Day 3. Bristol Harbourside – SS Great Britain & M Shed

After spending the previous day exploring Clifton Village, we turned our attention to Bristol’s vibrant harbourside with a visit to Bristol’s No.1 attraction the SS Great Britain (standard admission £16.50 including unlimited return visits for a year).  Launched by Prince Albert in July 1843, she was at that time the largest passenger ship in the world and was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859).

SS Great Britain, Bristol
SS Great Britain

Since 1839, when it was decided to construct a transatlantic liner, the Great Western Dockyard has been here.  The bustling atmosphere of a ship being prepared for departure is recreated today with replica horse and carts, trunks and cargo awaiting transportation.  From the dockside we gained our first close up view of the famous SS Great Britain adorned in flags and ready to depart.

SS Great Britain Dockyard
The bustling dockyard

Along the dockyard we accessed the dry dock where we strolled on a pathway around her iron hull.  The dry dock has been sealed by a huge water line glass plate surrounding the ship.  To keep the air dry, a giant dehumidification plant helps to retain the atmosphere at a relative humidity of 20% to prevent corrosion.  On one of the information boards I read a sign explaining that the air was actually as arid as that of the Arizona desert.

The hull of SS Great Britain
View of the hull from the dry dock

Continuing our tour, we moved along to the dockyard museum where visitors are taken back in time through SS Great Britain’s history.  Our self guided stroll took us through four time zones with each gallery showcasing the ship’s long life of adventure.

SS Great Britain Museum, Bristol
Inside the ship’s museum

Starting in 1843 with the launch of the luxury liner, the exhibition captures the experiences of the passengers and crew through to the 1850’s when she made 32 voyages carrying emigrants across the world.  In 1880 she was converted from steam to sail and made three voyages to San Francisco.  It was in 1970, after a dramatic salvage operation in Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands that the ship was rescued for the nation and became a major tourist attraction along the Bristol waterfront.  After learning about her history, we were then ready to step on board the SS Great Britain in her fully restored glory.

The upper weather deck, SS Great Britain, Bristol
The upper weather deck

We began our tour on the upper, weather deck.  Here the space was divided into different areas for passengers travelling first, second or third class.  Only first class passengers were allowed to cross a white painted line behind the mainmast.

SS Great Britain, Promenade Deck
The Promenade Deck

On the floor below we explored the promenade deck.  This was an area for first class passengers to socialise, walk and dance without having to get wet or windswept on the open air weather deck.  On either side of this deck we were able to look in some of the first class cabins and observe life on board a luxury liner.

First Class Dining on board SS Great Britain
The first class dining saloon

As with cruise holidays today, eating and drinking were a major part of life on board.  In the dining saloon first class passengers dined in style sitting with fellow travellers at long tables eating off the finest porcelain tableware and drinking expensive wines from crystal glasses.

First class cabins on board SS Great Britain
First class cabins on board the liner

Third class passengers, also referred to as steerage, endured journeys on the lower decks in noisy, cramped accommodation during their voyages to Australia but I’m certain they still had lots of fun and made the most of their time.  We also had an opportunity to view the galley, stores, bakery, forward hold and engine.  In the forward hold, live animals were transported some of which were slaughtered for fresh meat to be used in the kitchens during the passage.

SS Great Britain, Bristol
Deck and rigging, SS Great Britain

Touring the museum ship was an absolute treat as it is set out with interactive displays and rather than just being able to glance into cabins, kitchens etc. visitors are actively encouraged to step inside and relive the voyage.  I was also pleasantly surprised to find how accessible each part of the ship was.  Over the years I’ve visited numerous museum ships where it’s been necessary to clamber up and down steep narrow stairways and although I haven’t found it problematic, it could be for some visitors.  Don’t let that dissuade you from touring the SS Great Britain and enjoying life on board the ship.

Being Brunel, Bristol
Being Brunel

Since our previous visit to Bristol a new museum ‘Being Brunel’ has opened at the attraction.  This celebrates Brunel’s life and work with six galleries containing personal artefacts and insights into the life and work of one of our greatest engineers.

