- Learn all about the history of Bristol and the lives of its residents, from the past until the present day at the selection of galleries.
- Come face to face with the famous Thecodontosaurus, also known as the Bristol Dinosaur.
- Ride on one of the old vehicles, or even have a go on one of the huge cranes!
- Check out the oldest tug boat in the world, as well as industrial cranes at the dock outside the museum.
With its unique name and selection of galleries and exhibits exploring the past of the historic city of Bristol, M Shed is the place to come for a free family day out if you're in the Bristol area. Originally having started life as a transit shed, used for storage by the docks, the current location of M Shed used to be known as the British Industrial Museum. After the museum closed in 2006, the venue underwent a multi million pound renovation and reopened as 'M Shed', named after the way the transit sheds used to be referred to back in their heyday. Located right on the docks at Prince's Wharf in the centre of Bristol's old docks, M Shed is now home to over 3,000 different artefacts and exhibits that explore Bristol's history, as well as the day to day life of the people who lived there throughout the centuries.
Outside M Shed, moored on the docks, you can see a range of huge exhibits that can still be used today. The large electric cranes, which were built in Bath by Stothert & Pitt are examples of the cargo cranes that would have been used to handle heavy shipments back in the 1950s. Since being restored, these cranes actually still work, and you can go and see them even if the M Shed museum itself is closed. The Fairbarn Steam Crane is another one to keep an eye out for, as it dates back to the 19th century and had an important role to play lifting heavy cargo in the docks during World War II. More outdoor exhibits to keep an eye out for are the Fire-boat Pyronaut, a huge red firefighting vessel that was also used during wartime, as well as the John King tug boat and the Mayflower, which is over 150 years old and is thought to be the oldest tug boat in the world.
However, there is still a huge amount to be learned inside M Shed itself, with interactive displays, collections of rare and quirky objects, and exhibits dedicated to local history as well as the role the docks played in the slave trade. In the Bristol Places gallery you can catch a glimpse into the way the city developed over the years. Kids will be impressed by the famous Bristol dinosaur, known as the Thecodontosaurus, which was discovered in Bristol in the 20th century. Car lovers can check out the different vehicles that were used throughout Bristol's history, and you can even take a peek into what people's homes looked like over the years. The Bristol People gallery is the place to go to check out the culture and industry that formed Bristol as we see it today, with everything from street art to city celebrations. Here you can also learn about Bristol's connection to the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the legacy of enslaved people in the city of Bristol. Finally, the Bristol Life gallery is home to a selection of more unusual exhibits, and tells the personal stories of everyday life of Bristolians past and present.
While some of the exhibits are more suited for adult visitors, there are still plenty of great family friendly activities to get stuck into at M Shed. Pick up an ABC trail map at the reception desk to start exploring, or you can even try a free Family Explorer Kit, designed for families with kids under seven. Keep an eye out for M Shed events where kids can even get the opportunity to ride some of the famous cranes, making this one of the most popular Bristol museums for families.
For something to eat on your busy day at this fabulous dockside museum, head to the M Shed Cafe, where you can grab some deli-style food and Fairtrade coffee, and enjoy a view out over the harbour. Alternatively you can also bring a picnic if you'd prefer. For something a little different, you'll find plenty of eateries, cafes and restaurants dotted around the docks. Head to Pigsty Cargo for some hearty meat-based dishes, or check out the Olive Shed for Mediterranean tapas-style food. If you're looking for hotels near M Shed Bristol, head into the city centre where you'll find the Marriott, Blue Radisson, Travelodge, Premier Inn as well as an ibis hotel. There are also lots of local options and Airbnb places you can stop at.
To explore more of the local area, there are plenty more places to visit in Bristol that are perfect to go with the kids. For more maritime history, take the 10 minute walk along the docks to Brunel's SS Great Britain, a huge 19th century ship that has now been converted into a museum. Or, head under the waves and check out Bristol Aquarium, which is just a five minute walk away and is home to everything from shark to a giant octopus!
What to know before you go
- M Shed opening times are from 10am-5pm from Tuesday-Sunday. The cafe is open from 10am-5pm daily.
- There are accessible toilets and baby changing facilities available on site.
- M Shed is accessible and there is level access to all galleries. You can also borrow a wheelchair if needed. Staff are also trained in autism awareness, and you can take a ‘Little Bag of Calm’ from the reception desk which contains visual tools and ear defenders, as well as other helpful items to make your visit easier.
- Only assistance dogs are allowed in the museum.
- If you are travelling by car, take the M32 and head to the Wapping Road harbour. The Satnav postcode is BS1 4RN. M Shed parking can be found at Wapping Wharf and The Grove.
- The nearest train station is Bristol Temple Meads, which is a 20 minute walk away or a short bus ride.
- If travelling by bus, head to Broad Quay which is a five minute walk away.
- If you prefer to travel by bike, there is a bike rack behind the museum.