The world’s largest Titanic-themed attraction will open today in the old shipyard where the doomed liner was built.
Titanic Belfast, which cost almost £100m (€120m), will welcome its first paying visitors just weeks before the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking.
Almost 100,000 people have already bought tickets to tour the much-hyped, eye-catching dockside centre.
Mindful of the more than 1,500 lives lost in the maritime disaster, organisers have promised an understated and respectful opening ceremony.
The North's First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are expected to be joined by other dignitaries as two flares are fired into the Belfast sky – recreating the event that marked the Titanic’s launch a century ago.
The six-storey centre, which it is hoped will attract 425,000 visitors in its first year, tells the story of the Titanic through nine galleries, each devoted to a different aspect of the tragedy.
The attraction, the design of which is based on the bow of the Titanic, capitalises on its unique location, built right beside the slipway where the liner was floated in 1911.
A memorial garden has been planted at the slipway, with different-sized strips of grass and wood representing the proportion of lives lost and saved among the crew and first, second and third class passengers when the ship sank after striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage.
The opening of the facility will be followed by a Titanic Festival which will run until April 22.
Highlights among the 120 events include Titanic Sounds, an open-air MTV concert on the slipway, one of the world’s largest light shows to be projected on to Titanic Belfast and the opening of a memorial garden at Belfast City Hall.