Visiting The Royal Yacht Britannia
Moored in the port of Leith, you can find one of Edinburgh’s most unique visitor attractions, the Royal Yacht Britannia. Sailed all over the world before being retired here, step aboard to get a glimpse at what life was like for the Royals and crew alike!
What is the Royal Yacht Britannia?
Since the 17th century, Britain’s Royal Family have had an official yacht, used to travel all over the world. Britannia was the last vessel, completed in 1954, and sailed Queen Elizabeth I and her family for over 40 years, covering a distance of over 1 million nautical miles. It was used for hundreds of official foreign visits, and for hosting many important guests, including world leaders.
The Royals used it for leisure as well though: Prince Charles and Princess Diana spent their honeymoon on the yacht. Even though it is no longer sailed, the Royals continue to use it sometimes: the Queen’s granddaughter, Zara Tindell, held her engagement party here in 2011. It’s not just for Royals though, as anyone can hire out the yacht for events or private tours today.
Possibly the most special of royal residences, Her Majesty the Queen in fact shed a tear at the decommissioning ceremony – something the stoic monarch is almost never seen to do!
Why is it in Edinburgh?
The yacht was decommissioned in 1997, but for the first time, the British government chose not to commission a new vessel. There is no working Royal Yacht today. Her last voyage was to bring Prince Charles and the last governor of Hong Kong back to the UK, after the handover of Hong Kong back to China.
When Britannia was retired, it was decided that the yacht should be berthed somewhere to be opened as a tourist attraction. Several cities made proposals to host Britannia, and it was ultimately Edinburgh that won. It is now owned by The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust, a charitable organisation dedicated to the yacht’s preservation, and hosts around 300,000 visitors every year.
The Ocean Terminal shopping centre was constructed at the same time as the yacht’s arrival, to house its ticket office. This also coincided with an overall regeneration project for Leith, with many new restaurants and projects transforming the port into a lively, up-and-coming area.
What can you see about the Royal Family?
Visiting Britannia allows you to walk in the footsteps of royalty, exploring the apartments where the Royal Family lived. Many of these rooms contain photographs of them onboard over the years, so you can get a real glimpse into what life was like.
You can see the elegant bedchambers – this is the only royal residence that the Queen and Prince Philip had a hand in designing themselves! Downstairs, is the Sun Lounge (the Queen’s favourite room) and Verandah Deck, the perfect places to relax while sailing the open seas. The largest room is the magnificent State Dining Room, with the table fully laid for a banquet, and opposite is the Drawing Room, for entertaining guests.
A surprising feature to look out for is the Rolls Royce Phantom V! Yes, this is an impressive retired state car, used to transport the Queen around on land during her many voyages. Take note of the clocks on board as well and you’ll realise that none of them actually work. They’re all stopped at 3.01, the time when the Queen disembarked for the last time.
The top deck was once open to the skies, but has now been covered with glass to create the Royal Deck Tea Room, so it can be enjoyed in all weathers – important in notoriously cold Scotland! Live out your Royal fantasies, enjoying afternoon tea and scones perhaps, while taking in the sea views.
What was life like for the crew?
Britannia’s five decks have more than just royalty to discover though: there was a whole team of dedicated staff running the vessel behind the scenes! Led by a Rear Admiral, the yachtsmen – known as “Yotties” – were hand-picked Naval sailors: some served on board for two years, while others were chosen for permanent service, staying for 20 years or more.
You can see the quarters where they lived, in bunks far simpler than those elegant bedrooms upstairs, and their “Unwinding Room”, for their free time. The Admiral had separate quarters, somewhat more spacious and private than the rest.
There’s also the Wardroom, where the Officers dined together; the NAAFI shop, where they could buy treats and supplies, and which is now a fudge shop, so don’t miss out on trying some; as well as the ship’s laundry and sick bay.
You can learn all about how the yacht functioned too, starting with the Bridge and the Wheelhouse, from where all commands were issued. And discover the heart of the yacht, the Engine Room, an incredible feat of engineering – you’ll be overwhelmed by the massive, gleaming machinery that powered the yacht!
What are the other boats next to Britannia?
Yes, you might spot that Britannia is no longer the only vessel moored next to Ocean Terminal. Alongside it is Bloodhound, the former Royal Racing Yacht, from the 1960s. Although visitors cannot board, there is a sailing exhibition about it inside Britannia. This yacht is still functional, so occasionally it may not be moored here, as in the summer it travels to the Highlands, and is available to hire for sailing days.
Also, just five minutes away, near The Shore area of Leith, is Fingal, the floating hotel run by The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust (overnight stays are not permitted on the yacht itself). Once a lighthouse tender, it has been transformed into a five star boutique hotel, with 23 luxurious rooms on board, plus a bar and dining room, so you can live like a Royal for your stay!
How do I get to the Royal Yacht Britannia?
The yacht is moored in Leith, the port area in the north east of Edinburgh. You can reach Leith from the city centre by taking a bus, a taxi, or walking if you want to stretch your legs – it’ll take about half an hour to get there on foot.
To access the yacht, you enter via the Ocean Terminal shopping centre. The Britannia gift shop and ticket office are on the top level, and lead you directly on board.
What are the ticket prices and opening times?
Tickets for the Royal Yacht include an audio tour, available in 30 languages (including sign language and children’s versions), which will tell you everything you need to know about the vessel. The current ticket prices can be found here, and can be purchased online or at the ticket office on arrival.
The current opening times are available here – note that the “closing time” is in fact the time for last entries, so make sure you don’t wait too late to arrive! It takes 1-1.5 hours for the whole tour route, but we recommend allowing longer if you wish to stop at the Royal Deck Tea Room.
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