Derry – a city break for history buffs and foodies

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“We didn’t know how bad we’d had it until we had peace,” said Chris Quigley as we took a detour. Chris was booked to take me to the airport. He convinced me to take a detour that would be worth it. The car slowed down and stopped atop Eskaheen View and I knew Chris was right. Derry spanned below me under a crystal blue December sky. The sun sparkled across River Foyle as it ribboned its way past Derry’s landmarks. From up here the city was breathtaking. Here’s why Derry is a city break for history buffs and foodies.

Derry is the Northern Irish city at the heart of its civil rights movement. It came to the attention of the world on 5th October 1968. A single television camera captured police attacking a peaceful demonstration and broadcast it to the world. It was the first time the Unionist government’s abuse of power against a nationalist (mainly Catholic) working class community had been witnessed. This single incident changed the course of Northern Irish history. Support for the civil rights movement surged and some reforms by the government followed but the tide had turned. In January 1969 the first no go area was declared and the defiant slogan You Are Now Entering Free Derry appeared on a gable wall in the Bogside. Today, the wall is a tourist attraction, the community is in healing and Derry is indeed, free.

As with most cities that experience long periods of civil unrest Derry’s narrative hovers around the conflict. However, we’d do well to remember that this city has a history which predates the recent conflict. With 1500 years worth of stories to retell and the only completely intact 17th century city walls in all of Ireland it’s a place waiting to be discovered. Little wonder then it was the inaugural UK City of Culture in 2013. With a wild, rugged coastline, noteworthy fine dining and a rich cultural heritage all under a flight time of one hour and 25 minutes we cannot afford to miss this untapped city. It is the perfect destination for history buffs and foodies.

IMG_2244.jpg Gorgeous Penthouse Room at City Hotel Derry

Where to stay: City Hotel Derry’s location is perfect for exploring, eating and drinking and is within a few minutes to the city walls, craft village and Peace Bridge. There is a bar and restaurant on the ground floor. The bar is open late and serves food until 11pm. Over the weekend it’s lively in the evenings as the hotel is popular with locals.

Ship Quay Hotel: This grade 11 listed building has been converted to a boutique hotel with remarkable results. It’s perfectly located for exploring the city and also within walking distance from restaurants, bars and shopping. Their restaurant is exceptional and popular for Sunday brunch.

Foyle’s Hotel: Chef Brian McDermott has transformed this 1819 hotel to a 16 room modern boutique hotel like no other. Most rooms boast sea views over Lough Foyle. The hotel is located in Moville which is around 30 minutes drive from the centre of Derry.

IMG_9553 Bread and butter pudding at Ship Quay Hotel, Derry.

Where to eat and drink: Soda & Starch serves up a menu of Irish produce transformed into international dishes. You can experience Thai broth mussels with Guinness wheaten bread or slow roasted Moroccan lamb on flat bread. All utterly delicious. Soda & Starch is also conveniently located within the Craft Village. It’s a perfect place for grabbing lunch during the day or an early evening meal.

Walled City Brewery: Walk across the Peace Bridge over River Foyle and arrive at the delightful Walled City Brewery. As the name suggests craft beer is brewed on the premises. The restaurant is slick and modern. The food is sumptuous. Wild boar terrine, turf-smoked salmon and spiced mulled pear with cheese are all on the menu as pintxos. Venison, slow braised beef cheeks and Donegal salmon mains are to die for. Pièce de résistance? Bourbon poached pears with ginger ice cream and pistachio brittle for dessert.

Browns Restaurant: There are two Browns restaurants in Derry: Browns Bonds Hill and Browns In Town. The latter is conveniently located within ten minutes of the city centre by cab. If I haven’t yet mentioned it – fish and sea food is exceptional in Derry. Browns serves a wonderful baked scallop and stuffed red mullet. Their Guinness bread served with Eglinton butter is simply worth crossing the city for. This is unmissable fine dining.

The Foyle Hotel Wine Bar & Eatery: Chef Brian McDermott’s Foyle Hotel offers what I can only describe as a wholesome dining experience. Its wine bar and eatery has won Georgina Campbell’s New Comer of the Year award and recommended as Best in Ireland McKenna’s Guides. Expect locally sourced mussels cooked in buttermilk, hearty venison cottage pie and apple crumble like no other. Utterly delicious local food.

White shop front with flower crowns and blue bicycle parked outside Craft Village, Derry

Things to do: City Tours offers insightful guided tours along the city walls. In just over an hour I learnt of Derry’s 1500 years of history from the sixth century through Bloody Sunday to the present day. As a huge fan of guided walking tours I couldn’t recommend this highly enough.

Craft Village: This delightful reconstructed 18th century street is home to artisan shops, local designers and plenty of places to eat and drink. It’s right in the heart of the town and a great place to shop for souvenirs and support local craftspeople. There is an array of craft boutiques ranging from Irish dancing supplies to hand-made crockery and cup cakes. What’s not to love?

Museum of Free Derry: Ireland’s civil rights movement is best understood at the Museum of Free Derry. The building stands precisely where the most pivotal moments happened.  The area surrounding the museum is also home to murals painted by Bogside Artists. The murals honour the struggle and subsequent peace that it achieved. Best of all however, is that the museum is run by those who either lived through the conflict or the descendents of ones who lost their lives. They willingly share their experience firsthand with visitors.

Wild Atlantic Way: This drive along 2500 kilometres of a ferocious Atlantic coast was the highlight of my trip. Adventure seeker or not this rugged coastline will leave you breathless. Dotted with fishing villages, light houses, dramatic deep cliffs and pebbled beaches it is surely Northern Ireland’s worst kept secret. It’s the Ireland of your dreams. Guess who’s returning in summer?

I was a guest of flybmi and Visit Derry and received complimentary first class travel on Stansted Express. Opinions expressed are all my own.

flybmi flies to Derry direct from Stansted Airport. For more information visit: www.flybmi.com

Stansted Express leaves every 15 minutes to Stansted Airport from London Liverpool Street. For more information visit: www.stanstedexpress.com

For more information on Derry visit: www.visitderry.com