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  • 186 - the logo again.jpg

Titanic Tours, Belfast

  
  to    - darkometer rating:  2 -
 
Ever since Belfast reconnected with its Titanic legacy – due to the fact that the ship was built here (cf. Titanic Quarter, Titanic Belfast) – more and more guided tours have sprung up.
  
These days you can choose from a wide range of walking tours, open-top bus tours, and various tours that even take to the water, either by regular boat, speed boat or even amphibious craft (called, appropriately, "Splash").
  
You can also download self-guided tour apps to smartphones that combine audio narration, maps and other information. An overview of tour options can be obtained on the "Titanic Stories" tourism website (the-titanic.com >Titanic Today >Titanic Tours).
  
I picked one simply named "Titanic Tours Belfast", run by Susie Millar, a former journalist with a family connection to the tragic ship, namely in that she is a descendant of one of the engineers on the Titanic (who perished with it). UPDATE: these latter tours are currently suspended (see below for more details). 

>More background info

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

 
More background info: see under Titanic, Titanic Quarter, Titanic Belfast Experience, and also under Belfast in general.  
 
 
What there is to see and hear: Most tours concentrate on the locations in the Titanic Quarter, much of which can also be done quite well independently. So it is crucial to look out for the added value the tour provides when researching your options (such as a boat ride for seeing angles of the harbour you couldn't get as a pedestrian).  
 
When I was in Belfast for my short study trip in December 2012 I picked one tour that stands out due to the fact that the guide is a direct-line descendant of one of the victims of the Titanic's tragedy. The tour is called simply "Titanic Tours Belfast" and they're run by Susie Millar.
  
UPDATE: Susie has just informed me that currently she's suspended running these tours on a regular basis. They may occasionally become available again in the future, however (check with her directly via her website titanictours-belfast.co.uk) and therefore I've decided to keep the following account on this page for the time being. 
   
What made her tour stand out from the rest is precisely the fact that she could rightly claim that she has Titanic "in her blood" as she is the great-granddaughter of one of the ship's engineers – Thomas Millar – who tragically went down with it in 1912. He had planned to relocate his family to America but instead his demise left his children orphaned. This family link formed a core thread in Susie Millar's very special Titanic Tour.
 
The tour was by private car (and was shared with another couple of participants) which made it possible to include a wide range of sites. In addition to verbal delivery, Susie also used a tablet computer to show images and documents relating to the story. Moreover she also had a few original artefacts to show …
   
Most obviously, the tour took in the Titanic Quarter, where the ship was actually built. Just outside the Titanic Belfast "experience" (itself not part of this tour), the original slipways of Titanic and Olympic were one stop, as was the old Harland & Wolff HQ building, in particular the former drawing offices. 
 
We also drove up to the Thompson Dock further north for a brief stop, but without a visit to the Pump-House or time to go down inside the dock. We then drove past the entrance to the northernmost of the Queen's Island dock sites, but as that is still in use we could not go in to see it close up. However, we then drove right up to the giant gantry cranes Samson and Goliath, the landmarks of the Harland & Wolff shipyards (and icons of modern Belfast at large). From this close up they look even more humongous. Very cool, even though not strictly speaking related to the Titanic.
 
Outside the harbour area, one stop was at the former home of Titanic's chief designer Thomas Andrews, to which Susie had exclusive access as a guide (the building now houses the offices of the Irish Football Association). In the grand staircase of the mansion a scale model of RMS Titanic takes pride of place. We also stopped briefly in one of the typical narrow streets with shipyard workers' housing of the period. And in the city centre we drove past several locations associated with Belfast's shipbuilding legacy before spending some time inside the City Hall and by the Titanic Memorial Gardens just outside (see under Belfast). Quite a drive outside the city proper in the suburb of Carrickfergus, we visited the former family house where Susie's grandfather Ruddick Millar lived and from where he watched the Titanic – with his father on board – leave Belfast Lough for her fateful maiden voyage.
 
On the basis of her family story, Susie also penned the book "The Two Pennies". The title is a reference to her great-grandfather giving his two sons two new pennies each before his departure – together with the instruction to keep them safe and not spend them until his return from America. Of course he never returned and so Susie's grandfather never spent the pennies. Today they are still in the family's possession – Susie showed them us on the Titanic Tour. Normally two old coins like that would only be fascinating to specialist collectors' minds, but with that tragic story attached to them, they become really touching artefacts and a pivotal element of this Titanic Tour.
 
