Explore the undiscovered north-west of Ireland with a car
Less than three days is all it takes to discover the beautiful north-west of the island of Ireland
City to sea, civilisation to unspoiled nature – this corner of the island is a beautiful blend of man-made delights and Mother Nature in all her glory, and it's never been easier to visit. Just hop on a flight to Belfast, Derry~Londonderry, or a ferry to Belfast or Larne, hire a car and start your adventure. With everything within a two-hour drive, you can make the most of your short break!
If walls could talk, Derry~Londonderry would have a lot to say, with a history that stretches back over four centuriesExplore Day 1
Walk the walls
Once you arrive in the city centre, you can park the car and go on your merry way—Derry~Londonderry is easily walkable, and a joy to meander through, with historic and modern architecture coexisting beautifully.
From the Visit Derry tourist office on the banks of the River Foyle, it's just a six-minute stroll to the Diamond at the city's heart. From there, you can head north, south, east or west to any of the four main 17th century city gates. At 33 ft thick and armed with 24 canons, these famous walls wrap almost a mile around Derry~Londonderry, making the island's only fully walled city utterly impenetrable.
If you're driving from Belfast, stop off at the Seamus Heaney Homeplace and pay homage to the Nobel Laureate from Northern Ireland who became one of the world's renowned poets.
Three must-see museums
If there's one thing Derry~Londonderry's not short on, it's history. For a small city, its story is an epic one, told beautifully in three main museums. If you have a taste for adventure, The Tower Museum brings visitors right back to a romantic time of galleons and gold bullion, filled with bounty recovered from La Trinidad Valencera, a Spanish Armada ship that sank off the north-west coast in 1588. If you are interested in military history, the nearby Siege Museum walks you through the great siege of 1689, when 30,000 locals held the city for 105 days against the forces of King James II – and beat them!
For a more personal look at the city, a stroll through Butcher's Gate and past the Free Derry landmark corner will bring you to the Museum of Free Derry. Filled with personal accounts from the Battle of the Bogside, Bloody Sunday and the Free Derry civil rights movement, the exhibitions here come right from the heart of the people who call this city home. It's an unmissable stop. When you’ve finished exploring, make sure to have lunch in the charming Soda & Starch.
Get a look at the Guildhall!
Undoubtedly one of the city's most beautiful buildings, both inside and out, Derry~Londonderry's Guildhall is a striking red neo-gothic masterpiece, adorned with intricate stained-glass windows and a copper-topped tower. Built in 1887 and burned down just two decades later, the Guildhall has been restored multiple times since.
Though the exterior is a feat of architectural delight, the show-stopper is revealed once you step inside the building. At the far end of the hall, the pipe organ rises into the rafters like a great silver eagle unfurling its wings—the perfect regal backdrop for the many weddings that take place here today. If you have time, you must visit St Columb's Cathedral, beside the picturesque Bishop's Gate, it holds the lock and keys to the original gates of the city.
Remembering the past, looking to the future
Reading and hearing about Derry~Londonderry's history is one thing, but following in the footsteps of the people who actually lived it is another. The Bogside History Tours allow you to do just that, on a walking tour that chronicles the journey of the city from the historic civil rights march of 1968 and takes in the famous gable-wall murals of the Bogside Artists.
For a splash of pop culture, stop off at Orchard Street and you'll spy the Derry Girls mural, immortalising the beloved characters of Northern Ireland's most-watched TV show ever. While you’re there, treat yourself to a Derry Girls afternoon tea, complete with fresh cream horns, cones of chips and sausage roll baps!
Bridging the divide
Linking Ebrington Square to the rest of the city centre, the Peace Bridge aims to connect much more than physical neighbourhoods. Built to foster relations between the Waterside and Cityside communities, who occupy opposite banks and opposite political positions, the bridge has fast become a hub of activity.
The newest of Derry~Londonderry's three bridges, this is the perfect place to wind down as your day draws to an end. A walk or leisurely cycle across this bridge promises spectacular views across the water, and a guaranteed nod and hello from friendly locals. Before heading home, grab dinner at the Walled City Brewery, Northern Ireland's only brewery restaurant.
