In 2016 Titanic Belfast won the award for Best Museum in the World. Belfast is the city where they built the famous RMS Titanic. It may seem strange to visit a museum about a ship that sank and killed over a thousand people. Titanic Belfast is a museum that shows the city’s history with shipbuilding. In April I decided to book a quick trip to Belfast. Coincidentally I realised I’d be in Belfast on April 14. That’s the night the Titanic sank in 1912.
Shipbuilding in Belfast
The Titanic Belfast Museum is in the aptly named Titanic Quarter. Titanic Belfast sits on the former shipyard for Harland & Wolff, which is the company that built the Titanic. Belfast has been an important city in the shipbuilding industry. Titanic Belfast starts by going through what Belfast was like in the late 19th century. It focuses on the important industries of the day linens, textiles, and shipbuilding.
H&W started building The Titanic for White Star Line in 1908. The building of the Titanic in Belfast was a huge for the city. It already had strong shipbuilding roots and had been building the best ships in the world. Building The Titanic created jobs for hundreds of men. It was going to put Belfast on the map. We all know that unfortunately, Titanic did not survive her maiden voyage. As people in Belfast would later say about the Titanic, “she was fine when she left Belfast.”
On Board and After
Titanic Belfast shows how they built this massive ship. Interactive exhibits show the architectural design of the ship. You get to see what the rooms were like for the 1st class, 2nd class, and 3rd class passengers. I learned that 3rd class accommodations were affordable and very nice for their time. Sadly it was many 3rd class passengers who lost their lives when Titanic sank.
Of course, Titanic Belfast talks about the ship’s demise. It details some accounts of the lives lost. There’s a computer that will let find victims by gender and country. It also describes the lives of those saved, like the Unsinkable Molly Brown. There are theories on what caused the sinking. There’s a section on how safety standards on ships have changed since Titanic. Much of this is in regards to the number of lifeboats required on the ship.
Titanic Belfast then goes into the discovery of the Titanic wreckage. There is also information about what happened to The RMS Olympic and The HMHS Britannic. Both ships were used in WW1. The Britannic was used as a hospital ship. It sank on Nov 21, 1916 off the coast of Kea Greece killing 30 people. The sinking was due to an explosion from an underground mine. The Olympic was used as a transport ship. It was decommissioned in 1935 and then demolished. Had Titanic not sank she would have likely been used in WW1 as well.
A Night to Remember
Being at Titanic Belfast on April 14 this is year also happened to coincide with Good Friday. Being a holiday (and one where the pubs close for a good part of the day) meant Titanic Belfast was very busy. Luckily I booked a ticket for a special event that evening called A Night to Remember. This unique tour was offered after hours to commemorate the sinking of the Titanic. It only happens once a year on April 14. Costumed interpreters were there and talked about the Titanic. Their stories were true to life stories about the Titanic from the book A Night to Remember by Walter Lord.
There’s one part of the museum, where they address the sinking. The room you enter is dark, except tiny lights above to symbolise the stars in the night sky. You can hear the beeps of Morse code that the ship was sending out, a distress call for help. During The Night to Remember event a live quartet was playing the hymn Nearer My God to Thee. On the Titanic, the ship’s band went down playing that song over and over. For those that died, it was the last song they ever heard. Years later survivors of The Titanic were interviewed about their experience. Many remembered hearing that song as they watched the ship sink. It was pretty moving, and not only because the band playing was fantastic.
The Story of Survivors
At the end of the tour, a local pastor accounted a few more stories of those who survived. My favourite was about Charles Joughin a chef on board Titanic. When he realised the ship was sinking, he decided to get drunk, like really drunk. He survived being in the frigid cold waters of the Atlantic for several hours. Some believe it’s because the alcohol kept him warm. Likely there was another factor at play in his survival, but the alcohol angle makes for a better story. Also disclaimer I don’t condone or endorse drinking copious amounts of alcohol to keep warm in cold climates. Guys that’s not safe. Mr Joughin was pretty damn lucky to survive. After the stories, a candlelight vigil was held in remembrance of the victims.
Should You Visit Titanic Belfast?
Titanic Belfast is a museum that has so much history and goes into details about this ship and Belfast that I didn’t even know that I didn’t know. It shows some of the history of this city and its shipbuilding industry. It tells the stories of what that tragic maiden voyage. Everyone who survived the Titanic sinking has long passed away. Titanic Belfast will make sure people will always know their stories and the history of the Titanic. If you’re visiting Belfast, the Titanic Belfast is worth a visit. I only regret I didn’t get to spend more time here (and that I didn’t upgrade for an audioguide). Next time I’m in Belfast I’m going to revisit Titanic Belfast. Although I’d advise not going on a National Holiday like I did. It was much busier than normal.
Titanic Belfast is located at 1 Olympic Way, Queens Road, Titanic Quarter, Belfast. A general map of the area is below. Standard adult admission is £18 and audio guides (available to rent in several languages) are £3. There is a reduced admission rate of £9 valid for the last hour the museum is open. Hours of operation vary throughout the year. Tickets can be purchased online, which I’d recommend to save time, especially during the busy tourist season.
Disclaimer: Titanic Belfast offered me a complimentary ticket to the Titanic Belfast, which I am very grateful for. I paid for my ticket for the A Night to Remember event. All opinions here are my own.