royalty queen elizabeth ii visit to the cayman islands

The Royal Yacht Britannia Has a Fascinating History—Here's Everything You Should Know

It doesn't get more majestic than Queen Elizabeth II's yacht.

“Britannia is special for a number of reasons,” Prince Phillip once said. “Almost every previous sovereign has been responsible for building a church, a castle, a palace or just a house. The only comparable structure in the present reign is Britannia. As such she is a splendid example of contemporary British design and technology.”

Although she retired from service in 1997, today the Britannia, one of many of the world's grandest yachts , is docked in Edinburgh, where she is open as a visitors’ attraction and host of private events. Below we give you all the Royal Yacht Britannia facts you might want to know, from who owns the yacht now to why she was decommissioned to how fast she is to how to get tickets to visit. Britannia was, after all, the one place the queen said she could “truly relax,” so why not see why for yourself?

queen royal yacht britannia in usa

Royal Yacht Britania Facts and History

On February 4, 1952, John Brown & Co shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland, received the order from the Admiralty to build a new Royal Yacht to travel the globe and double as a hospital ship in times of war, according to the royal yacht's website . King George VI passed away two days after, sadly, and so on April 16, 1953, the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II announced the yacht’s new name as the ship was revealed.

"I name this ship Britannia,” she said. “I wish success to her and all who sail in her." Britannia was commissioned into the Royal Navy in January 1954 and by April of that year sailed into her first overseas port: Grand Harbour, Malta.

royal yacht britannia facts staircase

The queen and The Duke of Edinburgh worked with interior designer Sir Hugh Casson for the ship to serve as both a functional Royal Navy vessel and an elegant royal residence. Queen Elizabeth II selected deep blue for Britannia’s hull, instead of the more traditional black. Its Naval crew included 220 Yachtsmen, 20 officers, and three season officers—plus a Royal Marines Band of 26 men during Royal Tours.

All of them might have had to change uniform up to six times a day, so the laundry service on board worked nonstop. The yacht also engaged in British overseas trade missions known as Sea Days and made an estimated £3 billion for the Exchequer between 1991 and 1995 alone.

royal yacht britannia facts drawing room

The ship’s wheel was taken from King Edward VII’s racing yacht, also named Britannia, according to Boat International , and the 126-meter ship could reach speeds of 22.75 knots, or a seagoing cruising speed of 21 knots, according to Super Yacht Times . Other fun facts: The yacht could produce her own fresh water from sea water, and shouting was forbidden aboard to preserve tranquility, favoring hand signals for Naval orders instead.

royal yacht britannia facts dining room

Over the next 44 years, the Britannia would sail the equivalent of once around the world for each year, in total visiting 600 ports in 135 countries. Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones were the first of four couples to honeymoon on the ship in 1960, gifting them all privacy to sail to secluded locations. Prince Charles and Princess Diana followed in 1981 on the Mediterranean as well as Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips before them in 1973 in the Caribbean and Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson in 1986 in the Azores.

diana and william

For family vacations aboard the ship, games, treasure hunts, plays, and picnics were organized, and on warm days the children could play in an inflatable paddling pool on the Verandah Deck.

royal yacht britannia facts sun lounge

In the Sun Lounge, the queen especially enjoyed taking breakfast and afternoon tea with views through large picture windows, a space you can see replicated in the TV show The Crown. Although no filming took place on board the Britannia for the show, researchers ensured scenes aboard it were accurate. In the queen’s bedroom, the resemblance is seen down to the decorative wall light fittings and embroidered silk panel above her bed that had been specially commissioned.

queen crying at britannia

In 1997, the ship was decommissioned after the government decided the costs to refit it would be too great. On its final day in her service that followed a farewell tour around the U.K., the queen openly wept as the Band of HM Royal Marines played "Highland Cathedral."

"Looking back over 44 years we can all reflect with pride and gratitude upon this great ship which has served the country, the Royal Navy and my family with such distinction," Queen Elizabeth II said. All clocks on the ship stopped at 15:01, the exact time the Queen disembarked from the yacht for the final time, and they would remain at that time until the present.

royal yacht britannia facts clock

How to Tour the Royal Yacht Britania

Today the yacht is owned by Royal Yacht Britannia Trus t, and all revenue it generates goes to the yacht’s maintenance and preservation. Ticketed entry allows you to step into state rooms like the Sun Lounge, the State Dining Room and State Drawing Room, in addition to the working side of the ship in the Crew’s Quarters, Laundry and gleaming Engine Room. Along the way you will see original artifacts from the shop—95 percent of which is on loan from The Royal Collection.

the royal yacht britannia

How to Visit the Royal Britania

You can visit the Britannia any day of the year on Edinburgh’s waterfront. Hours vary by season, and you can find them listed and purchase tickets on the yacht’s website . Private tours are also available, and you can visit the Royal Deck Tearoom, where the Royal Family hosted cocktail parties and receptions, for drinks, meals and scones. Additionally, the Britannia hosts special ticketed events for New Year’s and other occasions, and event spaces can be booked as well.

While you are in Edinburgh, you can also stay on the Fingal , a neighboring yacht-turned-floating-hotel, which is a seven-minute walk from the Britannia, and dine at its Lighthouse Restaurant & Bar, which serves breakfast, afternoon tea, dinner, and cocktails.

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The Story Behind the Royal Family's Yacht, Britannia

The ship hosted four royal honeymoons in its 44 years of service.

