Derry is synonymous with its impressive city walls. Since their construction at the start of the 17th century they have a massive impact on the city’s history and character. With stunning views over the cityscape and River Foyle, a walk along its 1.5km circuit offers the best way to get orientated.
Just within the walls is the Tower Museum. The museum tells the story of Derry from the region’s geological formation millions of years ago, right up to the present day, covering everything from the Plantation, through to the Siege of Derry and the city’s troubled political past. The museum also houses the Armada Shipwreck exhibition which deals with the recovery of La Trinidad Valencera which was shipwrecked off the coast of Donegal in 1588. A minutes walk from the Tower Museum is the magnificent neo-Gothic Guildhall. This late 19th century building contains one of the largest and most striking collections of stained glass windows in Ireland. It is currently closed until June 2013 for renovations.
Also inside the walls is St. Columb’s Cathedral. Completed in 1633, it is Derry’s oldest surviving building and was the first cathedral of its type built after the Reformation. Dedicated to the name of Saint Columba (Columb), an Irish monk who established a Christian settlement in the city in the sixth century, the cathedral is a treasure trove of historical interest. Its Chapter House Museum has a display of artefacts dating from the Siege of Derry in 1689. It is also home to the original padlocks and keys of the four original gates of the city walls. Each year the Siege of Derry is commemorated at the nearby Apprentice Boy’s Memorial Hall.
During the three decades of The Troubles, Derry was a hotbed of activity. One unforeseen consequence of the conflict was a series of defiant murals which were painted on gables throughout the city. With the coming of peace in the 1990s the character of these murals has largely changed to mirror the new positive atmosphere dominating Derry. West of the walls, in the Bogside, the Museum of Free Derry presents a living history of the Troubles and the story of Bloody Sunday.
Since it was opened in June 2011, the Peace Bridge has become one of the city’s main attractions. The pedestrian and cycle bridge links the historic core of Derry to the newly opened public space at Ebrington Square. Measuring over five acres in size, the former military parade ground is larger than Trafalgar Square in London and has become a new cultural hub for the city.
Back within the walls is a progressive, dynamic arts environment where new writing, film and dramatic arts flourish. The Verbal Arts Centre, Nerve Centre, the Millennium Forum, Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin and The Playhouse are venues for artistic expression by local and international writers, singers, dancers and theatre groups. Indeed, for its relatively small size, the city is bulging with galleries and art spaces, such as the Void, and Centre for Contemporary Art, along with a number of smaller galleries including Context, Gordon, Eden Place and Cowley Cooper.