Derry holds an impressive 1,500 years of Irish history within its walls, but has even more natural history and beauty beyond them, discovers Amy Dowrick.

From the city walls that surround it, to the army barracks across the River Foyle, there are poignant reminders of Northern Ireland’s history scattered across Derry of some landmark moments in time for its community. But Derry locals have no shame in their past.

The Irish are known to be approachable, but the people of Derry put a whole new meaning to friendly. Everyone bursts with pride for what their city has achieved in the last few decades, reclaiming their history to put Derry back on the map.

The city’s growth has skyrocketed in recent years, being named the UN’s International City of Peace 2023 and the UK’s first City of Culture in 2013 – and with endless regeneration projects bringing the community together, it comes as no surprise that this place has become a hotspot for lovers of history and Irish charm.

With 1,500 years of history across the city, a walking tour is probably the best way to go about catching everything there is to see, all while learning some hard-hitting facts as you go. While there, you must find the chance to walk the 400-year-old city walls, and look across Bogside where the iconic gable-wall murals dot the neighbourhood below.

The Guildhall is the city’s stunning Neo-Gothic architectural landmark, but I’d argue is a must-see for other reasons. It is the only place in the world to view the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize, the 1999 Martin Luther King Jnr Non-Violent Prize, and the 2001 Mahatma Gandhi Peace Prize all under one roof – now talk about being the City of Peace!

If you have an hour to spare or need a break from pacing the streets, the perfect place to stop off must be The Derry Girls Experience, whether you’re a fan of the show or not (you will be after this). The release of the Derry Girls TV series in 2018 saw Irish history explained through the eyes of some teenage up-to-no-goods during The Troubles, and the show’s global success placed Derry on the map for worldwide fans.

The experience has original memorabilia, costumes and set mock-ups from the show and really is the perfect remedy to step away from the city centre and catch your breath. You can even get a cream horn from a nearby pastry shop after (if you get it, you get it).

And while your days will sure be filled if you stay in the city, it would be remiss to not explore further afield.

Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne in Castlerock, just 30 miles from Derry, is a National Trust landscape overlooking the North Atlantic coast. It has an 18th century castle, library, and gardens to explore and host events and dinners throughout the year, but I especially urge you to try out one of their wellness retreats.

The experience offers a full five hours of sea swimming at sunrise or sunset, private picnics on the beach and group meditation or yoga. Guests are taken to the forest to forage wild garlic, berries and nettles during season and dinners and lunches are also hosted inside the temple itself.

Founder Claire O’Kane explains to me: “It’s reconnecting people with the nature of their ancestors again. Sea swimming has physical benefits and rests the mind, as with the forest.”

This county is saturated in history, and its people are more than proud of it. And while you may have your own plans for a trip to this part of the UK, I do urge you grab a local guide even if for an afternoon to give you an in-depth experience of this ancient land. Maybe you’ll learn to love it just as much as they do.


Re-opening in July as a brand-new hotel complex in Derry’s disused army barracks, the Ebrington Hotel is the perfect example of Derry reclaiming its troubled past.

The hotel is at the heart of Derry’s history, just minutes from the infamous city walls across the River Foyle – and with contemporary rooms boasting views out over the Peace Bridge, it’s the best spot to watch the world go by away from the bustle of the centre.

The hotel fits guests and locals alike, with spa treatments, afternoon tea, and a restaurant with live music on Friday and Saturday nights – and if you’re lucky enough to catch it open, there’s an art-deco rooftop cocktail bar with terrace balcony views across the city.

The square also hosts a must-see for lovers of Irish whiskey with the newly opened Walled City Brewery, with beer masterclasses and tasting experiences on the hotel’s doorstep.


Although the infamous Hallowe’en festival lighting up the city each October with musicians, dancers, street acts and firework displays has taken most of the spotlight (rightfully so, having been ranked one of the best spooky destinations in the world by the New York Times), Derry also hosts several other festivals throughout the year, attracting sightseers across the globe.

And to show you how it’s done, they’ve even put themselves forward to become Europe’s leading festival city! Here are some key dates in 2024:

  • March 17 – St Patrick’s Day Spring Carnival
  • May 2-6 – City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival
  • June 27-30 – Foyle Maritime Festival
  • October 23-27 – International Choir Festival
  • October 28-31 – Derry Hallowe’en


For brunch

Soda & Starch at Derry’s Craft Village is an independent, family-run bistro, serving local food from local businesses. They serve brilliantly crafted brunches from 12pm and offer a bespoke wine list with local beers for those getting boozy!

For dinner

Pyke ‘N’ Pommes was named by National Geographic in the top ten places to eat in Ireland – something I am happy to vouch for. Founded in an adapted double decker bus, this bustling restaurant serves some top-notch street food, with a charcoal oven for an artisan twist.

For drinks

If you’re looking for some Irish charm, head to Peada O’Donnell’s for live folk music and decently priced drinks. The pub is covered in vintage ads and memorabilia, so it’s an added Irish history lesson as you swig.