To say that the HMS Belfast is a one-of-a-kind tourist attraction in London is an understatement; (it is a “floating museum” after all).

The HMS Belfast is a museum ship which was a originally a Royal Navy light cruiser, and is permanently docked on the River Thames. Construction of the HMS Belfast first began in December of 1936 (although the ship wasn’t officially launched until 1938).

The HMS Belfast played an important role in various operations during the course of its use from 1939 to 1963. In 1939 the HMS Belfast was involved in the British naval blockade against Germany (and was even hit by a German mine), and in 1943 the ship helped escort Arctic Convoys to the then Soviet Union in 1943.

A year later, the HMS Belfast was involved in the Battle of North Cape, (during which it helped destroy a German warship), and in 1944 she assisted with Operation Overlord in support of the Normandy landings. A year later, the HMS Belfast was deployed to the far east to help with the British Pacific Fleet before assisting in the Korean War during the 1950s.

The HMS Belfast was eventually retired in 1963, and became a branch of the Imperial War Museum in 1978.

HMS Belfast, boat. By Rodrigo Lorca HMS Belfast, exhibit. By Roger Marks
HMS Belfast, exhibit. By David G. Steadman HMS Belfast, front shot. By Ian Haskins HMS Belfast, pier. By David Stanley

HMS Belfast Highlights

Thanks to the HMS Belfast’s many interactive and realistic facilities, visitors can get a bird’s-eye view of what it would have been like to live, work, and sleep on the ship during war times.

Not only can you explore all nine decks of the HMS Belfast, you can also visit the ship’s many rooms like the laundry room, the chapel, the wireless room, the captain deck, the mess decks, the sick bay, the galley, the gun direction platform, and even an interactive audio-visual plotting table. (Be prepared to get blasted with a face-full of artificial smoke when visiting the gun turret!)

There are interactive videos to illustrate how the ship’s crew would have functioned on a daily basis, as well as wax mannequins dressed up in uniforms in the working areas and living quarters.

You can even hear first-hand accounts from World War II veterans in the Life At Sea exhibition, and learn more about the ship’s numerous campaigns in the War and Peace exhibition.

Recently, the HMS Belfast launched an art intervention titled The Tourists by the famous artist Hew Locke, for which Locke creates an “alternative history” of the crew for the ship’s last international voyage to the Caribbean in 1962.

Special Tips

  • Although recommended visiting time is around 90 minutes, if you're hoping to explore the ship in its entirety, try to arrive extra early to give yourself ample time to do so.
  • For the best views of London's nearby landmarks, there are some great spots on the main decks which provide magnificent photo-taking opportunities.
  • If you plan on walking to the HMS Belfast, try to follow the route from the Tower Bridge along the Embankment for stunning views of the Tower of London and the city landscape.
  • Don't miss out on some great photo-taking and/or selfie opportunities in the captain's chair!
  • And perhaps it may go without saying, but if you're prone to seasickness, try not to visit the HMS Belfast on a rainy or windy day.