. It may not serve traditional Irish food, but you won’t want to miss the burgers, fries, squid tacos and more.
Normal opening hours are 12:00 – 18:00 Sunday to Thursday, 12:00 – 20:30 Friday and Saturday. Find it on the map here.
Now You Know What To Do in Derry!
I hope that I have piqued your interest sufficiently to visit Derry. While Unionists still refer to the city as Londonderry, that name has gradually faded from common usage because it is divisive.
Where once there were serious problems, peace and friendliness are all you will find these days in Derry. Enjoy your stay! For more on Derry, check out the top festivals in the city.
*Unless otherwise stated, all images in this article were sourced on Shutterstock, a website for downloading royalty images and videos. Click here to learn more.
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