Hmy Britannia

Often referred to as the last royal yacht, the Britannia was decommissioned in 1997, and despite some efforts , there are no signs of a new one in the near future. Though its seafaring days may be behind it (the ship now serves as a tourist attraction in Edinburgh, Scotland), the Britannia remains an important artifact and a peek behind the curtain of royal life—it even garnered a prominent place in the fifth season of The Crown . Below, a few of its most notable moments throughout history.

It was the first royal yacht designed for ocean travel.

The ship was built by John Brown & Co at the same shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland in the same location the famous ocean liners the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary were constructed. With 12,000 horsepower, the ship could travel at a maximum 22.5 knots (approximately 25 miles per hour), ideal for ocean-going diplomacy. Prior to its launch in 1953, the royal family used ships from the Royal Navy or even passenger liners for the overseas portions of the royal tour.

In its 44 years of service, the HMY Britannia traveled around 1.1 million miles.

Royal Yacht State Room

It was commissioned just two days before the death of King George VI.

The King was already in failing health by the time the designs for the HMY Britannia were submitted, and the hope was that traveling might help alleviate some of his symptoms. However, just two days after the John Brown shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland received the order the King passed away on February 6, 1952.

It would take just over a year for the ship to be completed, during which time its name remained a secret—it wasn't announced until the ship's official launch in April of 1953, less than two months before the Queen's coronation . Elizabeth cracked a bottle of English wine (in the post-war era, champagne was considered too extravagant for the launch of a ship) and announced, "I name this ship Britannia … I wish success to her and all who sail in her."

It was created to double as a hospital.

When Britannia was first envisioned, less than a decade after the end of World War II, the designers sought to make it as functional as possible, crafting a space that could be converted from an ocean-going royal residence to a seafaring hospital during any possible future wartime. The main veranda was laid out and re-enforced so that it could support a helicopter landing and the laundry was made much larger than on a standard naval vessel to accommodate the potential patients. Though the ship was never actually put to that purpose, it was pressed into service on a rescue mission to help evacuate European nationals from South Yemen in 1986.

The ship was home to a lot of history.

Long before it became a floating museum, the Britannia had an eye for history. The gold and white binnacle housed on the ship's veranda deck was originally part of the HMY Royal George , a royal yacht that served Queen Victoria . Likewise, some of the bed linens used by Queen Elizabeth aboard the vessel were originally made for Victoria's bed for one of the previous royal yachts.

Britannia's steering wheel was lifted from her namesake, the racing yacht HMY Britannia , built in 1893 for King Edward VII .

Royal Yacht Dining Room

It was redesigned to be less opulent.

Despite the sense of luxury that the term "royal yacht" inspires, the Queen and Prince Philip were actually concerned when they began overseeing the project in 1952 that the original interior design plans by the design firm McInnes Gardner & Partners were too lavish for a country still recovering from the war. The interiors were ultimately redesigned by Sir Hugh Casson and received very minimal updates throughout her 44 years of service.

But it still had homey touches—by royal standards.

Suffice to say that even low-key royal living is a fairly high class. In addition to the 56-seat State Dining Room, which hosted luminaries including Winston Churchill, Noel Coward, Nelson Mandela, and multiple US Presidents, the ship also sported a formal staircase where the Queen would greet guests, separate bedrooms and sitting rooms for both Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh, and a phone system designed to match the unique configurations of Buckingham Palace's telephones.

BRITANNIA Queen's bedroom

In the early years of the Britannia's life it was also home to the Queen's Rolls-Royce Phantom V which was hoisted and lowered from a special garage compartment at port so that the Queen could drive her own car at each location. The space was ever so slightly too small, forcing the bumpers to be removed in order to get it into the garage without damage and then refitted when the car was removed. Ultimately Elizabeth began using cars provided for her at port instead and the garage was converted into a storage area for beer.

The steering crew couldn't see where they were going.

Life on board the HMY Britannia was far from typical for her crew. To begin with, due to the prestige and pressure of the position, the commanding officer of the royal yacht was always a flag officer, most commonly a Rear Admiral, although the first two to serve were Vice Admirals, and Britannia 's final CO was a Commodore.

While working, the crew reportedly used hand signals to communicate rather than shouting orders, in order to maintain a sense of quiet and calm for the royal residents. It was also the last ship in the royal navy where the crew members slept in hammocks, a practice that they maintained until 1973.

Hmy Britannia

Perhaps the most unusual element of the ship's functioning, though, was the steering. While on most ships, the steering wheel sits on the bridge, overlooking the front of the vessel, Britannia 's was on the deck below, in the wheelhouse, which meant that the yachtsmen who were actually doing the steering couldn't see where they were going. The crew got around this rather surprising pitfall by using voice pipes from the bridge to confer navigational orders.

It was a royal honeymoon essential.

No fewer than four royal couples celebrated their honeymoons in the HMY Britannia 's honeymoon suite (the only room onboard with a double bed.)

Princess Margaret started the tradition in 1960 for her Caribbean honeymoon with Anthony Armstrong-Jones , a quiet, formal affair where dinners were taken in full evening dress every night. Things didn't go quite as smoothly for Princess Anne on her honeymoon with Captain Mark Phillips in 1973—storms and 20-foot waves left the couple stricken with seasickness for the first week of their Caribbean cruise. Prince Charles and Princess Diana famously spent their 1981 honeymoon on a Mediterranean cruise aboard the yacht. The crew managed to duck the press so efficiently they garnered the nickname "the ghost ship." The final royal honeymoon aboard the Britannia was taken by Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson , Duchess of York in 1986 when the couple traveled around the Azores.

In memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, who was killed in an automobile accident in Paris, France on August 31, 1997.

And a family vacation spot.

In addition to her diplomatic duties on royal tours and her service as a post-wedding retreat, the Britannia was also a vessel for family vacations. During the summer months, the royal family would often take off on what became known as the Western Isles tour, cruising around the western isles of Scotland. During the trip, the family would play games and have barbecues on the islands. The stairway off of the veranda was sometimes even converted into a waterslide for the younger royals. The tour often included a stop off at the Castle of Mey to visit the Queen Mother, then making berth in Aberdeen so that the Queen could travel to her favorite summer home, Balmoral .

Queen Crying At Britannia

The Queen openly wept when HMY Britannia was decommissioned in 1997.

With so many memories around the yacht, it's not hard to understand why the decommissioning of the Britannia was upsetting for the royal family. Though plans were initially drawn up for a replacement yacht, the government ultimately determined not to fund the effort. After the Queen officially took her leave of it in 1997, the ship was placed in the port of Leith in Scotland where it serves as a floating museum and events venue . All of the clocks on board remain stopped at 3:01, the exact time that Her Majesty disembarked for the last time.

Zara Phillips And Mike Tindall Host Pre Wedding Party On Britannia

It was used for a reception for Zara Phillips before her wedding.

Though it's no longer used as their private vessel, the Britannia 's connection to the royal family didn't end in 1997. In 2011 on the night before her wedding, the Queen's oldest granddaughter Zara Phillips contracted the ship for a reception. Though her grandmother wasn't in attendance Zara celebrated her upcoming marriage to Mike Tindall onboard along with her mother and her cousins Prince Harry, Prince William and Kate, Princess Eugenie, and Princess Beatrice.

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Lauren Hubbard is a freelance writer and Town & Country contributor who covers beauty, shopping, entertainment, travel, home decor, wine, and cocktails.

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The Royal Yacht Britannia

Experience Tripadvisor's Best UK Attraction 2023. Follow in the footsteps of Royalty and explore this floating Royal residence with a fascinating audio tour of five decks (available in over 30 languages).

Tripadvisor's Best UK Attraction 2023, Best UK Attraction (Which magazine readers) and Tripadvisor Travellers' Choice Best of the Best award winner 

Visit this award-winning attraction, just two miles from Edinburgh's city centre at Ocean Terminal.  The Royal Yacht Britannia played host to some of the world’s most famous people, from Nelson Mendela to Winston Churchill, but above all was home for the British Royal Family for over 40 years. Now you can discover the heart and soul of this most special of Royal residences.

You'll receive a truly warm welcome at Britannia's Visitor Centre before you board this famous ship where you will discover the history of Royal Yachts and view displays and historical photographs of Britannia's fascinating past before boarding Queen Elizabeth II's former floating palace.

What will you see?

  • Tour Britannia’s five decks
  • Feel like the captain of the ship in the Bridge
  • Follow in the footsteps of Royalty through the State Apartments
  • See Queen Elizabeth II's favourite room- the Sun Lounge
  • Discover below decks in the Crew’s Quarters
  • Admire a tour highlight, the gleaming Engine Room
  • Take in the Royal Sailing Exhibition
  • Enjoy soups, sandwiches, cakes and scones in the Royal Deck Tearoom and admire the stunning waterfront views.

The tour is available in:

  • Audio handset tour, available in over 30 languages
  • Children’s audio tour
  • Audio tour for those with sight loss
  • ASL and BSL tablet
  • Braille script ​​​​​​ ​​​​​

Complete the Britannia experience with a visit to the  Gift Shop in Ocean Terminal, where you’ll find exclusive Britannia souvenirs, china, toys, gifts and nautical items.

Berthed just moments away, Britannia's sister ship, floating hotel Fingal, offers 22 luxurious cabins inspired by the former Northern Lighthouse Board tender's rich maritime heritage. For further information, visit Fingal's website .

HELPFUL INFORMATION:

-  All weather experience -  Highly accessible for wheelchair users, single buggies and those with limited mobility. Read our accessibility statement here . -  Free Annual Pass for 12 months admission included -  The entrance to Britannia is temporarily on the Ground Floor of Ocean Terminal shopping centre.

How to get here?

By tram: Take the tram to stop 'Ocean Terminal' (Newhaven direction).

By bus:  Regal Tour Bus and Lothian Buses 10, 16, 34 and 35 run from the city centre towards Ocean Terminal. Majestic Tour buses depart regularly from Waterloo Place / St Andrew Square in the centre of Edinburgh. The Majestic Tour is operated by Edinburgh Bus Tours .

By train:  Arrive in the city centre at Edinburgh Waverley Train Station, just 2 miles from Britannia. 

By car: Follow signs to Edinburgh and Leith or North Edinburgh. Then follow brown tourist signs for Britannia. Free car parking at Ocean Terminal (level C is nearest). For satnav our postcode is EH6 6JJ. Go inside the shopping centre for Britannia’s entrance and the start of the tour. By plane: Britannia is approximately 40 minutes’ drive from Edinburgh Airport.

For further information on finding Britannia, please see here .  

OPENING TIMES

Please check the Britannia website for full opening times and prices. EVENING EVENTS Exclusive dinners and receptions can be hosted on board. Call our events team on +44 (0) 131 555 8800 and see how we can create your event of a lifetime, or visit the events section of our website .

