HMS Belfast: A Floating Museum with Plenty for Exploration

The HMS Belfast is one of the most important ships in British naval history. The retired naval cruiser turned floating museum was one of the ten light cruisers built by the British admiralty before the war in response to the Japanese Navy’s powerful Mogami Class Cruiser, a massive vessel that could mount up to fifteen 6-inch guns with a speed of over 35 knots.

The cruiser went on to make historically significant excursions for the UK such as helping sink Nazi battleships, and fight German troops during the Second World War. It’s now moored on the River Thames as a branch of the Imperial War Museum(IWM). Check out its history, and why it’s a great place to spend an afternoon after a tattoo in Shoreditch.

The Action-Packed History of a War Cruiser

The HMS Belfast was one of the ten town class light cruisers built by the British Admirality. The vessel was launched in 1938 and commissioned a year later as part of the naval blockade against Germany right before the second world war began. Belfast helped capture a German liner on its first ever patrol, and made Britain proud from its first ever excursion to the last.

Unfortunately, the light cruiser struck a German mine that same year it was launched,, an accident that saw it spend two years under repair. It was commissioned again in 1942, this time as part of the ships leading the Arctic Convoy to battle with the Soviet Union.

A year later, HMS Belfast helped the British Navy destroy Scharnhorst, a famous German warship in the Battle of North Cape, and shortly after, assisted in the Normandy Landings. It also went into combat and was of significant essence during the Korean War.

HMS Belfast underwent extensive modernisation in the 1950s, and went into reserve in 1963. Four years later, restoration efforts began, and in 1971, its ownership was transferred to the HMS Belfast Trust after which it was moored on the River Thames as a floating museum. It opened to the public in October that same year as part of the National Historic Fleet, and a branch of the Imperial War Museum.

HMS Belfast Today

HMS Belfast remains one of the most popular warships in British naval history. The massive vessel now sits between Tower Bridge and the London Bridge where locals and visitors alike can explore all its nine decks. Free audio guides in English, French, German and Spanish accompany guests throughout the nine decks, narrating interesting tidbits, and the historical and military events the ship participated in during its voyage.

There are interactive videos and wax mannequins dressed in naval uniforms available at the museum as well to ensure an immersive experience for every guest.  You’re free to check out the massive engine rooms, cabins, dental and emergency rooms, the chapel and all other rooms aboard the Belfast to get an idea of life for the ship’s crew during its excursions. Ensure you look up as you walk into the vessel as the names and dates of key locations it stopped at during its 25 years at sea are well highlighted throughout its entrance. .

Before You Go

Most Belfast tours take about 90 minutes, but for the best experience, consider an extra hour or two so you can fully explore what it has to offer. The museum opens from Wednesday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm with the last entry option being 4pm. Adult tickets go for €25, while kids between 5 and 15 pay €12.50.

HMS Belfast address: The Queen’s Walk, London, SE1 2JH