The Royal Yacht Britannia was home to Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal Family for over 40 years. It sailed over 1,000,000 miles around the world before being decommissioned and berthed in Edinburgh. The yacht was decommissioned due to the cost of a necessary refit. On 20 October 1997, HMY Britannia left Portsmouth on her farewell tour around the UK, calling at six major ports. As she sailed past John Brown's Shipyard, she gave a blast on her sirens as tribute to the yard which had built her.
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King George VI, the Queen’s father, commissioned Britannia on 4 February, 1952. He died two days later, so it became The Queen's duty to oversee the project. Clydebank shipbuilders, John Brown & Co, created Britannia's smooth hull. The Queen and Prince Philip's inspiration for choosing Britannia's signature blue paint was inspired by one of their wedding gifts, the Racing Yacht Bluebottle. Britannia was launched from the company’s shipyard in Clydebank on 16 April, 1953 and she served the Royal Family for over 44 years, travelling over one million miles. It was used for state visits, official receptions, royal honeymoons and relaxing family holidays.
Britannia has five main decks. Tours start at the Bridge, and then go to the State Apartments, Crew's Quarters and Engine Room. (Note: we found the ‘below stairs’ areas the most interesting.) The yacht’s décor is not fancy, but utilitarian and rooted in the past.
Britannia’s State Apartments were designed by Sir Hugh Casson in a 1950s style. The State Drawing Room is the main reception room and was used for relaxing, conversation and games. The State Dining Room also hosted guests.
The Queen’s Sitting Room was used by the Queen for working on State papers and meeting with secretaries. The Sun Lounge, an informal space, was the Queen’s favourite room. Breakfast and afternoon tea took place here. It looks out on the large deck. The Queen’s Bedroom and Prince Philip's are linked by an interconnecting door. The Honeymoon Suite was used for four Royal honeymoons.
Also on view are the sick bay and laundry (below deck), the engine room, and the onboard Rolls-Royce Phantom V that actually travelled on the ship. The laundry served over 240 officers and yachtsmen.
In addition to two galleys that served the officers and crew, Britannia had a Royal Galley located immediately ahead of the State Dining Room. The Queen’s food was prepared here by the chefs from Buckingham Palace. The storerooms held two month's supply of fish and meat and fresh bread was baked daily.
There is a Royal Sailing exhibition which highlights the 1930s ocean-racing Royal Racing Yacht Bloodhound (not on display during July and August). Most of the items on view on the ship are the originals, on loan from the Royal Collection and other contributors. The Britannia Wardroom Officers' Trust has its own collection of artefacts on display. The silverware collection includes two silver Cromwellian urns dating back to 1909 and a silver Pegasus bowl depicting four previous Royal Yachts.
The Britannia visitor centre is at Ocean Terminal shopping mall and connects to the yacht.
Royal Yacht Britannia
Ocean Terminal, Leith, Edinburgh
Edinburgh and the Lothians
Tel. 0131 555 5566 (information and booking line)
Open: year round, daily except Christmas and New Year; Jan, Feb, March, Nov, Dec, 10am-3.30pm; April, May, June, Sep, Oct, 10am-4.30pm; July, Aug, 9.30am-4.30pm; closes 1.5 hours after last admission; pre-book tickets for a specific date in August; other times not necessary to pre-book
Shop; tea-room; free parking at Ocean Terminal
Web: Royal Yacht Britannia
Note: most rooms are behind glass or roped off.
Photos and text © by Barbara Ballard