County Derry is one of the six counties of Northern Ireland and part of the province of Ulster. To the west, it is bordered by County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland, and to the east by Lough Neagh. To the north is the Atlantic Ocean and to the south, the mountains of County Tyrone. The name Derry comes from the Irish Doire, meaning “oak wood,” and the county’s underappreciated beauty should not be missed on your next trip to Ireland. Here are our five favorite spots in County Derry to visit on your next vacation, from ancient city walls to the birthplace of a Nobel laureate.
RELAX AT PORTSTEWART STRAND
This award-winning Blue Flag beach is two miles of the finest, smoothest golden sand in Ireland. Long a local’s hangout, it has risen in popularity due to recent media recognition, but with waves and sand stretching farther than the eye can see, you don’t need to worry about being over crowded. Cars are allowed on select spots on the beach, and surfers and body boarders can often be seen riding the waves. Opposite the beach itself is the Royal Portstewart golf course, long hailed as one of the most challenging courses in the world.
HAVE A PINT AT IRELAND’S HIGHEST PUB
Located in Glenshane Pass just outside of Derry city, The Ponderosa Bar and Restaurant is the island of Ireland’s highest pub. Built at 946 feet above sea level along the main road through the Sperrin Mountains, this pub has existed in some form or another since 1858, when it was founded as a small public house for weary travelers called Buchanan’s. Recently purchased and remodeled by Karl McErlean in 2014, the bar and restaurant offers the same pit-stop services with casual dining and a convivial atmosphere.
WALK THE DERRY CITY WALLS
The city of Derry is the only fully walled city still extant in all of Ireland. The city walls were constructed in the 17th century by the Honourable The Irish Society to protect the residents from settlers from England and Scotland and extend for a mile around the oldest part of the city center. Today, you can wander atop the walls for views of the ancient city center and its renaissance street grid, considered one of the finest examples anywhere in Europe.
VISIT MUSSENDEN TEMPLE
Set atop the edge of a 120-foot cliff, Mussenden Temple is understandably one of the most photographed tourist sites in Ireland. The temple was originally constructed as a library for the Bishop of Derry on his summer estate, and still maintains a small collection of books today. It was modeled after the ruined Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum, one of the few unique circular temples of ancient Rome that housed the eternal flame of the city, kept burning 24 hours a day by the sacred Vestal Virgins. The estate grounds are endlessly walkable, offering stunning sea views and secluded garden paths. Below lies Downhill Strand, a filming location on Game of Thrones that has recently enjoyed much popularity from fans of the hit HBO show.
TOUR THE LAND OF SEAMUS HEANEY’S HOME PLACE
Seamus Heaney, one of Ireland’s most beloved poets who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, was born in Castledawson, County Derry, and raised in nearby Bellaghy. At the Seamus Heaney Homeplace, the poet’s belongings and books are set up on two floors. You can see a recreation of his study, many family photos, and video recordings. You can also hear his voice reading his work. It is definitely a place to get inspired and possibly end up writing while on your stay in the area.
Did we leave off your favorite place in Derry? Let us know in the comments below!