Take a Titanic tour of Belfast

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - FEB 9, 2014: The Titanic visitor attraction and a monument in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Opened in 2012, this is the Titanic sign in front of the entrance.

Despite its sad watery fate in 1912, Titanic was a remarkable feat of Edwardian engineering – innovative, superbly crafted and built on an extraordinary scale. It was, in other words, an appropriate and easily identifiable symbol of Belfast’s pre-eminence as a shipbuilder. By the time City Hall was built in 1906, the city was not only one of the world’s greatest ports but also a world leader in rope making, tobacco and other industries. Titanic was thus built at the apex of Belfast’s ambition, belief and sense of self-importance. Designed and built in the city between 1909 and 1912 and waved off on her maiden voyage on 2 April 1912, she was the most luxuriously appointed ship ever seen, the pride and joy of shipbuilders Harland and Wolff. 


The Titanic boom

More than 100 years on, there are those among the more sceptical local people who question the wisdom of Belfast identifying itself ever more closely with a ship famous for sinking on its maiden voyage. Such voices of dissent carry little weight these days – this city is very proud of its associations with the greatest liner ever built and for the centennial commemorations in 2012 it unveiled the spectacular Titanic Belfast Visitor Centre. A major annual festival called ‘Titanic: Made in Belfast’ is also firmly established on the city’s calendar of events every April. The Titanic Quarter, a £1-billion mini-city of apartments, hotels, restaurants, bars and visitor attractions on 185 acres (75 hectares) of the former shipyard where the legendary liner was born, is dedicated, as the name suggests, to this amazing ship.

Visiting the Titanic Quarter

Titanic Belfast Visitor Centre


The natural starting point for a tour of this area is the Titanic Belfast Visitor Centre on Queen's Road, opened in 2012 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the liner's sinking. The building's startling six-storey bow-shaped façade reflects the lines of the ship and contains 3,000 different shaped panels folded from aluminium sheets into asymmetrical geometries. Framed by 'Titanica', a life-size female sculpted by Rowan Gillespie, and a giant 15-tonTitanic sign, the entrance plaza is embedded with the world's largest map dotted with LED lights that track the route taken byTitanic. Inside, nine interpretative galleries outline the dramatic story as well as the wider theme of Belfast's seafaring and maritime heritage. Wander through Titanic Belfast and you will discover the story of the thriving boomtown of the early 20th century. For your very own Kate Winslet moment, pose on the replica of the ship's magnificent staircase that leads up to the Astor Banqueting Suite, but make sure you check the website in advance as this is only open to the public on selected dates. Tours of the centre are self-guided.


Titanic's Dock and Pump House


Farther along Queen's Road another atmospheric attraction is the 900-ft. long Titanic's Dock where the liner was built. In its time the dock was the biggest in the world and is now open to the public, ranking alongside the Titanic centre as Northern Ireland's leading attraction. Since spring 2012, Titanic's Dock – officially known as the Thompson Dry Dock – has been accessible to visitors. Steps take you down 44ft. to the floor where you can capture the spirit of the ship's physical footprint. To access the dock and the Edwardian pump house, you must join a guided tour run by Colin Cobb.


SS Nomadic


Right beside the visitor centre is the SS Nomadic, tender ship to Titanic – known as her 'little sister' – and the last White Star Line ship in existence. It operated as a shuttle ship delivering 142 first-class passengers to Titanic in Cherbourg before she set sail across the Atlantic. After a £9 million refit Nomadic opened to the public in summer 2013 as another piece in the lucrative Titanic tourist trail. Although just a quarter the size of its illustrious 'sister', it is the most significant piece of Titanic heritage that is not at the bottom of the sea. From 1911 to 1968, it was a working vessel. Interpretative galleries and interactive displays bring alive what it was like for the workers and passengers. The ship is berthed at the Hamilton Graving Dock which has also been restored. 


Samson and Goliath

The two massive yellow gantry cranes, named Samson and Goliath by all but post-feminists who have rechristened the latter Delilah, dominate the eastern skyline over the Harland and Wolff shipyards at Queen’s Island. Today the main work of the yard is in ship repair and maintenance. 



Titanic Snippets

It cost $7,500,000 to build the Titanic.

The launch took 62 seconds to complete.

There were 29 boilers on board and her forward anchor weighed nearly 16 tons.

More than 3 million rivets were used in the building of the ship.

She was 882ft (268m) long and weighed 46,328 tons fully loaded.

She had 5 miles (8km) of decks, squash courts, and was the first vessel to have a heated swimming pool.

First-class passengers paid a whopping $4,350 for a parlour suite ticket.

 Titanic hit an iceberg on Sunday 14 April 1912 at about 11.40pm and sank at 2.20am on 15 April.

The ship was loaded with enough lifeboats for 1,178 people; there were 2,228 people on board. 

The largest percentage of survivors were first-class passengers.

The Titanic lies 12,460ft (3,798m) down at the bottom of the Atlantic.

Of the 1,517 people who perished, only 306 bodies were recovered.



Text taken from the forthcoming new edition of Great Breaks: Belfast, due for publication in spring 2014.


Plan your trip to Ireland


Insight Guide Ireland

For practical advice on how to plan a trip to Ireland, visit our Ireland destination guide or browse our Ireland guide books.


Articles about Ireland...


• An introduction and where to start your trip to Ireland...

From the Giant's Causeway to the Aran Islands, see our top 10 Irish attractions

• The Gaeltacht and interest in the Irish language

• Wilde, Joyce, Yeats, Heaney – Irish literature and literary festivals

• Walking enthusiasts should take a look at our top 10 hikes in Ireland 

Ryan's Daughter, The Commitments, Game of ThronesIreland's best film and TV locations

• Coddle and drisheen – food and drink in Ireland

• Alive and kicking – Irish dance

This July we're exploring Ireland as our destination of the month. For more updates keep following the Insight blog, or check us out on Twitter @InsightGuides or on our Insight Facebook page, or why not look at some lovely travel photography on Pinterest.