The HMS Belfast served her country for 24 years, and that service reads as a What's What list of 20th century naval battles. It fired on Normandy before the D-Day invasion, it helped sink the German battleship Scharnhorst, and served in the Korean War and beyond.
Decommissioned in 1963, she was converted to a museum ship and moored across from the Tower of London in 1970.
As part of our ongoing, irregular series of military tours, here's a full tour of this storied vessel.
The Pool of London, the stretch of the Thames that helped London become an economic powerhouse for several centuries, is largely free of the great ships it once cradled. Shipping from the continent and beyond no longer ends or begins here. Instead, mid-sized cruise ships, small passenger craft and the occasional barge are the only regular users of the aquatic thoroughfare.
The Tower of London, in all its ancient stone glory, still watches over its part of the river. The iconic Tower Bridge, probably the most recognizable bridge in the world, spans its section.
Across from the Tower, just upriver from the Bridge, floats an icon from a more recent century. The last one, as a matter of fact. The HMS Belfast, the last of Britain's WWII fleet, has been moored here for nearly 50 years.
Today, it's a museum ship and memorial to British and Allied sailors. Check out the gallery for lots more pictures.
You start your tour on the south side of the Thames, a short walk from Monument, Tower Hill, or London Bridge Underground stations. The stern offers a fantastic photo opportunity of the Bridge and the Tower itself.
An audio tour is available, but if you don't partake, there's still plenty of info on placards around the ship. Interestingly, unlike many naval vessel tours, there's no clear path to follow. Instead, you're able to wander around the ship. I liked this less rigid exploration better, I think.
It's not a huge ship, dwarfed by the battleship, and certainly aircraft carriers like the .
Most of the ship is accessible, though there are many steep ladders and stairs to navigate.
As you'll see in the images, while I was there the ship had been turned into an art exhibit, so some of the mannequins looked a little...odd.
Check out the gallery above for the full tour.
Few cities offer as much history as London, and fewer still embrace it with so many museums and tours of all kinds. For WWII buffs, the Belfast offers a different perspective than, say, the(which, unlike the others, is free).
It's hard to miss the Belfast if you're in London, but if you're not, click through my gallery above for the full tour.