We’ve been regular visitors to the South Bank and the Tower of London since moving to Surrey, and we’ve enjoyed several boat trips on the Thames. We’ve often glanced across at HMS Belfast but never once did we realised you could actually go inside, until The Imperial War Museum invited us to visit.
We explored the ship with an extremely knowledgeable guide who was able to provide great detail about the ship’s history and share real life stories from sailors serving on the ship.
But if you can’t hire a guide it’s not a problem as all visitors are provided with a free hand-held personal audio guide, available in English (adult and family version), French, German and Spanish.
We heard about life during its service in the Second World War, it’s time stationed in the Artic, it’s time in Korea, the conditions in which the sailors lived and discovered more about the inner workings of the ship. It was all totally fascinating.
Starting in the laundry room, we went on to visit the kitchens, the bakery and officers’ mess.
Incredible to think that the ship accommodated as many as 950 sailors at one time, in what must have been extremely cramped conditions.
There’s also a gruesome-looking dental surgery, a chapel and sick room complete with a rather grey-looking mannequin. As well as a shop where sailors could buy supplies, and an interactive operations room which we plan to visit next time.
A particular highlight was the Gun Turret, an experience that was made all the more real by the fact that there were staff in there cleaning the equipment at the time.
Getting around the ship with younger children can be a little tricky. There are nine decks and plenty of ladders. But to get the most out of the visit and to fully appreciate the ship’s history, children would need to be a little older anyway. I’d say 6+.
After an hour exploring the ship we were then treated to lunch in the new Upper Deck Park, which overlooks the ship and has stunning views of the Thames.
We then took part in ‘Dazzle Camouflage’ – one of the events the ship regularly holds for families – and learnt about how HMS Belfast was camouflaged to prevent discovery.
We created our own camouflage, which will be added to a show reel featuring all those produced during the workshop.
For those interested in war, history or life at sea, or who would just like to experience something a little bit different, we highly recommend a visit to HMS Belfast. Fascinating, impressive, with lots to see, it’s a great way to spend a few hours.
We were offered free admission to HMS Belfast to celebrate the launch of the Imperial War Museum’s Horrible Histories Spies exhibition. For information about prices and opening times, visit the Imperial War Museum’s website.