I have told you about the fantastic adventure I had through Northern Ireland, chasing the Game of Thrones filming locations (did you watch Monday’s episode? Epic!). In today’s post I will focus on the perfect itinerary for your visit to Derry, the second largest city in Northern Ireland, giving you suggestions on where to sleep, where to eat, where to party and what to see.
But first, what’s with the name?
Is it Derry? Is it Londonderry? Is it Derry Londonderry? Derry City Council by any chance?
Officially it is Londonderry. The city has been added the London prefix in 1613, when it was granted a Royal Charter by King James I. While the unionists prefer to call it Londonderry, the nationalists prefer Derry. Visiting the city however I noticed that locals have actually adopted Legenderry as their unofficial name and no surprises here! Derry is a gem waiting to be discovered by tourists!
In my article I have used mostly the name Derry because it is shorter.
How to get To Londonderry?
The easiest way to get to Derry is by plane, with the city airport being located only a 15-minute drive from the centre. BMI Regional has recently launched a direct route to Derry Airport from London Stansted with prices starting from only £44 including 23 kg hold luggage, allocated seating and a speedy 30 minutes check-in. I was surprised that for such a short flight, just over an hour, we got offered free soft drinks. The plane is tiny but our flight was very smooth. Before landing I could even spot some lavender fields.
Where to stay in Derry?
Situated on the opposite street side of the Peace Bridge and minutes’ walk from the Walls, the City Hotel is the perfect place to stay at when you visit Derry. My room was spacious, with a small living room area next to a desk, which made a perfect working station. The décor was modern, with an elegant wallpaper, a gigantic comfy bed and a TV. The view from the window was so beautiful, overlooking the historic old town.
The breakfast at the City Hotel is a feast, catering for all type of guests. The buffet is quite large, serving the traditional ulster fry but also a continental selection, fluffy pancakes covered in maple syrup, scrumptious chocolate muffins and fresh fruits.
Where to eat and drink in Derry?
Walled City Brewery
As soon as I stepped inside the Walled City Brewery I knew that we were going to be spoiled. The interior is modern, with quirky lights made from beer bottles and old wooden beams supporting the ceiling. On the wall behind the bar you can read the large selection of draft beers, all brewed here. Each beer has a name inspired by the local history, events or even celebrities that have connections with Derry.
The Walled City Brewery produces small batches of craft beer with recipes developed by James Huey, the owner and Masterbrewer. He is proud that the Brewery doesn’t stock any commercial brands (so you won’t find Coke here) and every product is locally sourced. They also have quite a large selection or artisanal gin, like raspberry and mint or rhubarb. Shall I say they also make a chai infused bourbon?
We started our feast with a beer flight tasting, the ideal way to try out at least 3 out of the 10 beers on tap. I went for the Gin and Juice (botanical pale ale), the Pink Sunglasses (Keller Pilsner) and the Cherry-Londoncherry (Politically correct beer). We paired the beer with a platter of pintxos, a selection of small plates including: chargrilled pita with basil and lime hummus, Tuscan bean and smoked chorizo salad, marinated black and green olives, smoked baby ribs with tandoori BBQ sauce, Thai pork cakes with sweet chilly jam and some house pickled vegetables.
For the main course we tried the PIG burger: smoked beer braised pulled pork, gherkins, house slaw on a toasted brioche bun. I can’t even tell you how delicious it was. The entire burger was juicy and flavorsome, with the meat simply melting in my mouth.
We finished our meal with a couple of cocktails (and we would have probably spent the entire day there if we didn’t have a plane to catch). I highly recommend you the Ready for the Hills cocktail, a mix of rum, lavender syrup, lime, mint and soda water. I wish I could return to Derry just to try this cocktail again.
We had lunch at Brickwork, one of the newest restaurants in town, with a modern and hip décor. I fell in love with their bicycle on the wall. What makes Brickwork special is their menu, a fusion between classic pub dishes and Asian flavors, especially Chinese.
We arrived at Brickwork Derry for lunch and were welcomed with a sharing board of starters, including the most delicious goats cheese wontons I have ever had in my life, a selection of tempura vegetables with chilly jam, dragon chicken wings with blue cheese aioli and a delicious chicken and pancetta Caesar salad. I am one of those people who gets excited every time they hear goats cheese so the wontons were by far the best dish on the board for me. The cheese was still warm inside while the Szechuan dressing gave it a nice spicy kick.
For the main I chose a Bao Steamed Bun filled with a cod fillet, lettuce, minted mushy peas and tartar sauce, accompanied by Asian crackers and sweet potato fries. One word: delicious!
Browns in Town
For dinner we chose to go to Browns in Town, one of the two restaurants in Derry recommended in the Michelin Guide 2016. The menu is not very large, with a very affordable offer from Sunday to Friday: two courses for £19.95 or three for £21.95.
To start, we were given a complimentary cup of soup of the day to warm us up (the weather wasn’t the best when I visited).
