It’s among Bristol’s premier tourist attractions and the recipient of numerous awards, so high on your agenda if visiting this fine city should be Brunel’s wonderful SS Great Britain.
The ship was launched in 1843 and travelled around the world 32 times. Its working life ended in 1933 but this vast vessel didn’t return home to Bristol until 1970. Since then, she’s been painstakingly restored to her former glory and it’s among the best tourist attractions I’ve experienced. So, stepping aboard SS Great Britain is, therefore, a “must”, whatever the weather; in fact, only a small section of the entire vessel is open to the elements.
I visited with my wife and two children (aged 15 & 9) and we were all extremely impressed with not just the quality of the restored vessel, but the wealth of information available, helpfulness of the staff, accessibility and overall organisation.
The ship can be found in the Great Western Dockyard, a leisurely stroll from the city centre and fashionable Harbourside district. You can also reach the vessel by jumping aboard one of the yellow and blue Bristol Ferry Boats which ply their trade from the Harbourside to Temple Meads or Hotwells, right next to Brunel’s engineering masterpiece.
There is much to explore and investigate, from the sumptuous surrounds of the first-class dining room and cramped bunks in steerage to the iron hull under the glass “sea” and the huge turning engine. “Go Aloft” offers the bravehearted the chance to climb the ship’s rigging – well, you go halfway up a mast – and see the city from the yardarm; a trained team takes care of everything so you can feel entirely safe. Please note: you have to purchase additional tickets, costing £10 per person, for “Go Aloft”.
On site, you’ll find the Dockyard Café/Bar, the Brunel Institute (containing one of the world’s most important maritime collections), Dockyard Museum (charting the ship’s story from salvage to launch), gift shop and the Dry Dock.
There is a lower, middle and top deck and you’re able to roam pretty much around all of the ship, which travelled over a million miles at sea. Some visitors might want to use the free audio tours, available on board in several languages.
We were extremely impressed, particularly by the attention to detail (there were even resident rats and sizzling bacon in the kitchen!). We wouldn’t hesitate to return at some point in the future because there is so much to see and do at this location. It’s worth every penny of the entrance fee (£14 for adults, £8 for children aged five-17, kids under five are free; a family ticket for two adults and up to three children costs £37).
SS Great Britain
Great Western Dockyard
Bristol BS1 6TY
T: 0117 926 0680
Reviewed: January 2016