From the smell of salty sea air and the taste of freshly caught seafood to the sounds of a traditional sailor’s shanty, your senses are in for a treat at the Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival.
The city’s Maritime Mile will be abuzz this Spring bank holiday as thousands of people attend the celebration of all things nautical, following in the footsteps of the local seamen, dockers and visiting sailors who frequented the area over the centuries.
With boat-building demonstrations and storytelling sessions, pop-up picnics and kaleidoscopic kites, there are events and activities for all ages and interests. So, from May 25 to 27, make the Maritime Mile and bustling Titanic Quarter your first ports of call for a weekend filled with fun and adventure.
Learn the ropes
There are ample opportunities to get hands on, or go on deck, at the Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival.
The beautifully regenerated Titanic Quarter is one of the world’s largest urban waterfronts, and there’s no better time to visit than during the festival.
On the Titanic Slipways, festival-goers can see demonstrations of traditional crafts including boat-building, ropemaking, linen spinning and woodworking.
Meanwhile, visitors to the First World War-era HMS Caroline can tour the top deck, Captain’s cabins and sick bay, and enjoy maritime-themed family craft activities.
There’s also an array of international ships and vessels attending this year’s festival, including the Mexican naval vessel Cuauhtémoc, the Dutch sailing barge Volharding, and the Royal Naval vessel HMS Penzance.
A treasure trove of history
The Maritime Mile is steeped in history and heritage. North of the city centre in Sailortown, where more than 5,000 people once lived, a Maritime Heritage exhibition in St Joseph’s Church will feature stories and photos of former local seamen, as well as seafaring films. Photos of old streets and people will be on display around the area.
In the Titanic Quarter, the Laurentic Exhibition – travelling from Derry’s Tower Museum – depicts the sinking of the famous gold ship by German mines in 1917, and includes original artefacts and documents.
For those keen to learn about their family history, the Public Records Office will be on hand on Saturday with digital family trees.
Children are spoilt for choice at this year’s festival, with an exciting schedule of activities.
Donegall Quay, the Gateway to the Maritime Mile will host Mini Explorers, Wee Critters, Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service as well as fun and games throughout the weekend.
At the BIG Titanic Picnic next to SS Nomadic, there’ll be Titanic mascots, stilt-walking pirates and kids’ games. Also in the Titanic Quarter, the Kite Club will put on magical displays.
Be sure to stop in Arc where you can make your own kite to test out!
On Queen’s Quay, children can learn how to create weird and wonderful bubbles with Scientific Sue, build a land yacht from Kinect or get crafty with sand, clay and card making.
And at HMS Caroline, families can enjoy a maritime-themed play park and picnic area, Dockyard Alive theatre performances’ and explore the brilliantly named Bonkers Betty’s Bizarre Bazaar.
Working up an appetite
Down on Queens Quay the ever popular Maritime Market returns with food, craft and tasty treats on offer as well an onsite bar. Or why not pack up your own picnic, and grab a deck chair beside the beach, an ideal location for intrepid explorers of all ages to rest up.
As well as the BIG Titanic Picnic, there will be an NI Pop-up Titanic Street Food Market at Hamilton Dock, with food vans, trucks and stalls and plenty of picnic tables.
Hamilton Dock will also play host to live cooking demos, showcasing Belfast’s diverse restaurant scene.. Restaurants taking part include Buba, Café Parisien, Coppi, Havana, Titanic Belfast and EDO.
And head over to Sailortown where Barrow Square will have quality food trucks and a bar by Streatopia all day and/or for a flavour-focused workshop, Tastes of Sailortown, which is suitable for all ages.
There will also be plenty of opportunities to get active in or alongside the water.
Festival-goers can paddleboard or kayak in the Abercorn Basin, or indulge in some yoga on the River Lagan at Donegall Quay.
And there’s no better excuse to get moving on your way to and from the festival – you can walk or cycle from Clarendon Dock to HMS Caroline, and enjoy the additional cycle parking on offer.
Or why not extend your stay by booking a room at the Titanic Hotel Belfast, a plush hotel located in the former headquarters of Titanic builders Harland & Wolff.
Arts and culture
Local and international street theatre acts will keep Festival goers entertained throughout the weekend, keep a look out for Giant Puddle Ducks, Lion Fish, Puppets, Fishermen and shows galore.
On the quaysides live music from local acts such as Mississippi Boombox, John Garrity, The Victory Rollers and Connor Martin, to name but a few, are sure to have you singing along or dancing a sailors’ jig.
There are a colourful range of arts events on offer at this year’s festival, from theatre and live music to a dancing flashmob.
One not to be missed is Jimmy Ellis: Home Again in Titanic Belfast, an autobiographical reflection of the late actor’s memories growing up and working at the docks in East Belfast. The show combines poetry and live music to depict Jimmy’s family and the lodgers who inhabited his Park Avenue home.
On the Titanic Walkway, there’ll be a storytelling session each afternoon, while on the Titanic Slipways, an outdoor cinema experience will be showing family favourites from the Little Mermaid, Muppets Treasure Island to the Goonies and Cinemagic’s Grace and Goliath. Bring along a deck chair and cosy blanket, and enjoy.
In Sailortown, there’s live Acoustic music at the Rotterdam Retrospective in Barrow Square (interestingly, Rotterdam Bar, was a former holding centre for convicts in the 1790’s), and Sea Songs and Shanties in St Joseph’s Church from Mark McCambridge. Over the past year and a half, the musician has been researching the 19th century custom of sea songs, gathering material from Ulster Weaver poems and traditional shanties as well as original compositions.
The heritage attractions in the area will all be lighting up blue to mark the Festival, with the iconic Great Light on the Titanic Walkway showcasing all its colours every evening throughout the weekend.
Keep an eye out for flashmobs in the Titanic Quarter from the Ajendance dance company – who knows where they will spring up next?
And finally, for the first time, the Festival programme will also be available via the new Maritime Belfast app - search for Maritime Belfast on the App Store or Play Store to download now.