NORTHERN IRELAND

Halloween in Derry, Northern Ireland – The Best Halloween Destination in the World?

By on 27/08/2019

I am pretty sure that when most of us think of Halloween, think about either Salem in Massachusetts (or anywhere else in the US), or Transylvania in Romania. We most certainly don’t think of Halloween in Derry (also known as Londonderry), in Northern Ireland.

But this little secret that the Northern Irish have kept for years has recently been revealed to the world. In 2015, the readers of USA Today voted Derry as the number one Halloween destination in the world. That is quite a claim, and one of the reasons to visit Derry over Halloween, but let’s look at what’s behind it.

Disclosure: I big thank you to Visit Derry and Tourism Ireland, who hosted me on this trip. As always, all views are my own. This post may contain affiliate links that earn me a small commission but come at no extra cost to you. This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. Thanks as always for your support!

The origins of Halloween

There is a worldwide misconception about the origin of Halloween being American. In fact, Halloween has its origins in pagan Ireland over 2,000 years ago, when the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) was celebrated to mark the beginning of winter and of the new year, which started on 1stNovember.

Photo via Visit Derry

Celts believed that on the night of 31stOctober the boundaries between the world of the dead and the world of the living became blurred, and the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. They would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts and spirits.  

By the 9thcentury, the influence of Christianity in Ireland meant that Celtic and Christian celebrations were slowly blending in. All Saints Day was celebrated by the Christian church on 1stNovember, and Celtic Samhain on 31stOctober, which resulted in the one celebration. All Saints Day was also known as All Hallows’ Eve, which eventually became Halloween.

Why is Halloween in Derry so special

Back in 1985, at the height of the The Troubles, the landlord of Doherty’s Bar in Derry decided to throw a Halloween party in his pub. Around fifty to sixty people showed up in fancy dress, but in the middle of the celebrations there was a bomb scare so everyone spilled out on to the street. Keen to continue the party, everyone headed down to Shipquay Street, an area well known for its bars and nightclubs.

It was that night that Derry considers the first ever Halloween Parade, and it’s been going annually ever since, getting bigger and better every year.

Nowadays, it all revolves around local folkore and customs such as lighting lanterns and storytelling as part of the festival. There is a mixture of ancient, contemporary and international customs and the scale of it, with almost 100,000 people visiting and joining in the celebrations, has made Halloween one of the top Halloween destinations in Europe and the world.

What’s on during Halloween in Derry

During Halloween the whole city of Derry is transforms into a great stage where street decorations, and gardens and window displays create this unique atmosphere. There are over 125 events happening over 7 days across the Walled City, with a spooky program that includes arts, music, food, family entertainment and more. From the 17thcentury walls, the Cathedral Quarter, the Craft Village and the Guildhall becoming a great spook-fest, to the culmination of all the celebrations with fireworks over the River Foyle.

Here are some of the highlights of Halloween in Derry:

Awakening the Walls

28th– 30thOctober, 6pm – 8.30pm. FREE

Photo via Visit Derry

For three evenings before Samhain, the 17thcentury walls of the city come alive with supernatural forces on an animated and illuminated trail that follows the historic city walls.

You will come across haunting tales from friends of the past, spooky and haunted windows, creepy alleyways and more. Keep your eyes peeled for any surprises like scary projections on the walls and storytelling from beyond. Don’t miss the ‘Return of the Goddess’ procession along Bishop Street and the surrounding streets.

Luminéoles

28th– 30thOctober, 6pm – 8.30pm. FREE*

Photo via Visit Derry

Le Bal des Luminéoles are imaginary illuminated birds with graceful wings created for the 2012 Fête des Lumières in Lyon, France. You will be able to see them dancing in the night sky above St Columb’s Cathedral, controlled by puppeteer pilots on the ground. They are pure magic and a joy to see.

Spark!

28th– 30thOctober, 5pm, 6.30pm and 8pm – FREE*

Photo via Visit Derry

Spark! is a group of ghostly drummers that create a magical live theatre show using music, movement and light in the city centre, normally around the Guildhall. It’s a spectacular and captivating show that combines high impact drumming, dynamic choreography and colourful design. This is one performance that you must see at least once.

Jack O’Lantern Festival

31stOctober, 12pm – 6.30pm. FREE*

Head to Guildhall Square and Waterloo Place for a session of ghostly tales, myths, fables and Celtic history. There are also pumpkin and turnip carving workshops as well as music sessions and more.

Return of the Ancients Parade

31stOctober, 7pm. FREE*

Photo via Visit Derry

Photo via Visit Derry

Departing from Queens Quay, Strand Road, this parade is in an incredible carnival of acts, circus and street performers from around the world.

But best of all, on the Return of the Ancients Parade, everyone gets involved by dressing up and being an active part of the stage that Derry becomes in Halloween. So make sure you bring your spooky costumes!

Fireworks Finale

31stOctober, 8.15pm. FREE*

Photo via Visit Derry

And of course, no celebration worth its salt is complete without a firework finale. After enjoying the Return of the Ancients Parade, head towards the river to witness the sky being lit up with colour over the Foyle.

*Event times may vary. Always confirm dates and times on the annual programme.

Other ideas for things to do while in Derry

Where to Stay during Halloween in Derry

Bishops Gate Hotel

Bishops Gate Hotel Derry Northern Ireland Ulster LondonderryLocated within the historic city walls in the heart of Derry City’s Cathedral Quarter, Bishops Gate Hotel is ideal to explore Derry’s iconic tourist landmarks during Halloween. These include the historic walls, The Guildhall, the Bogside and the Peace Bridge.

Would you like more info? Click for Tripadvisor reviews.

Book Bishops Gate Hotel here

Maldron Hotel Derry

Room with two beds at the Maldron Hotel in DerryMaldron Hotel Derry is a 4-star hotel located within Derry’s historic city walls, and offers a luxurious stay and easy access to the city’s theatres, restaurants, shops and, of course, the Halloween celebrations. Some rooms have views of the River Foyle and the 400-year-old city walls.

Would you like more info? Click for Tripadvisor reviews.

Book Maldron Hotel Derry here

City Hotel

City Hotel Derry Northern Ireland Ulster LondonderryOn the banks of the River Foyle, City Hotel is perfectly located from the main Halloween celebrations, particularly the Return of the Ancients Parade and the Fireworks Finale. The famous golf courses at Portrush are less than an hour’s drive away, and Foyleside Shopping Centre is within a 10-minute walk.

Would you like more info? Click for Tripadvisor reviews.

Book City Hotel here

Planning your trip to Derry

Ready for your Derry adventure? Use this travel toolkit

Have you visited any destinations like Derry in Halloween? How was it?
Let me know in the comments!

Visiting Derry? Check out my other Derry articles


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HI, I'M TERESA!

Hi! I’m Teresa, a London-based traveller on a mission to explore the world through deeper travel and more meaningful local experiences. I’m a lover of adventure, the outdoors and everything food related, and I’m always looking for ways to make a positive impact through responsible and sustainable travel. I’d love to inspire you to do the same, so come along for the ride!

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