If you’re visiting Bristol or looking for a day out in Bristol, I would recommend you escape to the SS Great Britain. The 19th century ship is a museum and narrates the vessel’s story, transporting you back to seafaring times. Be ready for a remarkable sensory experience; The SS Great Britain will captivate your sight, hearing and smell!
The museum experience: From the busy dockside to the delightful Promenade Deck
Grab your passenger contract ticket
On arrival at the dock where the SS Great Britain is resting, you first glimpse the majestic shape of the ship as well as the replica of a somewhat chaotic 19th century wharf. Among crates of vegetables, barrels of water, piles of suitcases and chicken pens, old-fashioned posters advertise sea crossings around the world from New York to Melbourne.
Once you’ve obtained your passenger ticket and made your way across the busy dockside, you are invited to visit the Dry Dock. Down below sea level, you can fully appreciate the impressive iron hull of the ship and its state of deterioration. The Dry Dock also details the techniques used to prevent the ship from corroding.
Please note that if you’re claustrophobic, I wouldn’t recommend you visit the Dry Dock.
Learn about the SS Great Britain’s story
After exploring the Dry Dock, you visit the Dockyard Museum located in a warehouse and retracing the ship’s story. Walking through the exhibition, you literally travel back in time from the ship’s triumphant return to Bristol in 1970 to the vessel’s maiden voyage to New York as a luxury passenger liner.
The Dockyard Museum also includes key artefacts from the ship’s life, such as photographs, bells and masts. In my opinion, the Dockyard Museum is not interactive or engaging enough. If you are not a museum enthusiast you find yourself hurrying through the various displays. That being said, the 19th century costume photo-booth is a must-do and the ship experience definitely makes up for it.
Explore the ship’s every nook
At last you make your way via the gangplank to the magnificent SS Great Britain. The ship offers a total escape to 19th century seafaring: explore the minuscule first-class cabins, waltz around the Promenade Deck, find your way through the maze of crammed third class dorms, discover the rat-infested kitchen, feast in the Dining Saloon and marvel at the engine room. Through every nook and cranny, the SS Great Britain enchants and delights!
I would urge you to explore the ship to the fullest by pushing semi-closed doors, drawing back homemade curtains and jumping at coughing and chatting voices that seem to come out of nowhere. The SS Great Britain transports you to the seafaring world of a passenger liner not only via sight, but also through sound and smell (sometimes at your own peril!).
The deck of the SS Great Britain laden with seafaring flags is also a marvel in itself. From there you can enjoy lovely views of the colourful houses of the Hotwells neighbourhood. The museum also hosts Discovery Talks on a weekly (if not daily) basis, and I would recommend attending one to fully discover the ship, its history, its crew and its passengers.
For more information about exploring the SS Great Britain, please visit ssgreatbritain.org.
The SS Great Britain’s story: From a majestic luxury liner to a charming picnic spot
The SS Great Britain was built in Bristol by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (also known for the design of Bristol’s Clifton Suspension Bridge) and first set sail in 1843. At the time, the ship defied all known standards: it was the largest vessel ever engineered, one of the first liners made of iron, operated by the most powerful steam engine and the first ship to run on a screw propeller.
The SS Great Britain made its maiden voyage to New York as a luxury liner. The ship journeyed around the world, carrying travellers from the United Kingdom to the Americas and Australia. In 1882, the liner was converted to a cargo ship. The SS Great Britain then travelled around South America and transported exports such as coal and wheat.
The ship’s fate was irrevocably changed when it encountered a storm near Cape Horn in South America in 1886. The storm severally damaged the SS Great Britain so the owners decided to sell the vessel. The Falkland Islands Company bought the liner and used it as a floating warehouse.
Later on the Falklands Islands Company abandoned the ship in a cove near Port William. Inhabitants of the Falkland Islands regularly visited the vessel and even picnicked on its rusting decks. In 1970, backed by popular support, the SS Great Britain was brought home to Bristol. The liner now rests in the same dock it was built in. This is where you can visit the majestic ship today.
Near the SS Great Britain: Bristol’s Harbourside
While visiting the SS Great Britain, I would urge you to walk along the waterfront. The delightful Harbourside Walk leads you away from Bristol city centre and towards the west end of Spike Island. On this walk, you can enjoy the lovely landscapes of the Hotwells neighbourhood, colourful Bristolian houses and charming marinas. You can even spot Banksy’s ‘The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum’ graffiti.
If you walk all the way to the western point of Spike Island, you can also enjoy one of the best views of Clifton Village and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. From there you can climb the hill up to Clifton Village and explore the charming neighbourhood with the Bristol’s Clifton Village guide.