After more than a year of being closed, HMS Belfast has reopened and we couldn't be happier! Earlier this month we were invited along for a sneak peek before the public were let back in and we had a fantastic time exploring all 9 decks.
HMS Belfast is not only a famous London Landmark, she's also a historic treasure with an incredible past. From firing some of the first shots during Operation Overlord on D Day to supporting the Artic convoys running between the Orkney Islands and the Soviet Union, and even heading to the Pacific for the Korean War, HMS Belfast has played a hugely important part in some of the most significant conflicts in modern history.
Walking the maze of corridors, the newly refreshed displays really help you to get inside the lives of the people who served on board, with personal stories of crew members everywhere. The physical experience puts you right in their shoes: climbing up and down ladders, clambering through hatches, peeping through portholes and walking along narrow gantries, it's easy to forget that you're in a museum - it feels like going back in time!
Some of our favourite parts of the visit were the interactive activities and immersive moments:
Standing inside a gun turret while shells boomed and the floor shook, recreating Belfast's vital role supporting the Normandy Beach Landings.
Having a go at steering the ship, following the captain's orders - much harder than we expected! David was brilliant, I was not...
Clambering down down down below the Thames water level into the engine rooms to see the extensive boiler system and propeller shaft. (also where the crew showers were, closest to the hot water!)
Playing some of the interactive games in the ship's galley, like frying sausages, making stew, and trying to beat the clock peeling potatoes fast enough for a crew of over 900.
You can spot the difference between the officers' plush cabins and the crew's bunks, see the beautiful on board chapel, and hear about the ship Surgeon Lieutenant's experiences during the Korean war in the medical centre. This room was particularly moving, and we were happy to learn that civilians from both North and South Korea were taken on board for treatment. You can even sit in the Captain's chair up on the Admiral's Bridge!
From the professional to the personal, rooms like the ship's library, the radio room where popular music was piped throughout the ship to boost moral, and extracts of letters sent home were really touching. David in particular loved learning about the Arctic convoys, as this is what his grandad did during the war!
And if that wasn't enough, as we were leaving, we bumped into Bernie, a veteran who actually operated the wireless systems and morse code on HMS Belfast during the war! He was also popping onboard to visit his old friend after a year away, how incredible to meet a real life link to the stories we'd read during our visit!
HMS Belfast is open daily, 10am - 6pm.
You can book tickets on the Imperial War Museum website here
Disclaimer: we were invited on board for a free visit in return for writing this blog and posting on Instagram, but as always all opinions are our own and this is an accurate and honest account of our day!