All opinions in this review are our own, and 100% honest. We had the pleasure of a free day out at the SS Great Britain in exchange for this review. Disclaimer.
SS Great Britain and the new Being Brunel Museum
As part of the launch of the new Being Brunel Museum we were invited to go and visit the SS Great Britain to check out Bristol’s number 1 attraction. We were looking forward to finding out more about this incredible ship as well as discovering more about Brunel.
The ship is conveniently located a short walk from Bristol city centre. It took us about 20 minutes to walk in from where we were staying in the city centre. It is easy to get to if you are using public transport. There are lots of buses that will stop along Cumberland road. Of if you are coming by train it will take about 30 minutes to walk from Temple Meads station.
There is a council run car park just outside. The cost is £2 for visitors to the SS Great Britain. You can buy your parking ticket from the machine and take your receipt with you to get reimbursed from the ticket office.
Ticket prices include a year’s membership which means you can come back as many times as you want! I think this makes the ticket price an absolute bargain.
Adults: £16.50 (discounts available for seniors and students)
Children (5-16 year olds): £9.50
Children (4 and under): FREE
If you buy your tickets online then you also get 5% off.
AND (this is the best offer I have ever heard of) if your name is “Isambard” you get free entry! Woohoo!
We stopped at the Harbourside Kitchen for lunch. It’s located just outside of the entrance and is a family-friendly, reasonably-priced cafe. It is incredibly popular and we struggled to find a seat so try to get there before the rush! (To be fair we were there on a Sunday lunchtime so it was peak time).
The cafe offers kids meals which were very generous and reasonably priced. Roobs really enjoyed her ham and cheese toastie and LOVED the kid’s hot chocolate. Whipped cream and marshmallows is always a winner!
For 2 adult meals and 1 child’s meal we paid £17.95 which seems really reasonable.
The SS Great Britain and the Brunel museum are incredibly family friendly and have lots of things to do for children of all ages. The whole place is accessible for pushchairs, there are lifts available and the floors are flat.
There are various games and interactive screens throughout the museum for kids. Roobs particularly liked being able to stamp her ticket with various destination stamps. She also found lots of the educational games on the screens really interesting.
One of the best things about our visit was doing the “Go Aloft” experience. This is completely FREE for kids and only £10 for adults. You can climb the rigging of the ship and walk out across the mast.
It was an amazing experience for Roobs who loves to climb. I really recommend it to families as the staff were super friendly and really encouraging.
We were staying at the Bristol Wing that day, and enjoyed a pleasant walk from there, through St Nicholas market, across Queen Square and then along the river from the M Shed museum. It reminded me of what a beautiful city Bristol is. After stopping for lunch in the Harbourside Kitchen (which was very full, we had to sit outside), we got our tickets in the gift shop and went through to see the big boat. And it is big, impressively so.
First off, we took the stairs down below the perspex into the dry dock – they’ve cleverly preserved the hull of the ship by keeping it dry at a constant temperature (otherwise it would just rot).
You walk all the way around the boat and cannot fail to be impressed by the scale of it. You can see where it’s taken damage over the years. There’s also an interactive screen where you can have a go at building a boat but to be honest it’s very scientific and Roobs was a bit young for it (and I wasn’t clever enough…).
We then went into the museum at the side of the boat which tells you the history of how it was used, and how it was recovered. Seeing the archive footage of the boat returning to Bristol, and actually passing under Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge was actually quite emotional. I would have loved to have been there to see that!
If you take your time in this section, there’s some really fascinating insights into how the SS Great Britain was used in many guises, how it sailed all the way to Australia and ended up being left for dead at the Falkland Isles. I had no idea. And Roobs was entertained with the part where you can steer the boat, and stamping her ticket at the embossing stations. She also had a go at dressing up in victorian clothes – there were dressing up clothes in the room for kids and adults!
After this we went on deck and Roobs had a go at climbing the rigging (the ‘Go Aloft’ experience). She was very brave – it was quite hard to watch as she looked so small and so high up! But she loved it and immediately wanted to do it again afterwards.
From there, we ambled around the deck (Roobs was quite interested in the line which only first class passengers were allowed to cross), then we went down into the first class quarters, which are really well done. They have tables set out to show the kinds of banquets that guests would enjoy. Then you can see the rooms that they would have slept in (the beds are tiny!). There was a woman playing the piano which really added to the atmosphere.
As you progress through the ship, you get to see the the kitchen, the engine, the steerage (third class) cabins – even where they kept the horses at the back of the boat (with realistic smells!). You really are transported back to that world.
I’d say around 2 hours had passed at that point, so we went back to the cafe for a snack before trying out the new exhibit, the Brunel museum. Again, this is really well done, and it’s interesting to see a more modern take on what a museum can be – for example, the family portraits that come alive and tell you some of IKB’s history (Harry Potter style!).
There’s another part where a whole wall is digitised so the room feels much bigger than it is. Then there’s the main attraction – a gigantic sculpture of Brunel’s head that you can walk inside and see how his brain might have worked! It’s a bit trippy, but a really different and interesting experience.
There’s also realistic replications of Brunel’s home, including his office and his dining room, which really make you feel like you get to know Brunel. All of his projects are carefully presented and analysed, with original notebooks and letters too. At the end, the genius of Brunel is celebrated by present-day engineers and you feel proud of what Brunel achieved.
We had a fantastic day exploring the SS Great Britain and learning more about Bristol’s famous icon, Brunel. It was a great day out and we all learnt a lot – worldschooling win!
Roobs made an ebook about our visit so feel free to check it out below.