Let me start by saying that Belfast is a wonderful place. Yes, there is some religious, and thus of course political turmoil, here in Belfast. But beyond the Catholic-Protestant conflict it’s a lovely place to spend a few days. Unfortunately I was only here one night. If only I had known that I would fall in love with Belfast, I would’ve stayed much longer.
The mission of my short stop in Belfast was of course the Titanic museum, otherwise known as Titanic Belfast. This museum is the most impressive museum I have seen during my trip so far. It has just recently opened so if you went to Belfast before 2012, go back! It’s more than worth it I promise!
It is recommended that you take 2 or 3 hours to fully absorb all the information the museum has to offer. And you will want to take at least those 2 or 3 hours because there is a lot to take in. Since I arrived in Belfast a little later in the evening, I decided it would be best for me to take in a pub crawl that night and tackle the museum the next day so I could maximize my time before heading to Dublin.
I made the right choice because the pub crawl offered by my hostel, Global Village, was great for capturing the social scene in Northern Ireland that I never would’ve seen on my own. Full of live music, craft beers, and Irish dancing, it was a great night to enjoy a little bit of Ireland and a lot of good company. Some of these pub crawlers even joined me the next day for Titanic Belfast!
The thing that most solo travelers will tell you about traveling alone is that you are never really alone. And I don’t mean this in a hippy-dippy, spiritual way, but in a very literal, physical way. You are never alone. Such was the case with Titanic Belfast. What at one point was going to be just me, turned into a group of me plus four other like-minded independents. And it was a glorious day aboard the ghost of The Titanic.
So why is this museum so great? Well for starters lets talk about the building itself. As you can see, Titanic Belfast has a very creative shape. Though it is not throughly explained in the museum, it is said that the design is meant to reflect the heritage of Belfast.
An architectural icon that captures the spirit of the shipyards, ships, water crystals, ice, and the White Star Line’s logo.
Basically, it’s stunning. But if you’re not a fan of modern architecture, you may not agree.
Another great thing about the museum was all the many ways it tried to present you with information. It’s not just walking around looking at photos and reading placards. You hear reenacted conversations, you see big display cases of first, second and third class rooms, you take a virtual tour from the hull through the captain’s room, you see and hear Morse code, there’s a ride for Pete’s sake! Essentially, you could never be bored. Not something one would usually hear about a museum, but in this case it’s an absolute truth.
The story of The Titanic is obviously a tragic one, but the museum doesn’t spend the whole exhibition drenched in depression and sorrow. To their credit, they spend a very large part of the exhibition on the history of those involved in the company that built Titanic (Harlem & Wolf) and the company that funded it (J. P. Morgan). From there they tell you (and show you, hence the ride) how it was built, what the working conditions were like, who the workers were, what they made, etc.
Now, I understand that it seems a bit juvenile to have a “ride” in a national museum, but this was one of my all time favorite addtions to Titanic Belfast. More like a 3-D experience than a ride, your journey begins in a cable operated pod that takes you through a tour of the shipyard back in the day. You see reenactments of how the rivets were placed an welded, feel the heat from the coal fires, and hear stories from days “on the yard”. Definitely worth doing!
After that impressive detour, you move into seeing the finished product; learning about The Titanic and its luxurious reputation as the most glorious ship on the sea. They even have the menus from what I can only assume to be the second-class dining hall (I can’t imagine first-class people eating dumplings and jacket potatoes).
Inevitably, they do have to address the part about the iceberg, but even that is incredibly well done. A tragedy in every sense of the word, The Titanic was a ship sinking heard ’round the world, but information and testimony of why and how it happened corrected a lot of the misconceptions held by loyal fans of James Cameron. First and foremost, the Heart of the Ocean, or Hope Diamond, was not actually onboard the ship. I do admit, it makes for a great story, especially at the end of the movie, but I repeat, the diamond was not on The Titanic.
At any case, you can learn more about this and many other myths and misconstructions at Titanic Belfast. It is wonderful and I recommend and will continue to recommend that everyone go there at one point or another. And, hey, there’s lots of great ol’ pubs to visit during your stay!