As soon as you take out a map or a phone to take a photograph, expect a Derry person to be at your side offering help. It is an extraordinarily friendly city, with smiling people wanting to help any visitors they see. It is no surprise that Visit Derry won ‘Best Tourism Office’ in the travel2ireland awards last year.
Derry: Ireland’s Friendliest City
They say the Irish are friendly, but I think the Derry people take the top of the league, after my recent visit. I was there to experience Illuminate – a series of outdoor live projection shows telling the history and stories of the city.
Beginning at the earliest times of St. Columb up to the present time, it was a fascinating place to be. The stories were brought to life by being projected on to buildings and the walls of the city. Using the latest digital technology, projection, sound and animation almost 2,000 years of history came to life.
The story of Derry/Londonderry is not always a happy one and watching images from the Civil Rights marches in the 1970s brought these dark times home to the audience. Other stories were more joyful and exciting.
The landing in Derry of famous female pilot, Amelia Earhart is celebrated. She was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic and her feat is well remembered here. There is an audio-visual tribute to her exploits in the Visit Derry tourist office on Waterloo Place.
Things to Do in Derry
The Walls of Derry
Derry is one of the world’s rare intact walled cities. The walls were built between 1613 and 1618. It is a pleasure to walk around and feel history under your feet. The walls are wide and spacious to walk around, with original cannons and gun emplacements. History is alive under your feet here. It is also a mile around so you can enjoy a good walk away from traffic.
You cannot go to Derry without seeing the mural of the Derry Girls created by UV Arts, a local not-for-profit company. It is on Orchard Street, and is the back wall of Badgers Bar. The mural features the popular cast of Derry Girls, a comedy series which follows a group of five high school students — Erin Quinn, Orla McCool, Clare Devlin, Michelle Mallon, and James Maguire — navigating adolescence in the early-1990s, amid The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The success of Lisa McGee’s book about five young people set in Derry has brought huge attention to the city. Derry has embraced the Derry Girls notoriety and the mural is now one of the most photographed images in the city. The new series is due to be launched in April, and will bring more visitors to the city.
There are many images of one particular spot in Derry, it is the wall saying “You are Now Entering Free Derry”. Here in the Bogside is the People’s Gallery, the famous murals that depict the history of the civil rights movement. Each of these huge images tells a story, most are sad reminders of the past, but also compelling to see.
Far and Wild Tours
This tour company is based in St. Columb’s Park, just a short walk from the Peace Bridge, there are a selection of tours and ways to see the city. We chose a foodie tour of Derry, led by Lorcan. The gentle two-hour cycle took up along the Foyle riverfront to a converted bus where we tried the delicious Squid Tacos by Pikes n Pommes.
It was time to explore the hillier side of Derry city, the mountain bikes made short work of the climbs. We stopped at the top of Waterloo Street at 9ine Hostages for dessert of delicious homemade scones and pastries. Far and Wild have a range of land and water-based activities in and around Derry and cycle hire.
Nightlife and food
Derry city is a lively place and some of the best bars are on Waterloo Street, just outside the Walls. This street is mainly bars, beauty salons and barbers, with a few fast-food restaurants. Though halfway up Waterloo St, is the incongruous Holy Shop, selling all kinds of religious trinkets. If you are looking for a religious statue or some holy water fonts, this is the place to find them.
Illuminate also saw the return of live music to the city and there were live gigs on every night in a variety of locations. Local band John Deery & The Heads played the Echo Echo Dance venue, as did ROE (Roisin Donald). The award-winning very talented local musician, was playing her self-styled “grumpy electro pop”. We will be seeing a lot more of ROE.
Brown in Town Restaurant
This is a lovely fine dining restaurant in the city centre outside the walls. The food is a modern take on classics with great service. They have a great cocktail bar, worth exploring.
Badger’s Bar and Restaurant
In hilly Derry, places stretch upwards and downwards and it leads of lots of steps and nooks. Badger’s is a classic example of this with its series of seating at different levels. Great service from the cheery staff.
The Peace Bridge
There is one symbol that sums up the changes in Derry/Londonderry in recent years and is a symbol of the future of the city – the Peace Bridge. If you look at it from a certain way it shows the V-sign for peace, and peace is what the city has now.