SS Great Britain
Lonely Planet review for SS Great Britain
Bristol's pride and joy is the mighty steamship SS Great Britain, designed by the genius engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1843. Built from iron and driven by a revolutionary screw propeller, this massive vessel was one of the largest and most technologically advanced steamships ever built, measuring a mighty 322ft (98m) from stern to tip, and capable of completing the transatlantic crossing between Bristol and New York in just 14 days. It served as a luxury liner until 1886, but enormous running costs and mounting debts eventually led it towards an ignominious end: it was sold off and served variously as a troop vessel, quarantine ship, emigration transport and coal-hulk, before finally being scuttled near Port Stanley in the Falklands in 1937.
Happily, that wasn't the end for the SS Great Britain. The ship was towed back to Bristol in 1970, and a painstaking 30-year restoration program has since brought it back to stunning life. You can wander around the ship's impeccably refurbished interior, including the galley, surgeon's quarters, dining saloon and the great engine room, but the highlight is the amazing 'glass sea' on which the ship sits, enclosing an airtight dry dock that preserves the delicate hull and allows visitors to see the ground-breaking screw propeller up close.
Tickets also allow admission to the neighbouring Maritime Heritage Centre, which has exhibits relating to the ship's illustrious past and the city's boat-building heritage.
During autumn and winter, a replica of John Cabot's ship, the Matthew, is moored nearby, the same design of ship in which the explorer made his landmark voyage from Bristol to Newfoundland in 1497. When the ship's docked in Bristol, it runs regular cruises around the harbour (adult/child £10/8); see the website for the next sailing dates.