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HMS Belfast

Iconic Museum Ship

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England, London, HMS Belfast on River Thames
Michael Blann/Photodisc/Getty Images
HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast

© Laura Porter, licensed to About.com, Inc.

HMS Belfast was built in 1938, taken out of battle service with the Royal Navy in 1965, and opened as a museum in 1971 as a unique reminder of Britain's naval heritage. HMS Belfast has nine decks of living history to explore.

HMS Belfast is the largest surviving example of Britain's twentieth century naval power and is moored on the Thames between Tower Bridge and London Bridge. She was the first ship to be saved for the nation since Nelson's HMS Victory due to her historical importance.

HMS Belfast is run by the Imperial War Museum London.

 

HMS Belfast Review (Updated in 2013)

Once aboard, collect your free audio guide and paper map. There's a children's version of the audio guide too so my daughter and I were both happy. (October 2013 update: The children's audio guide will only be issued to children over 8 years old. I can understand the health & safety reasons but the fact this was my third visit with my daughter it must be a new rule.) I actually didn't need to look at the map once while we toured the ship as the signage is much improved since we last visited in 2010.

There are lots of steep steps and the advice is to 'face forward' as it's much easier, and safer, that way. Do remember, HMS Belfast was designed as a war ship for active service, so not as a museum. This means not all areas are accessible to disabled visitors and all visitors must take care on the steps and walkways. There are plenty of 'trip hazards' around the place but I managed to not fall and neither did my young daughter.

To go down to the Boiler Room, children need to be over 1.2m and not carried. There are narrow walkways too but it's worth heading down as it's a fascinating area of the ship. I certainly didn't realize it took 4-5 hours to start the engines!

You won't see many staff as you explore but up at the Navigation Deck we met staff offering binoculars to look across at the people who had climbed The Monument and a Captain's hat for photo opportunities.

I really enjoyed the All at Sea gallery which has simple interactive activities to learn knots and press buttons to get answers. There were also touch-screen tables with 'rescue missions' on a different level (Level 3?) which lots of families tried to complete.

Mostly I enjoyed the freedom to explore a ship that was once home to a crew of up to 950 men. And there are great views from the higher levels.

 

Visitor Information

Under 16s go free so this is a great family destination. When my daughter was younger I was unsure if she would cope with all the tight spaces and steps but she loved it and we had no accidents. And it's a wonderful place for letting your imagination take over.

I stayed for 2 hours and reckon you should allow at least that long to get the most out of your visit. The Walrus Cafe has hot and cold food as well as drinks and ice-cream, and visitors are welcome to bring their own picnic to enjoy on the deck outside.

HMS Belfast Visitor Information

Address:
HMS Belfast
The Queen's Walk
London
SE1 2JH

Nearest Tube Station London Bridge

Use Journey Planner to plan your route by public transport.

Tel: 020 7940 6300

Opening Hours:
1 March to 31 October: 10am–6pm. Last admission 5pm.
November to February: 10am-5pm. Last admission 4pm.
Closed 24, 25, and 26 December.

Tickets:
Check latest ticket prices on the official website.
Children (under 16): Free but must be accompanied by an adult.

Visit Duration: Allow 2 hours for your visit.

Official Website: hmsbelfast.iwm.org.uk

See the South Bank Photo Tour for more ideas of things to do in the area.

 

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.

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