HMS Belfast is a Town-class light cruiser built in Belfast and launched on St Patrick’s Day 1938, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Shortly after the start of the war, the ship was out of action for more than two years after hitting a German mine in November 1939, but after being repaired with improved firepower she was relaunched in 1942 and was the Royal Navy’s largest and most powerful cruiser. During the Second World War, HMS Belfast escorted Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union, played an important role in the Battle of the North Cape, supported the Normandy landings in Operation Overlord and was deployed to the British Pacific Fleet near the end of the war. The cruiser was also involved in the Korean War.
HMS Belfast was opened to the public in 1971 as a museum ship and is now a floating branch of the Imperial War Museum. The cruiser is moored on the south bank of the River Thames in the Pool of London.
What to see on HMS Belfast
Visitors to HMS Belfast can explore all nine decks visiting different aspects of the ship.
The first place you visit on the ship is the quarterdeck, which is the main entrance to the ship and also the starting point for the Life at Sea exhibition, which focuses on the various aspects of day-to-day life aboard the ship. This includes facilities such as the chapel, galley, laundry, mess decks, NAAFI and the sick bay.
The War and Peace exhibition focus on the ship’s firepower and its role in both the Second World War, the Korean War and the Cold War. There are also displays on board that highlight stories of the ship’s crew.
You can also explore the inner workings of the ship below the waterline including the engine and boiler rooms, electrical and communication systems.
Visiting HMS Belfast
Access is via a walkway on the pedestrian footpath on the south bank of the River Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge.
All visitors have access to audio guides (available in English, French, German and Spanish) for no additional charge. It is well worth taking one of these as the descriptions on the displays could be improved.
The design of the ship means that many areas are inaccessible to visitors with wheelchairs as access to many parts of the ship require that you climb and down ladders and walk down narrow passageways. However, there is wheelchair access to some areas including the quarterdeck and the following areas on the deck (the main passage through the ship): Arctic Mess decks, the bakery, the chapel, the dental surgery, the galley, the laundry, the petty officers’ mess and the sick bay.
There are two restaurants on HMS Belfast: Tom’s Kitchen Deli & Bar on the riverfront near the main entrance and The Café on board the ship.
Many visitors spend around 1½ hours exploring HMS Belfast, although you could easily spend three hours or longer.