PRIVATE TOURS A private tour on board The Royal Yacht Britannia is an exclusive experience, giving you access to Britannia’s five decks, and a unique insight into the history of the Royal Yacht and how the Royal Family and crew lived and worked on board. Both Morning and Evening tours are available. Call our events team on +44 (0) 131 555 8800 or for more information visit click here . PRESERVING BRITANNIA Britannia is cared for by The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust , a self-funding charity registered in Scotland (SC028070). By visiting Britannia you will be helping us to preserve this important piece of history for future generations.

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Transport and Parking

  • On Public Transport Route
  • Public Parking Nearby

Accessibility

  • Hearing Loop
  • Accessible Parking Or Drop-off Point
  • Lift or stairlift
  • Large print, braille or audio
  • Level Access
  • Wheelchair access throughout
  • Accessible toilets
  • Wheelchairs or mobility aids provided
  • Suitable for visitors with limited mobility

Dietary Options

  • Gluten Free

Typical Prices

  • Baby Changing Facilities
  • Public Toilet Facilities
  • Lunch Available
  • Licensed Bar
  • Cafe or Restaurant

Payment Methods

  • American Express
  • Diners Card
  • Credit Card
  • Coastal Location
  • Sea/Loch View

Awards & Schemes

yacht le britannia

Related items of interest

  • Sailing on Royal Racing Yacht Bloodhound

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I visited the Royal Yacht Britannia, the royal family's luxurious private cruise ship known as a 'floating palace.' Take a look inside.

  • The Royal Yacht Britannia was the royal family's private yacht from 1953 to 1997.
  • The ship is now a museum open to the public in Edinburgh, Scotland.
  • The tour shows the Queen's bedroom, state rooms used for entertaining, and crew bunks.

The Royal Yacht Britannia was the royal family's private yacht from 1953 to 1997.

yacht le britannia

With its many royal family vacations and official tours, the yacht logged over 1 million miles , the equivalent of one trip around the world for each of its 44 years at sea.

The Queen once said that "Britannia is the one place where I can truly relax."

yacht le britannia

The Labour government decommissioned the ship in 1997 due to its high operation cost of £11 million each year, Reuters reported . That's equivalent to about $23 million today.

At the decommissioning ceremony, the Queen  shed a rare public tear .

The ship has made several appearances in Netflix's "The Crown," including season five .

The yacht is now a museum open to the public in Edinburgh, Scotland.

yacht le britannia

On a recent trip to Scotland , I booked a ticket for the Royal Yacht Britannia museum, which costs £18.50 ($23) for adults.

The entrance is located inside the Ocean Terminal shopping center in Edinburgh.

Before boarding the yacht, visitors walk through a museum detailing the boat's history and connection to the royal family.

yacht le britannia

The five-story ship was a royal residence as well as a Royal Navy ship, with a full-time staff of more than 240 royal yachtsmen and officers.

The museum displays photos of the royal family's life aboard the ship, as well as items like crew uniforms.

Then, a walkway with more photos leads to the deck of the boat.

yacht le britannia

The ship is docked on the water just outside the shopping center.

I listened to the audio tour of the ship on my phone by scanning a QR code.

yacht le britannia

There were also separate listening devices available.

Each room of the ship had a number that you could type in and press "play" to hear about your surroundings in an array of languages.

The first stop was the bridge, the main control point of the yacht.

yacht le britannia

In this small space, officers navigated the seas and recorded data in the ship's logbooks.

Outside, the flag deck is the highest point on the ship.

yacht le britannia

Britannia had three masts, and different flags were used to communicate with other ships on the water.

The admiral's cabin and suite is the most spacious on the ship, aside from the royal apartments.

yacht le britannia

The admiral's accommodations featured a day room, bedroom, bathroom, and pantry. The sofa and armchairs in the dayroom are over 100 years old and came from the previous royal yacht, Victoria and Albert III.

The royal family often sunbathed, played deck hockey, or swam in a collapsible swimming pool on the Veranda Deck.

yacht le britannia

Part of the yacht's royal quarters, the deck was also used for receptions and group photos.

Prince Philip occasionally set up his easel on the deck to paint.

Overlooking the Veranda Deck, the Sun Lounge was one of the Queen's favorite rooms on the ship.

yacht le britannia

Queen Elizabeth would often take her breakfast and afternoon tea in the Sun Lounge.

The Queen's bedroom on the Royal Yacht Britannia featured bed linens that once belonged to Queen Victoria.

yacht le britannia

The embroidered silk panel above the Queen's bed, commissioned in 1953, cost £450 ($560, or $6,250 in today's money).

Her sheets were embossed with "HM The Queen."

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip had separate bedrooms connected by an adjoining door.

yacht le britannia

Each room had its own bathroom.

Philip's bedroom featured red linens, and he requested pillowcases without lace trim.

yacht le britannia

A button next to each of their beds would summon a royal steward.

Across the hall, the Honeymoon Suite was the only room onboard with a double bed.

yacht le britannia

The double bed was requested by then-Prince Charles when he honeymooned with Princess Diana in 1981.

The room was also used as a nursery when the royal children were young.

The Anteroom served as a recreational space for the officers, off-limits to the rest of the crew.

yacht le britannia

Officers would spend their time here listening to the radio and playing board games.

The royal family occasionally dined in the adjoining Wardroom.

yacht le britannia

Britannia's 19 officers ate meals here, accompanied by the Royal Marines Band.

