Looking for the best things to do in Derry Ireland? Well you’re in the right place.
You see, despite being etched into the consciousness of most people that know anything about The Troubles, Derry Londonderry isn’t a particularly well known tourist destination. So we really had no idea what to expect before we arrived in this Northern Irish city.
But there are some places that for no apparent reason, you make an instant connection with. As soon as we drove over the River Foyle and caught our first glimpse of the stunning Derry walls, we began to feel that magic.
Things To Do In Derry Ireland
We left with such a deeper understanding of the fascinating Derry history, an appreciation for the incredible city that it is today and a hankering to return as soon as we can.
And so we want to share with you all our recommendations for what to do in Derry Ireland, the best pubs in Derry, the best restaurants in Derry and Derry accommodation tips.
Also, in the aim of being extra helpful with our Derry travel guide, we’ve plotted all of these Northern Ireland attractions on a map for you.
Just before we get going, I’m going to take a moment to address something that may be confusing to many people who aren’t familiar with the city, and a point of contention for those who are.
You see, it’s known by two names, Derry or Londonderry. Each with different connotations attached that involve distinct histories, different religious beliefs and opposed political values.
We’ll be using them interchangeably throughout this blog post and will touch on the issue a little later on. But it’s an ongoing deep and complicated dispute.
What To Do In Derry Ireland
Okay first up we’ll cover all our favourite things to do in Derry City. Because they are such an integral part of the Derry Londonderry identity, many things are centered around it’s traumatic history.
It’s a brutal narrative that this Northern Ireland city has in many ways very much moved on from and refuses to be defined by. But will never forget.
Walk The City of Derry Walls
Despite being seriously old, having been built between 1613-1618, the Derry walls are still in great nick. The 20 feet high diamond shaped defence walls were built to protect Derry City Centre from the English and Scottish colonists.
The Derry walls stood up to a 105 day siege in 1689 during the Williamite War and hold the accolade of never being breached. And in fact, the City of Derry is the only completely walled city that remains in tact in Ireland.
But more than that you can walk the whole circumference, with the original 4 city gates, the watch towers and 24 huge cannons. It’s what to do in Londonderry Ireland 101.
Don’t miss Roaring Meg – well you can’t really actually!
The walls are just under a mile round and are an incredible way to get an alternative view of the city, both within and outside of the historic boundaries.
During The Troubles it was closed to the public because it was a prime location for snipers.
For more context and to learn more about the history of the city of Derry walls we recommend taking a walking tour with Martin McCrossan City Tours. They are excellent and just £4 a pop.
Visit The Siege Museum
Speaking about the siege of 1689, if you’re interested in learning more about that specific event in Londonderry Ireland history, you should stop by the The Siege Museum.
During the siege, lead by converted catholic James II, thirteen protestant boys who would become known as The Apprentice Boys took the keys to the city and closed the gates.
What resulted was a 105 day stand off during which over 10,000 people within the city walls perished from hunger and disease. You’ll find lots of artefacts and firsthand accounts about this period of Derry history in The Siege Museum.
When it comes to Londonderry things to do, this should be high on your list. It’s open 10am – 5pm Monday to Saturday and the entrance fee is £4 per person.
Stop by Free Derry Corner
If you’ve seen any photographs of Derry Londonderry before they will likely have included this famous Derry landmark.
The graffiti first appeared on the gable end of a since demolished row of terrace houses in 1969. ‘You Are Now Entering Free Derry’ painted by a local teenage activist has since been reworked with different designs at frequent intervals.
Initially a two finger salute to the police and British rule, these days it has morphed into a beacon for civil rights and political liberty across the world.
Located in the Bogside neighbourhood, this part of the Derry City was witness to two other tragic events in Derry history, the Battle of the Bogside in 1969 and Bloody Sunday in 1972.
In front of the Free Derry Mural you’ll also find a memorial to the 1981 Irish hunger strikes and another for members of the paramilitary IRA’s Derry Brigade that died fighting in the Troubles.
Visit The Museum of Free Derry
The Museum of Free Derry is a highlight of Derry tourism. It focuses on Northern Ireland’s turbulent history and struggle for civil rights between the years of 1968 and 1972 and the central role that Derry played in it.
Poignantly located, it’s in the very heart of the Bogside area where the infamous 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre took place. The museum is very much part of an ongoing healing process from that day when British soldiers shot 28 civilians during a peaceful civil rights protest.
The timeline of the events in the Museum of Free Derry are told from the point of view of the people that were most involved in and affected by that painful event in Derry history.
