As cruise aficionados, we couldn’t resist a visit to the shipyards where the ill-fated RMS Titanic was built in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Titanic Belfast is a 130,000 sq. ft. monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage that opened in 2012. The attraction is located in Belfast on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard on Queen’s Island, an area of reclaimed land dating to the mid-19th century.
Known today as Belfast’s “Titanic Quarter,” these 185 acres of land housed the huge facilities of shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, including two iconic cranes nicknamed “Samson” and “Goliath.” As shipbuilding declined in Belfast, the area became derelict until a redevelopment effort began in 2001.
Today the Titanic Quarter is one of the world’s largest urban-waterfront regeneration projects with a hotel, apartments, a movie studio, office space and numerous entertainment venues including the Titanic Belfast museum.
The Titanic Quarter is also the home of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). Visitors interested interested in tracking their “roots” may use PRONI’s collection of archives to research family and local history.
The star attraction of the Titanic Quarter is the 126 ft. high angular building designed by Eric Kuhne and Associates. Covered with 3,000 individual silver aluminum shards, the Titanic Belfast building is designed to recall the shape of ships’ prows (the part of the bow above the water.)
Some visitors and locals think the building reminds one of an iceberg.
Inside the Titanic Belfast you will find nine different galleries that cover everything related to the Titanic, from the history of Belfast to the discovery of the sunken ship in 1996.
The first gallery, Boomtown Belfast – explains what was happening in Belfast at the start of the 20th century when the city was a global leader in engineering, linen manufacturing, and home to the world’s largest shipyard, Harland & Wolff.
Next, you visit The Shipyard Ride – a Disney-like ride up and around a replica of the 66 ft. high steel scaffold built to aid the construction of Titanic and Olympic. As you ride in the mini-cars, you get the feeling of what it might have been like to work on building the Titanic.
The Launch gallery portrays scenes from May 31, 1911, when Titanic was launched into Belfast Lough as 100,000 people watched. This section of the museum overlooks the slipway from which Titanic was launched. Through the windows, visitors see the slipways and docks as they appear today.
Gallery Four, The Fit-Out, details how ‘The Ship of Dreams‘ was detailed to rival the finest hotels in the world, as the replica of a first class cabin shows. We enjoyed this area to explore the Titanic’s opulent interior, including replicas of the first, second and third class cabins. We were surprised at how similar some things still are today on cruise ships more than 100 years after the Titanic. Here you can take a 360-degree computer-generated tour through all the levels of the Titanic, from the engine room to the dining rooms and the bridge.
Another of our favorites, the Maiden Voyage gallery, introduces you to the individual passengers on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, as the completed Titanic left Belfast on April 2nd, 1912 to embark passengers from England, France & Ireland before heading across the North Atlantic for America. This gallery contains photographs by Father Francis Browne, who was aboard Titanic for the leg from Southampton to Queenstown (now Cobh) in southern Ireland.
The Sinking – tough to comprehend, gallery six covers the evening of April 14th, 1912, when, despite warnings from other ships, the Titanic, sailing at near full speed of 21 knots, collided into an iceberg at 11:40 pm. The iceberg ripped the ship’s hull open, and approximately two and a half hours later, she sank below the surface of the icy North Atlantic. More than 1,500 passengers and crew members lost their lives.
The Aftermath of the sinking is documented in the seventh gallery, which includes a full-size replica of one of the lifeboats used to evacuate passengers from the ship. British-built and American-owned, the sinking of the Titanic was immediately investigated on both sides of the Atlantic, trying to find a culprit to blame.
The Myths & Legends gallery covers the movies, books, songs and legends that have been inspired by the Titanic disaster. Interactive screens allow you to explore myths about the ship.
The last gallery offers the chance to Visit & Explore the Wreck, presenting the Titanic as she was discovered in 1985 (nearly 2.5 miles below sea level) by a team led by American oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard and French diving engineer Jean-Louis Michel. Below the floor is the Ocean Exploration Centre, Titanic Belfast’s principal educational facility, which shows marine biology and exploration in Northern Ireland’s coastal waters as well as Ballard’s various expeditions around the world
Outside of the building, the bronze sculpture Titanica, by Rowan Gillespie, depicts a diving female figure similar to figureheads on the front of ships. Located in front of Titanic Belfast, the sculpture is meant to represent hope and positivity.
The Titanic Belfast is open 10am – 5pm daily, with extended hours between April and September. The standard admission charge is £15.50 per adult, with discounts for children, students, seniors and families. We visited during an afternoon in early September, and found some galleries to be crowded with tour groups.
Have you visited the Titanic Quarter in Belfast?
We’ve also learned about the Titanic in two other locations:
Comparing Cruising 100 Years Ago: The Titanic Exhibit at Kansas City’s Union Station (a traveling exhibit)
A Walk Around Halifax, Nova Scotia (the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic details the role Halifax, Nova Scotia played in the Titanic disaster)