The SS Great Britain, permanently docked in Bristol Harbour, is one of the city’s most visited attractions. Between 150,000-170,000 people come to look at this great vessel each year. For your visit, allow a couple of hours as there is a lot to see.
Repurposed to entertain and inform, the ship contains a number of exhibitions about its past. Learn even more about the ship in the adjacent Brunel Institute, which includes the David MacGregor Library. Between these venues you can look at a full-scale working model of the ship’s engine, and read letters and diaries of the ship’s passengers. Stroll around the deck and the dockside, where facsimile cargo and crates “await” to be loaded.
The ship was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1843. It was initially a steamship shuttling passengers between Bristol and New York. At the time, it was the largest vessel anywhere in the world. Yet just three years after its launch, SS Great Britain was decommissioned. However, its story didn’t stop there. In 1881, it was used to transport immigrants to Australia. Later still, it served as a storage facility and quarantine ship in the Falkland Islands.
Today, SS Great Britain is dry-docked close to the place where it was first built. Due to the risk of rusting to the ship’s iron hull, the dock is sealed by a huge water-line glass plate. This creates humidity equal to that of the Arizona Desert.
Spend time pouring over the collections of maritime books, plans and objects in the Brunel Institute. You can also see many of Brunel’s own letters, diaries, models and drawings. Both the institute and library are open to the public and free to enter. There’s an entry fee for SS Great Britain. A single ticket allows you unlimited return visits within a 12-month period.
The SS Great Britain is at the Great Western Dockyard on Gasferry Road. It’s easily reachable from Bristol centre by bus, road, ferry, or on foot. The attraction is open daily, except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the second Monday in January.