Things to do in London with kids: HMS Belfast review
Ahoy there, readers! If you're looking for things to do in London with kids, then a) you're in the right place and b) you need HMS Belfast on your activity radar. We recently walked the gang plank to check out this floating museum / decommissioned war ship that proved to be a massive hit with the London for Kidz roving reporters...
History of HMS Belfast in a nutshell
Launched in 1938 and originally part of the British Naval blockade against Germany during World War II, HMS Belfast has a tale or two to tell. Now moored on the River Thames, sandwiched between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, this decommissioned warship is part of the Imperial War Musuem.
During World War II she was the most kick-ass of Navy cruisers, boasting over 12 large guns, mahoosive torpedoes and depth charges. Measuring in at 187m long and travelling up to speeds of 60kmph, her notable achievements from her days at sea include intercepting a German battleship that was disguised as a neutral ship, sinking the German battleship Scharnhorst into the depths of the Arctic and being one of only three surviving bombardment ships that supported the D-Day Normandy Landings in 1944 (the other two survivors are in the US!).
Post-World War II HMS Belfast led British and Commonwealth ships into action on 6 July 1950 as part of the Korean War, clocking up an impressive 130,000km and yet only being hit by enemy fire once.
But enough of all that: you'll get to learn, touch and feel her history for yourselves when you board this interactive, fascinating adventure. HMS Belfast has been open as a museum since 1971 and it really is a London icon that makes for a wonderful family activity.
What we loved
Excitement levels were high as we walked along the river - it's hard to miss HMS Belfast in all her glory when you're strolling along the banks of the Thames. Check in was easy peasy (always a big plus), and the interactive fun started as soon as we got on board with Mr. 10 and Miss. 14.
Now, we think it's fair to say that teenagers can be a tough crowd to please, but Miss. 14. surprised even herself with how much she enjoyed HMS Belfast. In her own words, "I thought it would be boring but there was so much to see and do on board and the 3 hours we were there went really quickly. I loved watching mum climb up and down ladders, but also enjoyed all the activities. Oh, and the lemon cake in the cafe was really good as well!" High praise indeed from someone who rarely gets off of her beanbag...
Her brother wants it to be known that "This is one of the most interesting and fun things I've done in London, and I would definitely tell all my friends to go. History is my favourite subject at school, and we've just been learning about World War II so going on Belfast was cool as I got to understand what it might have been like to actually be on the ship in those scary times. I loved all the activities and I got to actually be in a battle thanks a really cool PC game. I also sat in the Captain's chair and got cook stew for the whole crew, digitally. If you go to London with kids my age, then they will definitely have a great time and I want to go again soon."
What to See and Do
The Flag Deck
For some rather gorgeous views, head to The Flag Deck (aka the Observation Deck). You'll also find the signal projectors on this deck, which are used to communicate with other ships.
Packed full of navigational instruments, displays, gadgets and phones, the Captain's Deck was where all the huge decisions were made. Our kids loved sitting in the captain's chair and playing boss!
Gun Turret Experience
The Gun Turret Experience is a big hit thanks to its combo of immersive lighting, sounds, smoke and imagery and gives a peek into what it was like for the crew during a battle.
Have a sticky beak around the onboard living quarters, that include sleeping areas, chapel, laundry room, mess decks, chill out rooms, dentist, bakery and kitchens. With nine levels to explore it's easy to get an insight into how the crew lived their daily lives in their floating 'home'.
Engine and Boiler Rooms
Continue going deeper into the ship and you will eventually make your way to the boiler and engine rooms, which are 15 feet below sea level.
There's SO much more to see and do but we'll let you discover it all for yourselves. It's a big winner of an activity when it comes to things to do in London with kids! The fact that it is so hands on and full of things to tinker with, play with and get immersed with just adds to the fun: this is edutainment at its best, folks!
All the deets
When: 1 November - 31 March: Daily 10:00am - 5:00pm, 1 April - 31 October: Daily 10:00am - 6:00pm
Where: The Queen's Walk, London SE1 2JH
Cost: Adults from £23.60. Members and under-fives free.
* London for Kidz were gifted tickets for HMS Belfast for the purposes of this guide. All opinions are our own.
Top image: courtesy of HMS Belfast
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