Belfast has a world-famous maritime history. As the home of Harland & Wolff, once the greatest ship builders in the world, the city was the birthplace of many iconic vessels including the renowned RMS Titanic. Today, the dockside offers plenty of sights, attractions and opportunities to delve into the history of the city. From award-winning exhibitions to historic docks, walk the Maritime Mile – developed by Maritime Belfast Trust – and uncover the stories of Belfast’s maritime past.
Titanic Belfast, named the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction in 2016, is located next to the original drawing offices and slipways, in the very place where Titanic was designed, built and launched in 1912. It tells the story of the Titanic, from her conception in Belfast in the early 1900s, through her construction and launch, to her maiden voyage and subsequent place in history.
Walk to Donegall Quay to find Belfast’s iconic Big Fish; a 10m-long sculpture celebrating the regeneration of the River Lagan. The fish is made up of beautiful blue scales of ceramic tiles that depict different scenes from Belfast’s history.
In the heart of the Maritime Mile, where the Titanic once stood is Thompson Dock and Pumphouse – the home of Titanic Distillers. Once dwarfed by the great ship, the Pumphouse stood in the shadows. Now you can come and walk in the footsteps of the shipyard workers, the air thick with stories of former glory, and experience the new spirit of Belfast’s famous docklands.
Behind Titanic Belfast is the Titanic Slipways, where Titanic and Olympic stood before they were launched over 100 years ago. Now fully restored, the slipways offer an illuminated outline of both ships and a life-size plan of Titanic’s promenade deck. See where Titanic first touched the water in 1911 and enjoy stunning views of the Titanic Belfast building and surrounding shipyard.
From there, cross the Lagan Weir footbridge and follow the dockside trail to SS Nomadic. As the tender ship for RMS Titanic and as White Star Line’s last remaining vessel restored to her former glory, SS Nomadic is an original living relic of the city’s maritime history. Explore the four decks and experience first-hand what it was like to be a passenger boarding Titanic. Tickets can be bought as standalone passes or as part of the Titanic Experience pass at Titanic Belfast. (Please note, the indoor exhibition on board SS Nomadic is closed until further notice.)
Noe re-open, HMS Caroline is a remarkable First World War ship now restored as a must-see floating museum with an amazing story to tell! Travel back in time and experience life at sea over 100 years ago. Witness what life was like during the Battle of Jutland, explore where the crew lived and slept, and hear their amazing stories. Find out everything from the concert parties they performed on board to the incredible mascots that lived alongside them!
Titanic Dock & Pumphouse
At the end of the trail you’ll find Titanic Dock and Pump House. Stand in the huge Thompson Dry Dock where Titanic sat on the night before her maiden voyage and walk in the footsteps of the shipyard’s workers in the pumphouse with original engineering that powered the dock.
Heritage Room at Belfast Harbour
Start at the Port that Built the City exhibition in the Belfast Harbour offices in Corporation Square. This heritage space details Belfast’s emergence as a major port and its subsequent growth as an industrial hub. The exhibition includes a unique art collection, the ‘Titanic table’ and artefacts from the Harbour’s past. Then explore the rest of the surrounding Sailortown area; a dockside district home to the stunning St Joseph’s Church, the Dividers sculpture and Sinclair Seaman’s Church. (Please note, this exhibition is closed until further notice).
The delicate Titanica sculpture was created by the renowned Irish sculptor Rowan Gillespie and installed at the front entrance to Titanic Belfast to mark its opening in 2012. The sculpture is the form of a diving female figure and takes inspiration from the traditional female ship figureheads mounted on the prows of sailing ships. The life-size figure is cast in bronze and represents hope and positivity.
Glass of Thrones
To celebrate 10 years of filming in Northern Ireland, Tourism Ireland created six giant, stained glass windows depicting some of the most iconic scenes from Game of Thrones. Each window represents a different house or legacy from the show including the Starks, Lannisters, Baratheons, Targaryens, White Walkers and the Iron Throne.
The Dividers sculpture, made of bronze with a stainless-steel core, stands proudly at 8.3m tall. It was produced in 2002 by local artist Vivien Burnside, framing views of Belfast or outwards to views of the sea.
The Flying Angel
A gleaming bronze and stainless-steel angel reaches out from the bow of a ship built at the side of the Mission to Seafarers building. The figure is the worldwide symbol of the Seafarers’ Mission, a religious charity set up in the mid-19th Century, to provide sailors with shelter and comfort. The Angel, designed by local artist Maurice Harron, is captured here in the act of calming the waves. Find it at Prince’s Dock Street, off Pilot Street and just north of Clarendon Dock.
These distinctive navigation buoys celebrate the city’s maritime heritage. They were recently restored and took up residence on the Maritime Mile in 2019. Each buoy weighs around 3 tonnes and is made of thick steel plates riveted together. The three buoys are estimated to be around 80 years old and were used by mariners to find a safe channel to and from port.
Kit, in the Titanic Quarter, is a dramatic sculpture cast in bronze. The air fix style artwork depicts recognisable elements of the Titanic on an outer frame. The giant modelling kit uses scale replicas of the famous ship’s component parts and recreates the legendary liner beside the Abercorn Basin, near where the real ship was built.
Sustrans Portrait Bench
Made from steel, these life size portraits celebrate local historical and cultural figures – you’ll immediately recognise silent film actor Charlie Chaplin who travelled on board SS Nomadic in 1952, on his way to premiere a film in England. He is accompanied by a shipyard worker who helped build the SS Nomadic and a French waiter who served on the White Star Line ship.
The ’Docker’s Rest’ Mural
The mural was a collaboration between leading local artists Terry Bradley and Friz, and depicts men from Sailortown and the docks, and showcases Belfast’s maritime heritage as well as traditions of murals and hospitality in the city. It was unveiled in 2019, marking the anniversary when the famous ship was launched on 31st May 1911.
As you continue along the Maritime Mile, make sure to spend some time at the audio-visual installation created by artistic duo Brian Irvine and John McIlduff. River Box is located on the Titanic Slipways, and is a striking piece of contemporary art that uses shipping containers to screen a specially produced ‘All The Things We Are’ video inspired by the port as a place of constant comings and goings.
The Great Light
Follow the path to The Great Light, one of the largest optics of its kind ever built in the world that is around 130 years old. At seven metres in height and weighing 10 tonnes, it produces one of the strongest lighthouse beams to ever shine. The light is a unique maritime heritage object with great significance to Belfast’s economic, maritime and industrial past.