Belfast Harbour is Northern Ireland's largest cruise port and the country's capital city, with population around 340,000 (metro around 670,000). The port is located on Lagan River, which empties in the Irish Sea. The port handles over 100,000 passengers per year. The port's harbour area is over 20% of the city's total area. Its deepwater quay is Ireland's longest. Fun fact is that there is a port town in the USA's state Maine (Waldo County) with the same name - Belfast ME.
The city houses the biggest Titanic museum in the world - Titanic Belfast (maritime heritage monument built at the site of the shipyard Harland & Wolff). Among the other popular tourist attractions is Game of Thrones, Crumlin Road Gaol Giant's Causeway, Walls of Derry, Ulster Museum, Exploris Aquarium.
Belfast received city status in 1888. The city was a center of Ireland's tobacco-processing, rope-making, linen and shipbuilding industries. During the early-20th-century, Harland & Wolff (the shipbuilder of RMS Titanic) was the world's largest and most productive shipyard. Belfast played a key role in the Industrial Revolution (1820-1840) and until the latter half of the 20th century was a global industrial center. At the beginning of the 20th century, industrialization and migration made Belfast Ireland's largest city.
Currently, Belfast remains a center for industry, arts, higher education, law and business, and is considered Northern Ireland's economic engine. During the Troubles (ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland in the late-1960s-1998), the city suffered greatly from the intense political violence, but after recovering now enjoys substantial economic growth. The entire downtown area has undergone considerable expansion, mainly around Victoria Square.
Belfast is served by two airports - George Best Belfast City Airport (within the city) and Belfast International Airport (approx 15 mi / 24 km to the west). Belfast Harbour is a major seaport, with industrial and commercial docks dominating the coastline.
Port Belfast Harbour
Port's cruising season runs between April and October. Belfast is currently ranked the UK's fastest-growing seaport. Statistics show 35 cruise ship calls and handled 54,800 passengers (in 2010), 43 boats (in 2012), up to 84 boats and 143,500 passengers in 2016 (21% over 2015).
During season 2017, the cruise port had scheduled a total of 93 ship calls (estimated 156,000+ passengers), marking a record year since the seaport's cruise shipping business started in 1996. By the end of 2017, the port celebrated 600+ cruise liner visits for the past 21 years. CMV Marco Polo was the 2017 season's first boat (arriving on April 21). Princess Cruises ship Caribbean Princess had scheduled a total of 14 stops in 2017.
It was estimated that the cruise industry's impact on Northern Ireland's economy is ~GBP 15 million (EUR 16,9 million) per year, with projected growth up to GBP 22 million by 2020. This forecast indicated that Port Belfast could see cruise tourists hitting the 230,000 mark in just 2 years. For 2018 were expected 110+ cruise vessels to dock here.
In 2018, the port had scheduled a total of 117 ship calls with estimated 200,000+ passengers. In 2019 (port's record year) were handled 146 calls (31% increase) from 35 different cruise companies, and ~285,000 passengers. July was 2019's busiest month (32 ship calls). Maiden port visits were booked for Spirit of Discovery (Saga UK), CMV Vasco da Gama, Costa Mediterranea (Costa Cruises' first), Disney Magic.
Belfast is directly linked by ferries with Cairnryan (Scotland), Liverpool (England) and Heysham (England). All these ferry routes are operated by STENA LINE with regularly scheduled daily crossings. STENA LINE is the largest ferry company on the Irish Sea, with the biggest fleet and the most routes operated between Ireland and UK (a total of 228 weekly crossings). The company also serves the routes from Dublin to Holyhead (Isle of Anglesey, Wales UK) and from Rosslare-Europort to Fishguard (Wales UK). STENA also offers direct service Rosslare to Cherbourg ()France) (3 return crossings weekly).
- In 2017, Belfast ferry port reported a record year with handled 514,000 units (vehicles and wheeled cargo) or 3% increase over 2016. Car shipping volumes were ~360,000 (2,5% increase) and the number of ferried passengers was 1,5+ million (2,5% increase). The biggest increase (10,5%) was reported for the bus traffic.
- STENA's Belfast ferry services in the period 2012-2017 grew by 15% (car volumes), 13% (passenger traffic) and 19% (freight traffic). STENA LINE operates from Belfast with 7 ferries and 22 daily crossings.
The Northern Ireland-based company LCC Group invested in Port Belfast Harbour a total of GBP 30 million into facilities and equipment for processed coal. The coal (annual capacity around 0,5 million tons) is exported directly to Scandinavian and mainland European countries, as well as to North Africa, Saudi Arabia, Australia. LCC Group's investments are in increasing the harbour's draft and cranage capability. The company's facility is the world's most sophisticated coal processing plant. The purified coal is used for ferroalloy production and silica metals (used in solar panels and medical equipment). LCC imports raw coal from Columbia.
