Your travel guide to Derry~Londonderry and County Donegal

Northern Ireland’s walled city – made famous by the TV series Derry Girls – has found a new lease of life, and makes a lively base for cross-border visits to the rugged coastal fringes of Donegal...

4 mins

Nestled in the north-west corner of Ireland, the city of Derry-Londonderry (Northern Ireland) and the county of Donegal (Republic of Ireland) sit snugly side by side. Taken together, this pair have every ingredient you could want from a short break: a dollop of history, a splash of culture and immeasurable quantities of nature and adventure. Better yet, it’s a combination that few have yet to put together.

Often referred to as ‘The Walled City’, Derry-Londonderry takes its nickname from the 400-year-old fortifications that surround its historic centre. Its still-intact walls were built during the Plantation of Ulster, the early-17th-century colonisation of Ireland under King James I, which saw native landowners supplanted by English and Scottish settlers. Although the city was established centuries earlier, this era marked the beginning of a complex history, the impact of which is still being felt across the region and beyond. Even today it is evident not only in the city’s architecture and museums, but the stories of ordinary local people.

Peace Bridge with Guildhall behind (Shutterstock)

Peace Bridge with Guildhall behind (Shutterstock)

Derry Halloween is the biggest in Europe (Derry City and Strabane District Council/Lorcan Doherty)

Derry Halloween is the biggest in Europe (Derry City and Strabane District Council/Lorcan Doherty)

Although heritage remains at the heart of Derry-Londonderry, there is a sense that it is looking towards a bright future. The symbolic Peace Bridge, opened in 2011, contrasts starkly with the city’s 17th-century old town and connects to the fast-developing waterside, now filled with modern eateries and the bones of a highly anticipated maritime museum, due to open in 2024. As a former (and first ever!) UK City of Culture, its calendar is likewise packed: summer welcomes the return of the Maritime Festival; October anticipates the arrival of thousands of visitors for one of the biggest Halloween celebrations in Europe; and throughout the year, Irish traditional music pours out of local pubs and creates an irresistible lure for passers-by.

Read next 7 cultural highlights of Derry-Londonderry and Donegal

After rattling through the city highlights, it’s time for a change of pace. The town’s border location makes it an easy access point for Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,600km driving route that fords a scenic path between the northern and southern coasts. After a short journey, you’ll find yourself on the Inishowen Peninsula, the rugged tip of County Donegal and a coastline shaped by the elements across millions of years. With fine views at every turn, expect to be transfixed by golden-sand beaches, fortress ruins and endless quaint villages.

A car is essential for reaching the county’s remote corners, but Donegal is all about slowing down and embracing Ireland in miniature. There’s dozens of hiking trails along its wild clifftops and hills, so don’t forget your walking boots; and if conditions are right, exploring the Atlantic’s wildlife-rich waters by kayak or boat offers a great way to get closer to nature. Whatever adventure you choose, Donegal’s raw beauty will never cease to amaze.

Derry~Londonderry and Donegal in four days

Malin Head, County Donegal (Shutterstock)

Malin Head, County Donegal (Shutterstock)

Day 1: Inishowen Peninsula’s West Coast

Start by spotting birds at Inch Wildfowl Reserve, then follow that up with a visit to nearby hilltop fortress Grianán of Aileach. Next, drive the Wild Atlantic Way along Inishowen’s west coast and stop at Ballyliffin village. Here you can hike to Glenevin Waterfall or trek up Binnion Hill for panoramic views. End the day learning about local history at Doagh Famine Village, then watch the sun set over Pollan Strand beach.

Day 2: Malin Head

Continue navigating the weaving coastal roads to Malin Head, mainland Ireland’s northernmost point. Don’t miss Five Finger Strand, which has some of the highest sand dunes in Europe. Venture to Bamba’s Crown at the very tip of Malin Head to stand on the edge of the continent, then return down the eastern side of the peninsula to seek out more fine beaches, including the Blue Flag shores of Culdaff.

Day 3: The walled city

Head into the historic centre of Derry-Londonderry to walk its walls. Along the Grand Parade, a cluster of significant buildings can be found within a short distance of one another, including St Columbs Cathedral and St Augustine Church. Take time to get a firm grasp of Derry’s history by wandering the city’s museums. Alternatively, fans of the TV series Derry Girls can hunt out its filming locations and pose beside a giant mural of the show.

Day 4: Outside the walls

The story of the city spills beyond its walls. The Bogside – a neighbourhood that was once underwater – is now home to many poignant murals and the Museum of Free Derry, dedicated to the civil rights era. Head to the River Foyle to cross the famous Peace Bridge, then finish the day stand-up paddleboarding the waterway with Far and Wild for an alternative view of the city.

“Derry is a city renowned for the warmth of its hospitality – and we can certainly put on a good show! Our Halloween event has grown from humble beginnings as a community festival in the 1980s to one of the biggest Halloween carnival celebrations in the world, with tens of thousands of revellers flocking to the event each year and thousands of local people taking part and making it their own. I’m so proud to be part of the changing story of this place.”

- Jacqueline Whoriskey, festival and events manager, Derry City and Strabane District Council

Outdoor highlights

Spot many bird species at Inch Wildfowl Reserve (Shutterstock)

Spot many bird species at Inch Wildfowl Reserve (Shutterstock)

Inch Wildfowl Reserve

An 8km nature trail for both walkers and cyclists encompasses a huge lake teeming with migrating birdlife. The winter months are when to expect the arrival of thousands of greylag geese and whooper swans. The summer is equally as busy, with terns and waders disturbing the tranquil waters. Bring binoculars for a greater birding experience.

