Review: Belfast's Titanic Expo

The Titanic Centre is situated in Belfast's docklands, only minutes from the city centre. It is the largest such exhibition in the world and opened in 2012. Since we visited from the Republic of Ireland, I will describe the day's travel from Dublin:

Wednesday 29 March. Decided to take an elderly relative to see the Titanic exhibition in Belfast, and we drove into Connolly Station Dublin and parked the car in the station's car park, €8 for the day which is good for central Dublin. It is not that easy to find; from Butt Bridge drive onto Amiens Street (where the main station entrance is located) and turn right just before the large rail overbridge on Amiens Street. The car park entrance is at the end of this street on the left. Having paid and displayed, a pedestrian entrance brings you onto Connolly's platform 2 (from where the Belfast "Enterprise" train usually departs), but you need to get your ticket checked before you board the train. A standard adult day return is €40 but about €33 on the web where you can also book seats.titanic

Having picked up a concession form at the booking office (my relative is a pensioner and entitled to free travel in Northern Ireland), we boarded the 11:00 train. The day was glorious and the journey is often scenic, particularly from north Dublin onwards where you can see the lovely beaches of the Irish Sea coastline. After Dundalk the line climbs through the foothills of the Mourne mountains and more good views may be seen. The line is less interesting when you reach Portadown and Lisburn, and we reached Belfast Central on time at 13:15.

You can take a train onwards to the next station on the line, Titanic Quarter, but it involves a lengthy walk to the Titanic Centre, so we opted for a bus into town. A very nice Belfast lady told us that you get free travel into the city centre if you show your rail ticket to the driver. She also told us where yo change bus without leaving the bus stop!

The next bus arrived shortly afterwards and we were at the Titanic Centre in about 10 minutes. The bus offers a good free tour of the waterside (the river Lagan), and if you ask the bus driver s/he will tell you when to get off the bus.

The Titanic building is a large modern building and can get very busy at weekends. Entrance is about 14 for adults and 10 for seniors. They accept Euros (like much of Belfast traders) but give change in Sterling.

The exhibition starts with information about Belfast and its industries, especially linen and ship building. By the early twentieth century Harland and Woolf were building massive ocean-going luxury liners like the Titanic and the Ionic. Initially I thought the exhibition was going to be information overload, since there were a lot of panels and displays on linen. However, some of the exhibits were interactive (multiple choice options and quizes), and very useful. At the end of this section, you enter the lower level of a ugh gantry (83 feet), but the original gantries were 282 feet. You then take a lift/elevator which brings you to the top of the gantry - not for those with vertigo!

The highlight of the visit is the gondola ride. Up to six people sit in a car suspended from the roof, and which lowers and rises to allow viewings of different aspects of the Titanic's construction. You also get an idea of the heat and noise, and it is really impressive. The ride takes about 5 minutes and is well worth the queue (there is a option to miss it).

The next section of the exhibition shows full-size models of the various berths, and I was impressed at the luxury berths, but even the third-class cabins did not look too cramped. The scale of the ship is extraordinary, especially the number of decks. There is a 3D visual re-inactment of this, and as the surround screens glide up though the various decks and areas of the ship, you really believe you are there.

We then enter a gallery which portrays the events leading to the sinking of the ship. What is extraordinary about this part is the respect with which most people pass through this part, silently reading the various accounts of the tragic events. The actual ship's SOS messages are also shown, as are some of the newspaper reviews of the events. There were a large number of memorials erected to the missing in various Irish and British cities, and a replica of one of the lifeboats is also on display. Some of the Titanic movie myths are dispelled in this section, including the idea that steerage passengers were shot by the ship's crew, and that the band played "Lead Kindly light".

The final section of the exhibition shows footage of the current Titanic wreck, two-and-a-half miles under the Atlantic Ocean. The pictures of the debris field, where personal and other items rest on the ocean bed, is particularly poignant. We also see how the scientists obtained these images. Another interesting part of this section was a database of all those on board the ship (as far as is known), and you can search for relatives's names.

The Titanic experience is absolutely stunning and well worth the money. In the city centre later that day, I told the tourist board representative that we really found it impressive and she asked how long we took. I said we were about 2.5 hours, and she said visits lasted between 2 and 4 hours.

We got a bus back into town and had a coffee before getting the 18:05 train (again having got helpful advice from people to the bus stop for the railway station). The train arrived dead on time in Dublin's Conolly station at 20:15 and while the train was almost full, we were able to find adjoining seats and have a comfortable journey. We we in the car in less than two minutes, but you can equally walk across the road to Busarus (central bus station) or get a Luas tram or a suburban train from Connolly. If you're in Northern Ireland, or the Republic at any stage, I would warmly recommend a visit to the Titanic Centre, Belfast.

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