The current trend in public policy is to valorise culture as a tool for social, economic and political transformation. This paper offers a direct contribution to debates that seek to unpack and problematise cities of culture. We adopt a more circumspect approach towards some aspects of the anticipated transformative powers of culture, and in particular the tendency to fetishize the economics of culture. Our empiricism is grounded in a detailed study of Derry~Londonderry as the inaugural UK City of Culture in 2013. We question whether City of Culture was ‘life and place changing’ or a ’12 month party’, and reveal different interpretations of success. In our view there is more potential in viewing culture as a peace resource for overcoming divisions in a socially and culturally segregated city, rather than its ability to tackle entrenched economic problems. Moving beyond the specifics of the case study we also provide lessons for future cities of culture and more generalizable insights for the academic and policy literatures.