Visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh

Stuart Forster finds the Royal Yacht Britannia floats his boat on a visit the Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Royal Yacht Britannia is moored at Leith Docks in Edinburgh. Also known as Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia, the regal vessel is one of the United Kingdom’s most popular tourist attractions.

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The Royal Yacht Britannia is a floating museum in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The Royal Yacht Britannia is a floating museum in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia

A red-topped flyer caught my eye in the Visit Scotland tourist information centre (3 Princes Street) in the Scottish capital. ‘VISIT SCOTLAND’S BEST ATTRACTION’ urged the flyer in white capital letters on a red background. A stylised picture of the royal yacht looking much like a liner on an advertising poster from the 1920s.



Minutes later I was on the number 11 bus heading from Edinburgh to Leith.

Shining bell on HM Yacht Britannia at Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The shining bell on HM Yacht Britannia at Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Decommissioning of the Britannia

The royal yacht sailed more than a million miles before being decommissioned during a ceremony at Portsmouth on 11 December 1997. Winston Churchill was the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister when the Britannia was launched at Clydebank on 16 March 1953. She docked at more than 600 ports in 135 countries during service that saw 968 official visits.

During those intervening 44 years much changed. Notably, the United Kingdom granted independence to several former colonies. Britannia’s last official mission was to bring Prince Charles and Chris Patten, the last British Governor of Hong Kong, back from the territory after it was handed back to the People’s Republic of China.

Flags flying from the mast of the Royal Yacht Britannia on a sunny day in Edinburgh, Scotland
Flags flying from the mast of the Royal Yacht Britannia on a sunny day in Edinburgh, Scotland.



A place of royal relaxation

It’s said that Her Majesty the Queen felt that Britannia was a place where she could relax while sailing between official engagements. She travelled around the Commonwealth and elsewhere in the world on the royal yacht.

The Queen would most probably have travelled from central Edinburgh to the Ocean Terminal at Leith in a Rolls-Royce. A royal Rolls-Royce is displayed on the deck of the 412 feet 3-inch (125.6-metre) long yacht.

I reached Leith on the upper deck of the number 11 bus. Boarding the Royal Yacht Britannia is via Leith’s Ocean Terminal shopping mall.

A burrito from Taco Mazama helped silence my tummy’s rumbling before boarding the decommissioned yacht. If I’d been going for a more immersive experience perhaps I should have waited to visit the yacht’s Royal Deck Tea Room?

The ship has high standards to live up regarding hospitality. During the royal yacht’s 44 years of service banquets for heads of state and royal visitors were held aboard the vessel. Frank Sinatra counts among the dignitaries and celebrities entertained on the royal yacht.



Audio guides on the royal yacht

A staff member in neatly pressed tartan trews passed me an audio guide as I boarded. The guides are available in 30 different languages. A version designed for children is available too.

Details about life aboard Britannia proved genuinely engrossing. The recording I listened to conveyed a sense of daily life’s rhythm aboard the vessel, which has five decks. Nine different admirals and a commodore commanded Britannia, which had a crew of 220 yachtsmen.

Care was taken not to disturb members of the royal family when they were aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia. On deck the crew did not wear caps. Technically, that meant they were not in uniform and did not have to salute members of the royal family. The crew did, though, need to stand still in their presence.

Tasks such as scrubbing the teak-surfaced deck had to be completed by 8.00 am each morning. Orders were never shouted, to maintain a sense of calm and decorum.

The Royal Yacht Britannia seen from the Ocean Terminal shopping mall in Leith, Scotland.
The Royal Yacht Britannia seen from the Ocean Terminal shopping mall in Leith, Scotland.

Working life on the royal yacht

On days with formal engagements, the commander of the royal yacht was required to change uniform several times a day. It could be as many as 12 times.

That may sound a lot but members of the Royal Marines Band Service had up to 22 changes.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the royal yacht’s sizable laundry operated up to 24-hours a day.

Bunk beds that were used by crew members aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia.
Bunk beds that were used by crew members aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Until 1973 the crew slept in hammocks. The Britannia was the last ship in the Royal Navy with that type of bedding.

Perhaps surprisingly, the yacht is the only place where members of the public can see a bedroom of a living British monarch.

The Queen and Prince Philip slept in single beds that were three feet wide and had separate offices for working during voyages. They would relax in the sun lounge or drawing room, which holds copies of newspapers such as the Racing Post and a baby grand piano at which Noël Coward once performed.

Lifebuoy aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, a tourism attraction in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Lifebuoy aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, a tourism attraction in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Exhibits aboard the yacht

The dining room exhibits some of the many artefacts presented to the royal family during state visits. The items displayed include a pig killer from Papua New Guinea.

Even visitors who are not technically minded are likely to be impressed by the pristine state of the engine room. With polished chrome and white enamel it is reputed to have prompted General Norman Schwarzkopf to say, “I’ve seen the museum piece. Now, where’s the real engine room?”

The beautifully maintained engine room of the Royal Yacht Britannia
The beautifully maintained engine room of the Royal Yacht Britannia,

A tribute to British engineering and maintenance, it could generate 12,000 horsepower and a top speed of 22.5 knots (just under 26 miles per hour).

I found that visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia impressed and was well worth an excursion from central Edinburgh.

The Royal Yacht Britannia

Visit the Royal Yacht Britannia (Ocean Drive, Leith, Edinburgh,  EH6 6JJ; tel. +44 131 555 5566) website for more information about the regarding opening times and admission prices.



Travel to the Royal Yacht Britannia

Where is the Royal Yacht Britannia? The Royal Yacht Britannia is moored by the Ocean Terminal at Leith.

See the location of Leith’s Ocean Terminal and Royal Yacht Britannia on the map below:

Google Map of the Royal Yacht Britannia at the Ocean Terminal in Leith, Scotland.

Lothian Buses operates regular services (bus numbers 11, 22 and 35) between Edinburgh city centre and Leith’s Ocean Terminal.



Arriving by car? The nearest car parking is in the Ocean Terminal’s car parks.

Accommodation in Edinburgh

Looking for hotels in Edinburgh? Search Booking.com for accommodation:



Booking.com

Books about Edinburgh and Scotland

Planning a trip to Edinburgh? You may find these books about Scotland and Edinburgh worth ordering:

Scotland Beyond the Bagpipes by Helen Ochyra:

Richard Johnstone-Bryden’s The Royal Yacht Britannia: The Official History:

Secret Edinburgh: An Unusual Guide by Hannah Robinson:

111 Places in Edinburgh That You Shouldn’t Miss by Gillian Tait:

Only in Edinburgh: A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Unusual Objects by Duncan J.D. Smith:

Further information

The official Edinburgh website has information about things to do and see in Scotland’s capital city.

Thank you for visiting Go Eat Do and reading this post about visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh, Scotland. Planning a trip to Edinburgh? You may enjoy reading this post about reasons to visit Edinburgh Castle.

Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is an award-winning travel writer based in north-east England. Stuart was named Travel Writer of the Decade at the 2020 Netherlands Press Awards.

Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.

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A version of this post was first published on Go Eat Do on 11 October 2016.

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