For FY2018 (fiscal year), the port reported record cargo volumes (over 24 million tons) and trade growth (over (24,6 million tons, or +3,8% over FY2017). Coal imports and exports (by LCC) grew over 37% (to over 1 million tons). The largest coal exports were to Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia. Animal grains and feeds grew 7,5% (to 2,35 million tons). STENA's freight vehicle volumes grew 3% (to 532,000 units) and the ferry passengers - to 1,5+ million.
On September 17, 2019, Belfast Harbour announced plans for iconic waterfront developments. When completed (in 2024), the GBP 254 million (~EUR 290 M) project will result in a modern place attracting both tourists and local citizens with opportunities for living, working and leisure.
- The project is expected to generate 7000+ new local jobs and support ~3500 construction jobs, GBP 500 million in gross value (added to Northern Ireland's economy), GBP 300 million (in wages annually) and GBP 4 million in city rates (annually).
- Belfast Harbour's waterfront development works will include deepening the shipping channel (to allow access to larger-sized boats), creating deepwater quays (new), completion of "City Quays 4" (2 million ft2 land developments), creating Catalyst Inc (5-storey office building, science and technology hub), Giant's Park (new film studios), Pierpont Plaza (new public event space).
- Port's 2019-2023 plans (GBP 254 million) include investments in cranes and material handling equipment upgrades, installing new / larger ramps, building new warehouses, installing "Smart Port" digital solutions.
Until 2019, the port's largest cruise liner (by passenger capacity) was Celebrity Reflection (max 3655 pax plus 1000 crew). On September 26, 2019, here docked MSC Meraviglia (2017-built) carrying 5386 passengers from 30+ countries. Meraviglia visited Northern Ireland as part of the 17-day Transatlantic repositioning crossing from Germany to the USA.
On October 7, 2021, Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth made the Port's 1000th cruise ship call. Due to the Coronavirus crisis, Belfast Harbour paused its cruise shipping operations for the period March 2020 through June 2021, restarting with UK-only itineraries.
On October 1, 2019, Belfast Harbour revealed details the GBP 40 million project to upgrade Victoria Terminal 3 (VT3 container terminal) which connects Northern Ireland to all global markets via Rotterdam Holland, Antwerp Belgium and Le Havre France. By this 3-year project were invested GBP 28M for purchasing 10 new gantry cranes and conducted major terminal development works (by the contractor company F.P. McCann).
- The 27-acres VT3's capacity will be increased by around 1/3. Belfast Harbour's container terminal is operated by Irish Continental Group and as of 2019 handles 250+ annual crossings between Belfast and Europe.
- The new gantry cranes can handle larger boxships. Two STS cranes (Ship-to-Shore) were purchased from Liebherr, with the first scheduled for delivery in 2020-Q1. Eight new RTG cranes (Rubber Tyre Gantry) were purchased from Kalmar. The first five RTGs were delivered in November 2019. The first two were scheduled to be ready in 2020-Q1.
- In 2018, VT3 handled nearly 128,000 TEU-containers (1,5% increase over 2017).
- In June 2020, at VT3 was installed a new (GBP 6,6 million) ship-to-shore gantry crane (fully electric). The Liebherr crane weighs 765 tons and has lifting capacity 40x TEUs (each with max weight 40 tons) per hour.
Following the Coronavirus crisis, in 2022 (April thru November) the Port handled 52 ship calls (18 maiden/first visits) from 33 companies, and 250,000+ tourists.
Harland & Wolff Shipyard (Belfast)
"Harland and Wolff Heavy Industries" is a major construction company specializing in shipbuilding and ship repairs, as well as design, structural engineering, offshore projects. The company is most famous for building the White Star Line sisterships RMS Olympic (1911), RMS Titanic (1912) and HMHS Britannic (1915).
The shipyard's main facilities are two of Europe's largest drydocks - with a capacity to handle vessels with LOA length 556 m (1824 ft) and 335 m (1099 ft) - plus several fully-serviced berths.
- In 2003, the company was nearly awarded the shipbuilding contract for the Cunard liner RMS Queen Mary 2 but was not given the required British Government guarantee. As a result, the building contract was awarded to the French shipyard Chantiers de l'Atlantique in St Nazaire.
- In 2017, Harland & Wolff were awarded the contract for the drydock refurbishment of the cruise ship Azamara Pursuit (ex P&O Adonia).