Britannia has three galleys, which are still working kitchens today.

yacht le britannia

The galleys prepare food for the Royal Deck Tea Room and events hosted on the ship.

The Royal Deck Tea Room offers an extensive menu of soups, sandwiches, scones, and other treats for visitors to the museum.

yacht le britannia

The royal family once used the space to entertain guests and play deck games.

The state dining room is the largest room on the Royal Yacht Britannia.

yacht le britannia

Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela, and many other world leaders dined here with the royal family.

The placement of each utensil was measured with a ruler.

Just off the state dining room, the Queen's sitting room served as her office.

yacht le britannia

Here, the Queen would meet with her press secretaries and prepare for royal visits.

On the opposite side of the hall, the Duke of Edinburgh had his own sitting room.

yacht le britannia

Both Philip and Charles used the room as a study. Philip kept a model of his first naval command, the HMS Magpie, above his desk.

The telephones connecting the sitting rooms to each other and their private secretaries' offices are identical to the phones used in Buckingham Palace.

The large Drawing Room and connecting Anteroom could accommodate up to 250 guests.

yacht le britannia

The Drawing Room featured an electric fireplace and cozy floral furniture. When it wasn't being used as a reception space during formal events, the royal family used it to relax and play games on the card tables.

Petty officers and Royal Marine sergeants kicked back in their living quarters, also known as the mess.

yacht le britannia

Petty officers would occasionally entertain the Queen and other royal family members here.

The crew bunks weren't as glamorous as the royal apartments.

yacht le britannia

Each bunk folded up into a seat, and crew members stored their possessions in lockers.

Britannia's NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) shop sold souvenirs and sweets, as well as essentials like toothpaste.

yacht le britannia

Diana once bought Prince William a Britannia souvenir shirt from the shop. Today, it sells homemade fudge to museum guests.

The ship's sick bay and operating theater still feature the original furnishings from the 1950s.

yacht le britannia

The ship's doctor attended to crew members, while the Queen's royal surgeon traveled with her on voyages.

Britannia's laundry room could reach temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit as it washed up to 600 shirts in one day.

yacht le britannia

The royal family's laundry was done on different days than the crew's laundry.

All of the clocks onboard the Royal Yacht Britannia are stopped at 3:01 p.m.

yacht le britannia

The clocks are frozen at the  time the Queen stepped off the ship for the last time  during its decommissioning ceremony in December 1997.

The tour concludes in a gift shop full of royal souvenirs.

yacht le britannia

Amid the Britannia-themed mugs, pens, and aprons, the gift shop also sold replicas of royal jewelry.

There's even a photo-op at the end of the tour where you can practice your royal wave.

yacht le britannia

The tour was full of surprising facts about royal life and travels, and I couldn't believe that we actually got to see inside Queen Elizabeth's bedroom on the ship. It's definitely worth a visit.

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Truly Edinburgh

Visitor Guide & Content Hub

The Royal Yacht Britannia: history and visitor information

The Royal Yacht Britannia, now moored at Leith the port of Edinburgh, was once home to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and her family,

yacht le britannia

©Mark Millar, Royal Yacht Britannia

The Role of the Royal Yacht Britannia in the British Royal Family

The yacht provided a sanctuary for the royal family offering them a respite from the demands of public life. It allowed them to escape the prying eyes of the media and enjoy moments of relaxation and privacy.

As they travelled the world it was, said the queen, the one place she could truly relax.

Today the world’s most famous yacht is an Edinburgh five-star visitor attraction and exclusive events venue.

the Royal Yacht Britannia history

Plans to build a new yacht to replace the ageing Victoria and Albert III had first been considered in 1938 during the reign of King George VI but in austere pre-war Britain, it didn’t seem appropriate.

However in 1951, with the king’s health failing, the government decided to push ahead with their plans for a new ship. Sadly King George died before the work was completed.

construction and design of the Royal Yacht Britannia

Like two of the other great ocean-going passenger liners, the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth II, the royal yacht’s life began on the River Clyde. 

Royal Yacht Britannia engine Room

It was built in John Brown’s shipyard in Clydebank near Glasgow and launched on 16 April 1953.

Following sea trials, the ship was commissioned into the Royal Navy the following year.

It was the latest in a long line of royal yachts that stretched back to the seventeenth century when the Dutch gave the world’s first royal yacht Mary to Charles II as a gift.

Original designs of the ship had specified a dual role – a hospital ship to be used in times of conflict and a royal yacht. She was never used in the former capacity.

However, in 1986, during a voyage to Australia, without the Queen aboard, the ship diverted to Aden to help in the evacuation of those trapped on the beaches by an ongoing war in the region.

Over 1,000 terrified people were rescued and crammed into every available space.

Both the Queen and Prince Philip took a keen interest in the design of the vessel, working with Sir Hugh Casson on plans for the interior decorations.

The young couple selected fabrics, furniture and paintings, many of them taken from the Victoria and Albert III in an effort to keep costs under control.

The state apartments aft of the funnel were not extravagantly decorated.  Instead, they have a traditional ‘country house’ feel, particularly in the drawing room where chintz-covered armchairs and sofas sit on a plain silver-grey carpet overlaid by a magnificent Persian rug. 

A baby grand piano stood in the corner often providing after-dinner entertainment. Princesses Diana, Margaret and Alexandra were all known to enjoy playing. 

Famous guests aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia

Writer Brian Hoey reminds us of the night Sir Noel Coward came to dinner during a Caribbean cruise. 

