I am sure you know all the details (non-fictional and dramatic ones) about the tragic end of the RMS Titanic latest after the Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet romance movie of 1997. If you travel to Belfast, however, you can be as close as possible to the place the story started, at the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard, where the Titanic as well as her sister ships RMS Olympic and HMHS Britannic have been built. The shipyard is gone, but there is a fancy new exhibition since 2012, Titanic Belfast. Being more precise, there is a whole Titanic Quarter, which is part of the Northern Irish hype about one of the most well-known naval tragedies ever.
Titanic Belfast – Location & Admission
Titanic Quarter is an area in Belfast harbor. It contains numerous places named after the ship, incuding a ferry service and a quite posh-looking hotel. You cannot miss the museum due to its impressive facilities. There is a tram connection from city center to close proximity of the museum. Of course, Belfast hop-on-hop-off bus tours and other touristic tour providers connect to the facilities. About 800,000 people visit the museum every day, according to the most current numbers I found.
The ordinary ticket price for Titanic Belfast is 19 GBP. It includes admission to the museum (adult) and to the former tender ship, the SS Nomadic. There is a package including a souvenir picture, which I did not opt for. If you are a quick visitor, you may also opt for the Late Saver Ticket, which allows to enter the exhibition one hour prior closing for 11.50 GBP. However, I cannot recommend it, because it will end up in a rush. The Shipyard ride will not be included in that ticket. Opening times vary by season and range from 10:00 to 17:00 hrs in winter off-peak days to 8:30 to 20:00 on summer weekends.
Titanic Belfast – The Visit
While you enter the museum on ground level, your visit starts on the first floor. The building also contains some additional facilities like seminar rooms. Your visit at Titanic Belfast tells you a chronological story of the ship, starting from the historic situation of Belfast and ending with the wreck of the Titanic today.
A History of Belfast
Your journey about the RMS Titanic starts in the late 19th, early 20th century, when Belfast was an important port, e.g. for linen (“Linenopolis”). There is a lot of information about the city at that time and a lot of exhibits and video installations, which illustrate how Belfast was like in the Titanic days. You are also introduced in these days cruise travel and Trans-Atlantic cruises in special. It may not sound too thrilling, but in fact, it was one of the best parts of the exhibition to me.
Construction & The Shipyard
After this historic section, you pass the Harland & Wolff shipyard gates. At the beginning of the exhibition, there are a lot of construction plans and other document explaining you the concept and design of the Titanic and its sister ship Olympic. There are also references to the third Olympic-class Ocean Liner, the HMHS Britannic, but its construction was altered after the Titanic sunk.
After that you take an elevator up to The Shipyard section. There is a lot of information in exhibits, how the ship was built and which kinds of work had to be done to create the Olympic-Class ones, but in addition to that, there is a quite cool ride, which drives you through the different stages and tasks during construction and introduces you to the workers and their missions.
The Launch & Inside RMS Titanic
The next section tell you about the Launch Event of RMS Titanic. You can even watch through the window, where you see the exact spot of its dock, before it was brought to water. The launch was a massive event for Belfast.
After that, you look inside the ocean liner. You learn how the fit-out of the ship has been done, but also how it looked like thereafter. There are re-constructions of cabins, a lot of Titanic and Olympic inventory and even video installations which make you move through the ship. A really cool spot – I feel that RMS Titanic geeks may stay around there for hours.
The Cruise and Crash
The next section deals with the trips of the Titanic, starting in Belfast via Liverpool, Queenstown (Ireland) to Cherbourg in France, before it set sails to New York. The displays here do not just give information and illustrations about the waypoints and the cruise, but also introduce you to people who boarded at the different ports of call.
Thereafter, unevitably, Titanic Belfast illustrates the sinking of the ship. You may even have some Titanic movie feeling standing onboard the ship, but most of the story is told very much along the facts.
What I liked very much about this part of the exhibition is that it also focuses on the passengers and their fates. You can even review the full passenger list and see whether the person survived or not.
This section also deals with the legal consequences and the consequences of the incidence, which even effect cruising (and I would also say: aviation) nowadays. For example, the training of the crew for emergency situations and the number and location of lifeboats at the RMS Titanic was ridiculous compared to what you would expect nowadays. There are also references to the sister ships in this section. While the Olympic was in service and reliable until she was regarded to be outdated, the Britannic had a quite short fate was well, sinking after hitting a mine in World War I.
Finally, there is also a short section how the story of the ship has influenced media and literature. Of course, Celine Dion is not missing as background music.
Titanic Wreck and Potential Salvage
In the very final part of your mission, you learn about the missions to find the Titanic wreck and its current state. Very specialized equipment was necessary to identify the wreckage and to cover it. Videos of the Titanic on the ground of the Atlantic ocean are shown in a small cinema-like theater, which is very impressing. A salvage of the ship may be possible (and was thought of several times), but may simply be too expansive.
Titanic Belfast – Services
With amazing 84 per cent of the visitors coming from outside Northern Ireland, you can find visitor information in any major language easily. There are also audio guides (4 GBP per visit), which I did not try out so that I am limited in judging on the quality.
On entrance level, there are of course numerous opportunities to reduce your touristic budget in addition to the admission. There are two restaurants and some souvenir shops which offer anything from fact books to kitsch.
Titanic Belfast – My View
Honestly, places like Titanic Belfast have a huge potential to be tourist traps. The name of the ship itself seems to attract and fascinate people. There is a Titanic reconstruction in China as well as Titanic-shaped hotels. Titanic Belfast, however, do it better. They really deliver value and a lot of facts around the Titanic. It is a really, really good place to explore the story of RMS Titanic, even if you are not a die-hard fan (or whatever drives you to visit the place). I was curious about the museum will be like and left with a very positive impression. As the management really tries to show so many aspects and used different easy to present them, I call it a Top Pick!