Being Brunel Museum, SS Great Britain, Bristol
Inside the Being Brunel Museum

Standout features include an 8m tall model of Brunel’s head complete with his trademark top hat and cigar.  The museum incorporates Brunel’s original and fully restored dock office from the Great Western Dockyard.  His other feats of engineering are highlighted including the Clifton Suspension Bridge, The Great Western Railway, Box Tunnel and Paddington Station.

Bristol Packet Boat Trips, Bristol harbour
Bristol Packet Boat Trips

From a jetty close to SS Great Britain we then took a boat tour with Bristol Packet Boat Trips.  Tours of the harbour in glass topped boats are 45 minutes long and cost £7.50.  We enjoyed a relaxing boat trip taking in the city views  from the perspective of the water.  The tour includes a live commentary pointing out all the notable landmarks and interesting facts along the way.  There’s a bar on board serving hot and cold drinks adding to a pleasurable trip.

Cargo, Wapping Wharf, Bristol
Cargo at Wapping Wharf

Our busy morning of sightseeing had left us feeling hungry so we popped along to Cargo at Wapping Wharf for some lunch.  This vibrant area is located between the main harbour and the New Cut, an artificial waterway completed in 1809 to divert the River Avon.  There’s an eclectic mix of small, independent shops, bars and cafes some of which are housed in converted shipping containers with glass frontages and terraces.

M Shed Museum, Bristol
M Shed on the harbourside

After a leisurely lunch we were ready to visit our final museum of the weekend at M Shed, which is located on Prince’s Wharf next to Cargo (admission free).  The museum is housed in a dockside transit shed formerly occupied by the Bristol Industrial Museum.  MShed is divided into four sections with the first gallery focusing on Bristol Life exploring ways in which people experienced local life over the centuries.

M Shed, Bristol
Inside M Shed

We then continued on to the Bristol People Gallery which focuses on the ways that people have shaped the city and their experiences.  This gallery highlights how Bristol has transformed over time and showcases the discoveries that have been made in and around the city.  Upstairs in the Bristol Places Gallery we explored the activities past and present that made Bristol what it is.  We learnt about the city’s trading past and its involvement in the transatlantic slave trade.

The Colston Statue exhibition, Bristol
The Colston Statue exhibition

On the top floor there is a viewing deck and temporary exhibition space.  The first of these exhibitions which had only recently opened was The Colston Statue – What next?  The statue has gone on display after being pulled down during a Black Lives Matter protest on 7th June 2020.  Edward Colston (1636-1721) was an English merchant who was involved in the Slave Trade with Bristol’s Society of Merchant Venturers.  During his lifetime he gave large amounts of his money to charity, both locally and nationally and bequeathed more in his will.

Colston statue, M Shed, Bristol
The statue of Edward Colston lying on its side in M Shed

One year on, the statue now forms the start of a city wide conversation about its future.  Alongside the battered statue are a selection of placards from the protest together with a timeline of the key events leading up to it being toppled.

Vanguard, Bristol Street Art Exhibition M Shed
Memorabilia at Vanguard, Bristol Street Art Exhibition

A second exhibition, Vanguard – Bristol Street Art had also just opened (26th June – 31st October, admission £8) exploring the instrumental role that Bristol played in the development of street art.  We found this very interesting as the previous day we had viewed Banksy’s Bristol street art on the self guided Where the Wall tour.  The exhibition brings together one of the largest collections of original artwork and associated memorabilia but as photography is not permitted, I’m unable to include any in my post.

Queen's Square, Bristol
Queen’s Square

Our weekend in Bristol was nearing its end but there was still enough time to explore the old part of the city and of course, the shops.  We started off by walking through Queens Square which is surrounded by mature trees and elegant Georgian buildings.

Quaint buildings along King Street, Bristol
Quaint old buildings along King Street

From there, we continued along Welsh Back, a cobblestone street by the river where dockside warehouses have now been converted into attractive bars and restaurants.  Soon we had reached King Street with its quaint old buildings, most of which are now popular pubs.

