Hop onboard the SS Great Britain in Bristol. A fascinating day out for the whole family. We recently visited this Bristol attraction and learned heaps about the history of the city. You’ll soon see why they called it the Ship that changed the World!
Have a look at this post for some other great things to do in Bristol with kids.
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What is the SS Great Britain in Bristol?
The brainchild of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The SS Great Britain once was the worlds fastest and largest ship. Launched in 1843 it could sail from Bristol to New York in just two weeks. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest innovations of the Victorian times due to its truly ingenious engine. The original ship was built right in Bristols dry dock, where it is located now.
All good things however must come to an end and the ship became too costly to run. It was sold in 1852 and used to transport immigrants to Australia for the goldrush. It was eventually turned into a sailboat from a steam ship before being towed back to Bristol in 1970 and turned into a museum.
What is there to do at the SS Great Britain
There really is so much to explore at the SS Great Britain. What at first seems like a wander around a big old boat soon becomes a fascinating history lesson. And an insight into the mind of one of Bristols greatest innovators.
You’ll start your visit dockside, seeing the base of the ship up close. This area of the Great Western Dockyard has some interesting things to see detailing life working on the ship. You’ll then enter the Dockyard museum transporting you back in time to the creation of the ship. You’ll see letters and photos from passengers who traveled on the SS Great Britain. Also details of how the ship was salvaged and restored in 1970.
There are several interactive exhibits here which Piper loved. She got to experience the ships steering wheel and the strength required to lift the ships giant propeller. It’s here that kids will pick up their boarding card. There are different characters from the ships past and they’ll follow in their footsteps around the exhibit. You can scan the QR code on the back to learn more about the ships passengers.
One of my favourite parts of the exhibit was the deck. It felt great to be back outside after dark, industrial start to the visit. Here you can experience what a Victorian Deck would have been like as they transported goods and cattle across the Atlantic. And even try your hand at steering the ship. The wheel is massive!
I also loved the views from up here. The colourful buildings of Bristol and its beautiful dock area.
This area is sectioned out into areas for first, second and third class ticket holders. Only those paying top dollar were allowed to enjoy the full length of the deck.
Inside the Ship
Once you’ve had your fill of the deck area its time to head down the narrow steps into the interior of the ship. The cramped quarters transported us back in time, making us glad we’ll never have to work on one of these great liners.
You’ll start in the first class promenade deck experiencing the space allotted to travellers who paid for added luxury. The cabins line the side of the ship and you’ll see some passengers experiencing first class life aboard. The Dining Saloon demonstrates the opulent meals enjoyed on board. If sea sickness didn’t take over that is!
You’ll head down to Steerage the third class sleeping quarters that the majority of passengers could afford. I couldn’t imagine being stuck down in these cramped, smelly quarters for two whole weeks!
We loved the galley areas of the ship. Where food was cooked and stored and guests were looked after. It really does feel like stepping back in time. All senses are catered for with the sights, sounds and even smells recreated. Yes, that is the scent of freshly baked bread you’re experiencing!
You’ll also see areas where animals were held on board. Kids will love this, there’s poo on the floor and it smells totally authentic – not in a good way! The doctors cabin was fascinating with all the medical equipment they may have needed on board. Imagine just how awful it would have been to be sick at sea.
The Vee engine
Although being a reproduction of the original engine, this is no less impressive. You can walk the full way around and watch the engine turn. Experience how noisy it would have been and even get a whiff of engine oil.
Especially for kids
There’s loads to keep the kids attention aside from the fact its an absolutely massive boat! They will be given a boarding card on arrival which they get stamped at various points around the exhibit. If you’re visiting during the school holidays you’ll likely meet some interesting characters. In full Victorian dress and absolutely brilliant with the kids.
Being Brunel Museum
A surprisingly enjoyable part of the exhibit is the Being Brunel Museum. This takes you beyond the ship builder and investigates the mind behind the inventor. You’ll learn about other feats of engineering by Isambard Brunel. Including the amazing Clifton Suspension bridge. Another Bristol attraction I hope you’ll visit.
You’ll be able to step into Brunels home in London and see what his life was like in the 1800’s. It’s here he and his wife Mary entertained wealthy acquaintances, raising awareness and funds for his projects.
The museum will teach you all about Brunels eccentricities and his rising celebrity. He was a born risk taker and determined to be the greatest engineer of all time.
Entry to the Being Brunel Museum is included in the price of your ticket.
Where is the SS Great Britain
The SS Great Britain is located in the Dock area of Bristol. You can’t miss it, it’s a massive ship covered in flags.
SS Great Britain, Great Western Dockyard, Gas Ferry Road, Bristol, BS1 6TY
Parking is available on Gas Ferry Road. It’s pay and display. £4 for 4 hours if you’re visiting the museum.
How much is the SS Great Britain
Make sure to book online to secure your preferred time slot.
Adult tickets are £18. Kids are £10 and under 4s are free! Family tickets are £48. The best news is that all tickets allow you to return at any time during the following 12 months. What a great deal!
How long should I spend at the SS Great Britain
I would recommend at least three hours. This will give you a chance to explore the boat and dockyard and also the Being Brunel Museum. It could easily take longer if you want to read about every artefact. But I’m guessing if you are visiting SS Great Britain with kids, they’re not going to let you do this.
Where to Eat nearby
You could always stay onsite and eat at the Harbourside cafe. But we preferred to head into town. There are plenty of cafes and bars you’ll pass on the way into town overlooking the water. To get into the city just walk down the docks towards Mshed then cross Peros Bridge.
Where to stay for your visit
During our visit to Bristol we stayed slightly out of the city close to the M5 Motorway. We chose the Aztec Hotel Bristol for its pool and family friendly rooms.
Make sure you pin for later to plan your visit to SS Great Britain, Bristol