- The Titanic Belfast building - a dramatic statement
- Gallery 1 - Boomtown Belfast
- Gallery 2 - The Ship Yard
- Gallery 3 - The Launch
- Gallery 4 - The Fit Out
- Gallery 5 - The Maiden Voyage
- Gallery 6 - The Sinking
- Gallery 7 - Never Again
- Gallery 8 - Ballard's Quest
- Gallery 9 - The Ship of Dreams
- Gallery 10 - The Lasting Legacy
- The slipways and SS Nomadic
- Booking accommodation in Belfast
An epic and absorbing experience!
The iconic Titanic Belfast visitor experience stands tall on the same spot that the world’s most famous sinking ship was built and, following the recent £4.5million upgrade, now truly lives up to its boast of being ‘one of the most dramatic tourism projects opening anywhere in the world’.
Over the years we’ve visited Titanic Belfast a number of times and while we’ve been impressed, our recent visit to the upgraded experience left us both awed and even a little bit emotional. It really is to be recommended and even for those who have been before, we thoroughly recommend a second visit.
…our recent visit to the upgraded experience left us awed and even a little bit emotional. It really is to be recommended and even for those who have been before, we recommend a second visit to the new experience.
Titanic Belfast – a snapshot
I am always a little wary of tourist attractions that are built around a disaster or atrocity where hundreds of people have lost their lives, but Titanic Belfast has taken an approach where we learn and come away wiser, and perhaps a little humbled.
Many people refer to Titanic Belfast as a ‘museum’ but it is more accurately an experience where a phenomenal amount of information is presented using stunning ceiling-high visuals, dramatic audio, interactive exhibits, holographic projections, models and even some original artefacts which are eerily thought-provoking.
The main exhibition is made up of ten galleries or themes that are associated with different aspects of the great ship Titanic. In addition, you can walk the slipways where Titanic was built, and visit SS Nomadic, a smaller vessel that ferried passengers to the Titanic at Cherbourg before she left for her fatal first and last journey.
You should definitely allow about two hours to visit the main exhibition with perhaps an additional half hour to 45 minutes to visit SS Nomadic and explore the slipways.
Highlights of our visit to Titanic Belfast
The Titanic Belfast building – a dramatic statement
Before going into any detail about the exhibition, it’s worth highlighting that the building itself is dramatic, covered in 3,000 silver panels and designed to resemble four 90-foot (27m) high ship’s bows which loom overhead as you approach.
Inside, the exhibition space is huge, measuring 11,000 sq.m (118,403 sq.ft) which is about twice the size of the White House (the one in Washington, not Portrush). Titanic’s support boat, SS Nomadic, is docked in a dry dock nearby providing another space to explore.
The main exhibition
Gallery 1 – Boomtown Belfast
Boomtown Belfast sets the scene, explaining the political, industrial and social history of Belfast at the start of the twentieth century. Did you know that out of Belfast and Dublin, Belfast was by far the bigger city at that time, building ships for the British Empire and to transport Ulster’s linen around the world?
Gallery 2 – The Ship Yard
This gallery focuses on the building of Titanic and what it was like to work at Harland & Wolff. Probably the big surprise and highlight of this section is the gondola ride which takes you for a trip through a replicated section of the ship under construction where you get a sense of the cramped and arduous working conditions.
There was a queue for the ride but it does move along quite quickly, and there are information boards to read while you shuffle along. We liked the joke about the Belfast winds, named the lazy winds, because they would go straight through you, and not around you. So true!
Gallery 3 – The Launch
The Launch gallery shares the excitement of the ship’s launch on 31 May 1911 when 100,000 spectators came to watch the amazing site of the world’s biggest ship sliding down into the water at an estimated speed of 14 miles per hour.
Of special interest is a room that looks out over the slipways, and also contains a model showing the position of the current Belfast Titanic building in relation to the gantry where Titanic was built.
as the smart ship grew in stature, grace and hue…
In shadowy silent distance grew the iceberg too
by Thomas Hardy, The Convergence of the Twain
Gallery 4 – The Fit Out
It surprised me to learn that the ship was only fitted out once it had been launched. In this section you can see replicas of first-, second- and third-class cabins. Holograph passengers let you know more about the accommodation, and display boards highlight the resources needed to fit out a ship of this size. You can also go on a virtual tour of the ship courtesy of a surround video projection that takes you from the keel up through the decks and out from the bridge to funnels. The journey takes just four minutes and is very worthwhile. As it was quite busy, I took the trip twice, the second time moving to the front for the first-class view!
