The Royal Yacht Britannia sailed more than one million miles, on voyages all over the world, during the four decades it was a second home to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family. The mighty vessel, also known as Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia, is now permanently berthed in Edinburgh, where she has become Scotland's top visitor attraction.

Credit: Troy GB images / Alamy Stock Photo

Tour highlights

Tourists can follow in the Royal Family's footsteps and take a tour of this very special regal residence, which Visit Scotland has voted the number one attraction. The tour covers the mega-yacht's five main decks, with an audio handset providing commentary along the way.

Starting at the bridge: visitors can explore the magnificent state apartments, take a trip around the crew's quarters and finish up in the engine room. There is also a royal sailing exhibition with a special display about the royal racing yacht, Bloodhound. There's even a vintage Rolls-Royce Phantom V (a former royal state car) in a specially-built garage onboard.

Many fascinating artefacts from the royal collection are on display and the route includes ramps and lifts to make it accessible for the disabled.


Constructed by John Brown & Co Ltd shipyard in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, the yacht was launched on 16th April 1953 by Queen Elizabeth II and commissioned on 11th January 1954. The design included a 139ft main mast, a 133ft foremast and a 118ft mizzenmast - the taller masts were hinged so the yacht could pass under bridges.

The yacht had the capability of being converted into a wartime hospital ship, although this was never needed. It also had to provide refuge for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh on Scotland's north-west coast in the event of a nuclear war.

Maiden voyage

The royal yacht's maiden voyage departed from Portsmouth on 14th April 1954 and arrived at the Grand Harbour in Malta on 22nd April. Prince Charles and Princess Anne were on board, as they were on their way to meet Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at Tobruk. The Queen had been on a tour of the Commonwealth with Prince Philip, so the royal couple enjoyed their first voyage on Britannia when they got on board in Tobruk on 1st May.


Britannia has been on voyages all over the world, including a momentous trip to Chicago on 20th July 1959. The vessel sailed through the new Saint Lawrence Seaway before docking at Chicago. For part of the cruise, she was joined by American President Dwight Eisenhower. Presidents from the US -including Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton - were often guests of the Queen on Britannia.

In 1981, the yacht was also the honeymoon home of Charles and Diana following the royal wedding. The newlyweds took a romantic cruise to celebrate their nuptials.

On a more serious note, the ship saved more than 1,000 refugees who were being evacuated from the civil war in Aden in 1986. Britannia completed a voyage to Canada in 1991, calling in at Toronto and Kingston, Ontario.

The vessel was always escorted by a Royal Navy warship when the Royal Family was onboard. Every August, Britannia visited Cowes Week and afterwards the luxury vessel took the Queen and other members of the Royal Family on their annual cruise - the Western Isles tour along the west coast of Scotland.


The future of the royal yacht hung in the balance at the time of the general election in May 1997, with the Conservatives saying they would carry on with the tradition if they were elected. Labour refused to reveal what the plans were should they be given power. After Labour was elected, it was announced Britannia was to be retired, despite the Conservatives saying the vessel promoted British interests abroad.

She is now permanently moored in the historic port of Leith, where registered charity, the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust, maintains her as a floating museum.

Credit: Stephen Hovington / Alamy Stock Photo

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