In December 2019, the shipyard was acquired by InfraStrata plc (2007-founded, UK-based company) that also fully owns the subsidiaries Portland Gas Esp, InfraStrata Heavy Industries, Infrastrata UK and InfraStrata Energy UK.
In 2020, under the new ownership (InfraStrata) at Harland & Wolff were conducted several cruise ship drydock refurbishments, including of 3x Viking OCEAN boats. The shipyard's facilities were upgraded with new dock gates, robot welding machines, power lines, among others.
In 2021, the shipyard's outdoor Repair Dock provided its first general maintenance support to Virgin Voyages' boat Scarlet Lady, and serviced P&O UK's boat Azura - both without drydocking/having to take the vessels out of service. Also in 2021, at the shipyard's Building Dock (indoor) was serviced the crude oil tanker Dorset Spirit (IMO 9780782, Canada-flagged) which by LOA length (280 m / 919 ft) is the largest vessel so far drydocked in Belfast.
Belfast cruise terminal
Port Belfast has two cruise ship docks. Stormont Dock (Belfast Harbour) has wharf length 457 m (1500 ft) and is located approx 3 mi (5 km) north of downtown, and is used by larger liners. Pollock Dock has a wharf length of 177 m (580 ft) and is used for berthing of smaller vessels.
Belfast cruise terminal is located 2 mi / 3 km from downtown (direction north-east) with available shuttle bus service to Donegall Square North. The Visit Belfast Welcome Centre there provides all the necessary assistance for tourists, including information, advice, schedule changes, booking services, box office (special events and tours), gift shop, luggage left, internet.
The cruise port welcomes its passengers with music performances. At the terminal, you can find useful brochures and maps of the city. There is nothing interesting to see close to the Belfast cruise port terminal.
A good option for transport is the local metro system. If you want to rent a car from the Belfast cruise port terminal, available offices are of Budget and Avis. If you prefer taxis, be aware to chose the London-style taxis (classic black car), because the non-official can overcharge you.
(NEW) Belfast Cruise Ship Terminal D3
In 2013, port authorities announced plans for building a new cruise terminal (project cost GBP 15 million).
The new passenger terminal's berth was dredged to allow docking to even the world's largest cruise vessels. The facility is located close to the city's Titanic attractions - Titanic Belfast, Titanic's Dock and Pump-House, SS Nomadic (White Star Line's tender ship launched in 1911 and used to transfer passengers to and from the ships RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic).
Due to environmental issues, the project was delayed 2 years (initially scheduled for completion in 2015). Construction works were re-scheduled for completion in 2019. The new cruise terminal was built on seaport's outskirts (close to Belfast City Airport) and officially opened/inaugurated on July 29, 2019. During no-ship days and off-season, at the new dock are berthed cargo- and container ships. Terminal's parking is at an additional cost (GBP 9 per day).
The new cruise terminal (managed/staffed by Visit Belfast) uses the latest digital media technologies to showcase Northern Ireland’s best-known tourist attractions. Amenities also include dedicated parking lots for shuttle buses, taxis, and tour coaches.
The new cruise terminal was inaugurated/officially opened on July 29, 2019, during the port call of Crown Princess. The ceremony was attended by Councillor John Finucane (Lord Mayor of Belfast), John McGrillen (Tourism NI's CEO), Gerry Lennon (Visit Belfast's CEO) and Domenico Lubrano Lavadera (Crown Princess ship's Captain).
Belfast tours, shore excursions, hotels
City Tours and Shore Excursions
- Belfast City Hall: you can easily reach it with the shuttle service from the Belfast cruise port terminal. The amazing building is located close to Visit Belfast Welcome Centre. The building is a Classical Renaissance-style, made of Portland stone. There are free guided tours from Mon to Sat.
- Titanic Quarter: discover the Titanic story. You can visit Titanic Belfast – the largest museum of the ill-fated liner.
- Waterfront Hall: one of the leading conference centers in the world.
- Ulster Museum: the museum houses interesting collections of history, art, and natural science. Admission: free.
- Victoria Square Shopping centre: Victoria Square is among the most expensive development of property in Northern Ireland and the largest one. Its building cost is £400 million ($641 m).
- Belfast Castle: located in the north part of the city, Cave Hill County Park’s lower slopes.
Port Belfast cruise ship schedule shows timetable calendars of all arrival and departure dates by month. The port's schedule lists all ships (in links) with cruises going to or leaving from Belfast, Northern Ireland. To see the full itineraries (ports of call dates and arrival / departure times) and their lowest rates – just follow the corresponding ship-link.
|6 April, 2023|
|Spirit of Discovery||08:00||17:00|
|8 April, 2023|
|9 April, 2023|
|22 April, 2023|
|28 April, 2023|
|30 April, 2023|
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