We decided to visit Londonderry because it is the 2013 City of Culture. We were expecting lots of cultural events, what we did not expect was just how much history and glorious scenery there is to explore in this city. The city walls and walking around them is a real highlight and a must do.
The city walls here are particularly special because this is the only completely walled city in the whole of Ireland. It is also one of the finest examples of walled cities in Europe. There are few city centres fully enclosed within 17th century walls, and even fewer which are so well preserved as this. You can walk the whole way around the city on the walls. This gives you a wonderful view of the inner city which retains its Renaissance style street plan. You also get great views from the walls of the modern city beyond.
The walls were built between 1613 - 1618. They were first built to defend Protestant settlers during the colonisation of Ireland and have never been breached, despite 3 sieges (hence Londonderry's nickname - the Maiden City). The most famous siege was in 1689 when many of the city's inhabitants died holding out against the forces of the Catholic King James II.
We started off walking the walls near the Guildhall. This is a really beautiful building, neo-gothic and built in 1887 from red sandstone by the Honourable Irish Society. The stained glass windows are beautiful and it looks great after its recent £9.5 million restoration.
Walking around the walls is just like being in an open-air museum, there is so much to see and take in. You see those parts of the city which were protected from the Jacobite area, but you also get good views of the area beyond - including the Bogside, where more recent history is commemorated on modern walls. We saw some murals which showed some key moments over the past 40 years of troubles in Northern Ireland.
Keep an eye out for the 4 original gates to the city - Bishops Gate, Ferryquay Gate, Butcher Gate and Shipquay Gate.
There are lots of cannons all along the walls - very popular with our son, who enjoyed climbing on them! This is apparently Europe's largest collection of cannons with known origins. Roaring Meg is the most famous one of all - it was actually used and fired during the 1689 siege.
Look out too for the Walker Memorial. This was a statue on a pillar, commemorating George Walker, joint governor of the city during the siege of 1689. This was blown up by the IRA in 1973 and the statue which once stood on top of it is now in a newly constructed memorial garden beside the Siege Heroes Museum.
Near the Walker Memorial Plinth is Grand Parade - a popular walkway in the 19th century. There are 13 sycamore trees here which commemorate the apprentices who closed the gates on King James' soldiers during the 1689 siege. The fruit of the sycamore tree is a bit like a bunch of keys which is symbolic of the locked gates.
We spent the whole day strolling around the walls. There are information boards at the various points of interest, so you can read about the gates, bastions, cannons etc.. It is also better if you walk the walls, but also sometimes use the steps to come down and look at them at ground level. That way you can really appreciate their beauty.
There is a gorgeous ice cream parlour near the Guild Hall - so many flavours of delicious ice cream which is a good place to stop and have refreshments, especially if, like our visit, it is a hot day. There are also lots of coffee shops, cafes etc. both on the walls and close by, so you are never stuck for food and drink stops.
We loved exploring these wonderful walls - it is something you definitely must do if you are anywhere close to this fascinating city.