‘Being Brunel’ – A Trip To The SS Great Britain In Bristol

From bridges and tunnels to railways and ships, Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s achievements transformed Britain during the 19th century. Many of his groundbreaking designs and ingenious constructions are still in everyday use today.

One of these innovative designs was the SS Great Britain. It was the first propeller-driven, iron-hulled transatlantic liner and when launched in 1843, was the largest ship afloat.

Being Brunel
The Being Brunel Exhibition

The ‘Being Brunel’ Exhibition

The SS Great Britain is now a museum ship and sits in the old dock in Bristol, where she was originally built. As well as the ship itself, the museum also features many all-weather things to see and do including the dry dock where you can get under the ship, the old dockyard and dockyard museum and the newly opened ‘Being Brunel’ exhibition.

The dockyard

The old Great Western dockyard

The Being Brunel exhibition takes you into Brunel’s life. From a reconstruction of his original Duke Street, London dining room to the sights, sounds and smells of his office. There are sketches and plans from many of his famous projects as well as examples of his extraordinary artwork.

As you enter the main room you are greeted by an 8m giant head of Brunel complete with stovepipe hat and cigar. Take a trip into the ‘mind’ of Brunel where you can see a short film from Brunel’s point of view as he struggles with the major engineering projects of his career.

You can also experience the shaking of a 1830s broad-gauge railway carriage, see if you can complete the simple tasks onboard.

The bow of the SS Great Britain

The SS Great Britain and Bristol Harbour

In the dry dock, which is sealed by a glass plate around the water line of the ship, you can see the iron hull, propeller and rudder of the ship. In this area of the original 19th-century dry dock, the air is kept dry by a giant dehumidification system (it actually keeps it as dry as the Arizona Desert). The dehumidification is required to stop further corrosion of the iron hull, you can see the damage from its past when the ship was abandoned in the Falklands Islands.

The huge propeller of the SS Great Britain

The huge propeller of the SS Great Britain

Before you get onto the deck of the ship you pass through the dockyard museum. This takes you on a timeline from the salvage operation of the 1970’s through the two world wars, its conversion from steam to a Windjammer and back to the launch in 1843.

Onboard The SS Great Britain
SS Great Britain

The upper deck of the SS Great Britain

The ship, decks and cabins have been restored to their original transatlantic days, as they appeared when the ship was first launched. The weather deck was divided into different areas for passengers travelling first, second and third class, only passengers travelling first class were allowed to cross the white painted line!

You can also explore below deck including the impressive dining salon and the lowly third class cabins. Of course, you have to visit the engine room to see a full-scale working model of the original three-storey high steam engine.

Go Aloft!
Climbing the rigging of the SS Great Britain

‘Go Aloft’ Climbing the rigging of the SS Great Britain

Little did I know that Mrs W had booked me on the ‘Go Aloft’ experience. A climb up the rigging of the SS Great Britain until you are 25m above ground, then a shuffle out along the main yard.
Although I’m not a big fan of heights I did manage to do it. I had to as I was the first in line and there was quite a crowd watching.

The SS Great Britain is definitely worth a visit and there’s so much more than the ship itself. As the dockyard museum, the Being Brunel exhibition and the interior of the ship are all undercover you can enjoy your visit whatever the weather. Don’t forget to allow yourself at least a few hours to get around all of the attractions. If you are looking for a hotel to stay near the harbourside we can highly recommend The Bristol Hotel.

Have you been to Bristol?


Being Brunel at the SS Great Britain, Bristol Harbour, England

‘Being Brunel’ A Trip To The SS Great Britain In Bristol – Pin For Later

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  • Fiona Maclean
    May 5, 2018 at 9:42 pm

    I haven’t been to the Brunel experience in Bristol, though I HAVE been to Bristol a few times. I’m amazed at the aloft experience though! Good for you and Mel!

    • Mr and Mrs W
      May 6, 2018 at 9:02 am

      The Go Aloft experience was good fun, a bit windy at the top. It was only me, Mel didn’t want to climb it!

  • Indrani
    May 7, 2018 at 10:05 am

    That is very adventurous. I am not sure if I would have had the courage to do it.
    8m giant head of Brunel must be quite a sight to see. May be closest I have seen is that of Buddha in Thailand.

    • Mr and Mrs W
      May 7, 2018 at 5:41 pm

      It wasn’t too bad, just don’t look down when you are climbing.

  • Kirstie Saldo
    May 7, 2018 at 12:20 pm

    Beautiful!!! Im amazed by how the transatlantic design have been restored! They remind me of so many great movies!

    • Mr and Mrs W
      May 7, 2018 at 5:42 pm

      It must have been amazing in 1843. GWR did a steam link from London to Bristol and then onto New York.

  • Ghia Lorenzo
    May 7, 2018 at 3:21 pm

    What a cool experience in Bristol, thanks for sharing this post. I enjoyed reading some cool facts about Brunel and how amazing that the ship was restored like it was being launched the first time indeed a cool museum!

    • Mr and Mrs W
      May 8, 2018 at 4:39 pm

      The detail of the restoration is amazing, especially as it was such a wreck and left to rot in the Falkland Islands.

  • Lisa Chavis
    May 7, 2018 at 3:33 pm

    What an awesome exhibit! I love posts like this where you learn something and get to see such beautiful photos! Thanks so much for sharing the SS Great Britain

    • Mr and Mrs W
      May 9, 2018 at 8:00 am

      A great place and very interesting for kids and adults.

  • Jenn and Ed Coleman
    May 8, 2018 at 12:31 am

    The go aloft experience sounds really neat. I would love to climb the riggings and see what there is to see. It’s amazing how much taller things look once you start heading up. When I go to Bristol, I’ll have to check this out.

  • Marissa
    May 8, 2018 at 4:40 am

    Wow, I can’t believe how big the SS Great Britain is! That’d be amazing to see that up close. I can’t believe you did all that climbing – I might be too scared!

  • prabhu
    May 8, 2018 at 7:40 am

    that’s the adventure i want to have once in life, but my job always comes between me and britain trip. Hope you enjoyed a lot and love your images also. Thanks for sharing good article about trip experience.

  • Efthimis Kragaris
    May 8, 2018 at 10:45 am

    I haven’t been to Bristol yet! Being Brunel exhibition seems really interesting and the ‘Go Aloft’ experience looks so much fun, as being a movie star! There have been years since my last visit to the UK, and there are so many cool things to do there nowadays!

  • Karla Ramos
    May 8, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    This is an amazing concept for travel- going back to history and roleplaying. So many instagrammable places too! One day, I want to experience how it’s like to be Brunel!

  • Christopher Rudder
    May 9, 2018 at 4:02 am

    I really love ships hence the last name Rudder and a blog named rudderless. The ship looks pretty cool and exhibits like these are my favourite. I think I would love getting my inner pirate on and climb to the top. Great video as always! Oh and I really like how the used the glass to mimic the water. Very cool.

    • Mr and Mrs W
      May 9, 2018 at 8:00 am

      Yes, its a really interesting museum with lots to see and do. The way they’ve done the dry dock is really good especially that layer of glass around the water line of the ship.