Containing photographs, footage and more than 25,000 artefacts including hate mail sent to the families of the victims, it’s a powerful and disturbing experience but a must if you want to understand the culture of Derry and its history.
It’s open Monday to Friday 9.30am – 4.30pm and Saturday 1pm – 4pm year round, plus Sunday 1pm – 4pm July – September. The entrance fee is £6 for adults.
Take A Bogside Tour
In accompaniment to visiting the Museum of Free Derry we recommend taking a tour of the surrounding streets in Bogside with a local guide.
Most of the guides are family members of innocents who were killed on Bloody Sunday so you’ll receive a passionate and personal account – be prepared to laugh and cry.
Our guide, John McKinney, is extremely knowledgeable about the area and the Bloody Sunday killings and Bogside Murals. This local input made the tour especially fascinating.
It wasn’t until the very end that we discovered his brother, Gerard McKinney, was one of the victims. It really brought home the lasting and devastating effect it had on normal people.
You can book a Free Derry Bogside Tour from The Free Derry Museum or alternatively to guarantee you have John as your guide you can book a private tour with him here.
We’ve heard Bogside History Tours also do a great tour for £6 each that includes the history of Bloody Sunday, Operation Motorman and the Battle of the Bogside.
Or alternatively you can take a tour with one of The Bogside Artists who between 1994 and 2006 painted the 12 large scale murals along Rossville Street, the site of Bloody Sunday.
The two brothers and their friend, Will Kelly, Tom Kelly and Kevin Hasson, created ‘The People’s Gallery’ to provide a window into The Troubles that this area witnessed.
Cross Over Peace Bridge
There are three bridges in Derry that span the River Foyle, the pedestrianised Peace Bridge is the most impressive. Opened in 2011, it was funded by the European Peace Fund with the aim of quite literally bridging a 400 year old physical and political gap.
Designed as a ‘structural handshake’, the idea behind it was to connect the two communities that lie on the opposing banks. Bringing the largely unionist waterside of Derry and the largely nationalist cityside of Derry closer together.
And though there was local opposition to it at first, it’s now an established part of Derry’s landscape. It’s got an unusual S-shaped design that winds its way across the river and looks great lit up at night.
Taking a stroll along Peace Bridge is one of the top things to do in Londonderry Ireland. It’s also the main spot in Derry City to watch New Year’s Eve fireworks.
Take in The Guildhall
Just outside the city walls, right next to Peace Bridge you’ll find this beautiful red bricked neo-gothic style building with it’s grand stained glass windows.
Built in 1887, it was restored in 2013 and it now somewhat of a tourist hub with an interesting Plantation of Ulster exhibition.
It’s open from 9am – 7:30pm Monday to Friday and 10am – 5:30pm Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.
The Tower Museum
In 1588, not far from the County Londonderry along the Donegal coast, the Spanish Armada’s fourth largest ship, La Trinidad Valencera was lost at sea.
Four hundred years later, divers from the City of Derry Sub Aqua Club undertook an expedition to find it. And they did.
The Tower Museum in Derry Ireland covers the history and drama of the shipwreck and diving adventure in all their gruesome details with its audio visual exhibition. It’s one of the most fascinating things to do in Derry Ireland.
And as a bonus, from the 5th floor of the building, there’s some seriously impressive panoramic views of the walled City of Derry and the River Foyle. There’s also a small cinema showing a short film about the causes and outcomes of the The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Open daily 10am – 5.30pm, the entrance fee is £4 for adults.
Explore Derry’s Craft Village
If you’re after some souvenirs from visiting Derry Ireland, then this is the perfect spot. Derry’s Craft Village is full of independent and quirky retailers selling all manner of arts and crafts.
It’s also one of the prettiest parts of this Northern Irish city, with reconstructed 18th century streets complete with quaint Georgian style houses and gas lamps. So even if you’re not after buying, it’s still well worth a walk around.
Step in St.Columb’s Cathedral
One of Derry’s oldest buildings, St Columb’s Cathedral dates back to 1633 and is a prominent figure on the Derry skyline.
It was constructed from the same stone as the Derry walls, having been built for the Irish Society of London. Which was set up in 1613 colonise County Londonderry as part of the Plantation of Ulster with English and Scottish settlers.
It’s open Monday to Saturday from 9am – 5pm throughout April to September and 10am – 2pm during October to March.
St Columb’s Park over the River Foyle is also worth having a wander around. There’s an 18th century manor house and a cafe set in the pretty green space.