Amazing Grace Yacht Charter

Take a half-day boat trip with Amazing Grace Yacht Charter and explore the Inishowen coastline. Bounce over the waves while admiring dramatic green-covered cliffs and distant views of Inishtrahull Island as you head towards Malin Head. You’ll likely spot marine life – from curious seals to a pod of playful dolphins – gliding alongside the yacht.

The City Walls

Derry-Londonderry is the only completely walled city in Ireland. Built to protect English and Scottish settlers against Irish rebels, these fortifications stretch 1.5km around the city and include 22 cannons and seven gates – four of which are original. The oldest section dates back to the early 17th century, so make sure to book a tour.

Indoor highlights

Inside the Guildhall (Jessica Reid)

Inside the Guildhall (Jessica Reid)

The Guildhall

Built in 1890, the Neo-Gothic-style Guildhall is sandwiched between Shipquay Gate and the Foyle River. Inside, you can admire its main hall and an interesting interactive exhibition examining the Plantation of Ulster. On Saturdays, there’s a popular market in Guildhall Square.


Tower Museum

Of the tower’s two permanent exhibitions, one includes artefacts from the Armada Shipwreck of 1588; the other tells the story of Derry-Londonderry from its earliest settlement in the 6th century all the way up to the Northern Ireland civil rights movement and the present day.


Siege Museum

This museum is filled with artefacts and exhibits on the 1689 siege of the city by James II, which lasted 105 days and ended in victory for the townsfolk. There is also background on the Associated Clubs of the Apprentice Boys of Derry.

Walled City Brewery

Take a 1.5-hour Beer Masterclass at one of the city’s breweries to learn about the history of Irish brewing and sample from some ten craft beers. Finish with a meal at its award-winning restaurant.

Top things to do in Derry~Londonderry and Donegal

1. Listen to traditional Irish music in Derry-Londonderry’s most energetic pub. Peadar O’Donnell’s on Waterloo Street plays live music every night. Grab yourself a Guinness, pull up a stool and tap your foot as violins, guitars and folk singers bring the venue to life.

2. Paddle along the Foyle Estuary with Inish Adventures. Enter the water from the market town of Moville and kayak along the peaceful coastline towards Greencastle. On the way, you’ll pass several miniature sandy bays worth stopping at for a break and a swim.

3. Learn about the animals that once inhabited Ireland at a unique wildlife reserve. County Donegal’s Wild Ireland is home to brown bears, wolves and lynx, all of which roamed this land thousands of years ago, before the Celtic rainforests were destroyed. This woodland sanctuary aims to educate people about Ireland’s wildlife history and the importance of animal conservation for the future of our ecosystems.

4. Shop at the Craft Village in Derry-Londonderry. Its pretty, Dickensian-style streets are filled with artisanal shops and coffee houses. Pop into Foyle Books to flick through the pages of 300-year-old tomes, or tuck into street food from Soda and Starch, which lies under the canopy in the square.

Read next Best things to do in Derry~Londonderry and Country Donegal

Places to stay in Derry~Londonderry and Country Donegal

Five Finger Strand, Donegal (Shutterstock)

Five Finger Strand, Donegal (Shutterstock)


Ballyliffin TownHouse. This four-star boutique hotel has contemporary rooms and is perfectly located for exploring the most northerly point of the Wild Atlantic Way. Its restaurant serves hearty pub food.

McGrorys, Culdaff. Music enthusiasts should stay at this 100-year-old family-run hotel. The back room is regarded locally as one of the best small music venues in Ireland.

Mamore Cottages, Buncrana. These 150-year-old thatched Irish cottages have been lovingly restored to bring out their traditional character.


Shipquay Hotel. Stay in a heritage-listed building that was constructed in 1895 and was formerly the Provincial Bank of Ireland.

City Hotel Derry. A comfortable base for exploring the city. Its rooms overlook the Foyle River, Peace Bridge and the Guildhall, making it one of the better locations in town.

Everglades. A stylish 64-bedroom hotel that nestles on the banks of the River Foyle. Don’t miss their Derry Girls-themed afternoon tea, complete with sausage-roll baps and cream horns.

Essential travel information for Derry~Londonderry and County Donegal

Derry Girls mural in Derry~Londonderry (Jessica Reid)

Derry Girls mural in Derry~Londonderry (Jessica Reid)

International dialling code: +44 (Derry-Londonderry); +353 (County Donegal)

Currency: Sterling (£) in Derry-Londonderry; Euro (€) in County Donegal, currently €1.18 to the UK£.

How to get there: Logan Air flies direct from London Stansted, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh to City of Derry Airport; Ryanair flies from Manchester. Flights take between 65 and 90 minutes.

How to get around: Many of Donegal’s attractions are spread out, so a car is useful. Most car parks in the region are free and car hire is available from City of Derry Airport. Derry-Londonderry’s highlights are easily accessible on foot.

Weather: It’s best to prepare for all seasons in a single day – even in summer – though temperatures are mild year-round (winter: 5–8ºC)

Further info:;

Anything else: Invest in a two-day Visit Derry Pass (£30) for free access to city museums and guided tours.

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