County Londonderry

County Londonderry is well known for its wild Atlantic coast, its famous siege and its historic walled city. But now there’s a new attraction to savour: its future

A view from the walled city
A view from the walled city

Sitting snug on the River Foyle, Derry-Londonderry is Ireland’s only surviving walled city. But don’t think for a second that those walls hem it in. Like Belfast, Northern Ireland’s second city is in mid-leap – jumping from a turbulent history into a very bright future. Just 15 years ago, who would have thought Derry-Londonderry would be the inaugural UK City of Culture

This is a city growing in confidence by the day. 

On Culture Night, the tours around the city are free
On Culture Night, the tours around the city are free

Wander the bustling streets or cross the new Peace Bridge and you’ll sense energy in the air; an energy that has seen it host clipper yacht homecoming races, huge Halloween carnivals and cruise liners by the dozen.

Within these old city walls, you’ll also find one of Ireland’s youngest populations. Sure, you can still see political murals – like the famous You Are Now Entering Free Derry in the city’s Bogside neighbourhood. The difference is that today, they’re tourist attractions. 

Beyond the city walls

In 1994, Monty Python legend Michael Palin began a famous rail journey in Derry-Londonderry, tracing the path of his great-grandmother who left Ireland for America 150 years beforehand. The first stretch of that route is one of the sweetest train rides in Ireland – following the River Foyle and gliding alongside Benone Strand, before disappearing into one of the island’s longest tunnels.

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Rail is just one way to travel beyond the city. With a swift change of pace, you and your friends could be on your bikes, following the Foyle Valley Cycle Route to the border towns of Lifford and Strabane. Or what about a visit to Ness Country Park to check out the highest waterfall in Northern Ireland? A zorbing adventure in Magherafelt perhaps? Or you could test your skill against the salmon and trout along The Foyle System, one of the richest fishing rivers in Europe?

Maybe you’re feeling romantic. Plotting a proposal, even? Inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Mussenden Temple is an 18th-century folly overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Downhill Demesne. It has even been known to host the odd civil wedding…

Music and more in the air

Londonderry has a thriving arts and festival scene, and the county has produced two Nobel Prizewinners in its time: Seamus Heaney from Castledawson, and John Hume from the Derry-Londonderry city, which incidentally is also hometown of Girls Aloud’s Nadine Coyle, and composer Phil Coulter.

“There was music there in the Derry air,” as Coulter wrote in The Town I Loved So Well, a famous tune in which the singer laments Derry-Londonderry’s tragic history, but looks forward to “a bright, brand new day” in the future.

That day is well and truly here.

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