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The Walled City: a cultural metropolis with a fascinating past

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City Walls
Austin's Department Store
St Columb's Cathedral
Tower Museum
Museum of Free Derry
Workhorse Museum
UK City of Culture 2013
Londonderry's history is so long that it's hard to pin down exactly when it first began. This is one of the oldest inhabited places in the whole of Ireland. As the locals are known to remark - Derry was a city when Belfast was a swamp. One clue as to the settlement's origins is the nearby Iron Age fort, just outside the county boundaries.

The River Foyle flowing through Derry.
Photo Michael Parry
From those ancient times, Londonderry developed into an important stronghold, surrounded by defensive walls. They were constructed in the early 1600s, using stone from medieval monastery buildings. There were only four gates, arranged in a cross-shape. Drawbridges and 24-hour patrols made the entire city as secure as a bank vault. The defences were put to use several times in the very same century. The biggest test was the Great Siege of 1689, when the forces of King James II assaulted for 105 gruelling days. The walls stood firm, making Londonderry one of the very few European cities never to be breached. Its nickname, "The Maiden City", dates from that time.

The Walls and one of the Gates.
Photo horslips5

Cannons on the City Walls.
Photo horslips5
These days, the walls come under daily attack by armies of tourists. The public can walk in a complete circle along the top, a journey of around a mile. The fortifications were built more recently than those of any other settlement in Europe, making them probably the best example of their kind in the whole continent. Every August, the Great Siege is remembered at the Maiden City Festival, with a week of performances, parties and parades. All of the merrymaking takes place either on or around the walls, highlighting them as the pride of Derry.

You can walk a complete circuit of the city walls in under an hour.
Photo thesuperaliceflickr

Did You Know?

St Columb's Cathedral is Derry's oldest building, completed in 1633.

Photo Kay Atherton
For those who are interested in learning more about local history, the Tower Museum is a must-see. Meanwhile, fans of great architecture should visit one of the many churches and cathedrals, as well as the Guildhall a beautiful building which hosts several festivals and events throughout the year.

The Guildhall.
Photo dainee
The city is also well-equipped with all the modern amenities you might expect, including two large shopping centres. More retail therapy is available at Austin's, the world's oldest department store. Its tall, Edwardian premises were opened in 1830, before both Harrod's, in London, and Macy's, in New York.

Austin's Department Store.
Photo Sean Mack
At night Derry becomes a hive of activity, with countless clubs and bars open until late and concert halls putting on bands of all genres. Throughout the year, the city hosts events like the Big Tickle comedy festival and the Celtronic dance music festival. A particular highlight is the Halloween Carnival, which was the first of its type in the country. It remains one of the major events on the calendar, with over 30,000 participants taking part in what's easily one of the UK's largest street parties. By the time the music dies down, its obvious to everyone that this fun, vibrant place is the worthy second city of Northern Ireland.

Peadar O'Donnell's Bar, the home of live traditional and contemporary music in Derry.
Photo ifyr

Did You Know?

Derry/Londonderry - was chosen as the UK's first ever city of Culture in 2013. It beat off competition from Birmingham, Norwich and Sheffield.

Londonderry at Night.
Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Visitor Information
Londonderry Tourist Information, 44 Foyle Street, BT48 6AT. Tel: 028 7126 7284
Tower Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm. Entry costs around £4 for adults, £2 children. Tower Museum, Union Hall Place, Derry, BT48 6LU. Tel: 02871 372411

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