Proudly moored on the south side of the River Thames near London Bridge, the HMS Belfast was saved from the scrapyard in the 1960’s by the Imperial War Museum who now operate the craft as a museum ship. The most recognisable ship in London, it is estimated that the HMS Belfast hosts over a quarter million visitors per year. Our City Of London Tour offers our guests a brilliant view of the Belfast from the opposite bank of the Thames and also finishes in prime position for those wishing to visit the ship themselves! But to hold you over until you come along with us – here is an overview of the HMS Belfast!
Tip: Check out our post listing London’s other military museums.
Where is the HMS Belfast?
The HMS Belfast is located on the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. The nearest rail and Underground stations are both London Bridge, but you could also reach the HMS Belfast easily from Tower Hill and Monument Underground stations. We recommend using this Google map link for directions from anywhere in London.
- Open daily –
- 4 November to 20 February: 10am – 5pm (last admission 4pm)
- 21 February to November: 10am – 6pm (last admission 5pm)
NOTE: In particularly bad weather, portions of HMS Belfast may be closed to the public or the entire craft may be closed to the public completely.
- Adult: £16 – Admission is free with the London Pass.
- Child (5-15): £8.00
- Under 5’s: FREE with an adult
- Concessions: £12.40
- Imperial War Museums Friends: Free
Other Attractions Nearby
Commission of the ship took place on the 5th of August 1938 and construction began shortly thereafter in December 1936. The HMS Belfast had the distinction of being the first Royal Navy ship to be named after the capital city of Northern Ireland and was one of ten ‘town-class cruisers’ that were commissioned at the same time. Belfast was firstly intended to be part of the British naval blockade against Germany and was initially created to fill the brief of ‘a 9,000 ton cruiser sufficiently armoured to withstand a direct hit from an 8-inch shell, capable of 32 knots and mounting twelve 6-inch guns.’ The ship would also carry seaplanes and hold its’ own anti-aircraft defense.
The ship was officially launched on the 17th of March (St. Patrick’s Day!) 1938. Her first mission, begun in August 1939, was controlling the northern waters to attempt to impose a maritime blockade on Germany. Unfortunately, after just two months at sea, on 21st November at 10:58am HMS Belfast struck a magnetic mine whilst leaving the Firth of Forth. Belfast’s keel was destroyed, one of her engines was wrecked along with the boiler rooms and twenty-one crew members were injured. The craft was taken back to Rosyth, Scotland, to be repaired – a project that would take nearly three years.
On rejoining the Home Fleet on 3rd November 1942, HMS Belfast did so as the largest and most powerful cruiser in the Royal Navy; Her repairs had added extra strength an bulk to the craft, including an additional 11,550 tons! Because of this, Belfast was made flagship of the 10th Cruiser Squadron which had the difficult task of escorting arctic convoys to the Soviet Union, keeping Russia’s supply routes open. Her first notable role was during the Battle of North Cape on 26th December 1943, which saw the sinking of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst and the loss of all but 36 of her 1,963 crew.
Also, proudly, HMS Belfast served during the D-Day invasion of Normandy. For this most famous of military acts, Belfast had been made the headquarters ship of Bombardment Force E and supported the landings by British and Canadian forces in both the Gold and Juno Beach locations. At this time, Prime Minister Winston Churchill had expressed a desire to go to sea with his fleet and stand on the HMS Belfast to witness the invasion of Normandy. However, this move was opposed by all involved leaders such as the First Sea Lord, Sir Andrew Cunningham and the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eventually it was the King of England himself who kept Churchill from going.
After the Second World War, HMS Belfast saw service in the Far East, providing imperative serve during the Korean War. It was here on 29th July 1952 – that Belfast was hit by enemy fire – the only time during her 2 year involvement in the East.
HMS Belfast’s was eventually paid off into reserve in August 1963 and was moored in Gareham Creek for the Reserve Division of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth. It was during this time that the Imperial War Museum (the national museum of 20th century conflict) expressed interest in preserving part of the ship. Their request to preserve Belfast was turned down by the government’s Paymaster General and in May 1971, Belfast was ‘reduced to disposal’ and began to await scrapping.
A trust was then formed, headed by one of HMS Belfast’s former captains – Rear Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles – that campaigned for the ship’s preservation. The preservation of Belfast was discussed in the House of Commons in March 1971 and by July the trust had proved successful. Shortly thereafter ‘Operation Seahorse’ brought HMS Belfast to London. The ship opened as a museum to the public on the 21st of October, 1971. This date is notably significant because it is Trafalgar Day – and previous to the preservation of the Belfast, the only other naval vessel to be saved for the nation was the HMS Victory, Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar!
Today the HMS Belfast is operated by the Imperial War Museum and is open to the public as a museum ship – notably, the last remaining vessel of her type. Tourists visiting the Belfast are given an audio guide to assist as they walk in and along the numerous corridors, sectors and hallways throughout the ship, getting a glimpse of what life was like for those that historically worked on this vessel.
HMS Belfast also operates as the headquarters of the City of London Sea Cadet Corps. Due to her convenient and prestigious location in the heart of London, Belfast frequently has other ships berth alongside her including naval ships from countries all over the world. When visiting foreign naval crews arrive to London, their ship is berthed next to Belfast and takes part in an event known as Constables Dues.
Historically, the wharf next to the Tower of London provided ships moored there the protection afforded by the Tower’s cannons. As a sign of respect and gratitude the most senior officer on any visiting ship would present goods (oysters, cockles, rushes, wine, etc.) to the Constable of the Tower of London. This is a tradition that still takes place today! Nowadays the Constable of the Tower is presented with a barrel of rum, which happens during an elaborate, historical ceremony.
Facts and Figures
- Class & Type: Town-class light cruiser
- Builder: Harland and Wolff Shipyard, Belfast, UK
- Displacement: 11,550 tons
- Length: 613ft 6in (186.99m)
- Beam: 63ft 4in (19.3m)
- Draught: 18ft 3in (5.56m) forward – 19ft 9in (6.02m) aft
- Speed: 32 knots (59 km/h)
- Complement (number of crew): 781 – 881
- Armament: 12 6-inch guns, 12 4-inch dual purpose guns, 16 2-pounder AA, 8 Vickers 0.5-inch machine guns, 6 21-inch torpedo tubes
- Aviation facilities: 2 hangars and 1 catapult (removed 1945)