HMS Belfast Visitor Information
HMS Belfast provides one of the best visitor experiences offered on any preserved military ship. The ship is in good condition and access is given to most areas of the ship. To enhance the experience, there is good signage explaining the different areas of the ship along with occasional video screens showing historic films and going into more detail about various aspects of the ship. Guided tours are available as are audio guides.
On the main deck, you can see the areas where the sailors lived and worked including the galley, the sick bay, the dentist's office, the canteen, the bathrooms and sleeping quarters. Manikins wearing period costumes enliven such areas presenting moments frozen in time.
Very few ships, active or restored, allow visitors into the engine rooms. However, on HMS Belfast you can go down and see the propulsion plant. Belfast was a steam-powered ship. Her giant oil-burning boilers produced steam that fed generators, which produced the electricity needed tos operate her navigational and communications equipment as well as her armament. The steam was also used to power Belfast's four Parsons single reduction geared turbines, which turned the four propellor shafts that drove Belfast through the water.
Belfast has two boiler rooms and two engine rooms. This was done so that no single torpedo or bomb could knock out the ship's entire power plant. The engine rooms and the boilers rooms are located in vast caverns below the waterline. It is dimly lit and a recording of what it sounded like when the ship was underway is played for visitors. That combined with the ever-present smell of oil gives a hint as to what it was like to work in this section of the ship.
In order to access the engine rooms and the boiler rooms, visitors have to climb and descend near vertical ladders and walk along narrow catwalks above the machinery. While you have to be in good condition to access these spaces, it is generally the case throughout Belfast that you have to be able to handle military-style ladders in order to explore the ship. Authencity has been preserved.
On the upper decks, you can visit the navigational bridge and the separate bridge for the admiral. Belfast was designed to be a flag ship and so the ship was equipped with separate facilities for an admiral.
One of the most interesting exhibits on Belfast is in one of the six inch gun turrets. Visitors can enter the turret and experience a multi-media presentation on what it was like to be inside the turret when Belfast was engaged with Scharnhorst. The guns rise, a loud recording of the sound of the guns firing plays, lights flash and smoke fills the turret. You realize that the men operating the guns were unable to see what was happening. They had to relie on messsages received from the fire control center to know when and where to fire.
HMS Belfast can be reached from the south bank of the Thames. The ticket office is located along the Queen's Walk between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. Belfast is open daily except from 24 to 26 December.
For more information on visiting Belfast see the Imperial War Museum site.
Cruise destination - England (London) - Visiting HMS Belfast - page 3