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Articles about Edinburgh and Scotland by David Wheater, founder of Tours of Edinburgh.

Visiting The Royal Yacht Britannia, Leith, Edinburgh

(798) The Royal Yacht Britannia, Ocean Terminal, Ocean Drive, Leith Docks, Edinburgh.jpg

Visiting The Royal Yacht Britannia, Leith, Edinburgh
by David Wheater of Tours of Edinburgh

Based in the port of Leith, the Royal Yacht Britannia is one of Edinburgh's most popular visitor attractions. Whether you're a fan of the Royals or not, it's a fabulous place to visit and explore, with plenty to keep the whole family entertained.

While the lives of the Royal family on-board are very interesting, I'm particularly fascinated by the careers of the men who served on her - the 'yotties', who had to serve in very cramped conditions for long periods of time. Their stories, in my opinion, are every bit as important and interesting. Launched by Her Majesty the Queen in 1953, HMY Britannia was the Royal family's floating home for 44 years, until she was decommissioned from service in 1997.

Built on the Clyde by John Brown and Company, it's fitting that this wonderful Scottish yacht should spend its retiral back in Scotland. The Yacht is now permanently berthed in Edinburgh's port of Leith, next to Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre. Over her lifetime, this fabulous Royal Yacht sailed for over a million nautical miles and made over 600 overseas visits to over 135 different countries. The Yacht was particularly useful for visiting remote parts of the Commonwealth, which wouldn't otherwise have been so accessible.

She was also designed to be quickly converted into a hospital ship in times of war, but this capability was never used. She did, however, become a rescue ship in 1986, rescuing 1000 refugees and British nationals trapped in the civil war in South Yemen. Another role, which was kept secret until fairly recently, was as a command centre and refuge for the Queen and Home Secretary in the event of nuclear war. The ship was equipped with a communications and command centre as part of the 'Python System', which would have seen the ship helping to direct operations from the West Coast of Scotland.

The style and decoration of the interior of the yacht may surprise many. The decor very much reflects the style and taste of the post-war 1950s and is surprisingly simple and understated. The Queen herself rejected more elaborate designs preferring a plainer and less fussy interior. The State Apartments even contain furniture and fittings recycled from the previous royal vessel, HMY Victoria and Albert, and the wheel came from George V's racing yacht, also called 'Britannia'.

One of the most interesting aspects of a visit to Britannia is to discover all about the lives of the Royal Yachtsmen ('Yotties') who volunteered for service on her. With around 215 yachtsmen and 19 officers, the ship was a very cramped place to live, which couldn't have been easy. Some yachtsmen served on her for more than 20 years and it's amazing to see how little privacy and space they had for their belongings. To add to the cramped conditions, the yacht was home to a Royal Marine Platoon whenever the Queen was on board.

As well as being a home for the Royal family, which was much loved, HMY Britannia also had a more serious, formal role in entertaining foreign dignitaries, politicians and royalty. Her diplomatic and ambassadorial role was highly beneficial to the UK in fostering good relations abroad and around the Commonwealth. Guests over the years included Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, to name but a few. As well as carrying 300 royal flags, she also carried 400 national flags to welcome foreign statesmen and dignitaries aboard the Britannia.

Visitors to HMY Britannia can explore over five of her decks, from the impressive Bridge to the State Apartments, the honeymoon suite, the crew's quarters and the impressive engine room. Even the laundry room is fascinating! In addition to being a popular visitor attraction, the yacht is regularly hired as a special evening venue and also has a very popular Royal Deck Tea Room for all visitors to enjoy.

Britannia is open all year round except 25th December and 1st January. There is a free annual pass available for the price of a normal ticket which is well worth getting. Do remember to take the free audio tour which is available in 27 languages. Adults £15.50, Children (5-17) 8.50 and under 5's are free. Find out more at

If you'd like to join me on a special walking tour of Edinburgh, please Email me or telephone me directly on 07400 705 357.

Visitor Info
Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh
Ocean Terminal, Leith EH6 6JJ

David WheaterComment