“He literally sang for his supper, playing many of his own compositions into the wee small hours. Even on the royal yacht, there was no such thing as a free meal.” 

Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor also pulled up a chair in the State Dining Room.

Of course, they weren’t the only well-known people to visit the yacht.

Over the years Rajiv Gandhi, Sir Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela were only a few of the others on a long list of the world’s most powerful people who enjoyed royal hospitality.

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© Mark Millar, Royal Yacht Britannia

Supper’ in Britannia’s dining room could be a splendid occasion. In preparation for a state banquet, Royal Navy stewards would lay the burnished mahogany table with military precision. 

They would carefully place the floral decorations, candelabras and exquisite crystal wine glasses.

With a ruler in hand, they measured the precise position of each shining piece of silver cutlery. Menus were printed and seating plans were discussed before Britannia set sail. 

The Queen and Prince Philip had their own bedrooms and sitting rooms, decorated to reflect their personal taste. The Queen preferred chintz and floral while the Duke liked the more functional wood panelling. 

Royal Yacht Britannia, bridge

This elegant lady became a favourite with all generations of the royal family but particularly the Queen who always said it was the only place she could truly be at ease.

Honeymoons at Sea

Four royal couples opted for a honeymoon at sea, onboard the Royal Yacht Britannia.

They were Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones, and Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson.

Princess Diana

A young Princess Diana was happiest when proceedings were kept informal, she was a very special guest as far as the naval crew were concerned. 

On one memorable occasion, she was found in the Junior Ratings Mess leading the crew, or yachtsmen, as they were called, in a rendition of What , Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor. 

One remark in particular sums up the feeling and affection the crew had for her.  “There are 275 men aboard and every one of them is in love with Princess Diana.”

It’s fitting that Prince William and Prince Harry, who often spent their summer holidays on trips to the Western Isles of Scotland loved the freedom and privacy the royal yacht allowed them.

Ambassador for Britain

Beyond its role as a private residence, it was an unofficial ambassador for Britain serving as a platform for diplomatic and official engagements.

Britannia undertook numerous state visits, carrying the royal family and government officials to countries around the world. The yacht became a powerful symbol of British soft power, projecting an image of elegance, grace, and stability to the international community.

On what became known as Sea Days, it would throw open the doors to the world of commerce.

That allowed businessmen to showcase the best of British craftsmanship and design and promote their companies and products to the world.

The yacht became a floating showroom for British excellence, helping to boost exports and attract foreign investment.

The Overseas Trade Board estimated that between 1991 and 1995 the exchequer benefited to the tune of £3 billion.

Decommissioning and the transformation into a visitor attraction

After over four decades of service, the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned in Portsmouth on 11 December 1997.

During that long service, the ship sailed over one million nautical miles stopping at 600 ports in 135 countries. 

Rather than being sold or scrapped, the decision was made to preserve the yacht as a visitor attraction, allowing the public to experience first-hand the grandeur and history of this wonderful vessel.

At the Paying-Off Ceremony, the queen clearly sad at the occasion, said: “Looking back over forty-four years we can all reflect with pride and gratitude upon this great ship which has served the country, the Royal Navy and my family with such distinction.” 

WHAT ARE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF A VISIT TO THE ROYAL YACHT BRITANNIA?

  • Enjoy freshly made food and a warm welcome at the Royal Deck Tearoom.
  • Visit the gleaming Engine Room to inspect the John Brown built turbines which drove the ship over a million nautical miles in its many years of service.
  • The Wheelhouse , not on the Bridge as you might expect, is on the deck below. Yachtsmen unable to see ahead followed instructions from the officers through voice pipes.
  • Admire the lavish State Dining Room , decorated with gifts received on foreign visits.
  • Visit the Officers’ Wardroom , sometimes compared to a gentleman’s club, where officers would relax after work. Traditionally the captain did not dine there unless invited.
  • Crew’s Quarters: These are much more cramped than the royal and officers’ quarters. They give a glimpse into the living conditions of the working crew. You can also visit the sick bay and the laundry room.

Special events

The Britannia also hosts a series of special events throughout the year, including music evenings and cocktail nights. It is also available for private hire, with the State Dining Room being a popular venue for dinners and receptions.

VISITOR INFORMATION

If you’re visiting during the busiest periods and just turn up, the queues can be long, so be prepared for a wait.

However, many of the available tour options will let you avoid queuing and you can book online on the official Britannia website.

But if you prefer to explore yourself, there are free audio guides in 30 languages to help you find your way around. A range of concession prices is also available.

Can you stay overnight on the Royal Yacht Britannia?

While you cannot stay overnight, you can at the nearby Fingal, a floating hotel moored nearby.

This unique hotel is also owned by the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust and is one of E dinburgh’s luxury hotels.

  • Also nearby is the newest Edinburgh whisky distillery –the Port of Leith Distillery – due to open in the summer of 2023. (The distillery opened in October 2023).

For further information on admission times and help planning your visit, go to the Britannia website.

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The History Hit Miscellany of Facts, Figures and Fascinating Finds

  • 20th Century

10 Facts About Royal Yacht Britannia

yacht le britannia

Peta Stamper

28 nov 2022.

yacht le britannia

The 83rd and last in a long line of royal yachts, HMY Britannia has become one of the most famous ships in the world. Now permanently moored at Edinburgh’s Port of Leith, the floating palace is a visitor attraction welcoming some 300,000 people aboard each year.

