The city, unitary authority area and ceremonial county of Bristol contains a wide range of museums, defined here as institutions (including nonprofit organisations, government entities, and private businesses) that collect and care for objects of cultural, artistic, scientific, or historical interest and make their collections or related exhibits available for public viewing. Non-profit art galleries and university art galleries are also included, but museums that exist only in cyberspace (i.e., virtual museums) are not.
Many of the museums are in listed buildings. In the United Kingdom, this signifies a building which has been placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. In England and Wales, the authority for listing is granted by the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, and is presently administered by English Heritage. Listed buildings in danger of decay are included on English Heritage's Buildings at Risk Register. There are three types of listed status: Grade I, for buildings "of exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be internationally important"; Grade II*, for "particularly important buildings of more than special interest"; and Grade II, for buildings that are "nationally important and of special interest".
Many of the museums have been accredited by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, which sets national standards for museums in the UK. Several are art galleries providing space for the exhibition of art, or are science, transport, railway, medical or religious museums. The majority of the museums are found within walking distance of Bristol Harbour and have links with the history of the port. There are also historic house museums owned or managed by Bristol City Council, the National Trust or English Heritage.
At-Bristol is a public science and technology "exploration" and education centre. At its opening the centre consisted of Explore; Wildwalk, a science centre comprising two artificial rainforests, aquariums and other ecology-related exhibits; and an IMAX theatre. Wildwalk and the cinema have since closed. The goods shed was one of the first buildings to use reinforced concrete.
The museum includes sections on natural history, local, national and international archaeology, and local industry. The art gallery contains works from all periods, including many by internationally famous artists, as well a collection of modern paintings of Bristol.
The Create Centre includes an energy-saving eco house designed by Bruges Tozer and houses several organisations working in sustainable development, including the city council's sustainability teams. It is housed in half of the B Bond Warehouse which was a Bonded warehouse serving Bristol Harbour. It was the first major building in Britain to use Edmond Coignet's reinforced concrete system.
The SS Great Britain was an advanced passenger steamship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the Great Western Steamship Company's In 1970, Great Britain was returned to the Bristol dry dock where she was first built. Now listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, Core Collection, the vessel is an award-winning visitor attraction and museum ship in Bristol Harbour,.
The Bristol Industrial Museum was a museum located on Prince's Wharf, which closed in 2006. On display were items from Bristol's industrial past – including aviation, car and bus manufacture, and printing – and exhibits documenting Bristol's maritime history. The new M Shed built on the site, opened spring 2011.
The British Empire and Commonwealth Museum was a museum exploring the history of the British Empire and the effect of British colonial rule on the rest of the world. The museum was in Bristol's historic old railway station, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The museum closed in 2008 and was due to relocate to London.