It was precisely this sort of extra personal touch, that made this tour so special. So it's sad news that the tours are no longer regularly available. Note also that it did not offer an exhaustive coverage of all the Titanic-related things to see in Belfast. It featured exclusive elements in the tour you won't get elsewhere, but in order to get the rest of the full picture you'd need to go back to the Titanic Quarter independently anyway. Or do a different tour. The Thompson Dock and Pump-House in particular are worth a return visit. And the hyper-modern new Titanic Belfast Experience will probably be a must too.
 
 
Locations: various spots in and around Belfast, and in particular in the Titanic Quarter (see under those entries for locators). Exclusive spots on Susie Millar's "Titanic Tour Belfast" as described above included the following in addition:
 
Google maps locators:
 
Former mansion of Thomas Andrews: [54.58064,-5.94624]
 
The former Millars' cottage in Carrickfergus: [54.7232,-5.7829]
 
Note that neither are publicly accessible inside (though the cottage can be rented as a self-catering holiday accommodation; see below).
 
 
Access and costs: mostly easy; variable in cost, but can be very good value.
 
Details: The nature and pricing for all the various tours that are available vary greatly. Some are comfortable in that you get chauffeured most of the time, others, like the longer walking tours, naturally require a little bit more effort.
  
The private tour I was on had the added bonus that pick up from the hotel was part of the service. Other tour offers have fixed departure points, such as the boat tour that departs from the new marina in the Titanic Quarter near the Odyssey complex.
 
I found the "Titanic Tour Belfast" that I went on extremely good value for money at just  £30 (per person)! But alas this tour has, as reported, now been suspended. To what degreee the various other tours are worth their price I cannot say from first-hand experience.
      
 
If you're still looking for accommodation in the area of Belfast, then this might be a suitable option with its own connection to the Titanic Tour: namely that same thatched cottage in Carrickfergus that formed part of Susie Millar's tour. It is now a self-catering holiday cottage named Fools Haven that can be rented by tourists. It sleeps up to five. It is, however, quite far from Belfast's city centre, so you'd either need your own vehicle or have to commute by train or bus (from/to Carrickfergus station about a mile/1.5 km away).  
  
There's also a top-end guest house/hotel that specializes in a Titanic theme, though not so much through any historical connection or in design but in a culinary way: by means of offering (on certain dates only) elaborate 9-course set-menu dinners based as faithfully as possible on what was served (to first class passengers!) on the Titanic that fateful night just before she sank!   
 
 
Time required: Varies. The Titanic Tour described above was normally three hours in duration. But full day extensions were possible as well. Other fully or partly Titanic-themed tours on offer in Belfast vary even more in length, from just a short stop on a general sightseeing bus tour to a full day's walking tour.  
 
 
Combinations with other dark aspects and destinations: See Titanic Quarter, in particular the Pump-House and Thompson Dock or the Titanic Belfast Experience, the inside of which do not normally form part of any tours (but both places offer their own guided tours). 
 
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see under Belfast.
 
  
  • Titanic Tour 01 - at Thomas Andrews houseTitanic Tour 01 - at Thomas Andrews house
  • Titanic Tour 02 - commemorative plaqueTitanic Tour 02 - commemorative plaque
  • Titanic Tour 03 - grand staircaseTitanic Tour 03 - grand staircase
  • Titanic Tour 04 - Titanic shrineTitanic Tour 04 - Titanic shrine
  • Titanic Tour 05 - at the Titanic slipwayTitanic Tour 05 - at the Titanic slipway
  • Titanic Tour 06 - peeking into the former Harland and Wolff drawing officesTitanic Tour 06 - peeking into the former Harland and Wolff drawing offices
  • Titanic Tour 07 - under Samson or GoliathTitanic Tour 07 - under Samson or Goliath
  • Titanic Tour 08 - cottage in CarrickfergusTitanic Tour 08 - cottage in Carrickfergus
  • Titanic Tour 09 - plaque at the cottageTitanic Tour 09 - plaque at the cottage
  • Titanic Tour 10 - looking out over Belfast Lough from CarrickfergusTitanic Tour 10 - looking out over Belfast Lough from Carrickfergus
  • Titanic Tour 11 - the genuine two penniesTitanic Tour 11 - the genuine two pennies
  • Titanic Tour 12 - at the Titanic Memorial at City HallTitanic Tour 12 - at the Titanic Memorial at City Hall
  • Titanic Tour 13 - Thomas Millar includedTitanic Tour 13 - Thomas Millar included
  • Titanic Tour 14 - Titanic on a City Hall stained glass windowTitanic Tour 14 - Titanic on a City Hall stained glass window
  

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