After a weekend full of food, we decided to skip the starters and order directly from the mains menu. I went for the Greencastle fish of the day (which was cod), with caponata vegetables and lemon mayo, accompanied by a side of mash. The presentation of the dish was elegant and the fish was complimented nicely by the vegetables. Cod can be quite bland but the caponata pairing completed a flavoursome dish. I have to mention the mash, it was so fluffy and creamy. We all agreed that the mash was a total delicious success.
We were too full to order dessert each so we just got some for the table. The Turkish delight cheesecake with the chocolate ice cream was a delicious surprise, sweet and full of flavour. The kind of desert you would lick your fingers after.
Peadar O’Donnell’s bar
I can’t end my restaurants recommendations without telling you about Peadar O’Donnell’s pub. Do you remember that scene from PS I love you, in which Hilary’s Swank character, Holly, is swept off her feet by Gerry (Gerard Butler) with his “Galway girl” song, in a very lively local bar? That kind of atsmophere is exactly what I found when I stepped inside Peadar O’Donnell’s bar. Crowded, loud, with live Irish folk music blasting through the speakers, with jolly people dancing and singing. Even if the pub is quite tiny it definitely has personality, with its ceiling covered in flags (I even spotted the Cuban flag among them), barrels as tables and a lot of memorabilia integrated in the décor. It’s the place to go if you are looking for a fun night of traditional entertainment.
What to do in Derry?
Go on a walking tour of the city and its walls
For only £4 per person you can join the award-winning city walking tour organised by Martin McCrossan City Tours. We only had time for a private tour of the 400-year-old city walls which was fabulous, led by a passionate and knowledgeable guide.
The tour took us on a historic walk over the city walls. Derry is a city with a troubled recent history and by taking part in the tour you will find out more about it.
Derry is the only remaining intact walled city from Ireland and Northern Ireland. With a circumference of just under a mile and never breached by the enemy (Derry is also called The Maiden City because of this), the walls offer beautiful views over both the inner and outer city.
During the 17th century the city went through a major siege that lasted for almost three and a half months. Today we can still see on the walls the original cannons used in 1689 by the city to defend themselves.
Take a walk in Free Derry
As I mentioned before, Derry has a long history of tension and violence, the most recent events being as recent as the 1990s. As you reach the section of the wall called Grand Parade the panorama of the Bogside neighbourhood reveals in front of you. Today, a space for concerts and other open-air events, the Bog is the place where Bloody Sunday took place. In January 1972, 28 unarmed civilians have been shot while protesting peacefully against the internment. Many of the people who have been killed were teenagers.
While today it is safe to walk on the streets of Bogside, the commemorative murals created by the Bogside Artists will always remind visitors about The Troubles. The murals are part of the People’s Gallery which you can visit with the artists themselves. The tours can be arranged by appointment, on their website.
Cross the Peace Bridge
The Peace Bridge has been built as a friendship passage between the “Waterside” unionists and the “Cityside” nationalists. The design of the bridge, in the shape of an S, represents a handshake across the water meant to join all the communities living in Derry through peace and harmony.
The Peace Bridge was inaugurated in 2011 with a weekend long party attended by thousands of people, including the First Ministers of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Learn how to ride a longboard
When I first tried to step on the longboard it slipped from under me feet and I almost ended up on the pavement. That’s when I told myself that no way I could ever be able to go downhill on a board with wheels without breaking my neck. But as soon as Daragh, the helpful guide from Far and Wild Adventures explained how we should get on the longboard and how to steer, I got my confidence back.
We started on a small hill. Equipped with a helmet, knee and elbow pads, holding Daragh’s hand, I tried stepping on the longboard again. And hey, I did somehow manage to keep my equilibrium and don’t fall. I even had the courage to ride downhill, alone! I can’t really call that a hill but still, I was making progress!
By the end of the hour, I was riding through the fountains in front of the Guildhall, confident, like I was doing this since forever. It was so much fun!
Longboarding is similar with skateboarding, but with a longer board and larger wheels which offer more stability. Professionals can reach up to 50 miles per hour when they race downhill. 50 miles per hour! That’s impressive!
A 2 hours initiation in longboarding (at the end of which you will not want to get off the board), finished with a visit to the Walled City Brewery costs only £25. You can book your lesson on the Far and While Adventures website.
They don’t only do longboarding lessons but also a range of exciting activities for every adventure lover: Derry city tour by stand-up paddle board, Wild Atlantic Way Coasteering, kayaking at the Giant’s Causeway and even a disability mountain biking tour (using a Cimgo fully accessible Mountain bike)! They are pretty awesome!
Learn how to make Irish coffee
Did you know that starting from only £10 per person you can get a lesson on how to make Irish coffee in Derry? In the beautiful crafts village, inside the charming traditional Thatched Cottage, you will find the Irish Coffee Connoisseur (Darren on his human name) ready to teach you how to pour the perfect Irish coffee.
Did you know that Derry used to be one of the world’s whiskey exporters? In the demonstrations Darren uses Quiet Man Irish Whiskey which is a locally distilled. Luckily none of us failed at creating the perfect layered Irish coffee, which we surely enjoyed drinking afterwards.
Did I convince you to book a flight and go to Derry?
Thank you so much to Tourism Ireland for this amazing trip to Northern Ireland.