Originally a transit shed from the 1950s, the M Shed is now a thriving museum that offers a unique insight into the history of Bristol. The M Shed now houses a large collection of objects and artefacts. In addition to plenty of displays detailing historical facts, this living museum includes many working exhibits, such as steamboats, trains and of course it’s iconic cranes. As well as delving into the industrial, maritime and engineering history of the city, you can discover more about its cultural, musical and artistic roots. M Shed is open daily except for most Mondays and is free to visit. It has a gift shop and cafe, too.
Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
Located in Bristol’s ‘West End’ city, this well-laid-out museum boasts 19 galleries over three floors. Archaeology, Ancient Egypt and world cultures dominate the ground floor, while the first floor is taken over by dinosaurs, geology and Bristol’s history. Art enthusiasts will flock to the second floor, which is filled with artwork, ceramics, glass and silver collections from all over the world. Ideal for all the family, this museum includes lots of interactive activities and trails that will engage youngsters. The museum is open daily, apart from most Mondays, and is free to enter (although donations are welcome).
Brunel’s SS Great Britain
Built by Bristol’s favourite son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1843, the SS Great Britain is regarded as the world’s first great steamship. You can step on board the ship and enjoy an exciting visitor experience, fascinating for both children and adults. As well as plenty of hands-on activities and interactive stories and displays, this living museum lets you explore the bowels of the ship, including the galley, surgeon’s quarters and dining saloon. Brave explorers can even climb up the ship’s mast, or see what the vessel looks like under the water. This top visitor attraction is found in the Harbourside area of Bristol. Admission prices apply, although concessions are available.
Blaise Castle Museum
Situated in Henbury Road, this attractive museum and estate is nestled within 400 acres of parkland. Free to visit, it tells the story of how people lived over the years. As well as objects, equipment and artefacts used in daily life from the past, there are also displays of old toys and period costumes. Be sure to make a beeline for the Picture Room and admire the stunning art collections hung on the walls. Although the inside of the house might be the obvious attraction here, it’s well worth spending some time in the gardens of this estate. There’s an amphitheatre and kitchen garden to explore, while kids will be happy to expend energy at the adventure playground.
This creative zone that focuses on all things art and design and is located in an old tea-packing factory in the thriving harbour part of the city. Light and airy, this space allows artists and designers to come together while offering visitors activities and exhibitions for all the family. In particular, visit Spike Island when the artists open their studios up for tours and you can get a rare glimpse into the working environment of creative types. Visit the cafe to sample local, organic produce. The building is also a collaborative working space and home to many other small businesses, working in the creative industries.
Georgian House Museum
If you wondered what life was like in Bristol in the 18th century, a visit to the Georgian House Museum just off Park Street is a great way to immerse yourself in local history. The house, once the dwelling of a slave and sugar plantation owner, is set up to resemble the 18th century, with artefacts and equipment spanning 11 rooms over four floors. It even comes with its own cold water plunge pool. The house is closed Wednesday-Friday. Entry is free for students and those under the age of 25. A combined ticket to visit Red Lodge Museum is available.
Red Lodge Museum
If you’re near the Park Street area of the city, or you’ve just visited the Georgian House Museum, make the Red Lodge Museum your next port of call. This Elizabethan house offers a glimpse back in time spanning 400 years. The Great Oak Room will be a highlight of your visit, where you can admire exquisite oak panelling. Beautiful Georgian architecture can be found in the downstairs rooms. Another feature not to miss on your visit is the outside Knot Garden, containing plants typically found in English gardens during the 17th century.
The records of the City of Bristol and the British Empire & Commonwealth Collection can be found at Bristol Archives, an intriguing resource for any budding historian, as well as anyone with an interest in British history. You can visit this facility for free and you don’t need to make an appointment, although it’s worth checking opening times beforehand. A rest area and cafe are available on-site. The Bristol Archives can be found at the B Bond Warehouse on Smeaton Road.
Most visitors to Bristol tend to spend time at the Harbourside. While you’re in this area, be sure to check out the Arnolfini. This centre for contemporary arts puts on a wide range of visual arts, dance and music performances, making it a lively hub for those interested in all things creative. The gallery has recently undergone an ambitious renovation project, so expect exciting changes to this venue. They also serve a lovely pint in their downstairs cafe/bar, which serves the myriad of people who sit outside by the water in the summer months. You can also visit the on-site bookshop, which is regarded as one of the best in the UK for specialist art books.
View is one of the largest independent art galleries in the South West of England. Located on Hotwells Road, this is the place to come to view a wide range of interesting exhibitions. The gallery includes a plethora of art for the home or business and features an extensive array of collections from talented artists. If you are seeking artistic inspiration, View certainly will not disappoint. Opening times vary, so check the website for details. You may need to book an appointment.