A city of many names, Londonderry, the Maiden City, the Virgin City or most commonly, Derry has a long turbulent history. As one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas of Ireland, a lot has happened on this land over the last millennia or so. As recent as the last 50 years, Derry was majorly affected by the troubles in Northern Ireland. Needless to say there is much to take in while here. History, food and good music. If you’re anything like me, you hate only spending a mere day in a city worthy of so much more, but if time isn’t on your side as it wasn’t for me, here is how to make the most of Londonderry in 24 hours.
I technically had less than 24 hours in Derry, but I definitely made the most of it. I arrived on the train around 10:30am from Coleraine which was perfect. To get into the main area of the city, crossing the Peace Bridge is not only necessary, but a must regardless. A foot and cycle bridge it spans the width of the River Foyle. The views of the city from the bridge are stunning, not to mention the picturesque bridge itself.
Dropping your bags wherever it is you choose to lay your head, I wouldn’t lounge about too long. Start by heading over to the Bogside. This is where many of the tragic events happened during the troubles. Battle of the Bogside and the infamous Bloody Sunday. While strolling the area to see both the Free Derry Monument and the Bloody Sunday Monument keep an eye out for the political murals. Beautiful works of art with deep meanings behind each one.
Before leaving the Bogside, stop into the Museum of Free Derry. Spend at least an hour reading about The Troubles, getting an in depth view of the magnitude of damage done here. Touching on the 17th century, but primarily on the 20 century, I walked away with a much better understanding of the problems Northern Ireland went through. The final piece in the museum was a video playing on repeat of the formal apology issued by the British Prime Minister 40 years after the massacre for the actions of the British Military. A necessary and heart wrenching occasion in Derry’s recent history.
Don’t be misled, the museum is not in fact free. There is a minor fee of 3 pounds.
Opening Hours: Mon – Fri 9:30am-4:30pm (all year), Sat 1pm-4pm (Apr-Sept), Sun 1pm-4pm (Jul-Sept)
By now it’s time for a late lunch, especially if you spent as much time reading at the museum as I did. Head into the walled city where you will find a village inside a city inside a city. Derry’s craft village is like stepping back in time to the Dickensian era with a simple step off the main street. Immediately quiet, quaint and cozy, this little area houses multiple souvenir and handicraft shops, Foyle Books if you are looking for one of those Irish classics and Café Gate. This being the main reason I was here, it is a great spot to relax for a bit. Quality coffee with simple fare, its perfect for a quick refuel before the busy day continues.
You can’t come to Derry without taking a walk along the long standing city walls. They have never been penetrated through the city’s rough history of battles and sieges which is where the other names come from. The ‘Maiden’ or ‘Virgin’ city. Cannons still in place, you’ll be rewarded with nice views of the city as well as imagining what it may have been like experiencing a siege. It is ideal to ascend the walls beside the Tower Museum. That way after walking the perimeter and getting back on street level, you can visit the exhibitions on display there.
I arrived here at 4pm which gave me an hour and a half until they shut the doors. During my visit they had two exhibitions on, but I’m sure they change from time to time. The first on ground level had my particular interest. Spanning the history of the general area from before the Bronze Age through to medieval times and the age of exploration. The second was on the Spanish Armada which came to Ireland in __. This brings you to the top floor covering a few floors as you descend back to ground level. Don’t forget to step out onto the roof before heading down or you’ll miss one of the best views of the city, presuming it doesn’t cloud over and start raining while you’re checking out the exhibits.
Entry fee: 4 pounds
Opening Hours: 10am – 5:30pm
One of the best parts of the day now, dinner. One of Irelands top culinary destinations, second only to West Cork, Derry is not short on great restaurants to indulge yourself at. My personal recommendation is Browns in Town. It’s an affordable options for those willing to spend a bit more on a great meal only setting me back about 50 CAD for three courses. A ham and chicken terrine with apple chutney began my meal, followed by a beautifully cooked rump steak of lamb and ended with an Irish cheese plate. Located on Strand Road, it’s just a block or two away from the walled city. It’s one of three establishments owned by the same restaurateur. The other two are Browns Restaurant and Browns on the Green.
To finish off the Derry experience, head on over to Peadar O’Donnells. A great pub atmosphere with live trad music every night. For me, a pub is the best way to finish off most nights in Ireland and this one did not disappoint. A few pints of Guinness and some of the best trad music I’d heard over my month in Ireland. Squished into the corner of this busy place was a guitarist, flutist, accordion player and singer doing covers of all the classics.
While there are some other notable buildings such as the St. Columb’s Cathedral, but with only a day, only so much can be accomplished. Leaving Derry early the following morning, I felt with such a lack of time I managed to do Northern Ireland’s second city some justice. With all that said, if you’re only in Londonderry for 24 hours, there’s no excuse not to see this wonderful historic city.
Have you ever been to Londonderry? If so, how does your experience compare? Let me know below!