Take a Derry Girl’s Tour
A recent addition on the Derry tourism scene, if you’ve watched this Northern Irish comedy TV series set during the The Troubles of the 1990’s you’ll get this. If not you won’t.
The Derry Girls TV Show Filming Locations Tour does what it says on the tin. It also stops by the Derry Girls mural that is painted on the side of Badger’s Bar. It was created by UV Arts, which is a group in Derry that uses street art to promote social change.
More Things To Do In County Londonderry
If you have a little more time in Derry Londonderry Ireland there are some excellent spots to see out in the surrounding county. And because the city is rather compact most aren’t far away.
Call in on Mussenden Temple
Dramatically perched on a clifftop overlooking Downhill beach, astute Game of Thrones fans will recognise this as a filming location. Built as a summer library in 1785 for the family that owned the Downhill Demesne in which it sits, it’s an impressive structure.
The architect actually based the design on the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, near Rome.
A 45 minute drive from Derry City, along the Causeway Coastal route, the Downhill estate and Mussenden Temple is open all year. Adult tickets cost £4.70 each.
Hear the Legends of Prehen House
Synonymous with romance and tragedy, this 18th century Irish Georgian House is one of Derry’s most historic buildings. Records show it was first occupied in 1640 and in 1738 became owned by the Knox family, one of this Northern Irish city’s most prominent families.
There are lots of stories associated with the dwelling, but perhaps the most famous is that of the legend of Mary Ann Knox.
Fatally shot by her lover during a bungled elopement, he was hanged for her death. But twice, because the first time, the rope snapped, earning him the nickname ‘Half-Hanged McNaughten’.
It’s less than a 10 minute drive south of Derry Londonderry and although still privately owned, does run tours. You can contact them here.
Go Walking in Derry’s Country Parks
Just a 15 minute drive from Londonderry City you’ll find Ness Country Park. Within it’s 55 hectares there are several charming forest and riverside walks. Plus nestled in the heart of the forest you’ll find the biggest waterfall in Ulster, Ness Waterfall.
It’s free to enter and is open all year round. But the woodland is an extra delight to visit in Spring because it is covered in bluebells.
If you like your green adventures, Roe Valley Country Park a little further up the Coastal Causeway near Limavady is equally as enchanting and too has several well maintained paths.
Or if you’re after a little more history with your country walk, there’s Mountsandel Wood near Coleraine. The earliest known settlement of man in Ireland, flint tools indicating Stone Age hunters from 7600 and 7900BC have been found here.
Again both open year round and free to visit.
Check out County Derry Beaches
Driving along the Causeway Coastal route you’ll encounter many pristine county Derry beaches. We’ve mentioned Downhill beach, a must for GOT fans, but Portstewart Strand and Benone beach are also blissful.
If you don’t fancy the drive you can also take the picturesque 50km Derry-Coleraine railway line which passes through some seriously huge tunnels that were created in the 1850’s.
Seamus Heaney HomePlace
If you’re a literature fan, stopping by the homeplace of Irish poet Seamus Heaney in rural County Derry will be a good addition to your things to do in Derry itinerary.
In 1995 he received a Nobel Prize in Literature and is buried in St Mary’s village Church. The inscription on his headstone, “Walk on air against your better judgement,” is a line from his acclaimed poem The Gravel Walks.
The museum and exhibition centre is open 10am – 5pm Monday to Friday and 1pm – 5pm on Saturdays. The entrance fee is £7 per adult.
Nearby you’ll also find the National Trust property of Springhill House. A plantation house with walled gardens and beautiful lawns, it is known as the ‘prettiest house in Ulster’. And if that isn’t enough there’s a costume collection to explore and a ghost to get to know.
The entrance fee is £7 per adult. The grounds are open all year round from 11am – 5pm but the house and visitor centre are only open during the summer months. You can check here.
The Jungle NI
Still in need of more things to do in County Derry Ireland? At this huge adrenaline packed outdoor adventure centre in rural Londonderry is one of the top Northern Ireland attractions.
You can try your hand at ziplining, zorbing, archery, paintball and even llama trekking – whatever that is!
You can check out the different activities here. They also do a near heart attack inducing Halloween event where ghoulish characters chase you around the woods in the dark. Sounds fun right? More on Halloween in Derry in a bit.
Best Pubs In Derry
The craic in Derry is good, and like the rest of Ireland we found people to be extremely friendly. Undoubtedly the best place for Derry nightlife is Waterloo Street which runs alongside the city walls.
