What is HMS Belfast?HMS Belfast is a Royal Navy ship launched in 1938 and received her commission in 1939, a month before the outbreak of World War II. The ship and her crew saw active duty in the North Sea and Arctic Circle before participating in the D-Day landings. In 1945 she was sent to Sydney to assist in the war in the Far East, but Japan’s surrender on August 15 meant she didn’t see active duty in the region during the war. The ship remained posted to stations in the Far East until the outbreak of the Korean war when she became part of the United Nations naval force. She was recommissioned for the last time in 1963, was sent to Gibraltar, and took part in minesweeping exercises in the Mediterranean, before returning to Portsmouth. Throughout the 60s and 70s, various voices lobbied to prevent Belfast from being scrapped, and in 1971 she was towed to London and outfitted as a museum before opening to the public on October 21, 1971, the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. She’s been a floating museum ever since.
What will we see inside the ship?HMS Belfast has 9 decks open to the public, and most of them are set up to show visitors what it would have been like to live and work on a navy vessel. You’ll see sleeping quarters, the sick bay, the bakery, the gun turrets, and the laundry room, plus the Flag Deck and Operations Room, where the captain and officers would command the ship. You’ll also be able to visit Serving the Seas, a permanent interactive exhibition marking the 80-year history of HMS Belfast, and featuring stories from members of her crews throughout the years. Throughout the year there’ll also be special events, such as Ship Shape, which introduces visitors to what it takes to keep a ship in good working condition and prevent damage in the future.
Does the ship move or is it stationary?A hole was dug in the river bed to accommodate HMS Belfast’s hull when she was first moored at Tower Bridge, but since the River Thames is a tidal river she still rises and falls as the surrounding water moves. She’s attached to two dolphins (not the animal, the man-made structure!) which make sure that she doesn’t move too much, even in the strongest tides. The motion of her rise and fall is quite gentle, and shouldn’t cause seasickness.
Will my children enjoy a trip to HMS Belfast?Absolutely! Children aged 5 and over will enjoy scrambling up and down ladders and exploring the ship’s decks, engaging with the interactive exhibits, and listening to the special child-friendly version of the audio guide. Those visiting with very young children might find the ladders and stairs to be a challenge. Only the ‘2’ deck is accessible with a stroller, at other times small children may need to be carried, assisted, or carefully watched as they move between decks.
How long should I plan for my visit?It takes at least 90 minutes to explore the whole ship if you’re in a rush. That being said, if you want to read all the displays, grab a bite to eat at the café, or take part in any of the activities for families, you’ll probably want to spend half a day inside the museum.