The largest Titanic visitor attraction in the world opened in the ship's Belfast birthplace on Saturday, some 100 years after the doomed liner was built in the same yards.

Almost 100,000 tickets for Titanic Belfast, a striking aluminium-clad building which tells the famous ship's story through special effects, interactive screens and a ride, have been sold ahead of the opening.

Organisers hope the £97 million ($155 million, 116 million euro) centre can boost tourism in the British province, which was torn apart by sectarian strife for three decades until the late 1990s.

"We want to bring people to Northern Ireland not just to see what a generation 100 years ago were able to achieve, but what this generation can achieve in this new era of peace," said First Minister Peter Robinson.

Cyril Quigley, a 105-year-old who watched the Titanic's launch more than a century ago, joined the province's leaders at the opening of the building, which takes the form of four of the ship's huge prows.

"All I saw was this big thing sliding out into the water," Quigley said as he recalled watching with his parents. "I was only four and half."

Quigley said the new centre, which rose from the derelict Harland and Wolff shipyard, was "wonderful".

"I often thought they would make another plastic ship here and have it as a restaurant or something, but this is fantastic," he said. "It's like our Sydney Opera House."

The biggest, most ambitious ship of the age hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean from Southampton to New York, sinking on April 15, 1912. Of the 2,224 people aboard, 1,514 perished.

Organisers hope the six-storey Titanic Belfast, which also features a banqueting space containing a replica of the ship's grand staircase, will attract 425,000 visitors in its first year, including many from Asia.