Why go now?
The launch of Bmi’s twice-daily flights from London Stansted to Derry in May makes a weekend in Northern Ireland’s second-largest city an easy jaunt. Especially given the flight is barely an hour long. The once-divided city is now flourishing, with the redeveloped waterfront and Guildhall area capitalising on the riverside setting and new hotels, restaurants and museums springing up on either side. Much of the makeover was in preparation of the city’s year as UK City of Culture 2013 and, capitalising on this, Derry has just launched a joint bit with Belfast for the title of European Capital of Culture in 2023. While the city is more usually known colloquially as Derry, Londonderry is also commonly used and remains the legal name.
Get your bearings
Diminutive Derry straddles the winding River Foyle, its historic Walled City (1) on the west bank now symbolically connected to the east by the softly S-shaped Peace Bridge (2). Built in 2011 ahead of the city’s stint as UK City of Culture, it’s a symbolic and practical way to link historically divided communities. There’s much to see on either side, with the previously no-go area of Ebrington (3), the former British Army barracks, now a peaceful square home to cultural events and exhibitions. Dropping down below the city walls to the north, the Catholic Bogside area beckons with its famous slogan “You are Now Entering Free Derry” loud and proud at Free Derry Corner (4) on Rossville Street. There are compelling tours of the 12 murals that decorate the gable ends of houses given by those who lived through the events they depict and the newly opened Museum of Free Derry (5) that chronicles its history.
At the start of Foyle Street, the Visit Derry Tourist Information Centre (6) (028 7126 7284; visitderry.com) is open from Monday to Saturday, 9am-6pm; Sunday, 10am-5pm.
Take a hike
A good way to understand Derry’s complicated history, while getting your bearings, is to begin with a tour of the old city walls (1). Local guides such as Garvin Kerr of Derry City Tours (028 7127 1996; derrycitytours.com) regale tourists with lively, historical details bringing the well-maintained ramparts to life. A good starting point is the southern stretch of the wall at Bishop’s Gate, with access from Bishop Street Within (7), across the road from St Columb’s Cathedral (8).
The southwest corner is home to Roaring Meg (9), the most famous of the cannons used during the Siege…