This road is packed with a number of the best pubs in Derry that run virtually the length of the street. Starting at Butcher Gate and heading down the gentle slope towards the river.
We were told when heading out for a few drinks that’s the way to do it as well, start at the top and make your way down, stopping at each establishment for a pint.
Makes perfect sense to be walking downhill when you think of it (walking uphill is much harder after a pint or two), and this pub crawl even has a name, the Waterloo Challenge.
There was live music in all of the places we visited, our favourites were Peadar O’Donnells and The Gweedore Bar. Both of which had an amazing atmosphere despite it being a school night, and great Guinness.
Another of the best pubs in Derry is the Walled City Brewery over the other side of the river Foyle. If you’re into your beer, you can take a beer masterclass that includes 10 taster beers and locally sourced snacks.
Best Restaurants in Derry Ireland
The food scene in Derry has a great reputation for both quality and value. So much so that it was shortlisted for the ‘Foodie Destination of Ireland 2018’ award.
And what’s more, many of the best restaurants in Derry Ireland pride themselves on using local and sustainable ingredients. The details of the farms where their produce comes from often being listed on their menus.
Here’s our pick of the bunch when it comes to the best Derry restaurants.
Primrose On the Quay
This vintage style cafe bistro overlooking the river Foyle is a great place to head at any time of day, but especially for their breakfast and great value pre-theatre set menus. Everything is homemade and their deserts are out of this world.
Address: 110-114 Strand Road, Derry/Londonderry, Ireland, BT48 7NR
Pickled Duck Cafe
This place isn’t anything fancy but it does an absolutely cracking and reasonably priced full Irish breakfast. In fact everything on the menu is reasonably priced. They have two locations but the one close to Guildhall Square is the most central.
Address: 2-3 Shipquay Place, Derry/Londonderry, Ireland, BT48 6AA
The Warehouse Café & Bistro
The cute and trendy Derry eatery has some delicious salads and open sandwiches. It’s also a pet friendly cafe and they have a dedicated ‘doggie menu’. For a more fine dining experience the bistro menu is served Thursday to Saturday from 6:30 – 9:30pm.
Address: 1 Guildhall Street, Derry/Londonderry, Ireland, BT48 6BB
Brown’s in Town
One of the more chic and swanky Derry restaurants, the service here is exceptional and their 2 or 3 course dinner menu is a great price if you fancy a treat. If you can, take some of their Browns Guinness Bread Mix with you too.
Address: 21 Strand Rd, Derry/Londonderry, Ireland, BT48 7BJ
This chilled place is one of the best locations in Derry to grab lunch. They have a daily ‘lunch box’ deal which you can either eat in or take out. But it’s also a great evening spot that serves yummy cocktails and has fab live music.
Address: 12-14 Castle Street, Derry/Londonderry, Ireland, BT48 6HQ
Soda & Starch
Hearty and rustic, this lovely little spot in Derry’s Craft Village does old fashioned home cooking and baking and does it well. The seafood chowder with Guinness bread is an absolute delight, as are the sweet cured Irish bacon ribs. Yum.
Address: 29 Shipquay Street, Derry/Londonderry, Ireland, BT48 6AR
Pyke ’N’ Pommes
This trendy street food spot, now alongside the river Foyle, started life as a van in a disused car park. The configuration now includes a converted shipping container and a double decker bus. Sounds crazy right? But their burgers and tacos are freaking delish.
Address: N124, Strand Road, Derry Londonderry, Ireland, BT48 7NS
Best Time To Go To Derry Ireland
Ireland notoriously has a bit of a shitty climate and Derry weather is no different. The best Derry Ireland weather happens between June and September. But that’s just when it’s warmer, not necessarily drier. On average it rains more days than it doesn’t in Londonderry Ireland.
One of the best times to visit Derry is undoubtedly at the end of October for Halloween. When this Northern Ireland city has the biggest Halloween celebration in Europe with a week long festival earning it the nickname ‘City of Bones’.
Everyone gets dressed up, young and old, and the streets of Derry City are awash with performers. There’s over 100 different events but the best ones to get involved in are the Carnival Parade, the Gothic Ball, the Awakening of the Walls and the scare fest at Jungle NI.
How To Get To Derry
You have a few different options for how to get to Derry, by plane, by ferry, by train, by car, or a combination. We’ll run you through them here.
Flight to Derry Ireland
The City of Derry airport is conveniently located just 8 miles from Derry City Centre. LoganAir fly between Derry Ireland airport and UK airports in London Southend, Glasgow and Manchester. Plus RyanAir from Edinburgh in Scotland and Liverpool in England.
