Three great day trips on the Brunel Heritage Trail

Friday 19 January 2018

The exciting opening of the Being Brunel museum in early 2018 will bring together a collection of never-seen-before possessions of iconic 19th-century British engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. One of the most important figures of the Industrial Revolution, he hailed from one of the world’s greatest engineering dynasties and created some of the nation’s finest landmarks.

Here are three fabulous days out to experience the best of Brunel and the cities he made more accessible – and they’re all within two hours of central London.


Day One: London

Start in southeast London at the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe to discover the fascinating stories behind Brunel's Thames Tunnel project. The underwater tunnel, which took 18 years to build, was designed for transporting goods, but was also used to host fairgrounds and banquets when it opened in 1843.


After a tour, take the Tube to Paddington to dine alfresco at the urban garden of Pergola Paddington Central, re-opening this spring with tempting dishes from five, independent London restaurants. After lunch, head to Paddington Station, designed by Brunel as part of the Great Western Railway development which was assigned to him in 1833, aged just 27.


The station’s glass and metal structure bears significant resemblance to Crystal Palace in south London – which is believed to have been his inspiration. As well as hunting out the statue of fictional children’s character, Paddington Bear, visitors should aim for platforms eight and nine to see a life-sized (talking) statue of Brunel himself. After a few photo opps, board the train to Bristol, under two hours from the capital.


Day Two: Bristol

Start off at the harbour, home to SS Great Britain designed by Brunel and first launched in 1843. His ship designs marked the beginning of international travel when this marine masterpiece, the longest passenger ship in the world at the time, made its 14-day maiden voyage to New York in 1845.


Elsewhere in Bristol, get a retail fix at Bristol Shopping Quarter for world-class shopping, or hunt for unique souvenirs in the independent boutiques of Clifton Village. Finish the day admiring another one of Brunel’s iconic landmarks and the symbol of Bristol, the Grade 1-listed Clifton Suspension Bridge overlooking Avon Gorge – the terrace of the White Lion Bar at the Avon Gorge Hotel is a prime viewing spot. Next up, board the 20-minute train to Bath Spa.


Day Three: Bath

As part of Brunel’s Great Western Railway project to connect London with the southwest of England by steam train, he quickly set his sights on Sydney Gardens in Bath, Somerset.


The railway runs directly through the park, Bath’s oldest park and one of the finest remaining 18th-century Georgian Pleasure Gardens. Brunel designed two footbridges over the railway line, and they remain in the park today. Trace his footsteps around the grand gardens, once a favourite with royals and even Jane Austen.


Elsewhere, this UNESCO World Heritage Site city is packed with Roman and neoclassical Palladian buildings to explore. For lunch, visit the historic tea house Sally Lunn’s, former home of the young Huguenot baker of the same name, and try the Sally Lunn Bun - the original Bath Bun, a popular sweet and savoury delicacy in Georgian times. Finally, let off some steam at Thermae Bath Spa where people have been taking in the natural, mineral-rich waters since Roman times. Soak it all up in the spa and rooftop pool before catching the train back to London.


Editor’s Notes

Thermae Spa in Bath is closed for renovations from 8 to 23 January 2018 inclusive.

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Artist's impression of new museum from Hotwell Rd
Artist's impression of new museum
Views of Thermae Bath Spa and the surrounding city of Bath
The Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol illuminated at night
SS Great Britain
Rooftop pool by day
Rooftop Pool at dusk
Minerva Bath at Thermae Bath Spa
Sketch book of Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Locked diary of Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Cigar case of Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Horse drawing by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, aged 6
Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge at dusk
Brunel Chains Photo
Being Brunel from harbour
Being Brunel
Clifton Village, Bristol
Two couples enjoying a drink sitting outside at Bristol's Avon Gorge Hotel, Bristol, Bristol, England.
Friends enjoying a drink sitting outside at Bristol's Avon Gorge Hotel, Bristol, Bristol, England.
48 Hours in Bristol - Avon Gorge
Bath city - a day out