Bristol Museums Guide
You can spend several days just exploring the wealth of museums in Bristol. All the City Council run museums are free (although donations do help). These include the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, Blaise Castle House Museum, Georgian House Museum, the Red Lodge Museum, Kingsweston Roman Villa and the Museum of Bristol.
In addition, the highly acclaimed British Empire and Commonwealth Museum is set in the Brunel-designed Temple Meads Railway Station. @Bristol is a complex full of family oriented science and exploratory displays and interactive activities in the heart of the city. On the harbourside the magnificent SS Great Britain and its accompanying Maritime Museum investigate the maritime history of Bristol. Many of the museums within Bristol have a changing array of exhibitions often related to Bristol’s role in history.
Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery
Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery is in a grand Edwardian Baroque building near the University on Queens Road. The lower floors of the museum house collections ranging from archaeology, natural history and the recently opened Egyptian Gallery. The upper floors contain art galleries. The Museum itself is an architectural gem with its grand staircases and light and airy balconies. A museum shop and cafe are on-site.
The natural history exhibits in the City Museum include a freshwater aquarium and a fantastic collection of fossils including sea dragons. There is an excellent geology collection including a particularly beautiful display of brightly coloured crystals, some with bizarre, knobbly shapes. The Egypt Gallery is the latest permanent addition to the Museum on the ground floor. This broadens the understanding of Ancient Egypt by taking you through displays themed Belief, Life, Death and Afterlife. Actual sarcophagus’s and mummy’s bandages, figurines and statues are among the 500 objects on display.
The Georgian House Museum – Bristol’s Slave Trade
Bristol thrived during the eighteenth century from the increase in Atlantic trade linked to its port as Britain’s Empire expanded to the American colonies. This included the slave trade and Bristol along with Liverpool was a main centre with more than two thousand slaving ships being fitted out in Bristol during its peak. Much of Bristol’s wealth was tied in to the trading of slaves which provided the money to purchase goods to bring back into Britain such as sugar, coffee and tobacco.
The Georgian House stems from this time and is a former merchant’s house built in 1790. John Pinney, a West India sugar merchant lived here and the house has been decorated to show what it would have looked like during this period in history. Although few people were brought into Britain as slaves, John Pinney lived in The Georgian House with his slave Pero. The town house also features a small exhibition on Pinney’s involvement in the slave trade and his slave Pero.
British Empire and Commonwealth Museum Bristol
The award winning British Empire and Commonwealth Museum is the first of its kind in Britain. Housed in Grade I listed buildings that form part of Brunel’s spectacular 19th century Temple Meads railway station, it aims to present the 500 year history and the legacy of the British Empire. Not always a popular subject, the Museum looks at the sometimes disturbing history of the British Empire but examines how that has affected the multicultural Britain we see today. It was felt that Bristol was a good location for the museum due to its role in world exploration and links with world trade and shipbuilding.
The Red Lodge Museum
The Red Lodge is older having been built in 1580 as a lodge to a Great House that has long since gone. Red Lodge contains an array of rooms superbly preserved that demonstrate examples of Elizabethan, Stuart and Georgian styles. The highlight of the Lodge is the wood panelled Great Oak Room which is considered to be one of the finest Elizabethan rooms in the West Country.
Brunel’s SS Great Britain
SS Great Britain is the majestic ship moored on a glass "sea" down on Bristol’s Harbourside. The ship was the first propeller driven ocean going ship to have a hull made out of iron and was the largest floating vessel in 1843 when it was launched. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was one of the ship’s designers and it was built in a dry dock in Bristol where it returned in 1970 for restoration.
The Matthew – John Cabot’s Replica Ship
Moored on Princes Wharf on the Bristol harbourside next to the M Shed museum, The Matthew is a replica of John Cabot’s famous ship, open for tours and boat trips. It was in 1497 that Cabot set sail from Bristol in The Matthew to establish a new trade route to Asia.
M Shed – Bristol’s Museum
Situated on the harbourside sits Bristol’s flagship museum – M Shed housed within a unique 1950s transit shed. Three fascinating galleries dig deep into the history of the city, with the focus on people’s personal stories and experiences. Children will love the interactive displays and the museum features fantastic film and video footage bringing Bristol memories to life.
At-Bristol Science Centre
A must visit for families holidaying in Bristol, At-Bristol is packed with hundreds of interactive science displays, a Planetarium and live shows. This award-winning Bristol attraction sits down on the harbourside and is open daily accept across the Christmas season.