For Queen Elizabeth II, Britannia was the ideal residence for state visits and peaceful royal family holidays and honeymoons. For the British public, Britannia was a symbol of Commonwealth. For the 220 naval officers who lived aboard Britannia , and the royal family, the 412-foot-long yacht was home.

Having travelled more than a million nautical miles over 44 years of service to the British Crown, Her Majesty’s beloved boat was decommissioned in 1997. Here are 10 facts about life aboard HMY Britannia.

1. Britannia was launched by Queen Elizabeth II on 16 April 1953 using a bottle of wine, not champagne

Champagne is traditionally smashed against a ship’s hull during launching ceremonies. However, in a post-war climate champagne was seen as too frivolous, so a bottle of Empire wine was used instead.

Britannia launched from the John Brown & Company shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland.

yacht le britannia

2. Britannia was the 83rd Royal Yacht

King George VI , Elizabeth II’s father, had first commissioned the royal yacht that would become Britannia in 1952. The previous official boat had belonged to Queen Victoria and was rarely used. The tradition of royal yachts had been started by Charles II in 1660.

George decided that the Royal Yacht Britannia should both be a regal vessel as well as a functional one.

3. Britannia had two emergency functions

Britannia was designed to be converted into a hospital ship in time of war, although that function was never used. Additionally, as part of the Cold War plan Operation Candid, in the event of nuclear war the ship would become a refuge off the north-west coast of Scotland for the Queen and Prince Philip.

4. Her maiden voyage was from Portsmouth to Grand Harbour in Malta

She carried Prince Charles and Princess Anne to Malta to meet the Queen and Prince Philip at the end of the royal couple’s Commonwealth tour. The Queen stepped aboard Britannia for the first time in Tobruk on 1 May 1954.

Over the next 43 years, Britannia would transport the Queen, members of the Royal Family and various dignitaries on some 696 foreign visits.

yacht le britannia

The HMY Britannia on a visit by the Queen to Canada in 1964

Image Credit: Royal Canadian Navy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

5. Britannia hosted some of the 20th century’s most notable figures

In July 1959, Britannia sailed the newly opened Saint Lawrence Seaway to Chicago where she docked, making the Queen the first British monarch to visit the city. US President Dwight Eisenhower hopped aboard Britannia for part of the journey.

In later years, Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton would also step aboard. Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales, took their honeymoon cruise on Britannia in 1981.

6. The crew were volunteers from the Royal Navy

After 365 days’ service, crew members could be admitted to the Permanent Royal Yacht Service as Royal Yachtsmen (‘Yotties’) and serve until they either chose to leave or were dismissed. As a result, some yachtsmen served on  Britannia  for over 20 years.

The crew also included a detachment of Royal Marines, who would dive underneath the ship each day while moored away from home to check for mines or other threats.

7. All royal children were allocated a ‘Sea Daddy’ on board the ship

The ‘sea daddies’ were primarily tasked with looking after the children and keeping them entertained (games, picnics and water fights) during voyages. They also oversaw the children’s chores, including cleaning the life rafts.

yacht le britannia

8. There was a ‘Jelly Room’ onboard for the royal children

The yacht had a total of three galley kitchens where Buckingham Palace ‘s chefs prepared meals. Among these galleys was a chilled room called the ‘Jelly Room’ for the sole purpose of storing royal children’s jellied desserts.

9. It cost around £11 million every year to run Britannica

The cost of running Britannia was always an issue. In 1994, another expensive refit for the ageing vessel was proposed. Whether or not to refit or commission a new royal yacht entirely came down to the election result of 1997. With repairs at a proposed cost of £17 million, Tony Blair’s new Labour government were unwilling to commit public funds to replace Britannica.

yacht le britannia

HMY Britannia in 1997, London

Image Credit: Chris Allen, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

10. All the clocks on board remain stopped at 3:01pm

In December 1997,  Britannia was officially decommissioned. The clocks have been kept at 3:01pm – the exact moment the Queen went ashore for the last time following the ship’s decommissioning ceremony, during which the Queen shed a rare public tear.

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Royal Yacht Britannia

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The Royal Yacht Britannia, Ocean Drive, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6JJ

Tel: 0131 555 5566 Email us: [email protected]

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9:30am - 4pm

(Last Admission 6pm)

The Royal Residence

The Royal Yacht Britannia proudly served the British Royal Family for over 44 years. This famous ship was the last of 83 Royal Yachts, a tradition which began hundreds of years before in the 1660s. Britannia travelled over one million nautical miles on 968 state visits. She was a successful ambassador around the world and played a key role in major historic events.

As a floating Royal residence, Britannia was famous across the globe for hosting magnificent state receptions and banquets, and guests would experience the same grandeur and sense of occasion as at any of the Royal palaces. The State Apartments were an elegant setting to entertain world leaders such as Sir Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Ronald Reagan and Rajiv Gandhi.

A Day in the Life - Royal Yacht Britannia. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023.

A Day in the Life

Of Queen Elizabeth II

sun lounge royal yacht britannia

Global Ambassador

Britannia was the first, and indeed the last, truly global Royal Yacht. Wherever in the world the Yacht went, a little bit of Britain went too.

Royal Yacht Britannia

The Royal Family

As well as her formal role, as the monarch's floating palace and British Ambassador, Britannia allowed the Royal Family some rare privacy away from their public duties and was famously described by Queen Elizabeth II as “the one place I can truly relax”.

video image play royal yacht britannia

I Name This Ship

Britannia was launched from the John Brown & Company shipyard in Clydebank on 16 April, 1953. Queen Elizabeth II became the most travelled monarch the world has ever known, entertaining Heads of Commonwealth countries as if they were at a Royal palace on British soil.

