The Titanic Quarter is a relatively new tourist area in Belfast, or at least it was a bit of a mess before the rejuvenation of the Belfast harbour area spurred by the opening of the Titanic Belfast Museum (2012). This was soon followed by the development of further museums and tourist attractions like SS Nomadic, and the Titianic Hotel (2017), and just a proper tourist infrastructure in the area. Before then the main draw was the Odyssey Arena (SSE Arena), a rather massive sports and entertainment complex (for Belfast’s standards), as well as the Belfast Harbour Marina (2009) which was implemented to host maritime events including the Tall Ships festival. But it is probably now the main tourist draw in Belfast, along with the Laganside, and there’s huge potential ahead.
The Maritime Mile
The obvious route to Belfast Titanic Quarter is on the train lines to the Titanic Quarter station (from Bangor or from Belfast City Airport for example). But the station is still a kilometre or so walk to find the main attractions of Belfast Titanic Quarter (directions at the bottom). At the same time, the Titanic Quarter is not far from Belfast City Centre. For example, it is less than 2km from Belfast City Hall, it is 1.2km from Victoria Square, and from Custom Square and the “Big Fish” it is around 900m. At the same time, the walk from the city centre, crossing the bridges of the Lagan, will always be the more scenic by a long way. So I will share below the main tourist attractions of Belfast Titanic Quarter, from nearest to furthest, starting from the Lagan Riverside to the furthest attraction at HMS Caroline.
The Odyssey Arena and W5
The Odyssey (SSE Arena Belfast) is the beginning of the main stretch of Belfast Harbour and the Titanic Quarter. It’s also really hard to miss. Although there’s not a whole lot of tourist interest in the building itself (on a normal day) other than cinemas, a bowling alley, a bunch of restaurants, and the only real attraction would be the W5 Science & Discovery Centre which is more for kids. But W5 did introduce “strictly adults-only” nights (W5 Late) which, I guess, is similar to the usual attraction only you can play with the exhibits while drunk. The Odyssey Arena is otherwise more of an events venue and you can easily find all their current events on their website.
The first main attraction of the Belfast Titanic Quarter is the SS Nomadic, which is found not far from the SSE Arena, on the promenade walk along Belfast Harbour Marina. It’s a nice enough area. So the SS Nomadic, often known as “a Mini Titanic”, was used back in April 1912 to shuttle the doomed passengers to the Titanic, before it set sail. And has since had a colourful life through both World Wars… etc. and you’ll have to pay on board to learn the rest (SS Nomadic Website here). As there are (of course) paid attractions in the Belfast Titanic Quarter (Odessey, SS Nomadic, Titanic Museum, HMS Caroline). But there is also still a lot to see by just walking around for free (on our visit we only paid some grub in the Titanic Drawing Office Cafe). So it is down to personal interests.
Titanic Belfast (Titanic Museum)
Titanic Belfast aka the Titanic Museum is the flagship building of the Titanic Quarter, with its iconic maritime inspired architecture, which is pretty hard to miss. And while it is often referred to as the Titanic Museum (the entire area is more of a museum) it’s more of a contemporary collection of interactive galleries than a historical store of artefacts. So the Titanic Belfast is like a learning experience where it shares the “sights, sounds, smells and stories” of the RMS Titanic as well as the ship-building culture of Belfast. The city where it all began. And it would probably be the best start for those clueless to the whole backstory of it all. Anyway, Titanic Belfast is again a paid attraction, with self-guided tours (around 1 hour 30 mins), which would probably be best bundled in with SS Nomadic Tickets, and a 1-hour guided “Discovery Tour” of the Titanic Quarter on The White Star Premium Pass.
Titanic Drawing Office Restaurant
The refurbished headquarters of the Harland and Wolff shipyard is directly opposite the Titanic Belfast (Museum), and these buildings were pretty much run down and vacant since 1989. But it was recently (in 2016) taken over by the Titanic Hotel, with some rather impressive renovations, including the original drawing offices where the Titanic was first designed (along with 1,000 plus lesser known ships to come out of Belfast docks). And “Drawing Office Two”, a cafe, car and restaurant, is forever worth calling in to for at least some bites. And the venue, seen as the “Heart of the Titanic Hotel”, is open to the public to just call and see without paying from what I can tell (you won’t get thrown out). But it’s a good place to stop for a scone, maybe a pint of Yardsman Pale Ale, and it connects to other interesting nooks and crannies of the wider Titanic hotel.
The Titanic Hotel
The old Harland and Wolff buildings and headquarters were pretty much run down and vacant since 1989. But with the rejuvenation of the Belfast Titanic Quarter there was an impressive transformation in these buildings, including Drawing Office Two, and a rather special heritage hotel. Because there are just very few hotels with a similar history to the Titanic Hotel. And, while I haven’t yet stayed at the Titanic Hotel, I did get a sneak peek after some ales at the ‘Drawing Office Two’ as it connects to the restored corridors and offices of the old Harland and Wolff headquarters (there are also public tours of the buildings). Otherwise the guestrooms are a mystery to me, however, the corridors, staircases and fittings around were all set to replicate the design and feel of the Titanic itself, and it’s sold as an “authentic” experience. Can check for Bookings online here.
The Olympic Slipway
The Belfast Titanic Quarter is a bit like a museum in itself, or at least a rather special heritage walk, where much of the original design of the Harland and Wolff shipyards is no different to that of its day. And this includes the old Olympic slipway, just past the Titanic Belfast building where the Titanic was originally built and launched from over 100 years ago. And the Olympic slipway was named after the parent company of the Titanic which was one of 3 Olympic-Class ships built in Belfast harbour in 1912. Along with its sister ships, Olympic (1911) and Britannic (1915). And so you can now walk in-and-around the old slipway where these boats had first been constructed and launched from, and there are lots of handy titbits on information boards to help navigate and understand the area and heritage.
It’s around half a mile from the Belfast Titanic Museum to HMS Caroline when walking, so the Maritime Mile is probably closer to 2 miles by foot. But it undoubtedly follows an intriguing, historical harbourside promenade with lots to look at along the way. And I remember coming onto a sign pointing to random attractions like the “Dining Room and Counting House”, “Plater’s Room”, “Iron Foundry”, “Boiler Shops”, “Abercorn Basin Sheer Legs”. Otherwise, the last big exhibit is HMS Caroline. Which is a paid attraction that is unfortunately not included on The White Star Premium Pass. Given it’s not really Titanic related. It instead is a museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN), which shares a whole load of naval history through the World Wars, as the “lone survivor” of the Battle of Jutland (WW1).
How to Get to Belfast Titanic Quarter?
Belfast Titanic Quarter is found on the opposite side of the Lagan river in Belfast city centre, as a tourist area in itself, before reaching the newly designated “Visit Eastside” area of East Belfast. It is easy to reach on foot from Belfast City Centre following the Maritime Mile (as above).
By Foot: From Belfast City Centre. Walk to the Lagan Riverside, take a left until the Big Fish, cross the pedestrian bridge opposite, then continue left towards the Odyssey Arena which is hard to miss.
By Train: Take the train (Belfast to Bangor line) to the Titanic Quarter Station. Cross the footbridge, towards the towering Harland and Wolff cranes, to the opposite side of the motorway. Then follow the signs to the Titanic Quarter.
By Car: Follow GPS/Sat Nav to the Odyssey Arena and there’s always plenty of parking found at the paid car parks surrounding the arena.