While there are lots of awesome touristy things to do in Scotland, like Edinburgh Castle or Loch Ness Cruises, Visit Scotland has awarded one site the top accolade of Best Visitor Attraction in Scotland for the last 13 years in a row: the Royal Yacht Britannia.
Just a short bus ride out of Edinburgh's city centre in Leith, the Royal Yacht Britannia is accessed via its visitor centre on the 2nd floor of the Ocean Terminal shopping centre. Now permanently docked, for 44 years the Royal Yacht served as the current Royal family's chief mode of transport for international travel including diplomatic visits and family holidays between 1953 -1997. From the Western Isles of Scotland to the South Pacific, Australia to Antarctica, if you take her total mileage into account, HM Yacht Britannia has sailed the equivalent of once round the world for each year of her operation!
The visitor centre has an interesting exhibition about historic Royal Yachts (the first belonged to Charles II) and features an 11 foot Lego model of the Britannia! You'll then collect your complimentary audio guide and head onto the ship.
There is lots to see on board and you get a really good insight into the whole ship as the tour route moves from the Bridge to the Royal apartments, down through the crew quarters to the kitchens, laundry, sick bay medical facilities and engine rooms. A floating Royal residence, this is the only place where you can see a living monarch's bedroom! Large glass windows allow you to look into the Queen and Prince Philip's sleeping and working rooms, including the desk where the Queen would receive her 'Red Box' of state papers and meet with her Private Secretary, and the honeymoon suite where Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones, Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips, Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales and Prince Andrew and Sarah Fergusson stayed after their weddings. It's the only room on the Royal Yacht with a double bed!
Other highlights on the uppermost levels included the beautiful wooden sun lounge with built in drinks cupboard (a bottle of Dubonnet, the Queen's favourite, prominently displayed), the state dining room, laid out for an elegant meal (previous guests have included Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and US Presidents Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, its walls decorated with gifts from state visits around the world and the tropical coloured drawing room, still set for afternoon tea. You can still see where the Royal children did their jigsaw puzzles and the baby grand piano in the corner was used by Princess Diana and Noel Coward during their time on board!
The Drawing Room, State Dining Room and Sun Lounge on the Royal Yacht Britannia
Moving from the Royal residence down into the functioning Naval side of the ship, it was really interesting to explore the differences in the crew facilities depending on what their rank was: the officers enjoyed a comfortable bar lounge and swanky dining room with a very impressive brandy collection, the NCOs common room looked more like a pub with dominos and draft beer taps, and the lowest ranking junior ratings had bunk bed dormitories and cans of beer, a big difference from the Admiral's plush cabin with his own bath tub!
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Britannia carried a crew of 21 officers and 220 yachtsmen - shouting was forbidden on board in order to maintain a relaxed atmosphere for the Royal family, so most commands were delivered through hand signals. Don't miss the NAAFI 'tuck' shop, originally where the 'Yotties' (as the Yacht crew were known) could buy sweets, magazines, razors and Britannia souvenirs - it now sells delicious home made fudge!
The Officers' dining room, crew NAAFI shop and sick bay on the Royal Yacht Britannia
The galley kitchens are still functioning, now serving the Royal Deck tea room where you can enjoy scones, cakes, soups and sandwiches, or treat yourself to a champagne cream tea or afternoon cocktail.
The lowest level of the Royal Yacht Britannia houses the gleaming engine rooms which provided 12,000 horsepower - the ship could travel at a maximum of 22.5 knots. Its chrome dials and steam turbines are still the originals from 1953, and it is said that when General Schwarzkopf toured the engine rooms in 1992, he declared "Okay. I've seen the museum piece. Now, where's the real engine room?" The cheek!
We also learned that Britannia was a very versatile vessel. Not just a floating palace, she was also designed to double as a hospital ship, one of the reasons why the 24 hour laundry facilities are so large, and in the event of a nuclear war, the Britannia was intended to be used as the safe haven for the Queen and Prince Philip. In 1986, the Royal Yacht evacuated over 1,000 refugees from the civil war in Aden, South Yemen - as a non-combatant Royal Navy ship, she was able to enter the area without provoking further tension.
Don't miss the gift shop on your way out, it has a fabulous collection of themed merchandise from Britannia gin to china ware, stationary, clothing and cuddly corgis (if you're visiting with kids, there are several corgis hidden around the ship, see how many you can spot!).
As well as being Scotland's top visitor attraction, in 2020 the Royal Yacht Britannia was also named Top Paid Attraction in Edinburgh in the annual Tripadvisor Travellers' Choice Awards, and Best Attraction in the UK by Which? Magazine! You really need to have HM Yacht on your Edinburgh itinerary - it's a fascinating peek into a modern Royal residence and the audio guide is really good.
Visiting the Royal Yacht Britannia:
The entire experience on board is completely accessible, which we found very impressive:
Each of the 5 levels of the yacht on the tour route have lift access and are wheelchair friendly.
The audio guide is available in 30 different languages, one of the most in the world!
BSL hand held tablets of the tour are also available, as well as a Braille copy of the tour script.
If you're driving, the Britannia is about a 20 minute drive from Edinburgh City Centre and you can park for free in the Ocean Terminal shopping centre.
Buses 11, 16 or 35 leave from central Princes Street and stop at Ocean Terminal - single fares are £1.80 and can be paid by contactless card. Alternatively, if you have a 48 hour 'Value' ticket from City Sightseeing Bus Tours (the famous red hop on hop off buses), that also has a stop for the Royal Yacht Britannia, and they even have an 'Ultimate' ticket that includes your entry fee for Britannia (plus Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood) on top of the bus tour!
You can read our blog about City Sightseeing's Edinburgh route here .
Visiting Edinburgh by Cruise Ship? If you're berthed in Leith, you'll be minutes away from the Royal Yacht Britannia on foot, otherwise from South Queensferry you'll need to go into central Edinburgh and bus back out to Leith, or take a taxi.
Students £16.00 (ID required)
Children £9.00 (under 5s free)
Royal Yacht Britannia is open from 10:00 - 17:00 (9:30 - 18:00 April - August) and is closed on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
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Disclosure: we were gifted two tickets for the Royal Yacht Britannia in return for a blog and Instagram content, but we were not paid to post and as always, all opinions are our own!