Having served for several years in the French Navy, a visit to HMS Belfast was essential for me. But no need to have a past in the army to find an interest in this visit! You will discover the living conditions aboard a cruiser from the 50s that took part in the Normandy landings.
The purpose of this article is to introduce you to a rather unusual and instructive activity to share with your family, by explaining the course of the visit and giving you advice.
For information, in the navy we do not speak of boat or ship but of "building", a term that I will use throughout this article.
What is the history of the HMS Belfast building?
HMS Belfast was built in 1938 in the eponymous city of the Harland & Wolf shipyard where the Titanic was launched. It is a 187m light cruiser, considered the most important warship of WWII, having played an important role in several naval battles.
From 1942, he ensured the protection of convoys in the Arctic and took part in the Battle of the North Cape. In 1945, he was deployed to the Far East to help defeat Japan, then participated in the Korean War. But the most striking feat of arms of HMS Belfast is undoubtedly its participation in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, where it was the first to bombard the German defenses on Gold Beach and Juno Beach.
After having traveled more than 500 miles, HMS Belfast left service in 000, and transformed into a museum in 1963.
What is the atmosphere on board?
As soon as you arrive on board, you will immediately be immersed! First of all by the smell so characteristic of old buildings, a mixture of scrap metal and grease. I reassure you, it is not disturbing and your clothes will not carry the smell on the exit. This immersion continues with the discovery of the metal framework, the long passageways where natural light is almost non-existent and the steep stairs.
What do you see during a visit to HMS Belfast?
First of all, the visit is offered with an audio guide in French which will be given to you free of charge upon your arrival on board. I really advise you to use it because the explanations are clear, interesting and accompanied by testimonials from sailors who served on the cruiser.
The visit allows you to discover the nooks and crannies of the building through its 9 levels ranging from the gangway to the boiler room, passing through the living areas of the crew. These are wonderfully reconstructed thanks to period materials and very realistic wax mannequins.
Thus, the visitor discovers the different workstations of the crew and their living space after the shift. The objective is to present as faithfully as possible the living conditions of the 950 sailors. You will no doubt be surprised to see an operating theater, a dentist's office, an isolation cell, impressed by the engine room or the artillery batteries or even intrigued to see how the sailors could sleep in a hammock!
Finally, to learn more about the history of HMS Belfast and the missions in which it took part, you can also visit the museum on board, where there are models as well as photos and archive images.
A visit to do with children?
The discovery of HMS Belfast is undoubtedly a family trip! Young children will be impressed by the size of the building and will enjoy having their picture taken instead of the admiral on the bridge. For teenagers, visiting the cruiser will allow them to review history lessons and more specifically the 3rd and XNUMXnd year program 😉
Practical advice for a successful visit
Keep in mind that you are visiting a military building where some parts are difficult to access and access to the bridges is via rather steep stairs when you are not used to it. And even if the descent may seem steep to you, always go down the stairs from the front while holding on to the handrail and position your feet slightly outward like a duck !!
Needless to say, wearing a skirt and heels won't be the best outfit! In addition, the tour is not suitable for people with reduced mobility or for older people who need to sit down. Indeed, there is no chair or bench to take a break. The only alternative is to go to the cafeteria located on board.
How long will it take for the visit?
Allow between 2 and 3 hours to visit every nook and cranny of the cruiser!
What is the entrance fee to visit HMS Belfast?
The visit of the cruiser costs around 18.50 € for an adult and 9.50 € for a child by booking on the site 365 ticketsor on the GetYourGuide website.
The visit to HMS Belfast is also included in the London Pass, London Explorer Pass andIventure London Attractions Pass.
Good plan ! The cruiser tour is free for children less than 4 years old.
What are the opening hours?
Open every day from 10 a.m. to 18 p.m. (closing at 17 p.m. from November to February)
Closed on December 24, 25, and 26 and open on January 1.
What to visit near HMS Belfast?
The district where HMS Belfast is located concentrates many points of interest such as the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Hays Galleria, le shard or even Borough Market to take a lunch break.
Where is the cruiser?
Address : The Queen’s Walk, London SE1 2JHMetro