See the city in a whole new way, then head west from Derry~Londonderry to County Donegal, nature's masterpieceExplore Day 2
Walking on water
Wake up and welcome the morning by taking to the water and paddling into a new day. The first (and only) historic tour via stand-up paddle boards on the island, the Far & Wild tour is a truly different way to see the city. Bobbing gently as you follow the tide along the River Foyle, the peace and quiet here will grant you a completely different perspective on Derry~Londonderry.
If you're more comfortable on dry land, the Foodie City Cycle allows you to eat your way around some of the tastiest haunts. Over two hours, you'll bike around the city and stop off for some high-quality, locally sourced dishes – just what you need before hopping in the car and heading north.
Nothing like the Northern Headlands
Less than three quarters of an hour away, Kinnagoe Bay sits in silence, a pocket of serenity that belies its rocky past. This blissful inlet is where the Spanish ship, La Trinidad Valencera, was wrecked in 1588 – and today, keen fishermen come to catch the bass, flounder, wrasse and other fish that call the ghostly wreck home.
Back in the car, it's another 40 minutes until you simply can't drive any more. This is Malin Head: the northernmost point of the mainland, and one of the most beautiful places in the world. If you make your way to Hell's Hole, you'll hear the ocean rush in with such force, it sounds like a demon roaring. Thankfully, this didn't scare off the cast of Star Wars when they filmed The Last Jedi here in 2016. You can take a tour of the area with the very same company that kept Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley safe while on location. Fancy going behind the scenes?
Fearsome Fort Dunree
A little further south, at the tip of Dunree Head, you'll find Fort Dunree. A defensive settlement was first built here to defend Lough Swilly during the Napoleonic Wars, and the building currently acts as a museum, offering a fascinating look at the role of coastal defence in Ireland's neutrality.
For those seeking a bit more action before heading back to their accommodation, Inish Adventures offers kayaking, snorkelling and coasteering at the fort – provided you're tough enough to brave the bracing waters. Stop off at Grianán of Aileach – an ancient ring fort that offers views of the six surrounding counties on a clear day – before heading back to Derry~Londonderry for dinner. A firm favourite with local foodies, Browns in Town offers great food, original cocktails and tasty craft beers – a perfect place for dinner.
Ever wonder what Ireland was like before humans took over? See for yourself on your last day in the north-westExplore Day 3
Wild Ireland awakens
Though County Donegal is loved for its rugged beauty and unspoilt vistas and apparent wilderness, it has undergone immense changes since its first human settlement many centuries ago. In a land known for sheep-strewn hills and headlands dotted with cows, it's hard to believe that, once upon a time, brown bears, wolves, lynx and wild boars roamed the woodlands.
Today, those species (plus a few cheeky monkeys) have been reintroduced here by Wild Ireland. A day spent here is like no other: this isn't a zoo, and the animals aren't trained. Rather, they are allowed to live in their natural habitat, observed—but undisturbed—by people. Will you take a look?
A fairytale sight
Shimmering 40 feet down through verdant greenery to a crystal-clear rock pool below, Glenevin Waterfall is simply enchanting. Reached via a simple walk through a wooded valley, the stream into which the waterfall pours is criss-crossed by foot bridges and bordered by picnic tables.
Rated one of TripAdvisor's top attractions in the area, the waterfall is especially worth a visit after a good rain shower, when the stream is rushing merrily and the valley smells fresh and new. Blissful! Pick up some personalised, handcrafted art and souvenirs at Moville Pottery, which has produced ceramics locally for over 40 years.
The Wild Alpaca Way
You might not expect to spy an alpaca roaming around Ireland's countryside, but in County Donegal, they're quite at home. Fluffy and friendly, they make the perfect guides for unique tours around Knockamany Bens, high above the Inishowen Peninsula. Each of the four alpacas are owned by this family-run business and have different personalities.
If there's anything that could round off your trip to the north-west memorably, it's bound to be a trek above the Atlantic Ocean with your very own four-legged tour guide! End the trip with a toast to your adventure at Farren's Bar. Set on the road to Malin Head, it's Ireland's most northerly bar and has been running since 1825! Make the last stop of your trip at Nancy's Barn, a 19th century converted barn in Ballyliffin which boasts a famous seafood chowder that's bound to hit the spot!