Gallery 5 – The Maiden Voyage
This short gallery tells the story through photos of the calm before the disaster, as the ship left Belfast and stopped to pick up hopeful passengers in Southampton, Cherbourg and Queenstown (modern Cobh).
Gallery 6 – The Sinking
The drama starts as you enter the darkened ‘Sinking’ Gallery with watery lighting effects, and surround audio of the SOS morse code beeping dramatically and voices recounting witness statements from survivors, crew on Titanic and on ships that were attempting to sail to Titanic’s rescue. You can also read the messages warning ominously of ice, messages that were clearly paid little heed.
At the end of the gallery you are come upon a two-floor high roll listing those that were saved, and those that perished. An animation spotlights the horrific statistics of the disaster. In front of the staircase is apparently a display of one of Titanic’s life jackets, an original artefact (I missed this). You can only wonder if it saved the life of the wearer in that freezing ocean.
The area that follows then delves into the rescue, as well as the retrieval and burial of those that were lost in the disaster. Poster boards tell stories of the lives of the unfortunate passengers who did not survive, from millionaires to some of the crew who had come from Belfast. We also learn about the reaction and rumour that spread around the world. I was fascinated by a wall with testimonial from the inquiry that followed. This gallery was heartbreaking!
Gallery 7 – Never Again
This is the first of the new re-imagined galleries and fortunately, after Gallery 6, this was a little more positive as we learnt about the maritime laws and regulations that came into effect after the disaster in an attempt to prevent such a horror happening again. A row of domino-like display panels neatly highlights the idea that it was just not one single event that led to the great loss of life. Never again, we hope.
Gallery 8 – Ballard’s Quest
Many of us older folk will remember the discovery of Titanic’s wreck back in 1985. It had always been a mystery as to where the final resting place of this great ship was, so it was exciting headline news when the wreck was finally discovered. This gallery tells that story
Gallery 9 – The Ship of Dreams
Prepare to be awed! With swelling music and spoken audio, floor-to-ceiling visuals and a very large rotating model of Titanic suspended from the ceiling, this gallery is designed to reflect on the stories of the people who set sail on Titanic, in many cases looking forward to a new life in the new world. A glass floor allows you to look down onto the wreckage, and glass display cases show off artefacts from the ship, including the violin that was owned by one of the musicians, Wallace Hartley. This was extremely poignant as many of us are familiar with the story that the band played on, and in particular played the hymn ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’.
Gallery 10 – The Lasting Legacy
After all the emotion you’ll be glad to get back to hard commercial reality. This final gallery in the main exhibition takes a look at our obsession with Titanic in popular culture. Although the blockbuster movie Titanic with Kate Winslett and Leonardo DiCaprio is now more than 25 years old, many of us will remember it well. For those that do, you can get your very own Jack and Rose souvenir photo in a model Titanic bow set up for just that purpose.
And that ends your tour of the main exhibition! But that’s not all…
The slipways and SS Nomadic
The slipways, where Titanic was built, run down to the Lagan and you will find the outline of Titanic marked out, as well as outlines of the lifeboats. There is a commemorative panel listing those that lost their lives, by class, which is informative!
Nomadic was the support boat for Titanic and brought passengers out to the ship at Cherbourg. The boat is now docked in a dry dock close to the main exhibition. Inside the displays are rather sparse but it is still interesting to have a wander around this classic ship and read a little more about the lives of the passengers and the drama of ferrying people out to the main ship.
After all that you can head on over to the shop or stop by one of the F&B outlets to get your blood sugars back up again. As mentioned at the outset, both Dave and I were so impressed with this new presentation of the Titanic story, and would happily take visitors back again and again. The redevelopment has really set Titanic Belfast as a must-see when in Belfast, or even when in Northern Ireland.
Written by: Katie