Royal Yacht Britannia - Drawing Room - Window

A Personal Touch

Britannia was the one Royal residence for which both Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip had final say in its design. The inspiration for choosing Britannia's signature blue paint was inspired by one of their wedding gifts, the Racing Yacht Bluebottle.

Royal Family RYB

Decommissioning

Because Britannia played such an important role in both the public and private lives of the Royal Family for over four decades, her decommissioning on 11 December 1997 was a sad day for all.

King Charles III

King Charles III's Visit

3 July 2023

Visiting Britannia

Tripadvisor’s No.1 UK Attraction 2023

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Start your tour at our entrance, currently located on the Ground Floor of Ocean Terminal. Please note that tickets purchased in person are by card/contactless only. 

Please pre-book your tickets to guarantee admission.

Click on the Visit page  for more information before you visit.

Step aboard to enjoy a great day out!

Fingal Hotel

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AA Hotel of the Year Scotland, AA five-star hotel and 2 AA Rosettes

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Learn more: fingal.co.uk

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  2. The Royal Yacht Britannia: A History of Queen Elizabeth II’s Favorite

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  3. Royal Yacht Britannia in history

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  4. Royal yacht: Why Britannia will definitely cost more than £200m to build

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  6. Royal Britain: A Tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia

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  5. The Royal Yacht Britannia 👑 #yacht #britannia #royal #british #uk #queen #elizabeth

  6. Why was the Royal Yacht Britannia retired?

COMMENTS

  1. The Royal Yacht Britannia Official Website

    The Royal Yacht Britannia is a five-star visitor attraction in Edinburgh. Britannia welcomes over 390,000 visitors a year from all over the world.

  2. HMY Britannia

    Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia is the former royal yacht of the British monarchy.She was in their service from 1954 until 1997. She was the 83rd such vessel since King Charles II acceded to the throne in 1660, and is the second royal yacht to bear the name, the first being the racing cutter built for the Prince of Wales in 1893. During her 43-year career, the yacht travelled more than a million ...

  3. Best UK Attraction

    Step aboard The Royal Yacht Britannia and follow in the footsteps of Royalty. Explore Britannia's 5 decks with a free audio guide available in 30 languages.

  4. The Royal Yacht Britannia

    Discover Tripadvisor's No.1 UK Attraction, The Royal Yacht Britannia. For over forty years, the Royal Yacht sailed over one million miles on nearly a thousand official visits for the British Royal Family. Now berthed in Edinburgh's historic Port of Leith, just two miles from the city centre, Britannia is a fascinating visitor attraction and ...

  5. Royal Yacht Britannia Facts Everyone Should Know—and How to ...

    The Britannia's Drawing Room. The ship's wheel was taken from King Edward VII's racing yacht, also named Britannia, according to Boat International, and the 126-meter ship could reach speeds of 22.75 knots, or a seagoing cruising speed of 21 knots, according to Super Yacht Times. Other fun facts: The yacht could produce her own fresh ...

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  7. Bienvenue à bord

    Le royal yacht Britannia. Montez à bord de l'ancien palais flottant de la reine Elizabeth II et découvrez par vous-même cette attraction cinq étoiles. Élue attraction numéro 1 par Tripadvisor en 2023. Suivez les traces de la famille royale et explorez les cinq ponts du Britannia, des élégants appartements royaux à la luxueuse salle des ...

  8. The Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh

    Discover more details about The Royal Yacht Britannia including opening times, photos and more.

  9. Royal Yacht Britannia

    The Royal Yacht Britannia is a fun day out for the whole family. Our free audio guide is available in a children's version, and visitors of all ages enjoy the Cuddly Corgi Treasure Hunt where they can spot the cuddly corgis hiding throughout the five decks. It is wonderful that you had a five-star experience.

  10. Inside Royal Yacht Britannia, Queen Elizabeth's Royal Cruise Ship

    The Royal Yacht Britannia was the royal family's private yacht from 1953 to 1997. The luxurious cruise ship is now a public museum.

  11. The Royal Yacht Britannia: history and visitor information

    Royal Yacht Britannia, an Edinburgh visitor attraction - what to see - history - book a tour. Find out more on Truly Edinburgh.

  12. Royal Yacht Britannia

    The Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh was The Queen's floating Royal residence for over forty years. Now the UK's no. 1 visitor attraction (TripAdvisor) and exclusive five-star evening events venue.

  13. Britannia (navire)

    Britannia. (navire) Pour les autres navires du même nom, voir HMS Britannia . Le Britannia sur La Tamise lors de sa dernière escale à Londres. Le Britannia est le dernier yacht royal britannique, en service de 1953 à 1997.

  14. What To See At The Royal Yacht Britannia

    Explore five decks on board the Clydebank-built former Royal Yacht of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at The Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh. Learn more.

  15. 10 Facts About Royal Yacht Britannia

    2. Britannia was the 83rd Royal Yacht. King George VI, Elizabeth II's father, had first commissioned the royal yacht that would become Britannia in 1952. The previous official boat had belonged to Queen Victoria and was rarely used. The tradition of royal yachts had been started by Charles II in 1660.

  16. Bateau Britannia : le navire de la Reine Elizabeth

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  19. Find Us

    Information on how to find The Royal Yacht Britannia at Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh, Leith. Learn more about planning your visit online here.

  20. Elektrostal, Moscow Oblast, Russia

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