St. Nicholas Markets, Bristol
St Nicholas Markets

At one end is the St. Nicholas Market housed in the former Corn Exchange.  The market is packed with stalls selling handmade and quirky items.  At one side is the Glass Arcade where the delicious aroma of street food filled the air.  Leaving the market area, we then spent our final hour in the city looking around the huge Cabot Circus shopping centre before returning home.

St Nicholas Markets, Bristol
Inside St. Nicholas Markets

During our weekend in Bristol we were guests of Visit Bristol and Your Apartment and as always, all views and opinions are entirely my own.

Floor mosaic, Bristol Harbourside
An attractive floor mosaic on the harbourside


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Bristol Harbourside, SS Great Britain & M Shed



42 thoughts on “Day 3. Bristol Harbourside – SS Great Britain & M Shed

  1. The buildings on King Street are gorgeous! Stepping onboard SS Great Britain must be an amazing experience. It’s wonderful that you get to see the cabins and other areas where passengers would’ve spent their time during the voyage. Another great piece, Marion!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Hannah. I hope I have inspired you to add Bristol to your ever growing list of places to visit in this country. We’ve just spent the weekend in London and got caught in torrential rain mid-afternoon adding to the excitement! Marion.


    1. Thanks Jonno for taking an interest in this post on Bristol harbourside. SS Great Britain is definitely well worth a visit especially now that the Being Brunel exhibition has opened. Hope things are going well for you now and have moved onto another house sit ? Marion


  2. Wow, the size of the SS Great Britain is very impressive and stepping on board must be an experience to remember – no wonder this iconic steam ship is the heart of a multi-award winning visitor attraction. I am glad to see you had a great time exploring it 🙂 Thanks for sharing and have a lovely evening. Aiva

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Blazewing Firebird

    Your pictures are so vibrant and they seem to “pop” out of my computer screen. I almost feel like I was there with you. Thank you for this!!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. What an amazing passenger ship in the day. The details remind me a lot of the details we saw on the HMS Warrior in Portsmouth. Must have been built in a similar era. Thanks for sharing Marion. Allan

    Liked by 4 people

  5. That’s so neat that there’s a museum where you can learn more about the history of the SS Great Britain and explore the various rooms in the ship, including under the hull. I love all the unique buildings along Queens Square. Sounds like you had a great trip.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks you for your welcome thoughts. We enjoyed a great trip to Bristol enjoying every minute of our stay. SS Great Britain is such a remarkable vessel and I’m so pleased it has been preserved for all to see. Hope your weekend is progressing well. Marion

      Liked by 2 people

  6. There has been a lot of effort to preserve the memory of British maritime history. With aircraft we tend to forget this, but in the past mastering the seas was obviously a prerequisite for a presence around the world.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I was looking forward to your visit on the SS Great Britain and really enjoyed your tour on this amazing ship. Wow, that first class dining saloon is quite something! And how much fun is it to have a tour on a glass topped boat. The buildings in King Street is lovely (love the colourful flowers against the walls).
    Thanks Marion for a great tour in Bristol – I’ve once again enjoyed the opportunity through your blog of getting to know one of the UK’s cities’ better. Enjoy a great weekend and take care. Corna 🌸

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Corna for taking an interest and commenting on this post on Bristol harbourside. It’s another of our great cities and one that hopefully you’ll have an opportunity to visit for yourself before too long. Hope your weekend is going well. We are in London for the weekend celebrating our younger son’s birthday and just tucking into a big breakfast at the hotel so lots of walking will be needed later to compensate. Marion

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Marion, I enjoyed the tour of the SS Great Britain. There is loads available about her from our National Archives. This newspaper article, for example, talks frankly about her second class and steerage accommodation. Ouch!
    And this resource would take months to go through. A collection of diaries and memorabilia.
    Amazing this is all digitised, don’t you think? Demonstrates the important role this vessel took in Australia’s development.

    Liked by 5 people

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