Great alternative cities for a hop-on hop-off bus tour: Derry

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It's no secret that at CityXplora we like to offer a signature hop-on hop-off bus tour as our main product in any given city. These urban sightseeing services are fast, insightful, engaging and comprehensive. Most tour routes are tailored around all of the city's major landmarks and attractions, often with the addition of lesser known gems that would normally be harder to find. Most of our international cities are much like these major landmarks, they're big, popular and usually have a strongly romanticised image associated with them. What we'd also like to shine a light on at CityXplora, however, are the gem locations that sometimes lie just a short distance from the big names.

In this first article we'll take a look at the Northern Irish city of Derry, its hop-on hop-off bus tour and how you can get there from Belfast.

Derry/Londonderry is a city steeped in the country's intriguing social and political history. While its founding dates as far back as the 6th century it is most strongly associated with the turbulent events of the 17th and 20th centuries. The 1600s saw warring between the Gaelic Irish and Parliamentarian troops/Protestant colonists, and from the 1960s until 1998 the city was a hotbed of sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics. Such dark times (though their repercussions continue to spark debate) are well behind the modern city. Visitors to Derry can now share in a richly mixed cultural heritage that has manifested itself in some incredible ways.

You can uncover the story of city by visiting places such as the The Guildhall, the Walls of Derry and the Free Derry Corner. The Guildhall, which looks at fist glance like a magnificent church, was constructed in 1887 to serve as the administrative headquarters of the Londonderry Corporation. It derives its name and certain architectural features from its connection to the City of London and its guilds, hence representing an important aspect of Derry's cultural and political history. See the building's 'Big Ben' replica clock tower and 23 stained glass windows, each depicting various trades such as glaziers, ironmongers, skinners and musicians.

The Free Derry Corner is an area of the city situated at the intersection of Lecky Road, Rossville Street and Fahan Street. It is so named because from 1969-72 it was the site of a self-declared autonomous nationalist zone, designated such by the local inhabitants. The area has since become a famous historical landmark, with its distinctive white wall stating: "You are now entering Free Derry" in bold, black lettering. By visiting the corner you can also see several political murals as well as a memorial to the 1981 hunger strikers.

The Walls of Derry are perhaps the city's most iconic and dramatic landmark. They were erected from 1613-1618 to defend Derry's English and Scottish settlers from Irish attackers. At 1.5km in circumference, 12-35ft in width, and with a panoramic walkway around the old inner city, the Walls of Derry are often cited as one of the most beautiful and impressive constructions of their kind in Europe. Not only are the walls well preserved but their original armaments are also still on display. 24 surviving cannons were restored to their former glory in 2005, including 'Roaring Meg', a huge siege mortar cast in 1646.

The three highlights introduced above feature as main stops on the City Sightseeing Derry & Belfast hop-on hop-off bus tour. By making the trip to Derry from Belfast you can make your Northern Irish sightseeing experience twice as exciting and save money while doing so. The Derry tour has 7 stops which take you from the city's Visitor and Convention Bureau to every area of natural and historical significance. You won't just be riding the open-top buses either, as the City Sightseeing guides can take you on a narrated walking tour of the River Foyle, Derry Walls and Bogside murals.

How to get to Derry from Belfast?

Derry can be reached easily from Belfast by taking the Goldline 212 coach service from Belfast Europa Bus Centre on Glengall Street. Alternately, you can catch a train from Belfast Central Railway Station (E Bridge St, Town Centre, Belfast, BT1 3PB). Hop-on hop-off tickets are valid for 48 hours, so you'll have ample time to explore both cities.