There are few sights in Bristol more iconic than Brunel’s historic SS Great Britain. I must have walked past those towering masts and colourful flags more than a thousand times, so I was delighted to be invited to climb aboard this month as part of their enchanting Summer Spectacular!
What to expect from the ‘Summer Spectacular’ at SS Great Britain
Until Sunday 1st September, Brunel’s SS Great Britain is being taken over by The Invisible Circus – a live performance company who are bringing the history of the ship to life through a range of acrobatic stunts, aerial displays and comedic storytelling.
You can catch the show hourly between 11am to 3pm in different locations around the ship – from juggling luggage in the dockyard to spinning from the rigging, each performance tells a different story and will add a whole new perspective to your visit.
About Brunel’s SS Great Britain
It’s impossible to talk about the history of Bristol without mentioning the one and only Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Famous for his iconic top hat (and the brilliant mind he kept underneath), Brunel was the visionary behind the likes of Clifton Suspension Bridge and Temple Meads Station.
But the SS Great Britain was Brunel’s maritime masterpiece. Launched in 1843, she was the world’s largest and fastest ship and the first to be powered by steam engine. Today, she rests in Bristol’s beautiful harbour and is open to the public daily to explore.
Head to the ‘Being Brunel’ museum during your visit (included in your ticket price) to learn more about the man behind the world’s most important historic ship. And keep your eyes peeled, this summer, as you might even spot Brunel wandering about the yard…
Planning your visit to Brunel’s SS Great Britain
Opening hours and directions:
Brunel’s SS Great Britain is open daily between 10am-6pm (last entry at 5pm). Each hourly performance of The Invisible Circus (between 11am-3pm) lasts about 10 minutes and you’ll want to allow at least 2 hours to explore the rest of the ship’s museums and attractions.
Brunel’s SS Great Britain is located along Bristol’s historic harbour, just a few minutes’ walk from M Shed and Wapping Wharf. It can be easily accessed by foot from anywhere in the city or you can hop on a ferry, if you’re approaching from the other side of the harbour, near Millennium Square. For visitors coming from outside of Bristol, there’s a pay and display car-park and visitors are entitled to reduced rates when showing their parking ticket at the Visitor Centre.
The ‘Summer Spectacular’ performances are included within the standard ticket pricing, as follows:
Child :£10 (4-16); FREE (under 4’s)
Student with valid ID: £15
Seniors (65+): £15
Family ticket: £47 (2 adults or 2 seniors with 2 or 3 children)
Carers accompanying disabled visitors: FREE
All tickets are valid for return within a year and you can save 5% if you book online.
‘Go Aloft’ Experience
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can also ‘Go Aloft’ and climb the rigging for an extra £10 between 11.30am – 4.30pm daily. If you can brave the 25 metre climb, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views in Bristol (or so I hear… I most definitely chickened out in front of my 6-year-old nephew and remained with my feet firmly on the ground! But it was great to watch!)
What to see and do at Brunel’s SS Great Britain
Great Western Dockyard
Start your visit at the historic dockyard, where SS Great Britain first set sail to cheering crowds, nearly two centuries ago. The area has been recreated to look like it would have in the 1800s, with horse and carts, passenger notice boards and traditional Victorian toys for kids to play with (or perhaps you just love a diabolo!)
Next, head to the Dry Dock where you’ll come face to face with the ship’s enormous iron hull. The glass ceiling gives the illusion that you’re underwater and the air is as dry as the Arizona desert to keep the hull from rusting. Walk to the other end of the ship and you’ll be blown away by the size of the propellor – the first of its kind in maritime technology.
Archive film reels, passenger diaries and historic artefacts all bring the SS Great Britain story to life in the Dockyard Museum. From world wars to battling major storms, learn all about her maiden voyage right through to her final fateful journey.
There are plenty of interactive elements to the museum to keep younger visitors entertained. My nephew loved steering the wheel and lifting the giant propellers, as well as scanning his boarding card to learn all about the journey his passenger took!
Inside the ship
What makes a visit to Brunel’s SS Great Britain so unique is being able to explore the sights, sounds and even smells of the ship, just as they would have been years ago. Each level – from the top deck to the cabins in steerage – has been carefully restored, so that you feel like you’re stepping back in time.
Be serenaded by piano music, as you walk along the luxury passenger deck and peek inside the passenger cabins to see just how cramped conditions were on board.
You can smell the oil and hear the engine churning before you even reach the Steam Engine Room. This is where the magic happened – be sure to step inside to see a full working model of the three-storey high engine; a technological breakthrough of its time.
The Weather Deck
From the top deck, not only can you picture what life would have been like for passengers of all classes in the 1800s but you’ll also be greeted with some of the best views in Bristol. Take some time out to admire the colourful houses and watch the boats and kayaks cruising by.
End your visit at the Harbourside Kitchen where you can grab a coffee and cake with a view from one of the waterfront tables. The Dockyard Cafe within the ‘Being Brunel’ museum, also serves up a smaller selection of drinks and light bites.
Brunel’s SS Great Britain is a must-visit attraction in Bristol and a fascinating journey back in time. Be sure to head on down before 1st September, while the circus is still in town! If you’re looking for other things to do in Bristol, check out my top tips and guides here.
Disclaimer: My tickets to the SS Great Britain were gifted but no payment was exchanged for this article or any related posts or affiliate links. All views and opinions expressed are my own.