If you’re looking to arrive at City of Derry airport from anywhere other than the UK, you’ll need to take multiple flights and we recommend using a flight comparison site. We always use Kiwi.com. Because if you miss a connecting flight they guarantee to put you on the next one.
You could fly into the bigger international Belfast or Dublin airports and travel across to visit Derry from there.
Ferry To Derry Ireland
From the UK mainland, the two closest ports to County Derry are in Belfast and Larne, just north of Belfast. There are two UK ports from which you can take a ferry to Belfast, there’s Liverpool Birkenhead in England and Cairnryan in Scotland.
Both routes are serviced by Stena line. From Liverpool Birkenhead the sailing time is 8 hours and from Cairnryan just under 2.5 hours.
The other route between Cairnryan, Scotland and Larne, Ireland is serviced by P&O ferries. The sailing time is 2 hours.
Obviously taking a ferry to Ireland will take longer than flying. And then you’ll still have to get from Belfast or Larne to Derry.
From Belfast there’s a direct train multiple times per day that takes 1 hour 50 minutes.
But taking the ferry is a good option if you want to take your car, your pets or a shit load of luggage. Neither Stena Line or P&O Ferries have any luggage restrictions.
How To Get Around Derry
Despite being the Northern Ireland’s second largest city and Ireland’s 4th largest city, Derry Londonderry is very compact. And because of this, it’s very easy to get around on foot.
But in order to visit the rest of things to do in County Derry that we’ve mentioned, you’ll want to hire a car. This is also a good option for if you are arriving in Ireland by ferry or at another airport other than Derry Ireland airport.
We always find that Auto Europe has great car rental deals with lots of different vehicle options. And you can pick them up either at the ports, airports or Derry City centre.
As an underrated but very much upcoming tourist destination, the best hotels in Derry City tend to get booked up quickly over the summer months. So if you have you rtravel dates already, it’s best to book your Derry accommodation as soon as possible.
Cheap & Cheerful: Hostel Connect
Situated in the heart of the city, close to all the Derry attractions, we got such a friendly and helpful welcome by the guys at Hostel Connect. It’s a well designed place with plenty of space and a chilled atmosphere. When it comes to hostels in Derry Ireland this is the one.
There’s dorms, private rooms and a family room. We stayed in the Purple Rain room, which as a Prince fan was quite exciting. The room was bright with high ceilings, huge windows and was exceptionally clean and comfortable.
There’s a large common area with large sofas and huge TV. A continental breakfast is provided with loads of bagels, cereals, cheeses and spreads. There’s WiFi throughout and plenty of electric showers with constant hot water.
Mid-range: Amore Bed & Breakfast
This modern Derry Bed & Breakfast has some seriously excellent reviews. The owners Barry and Joan really know what they’re doing when it comes to hospitality. And the breakfast is renowned for being one of the best in Derry.
Centrally located, just 2 minutes from Derry walls, the ensuite rooms are comfortable, spacious and spotlessly clean. There’s a cosy lounge area with TV to chill in and a 24hr reception. There’s also free parking available. It’s a gem of where to stay in Derry.
Affordable Luxury: Shipquay Boutique Hotel
Centrally located with views of the Derry City walls and various other landmarks, this is one of the best hotels in Derry Ireland. The service is impeccable and the decor modern and chic. There’s a top notch restaurant and wine bar plus another bar with an extensive cocktail menu.
Each room has a large TV, tea/coffee services and an en suite bathroom. In addition there’s also bathrobes, slippers and complimentary organic Irish toiletries. If you’re looking for a treat when considering places to stay in Derry, this is it.
Recommended Ireland Guide Books
Travel Insurance For Derry Ireland
Even though Ireland is one of the safest countries in the world, we don’t recommend travelling anywhere without a good quality travel insurance in place.
Our go to travel insurance provider is World Nomads. They have a no bullshit approach to policy wording & you can buy a policy even if you’ve already set off on your travels.
Get a no obligation quote here:
More Awesome Places In Ireland
If you’re spending a while travelling around Ireland, you might find these blog posts helpful too:
- The Very Best Things To Do In Sligo
- Your Complete Guide To Killarney
- 33 Stellar Things To Do In Galway
- Guide To Dublin On A Budget
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Travel lover, professional writer and football (soccer) obsessive, James loves nothing more than getting outside and exploring little known corners of the globe. He’s also very partial to a drop of Guinness.