Breathing in the aromatic smell of the salty sea air sure has healing powers. Therefore, on a recent afternoon I decided to head to the Port of Leith and step aboard one of Edinburgh’s top visited tourist attractions- The Royal Yacht Britannia. What better place could I be than standing on than the deck of the Britannia to partake in such an ancient medicinal practice?
I’m pretty sure that I am a pirate at heart or at least a pirate in a past life (in the most mundane, Disney form that existed I should clarify). Therefore, for all my fellow sea-loving adventurers out there, join me, on our brief voyage to the beautiful Port of Leith as we explore the celebrated ship Britannia…
Fun for Visitors & Locals
The Royal Yacht Britannia is a must-do attraction for anyone visiting Edinburgh. So, after you enjoy one of our exciting walking tours around the city centre, hop on one of the Lothian buses and head to the Britannia’s home at Ocean Terminal. And, I would like to point out that this attraction is a fun location for locals as well. A tip for anyone who is a resident or knows that that they’ll be back to Edinburgh within a 12-month span- make sure to get your season pass which entitles you to free admission after you pay the initial entrance fees. Just keep your ticket and ask for an application from one of the Britannia staff so that you can mail it in to request your season pass. This way you can visit for free (for up to one year) as well as get a discount at the Tea Room and gift shop.
One major benefit that is included in the admission fee is an audio tour provided in many different languages. Make sure to take the time to listen to your audio tour, which is easily numbered throughout the ship, so that you can find out about each location, it’s history, and significance. There are many interesting points throughout the Britannia, but, in this article, I just want to highlight a few of my favourites. Also, as you enjoy the pictures, make sure to keep an eye out for the adorable, cuddly corgis. The Britannia has a fun 'corgi' treasure hunt that children can participate in as they explore the ship. Of course, the corgi was chosen due to their being some of The Queen’s most famous family members.
Business & Family
In 1953, at the renowned John Brown’s Shipyard on the Clyde here in Scotland, Her Majesty The Queen, christened the royal yacht, Britannia. It was the beginning of the ship’s fascinating history that, over the decades, held various banquets and receptions hosting royalty, prime ministers, presidents, and leaders from around the world.
However, juxtaposed with this is the reoccurring theme that becomes obvious throughout the tour…that it was also a family home. According to information provided on the tour, The Queen always made sure to have plenty of family photographs, heirlooms, and personal possessions placed throughout the royal apartments. Some of these are on display and can be enjoyed along the tour. It’s clear to see that The Queen truly loved her time with her family on Britannia, and she once famously said, “Britannia is the one place where I can truly relax”.
A Floating Royal Residence
A few popular locations on the tour are the more personal rooms once used by the Royal Family. Here, you can see the rather humble bedrooms and office spaces once used by The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. One of my favourite spots is the Sun Lounge. It is lined with teak panelling and must have been a wonderful place to sit down with a good book and enjoy the views. During Britannia’s heyday it was used as a family room and private space for the Royal Family.
Another comfortable looking room (but certainly a bit more formal than the Sun Lounge) is the State Drawing Room. The furniture looks rather down-to-earth and there is a gorgeous piano (safely bolted to the floor- a legacy of it’s sailing days) that Princess Diana is said to have enjoyed playing.
A particularly nice family touch is the mooring of the Royal Racing Yacht, Bloodhound, right next to the Britannia. This exquisite 1930s yacht was once owned by The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh from 1962-1969. It would accompany the Britannia and the young royals learned to sail on it during their annual family vacations to the Western Isles here in Scotland. It is now owned by the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust. It is available for charter from Oban Marina for sailings around Scotland's West Coast during the month of August. You can check Britannia's website for more information.
As you follow along the tour route, it is clear to see just what an undertaking it was for the Britannia to function as an official royal residence. According to the tour, the ship required 220 Yachtsmen and 20 Officers from the Royal Navy to keep it running. As with all military ships, there was a clear hierarchy that existed on the ship, and this can be seen in the various sleeping and relaxation quarters once used by the Officers and Yachtsmen. The pictures below highlight the various rooms used by the crew.
The Britannia even had its own medical facilities, and the ship was actually built so that it could be converted to a hospital during war time. Fortunately, that service was never needed.
Additionally, there were full-service laundry facilities aboard. Some crew had to change up to six times a day so this was a much-needed service.
For those of you interested in more of the technical and engineering aspects of running the ship, you will be pleased to learn that there's a fantastic view of the Britannia's engine room.
Dining Like Royalty
The grandest and largest room on the ship by far is the State Dining Room. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh hosted many important dignitaries on Britannia, and this is where they dined in impeccable style. Situated on the walls and in cabinets around the perimeter of the room are an eclectic assortment of gifts that were give to The Queen on her various visits around the world.
Remarkably, you can hire out and get exclusive use of the State Dining Room for various personal functions- corporate, personal, etc. It certainly takes the idea of the typical office party or wedding reception up to the next level.
However, if you are looking for something a little more affordable and immediate, you are in luck. Once the place where the Royal Family played games and entertained, the Royal Deck- now converted to the Royal Deck Tea Room- is a lovely spot to take a break from the tour. Here you can enjoy a delicious refreshment as well as take in the spectacular harbour views. Britannia’s once famous attention to detail is still a priority for staff- including the adorable cocoa powder design in the shape of the Britannia on the top of my cappuccino. The chocolate cake was positively scrumptious and decadent. The Tea Room also serves lunch and afternoon tea, so there are a few different options for hungry visitors.
End of an Era
It seems only fitting that, as Britannia’s beginning was in Scotland, it would come to rest there as well. On 11 December 1997, the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned. It now stands as a fascinating place to get a glimpse into royal history.
I hope that you have enjoyed our brief exploration. It is one of those attractions that you must see in person. Therefore, if you visit us in Edinburgh, make sure to head down to the harbour and take in the beautiful sites as well as the magnificence that is the Royal Yacht Britannia.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!