The Story Behind the Royal Family's Yacht, Britannia

The ship hosted four royal honeymoons in its 44 years of service.

Hmy Britannia

Often referred to as the last royal yacht, the Britannia was decommissioned in 1997, and despite some efforts , there are no signs of a new one in the near future. Though its seafaring days may be behind it (the ship now serves as a tourist attraction in Edinburgh, Scotland), the Britannia remains an important artifact and a peek behind the curtain of royal life—it even garnered a prominent place in the fifth season of The Crown . Below, a few of its most notable moments throughout history.

It was the first royal yacht designed for ocean travel.

The ship was built by John Brown & Co at the same shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland in the same location the famous ocean liners the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary were constructed. With 12,000 horsepower, the ship could travel at a maximum 22.5 knots (approximately 25 miles per hour), ideal for ocean-going diplomacy. Prior to its launch in 1953, the royal family used ships from the Royal Navy or even passenger liners for the overseas portions of the royal tour.

In its 44 years of service, the HMY Britannia traveled around 1.1 million miles.

Royal Yacht State Room

It was commissioned just two days before the death of King George VI.

The King was already in failing health by the time the designs for the HMY Britannia were submitted, and the hope was that traveling might help alleviate some of his symptoms. However, just two days after the John Brown shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland received the order the King passed away on February 6, 1952.

It would take just over a year for the ship to be completed, during which time its name remained a secret—it wasn't announced until the ship's official launch in April of 1953, less than two months before the Queen's coronation . Elizabeth cracked a bottle of English wine (in the post-war era, champagne was considered too extravagant for the launch of a ship) and announced, "I name this ship Britannia … I wish success to her and all who sail in her."

It was created to double as a hospital.

When Britannia was first envisioned, less than a decade after the end of World War II, the designers sought to make it as functional as possible, crafting a space that could be converted from an ocean-going royal residence to a seafaring hospital during any possible future wartime. The main veranda was laid out and re-enforced so that it could support a helicopter landing and the laundry was made much larger than on a standard naval vessel to accommodate the potential patients. Though the ship was never actually put to that purpose, it was pressed into service on a rescue mission to help evacuate European nationals from South Yemen in 1986.

The ship was home to a lot of history.

Long before it became a floating museum, the Britannia had an eye for history. The gold and white binnacle housed on the ship's veranda deck was originally part of the HMY Royal George , a royal yacht that served Queen Victoria . Likewise, some of the bed linens used by Queen Elizabeth aboard the vessel were originally made for Victoria's bed for one of the previous royal yachts.

Britannia's steering wheel was lifted from her namesake, the racing yacht HMY Britannia , built in 1893 for King Edward VII .

Royal Yacht Dining Room

It was redesigned to be less opulent.

Despite the sense of luxury that the term "royal yacht" inspires, the Queen and Prince Philip were actually concerned when they began overseeing the project in 1952 that the original interior design plans by the design firm McInnes Gardner & Partners were too lavish for a country still recovering from the war. The interiors were ultimately redesigned by Sir Hugh Casson and received very minimal updates throughout her 44 years of service.

But it still had homey touches—by royal standards.

Suffice to say that even low-key royal living is a fairly high class. In addition to the 56-seat State Dining Room, which hosted luminaries including Winston Churchill, Noel Coward, Nelson Mandela, and multiple US Presidents, the ship also sported a formal staircase where the Queen would greet guests, separate bedrooms and sitting rooms for both Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh, and a phone system designed to match the unique configurations of Buckingham Palace's telephones.

BRITANNIA Queen's bedroom

In the early years of the Britannia's life it was also home to the Queen's Rolls-Royce Phantom V which was hoisted and lowered from a special garage compartment at port so that the Queen could drive her own car at each location. The space was ever so slightly too small, forcing the bumpers to be removed in order to get it into the garage without damage and then refitted when the car was removed. Ultimately Elizabeth began using cars provided for her at port instead and the garage was converted into a storage area for beer.

The steering crew couldn't see where they were going.

Life on board the HMY Britannia was far from typical for her crew. To begin with, due to the prestige and pressure of the position, the commanding officer of the royal yacht was always a flag officer, most commonly a Rear Admiral, although the first two to serve were Vice Admirals, and Britannia 's final CO was a Commodore.

While working, the crew reportedly used hand signals to communicate rather than shouting orders, in order to maintain a sense of quiet and calm for the royal residents. It was also the last ship in the royal navy where the crew members slept in hammocks, a practice that they maintained until 1973.

Hmy Britannia

Perhaps the most unusual element of the ship's functioning, though, was the steering. While on most ships, the steering wheel sits on the bridge, overlooking the front of the vessel, Britannia 's was on the deck below, in the wheelhouse, which meant that the yachtsmen who were actually doing the steering couldn't see where they were going. The crew got around this rather surprising pitfall by using voice pipes from the bridge to confer navigational orders.

It was a royal honeymoon essential.

No fewer than four royal couples celebrated their honeymoons in the HMY Britannia 's honeymoon suite (the only room onboard with a double bed.)

Princess Margaret started the tradition in 1960 for her Caribbean honeymoon with Anthony Armstrong-Jones , a quiet, formal affair where dinners were taken in full evening dress every night. Things didn't go quite as smoothly for Princess Anne on her honeymoon with Captain Mark Phillips in 1973—storms and 20-foot waves left the couple stricken with seasickness for the first week of their Caribbean cruise. Prince Charles and Princess Diana famously spent their 1981 honeymoon on a Mediterranean cruise aboard the yacht. The crew managed to duck the press so efficiently they garnered the nickname "the ghost ship." The final royal honeymoon aboard the Britannia was taken by Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson , Duchess of York in 1986 when the couple traveled around the Azores.

In memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, who was killed in an automobile accident in Paris, France on August 31, 1997.

And a family vacation spot.

In addition to her diplomatic duties on royal tours and her service as a post-wedding retreat, the Britannia was also a vessel for family vacations. During the summer months, the royal family would often take off on what became known as the Western Isles tour, cruising around the western isles of Scotland. During the trip, the family would play games and have barbecues on the islands. The stairway off of the veranda was sometimes even converted into a waterslide for the younger royals. The tour often included a stop off at the Castle of Mey to visit the Queen Mother, then making berth in Aberdeen so that the Queen could travel to her favorite summer home, Balmoral .

Queen Crying At Britannia

The Queen openly wept when HMY Britannia was decommissioned in 1997.

With so many memories around the yacht, it's not hard to understand why the decommissioning of the Britannia was upsetting for the royal family. Though plans were initially drawn up for a replacement yacht, the government ultimately determined not to fund the effort. After the Queen officially took her leave of it in 1997, the ship was placed in the port of Leith in Scotland where it serves as a floating museum and events venue . All of the clocks on board remain stopped at 3:01, the exact time that Her Majesty disembarked for the last time.

Zara Phillips And Mike Tindall Host Pre Wedding Party On Britannia

It was used for a reception for Zara Phillips before her wedding.

Though it's no longer used as their private vessel, the Britannia 's connection to the royal family didn't end in 1997. In 2011 on the night before her wedding, the Queen's oldest granddaughter Zara Phillips contracted the ship for a reception. Though her grandmother wasn't in attendance Zara celebrated her upcoming marriage to Mike Tindall onboard along with her mother and her cousins Prince Harry, Prince William and Kate, Princess Eugenie, and Princess Beatrice.

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Lauren Hubbard is a freelance writer and Town & Country contributor who covers beauty, shopping, entertainment, travel, home decor, wine, and cocktails.

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Royal Yacht Britannia

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A Floating Palace

Britannia was launched from the John Brown & Company shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland, on 16 April, 1953. For over 44 years the Royal Yacht served the Royal Family, travelling more than a million nautical miles to become one of the most famous ships in the world. To Queen Elizabeth II, Britannia provided the perfect Royal residence for glittering state visits, official receptions, Royal honeymoons a nd relaxing family holidays. For Great Britain, she was a majestic symbol of the Commonwealth and a proud ambassador  generating billions of pounds in trade deals. For the Royal Family and 220 dedicated crew of Royal Yachtsmen, she was home.

Today, Britannia is a five-star visitor attraction and exclusive evening events venue in Edinburgh.

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Start at the Bridge, explore the State Apartments, Crew's Quarters and finish at the Engine Room.

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Discover why Britannia was so special for Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family.

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Find out about life on the ocean wave for the crew, the Royal Yachtsmen, also know as the ‘Yotties’.

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Britannia holds a special place in maritime history as the last in a long line of Royal Yachts.

Visiting Britannia

Tripadvisor’s No.1 UK Attraction 2023

the royal yacht britannia

Start your tour at our Ticket Centre, currently located on the Ground Floor of Ocean Terminal. 

Please pre-book your tickets to guarantee admission.

Due to upcoming construction work at Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre , Britannia will be closed 25-28 June.

Click on the Visit page  for more information before you visit.

Step aboard to enjoy a great day out!

Fingal Hotel

Get away from the everyday aboard Britannia’s sister ship, Fingal.  Extend your visit with a stay in one of Fingal’s luxurious cabins, your own oasis by the sea. 

AA Hotel of the Year Scotland, AA five-star hotel and 2 AA Rosettes

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The Royal Yacht Britannia

Experience Tripadvisor's Best UK Attraction 2023. Follow in the footsteps of Royalty and explore this floating Royal residence with a fascinating audio tour of five decks (available in over 30 languages).

Tripadvisor's Best UK Attraction 2023, Best UK Attraction (Which magazine readers) and Tripadvisor Travellers' Choice Best of the Best award winner 

Please note due to the upcoming construction work at Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre, Britannia will be closed 25 - 28 June. 

Visit this award-winning attraction, just two miles from Edinburgh's city centre at Ocean Terminal.  The Royal Yacht Britannia played host to some of the world’s most famous people, from Nelson Mendela to Winston Churchill, but above all was home for the British Royal Family for over 40 years. Now you can discover the heart and soul of this most special of Royal residences.

You'll receive a truly warm welcome at Britannia's Visitor Centre before you board this famous ship where you will discover the history of Royal Yachts and view displays and historical photographs of Britannia's fascinating past before boarding Queen Elizabeth II's former floating palace.

What will you see?

  • Tour Britannia’s five decks
  • Feel like the captain of the ship in the Bridge
  • Follow in the footsteps of Royalty through the State Apartments
  • See Queen Elizabeth II's favourite room- the Sun Lounge
  • Discover below decks in the Crew’s Quarters
  • Admire a tour highlight, the gleaming Engine Room
  • Take in the Royal Sailing Exhibition
  • Enjoy soups, sandwiches, cakes and scones in the Royal Deck Tearoom and admire the stunning waterfront views.

The tour is available in:

  • Audio handset tour, available in over 30 languages
  • Children’s audio tour
  • Audio tour for those with sight loss
  • ASL and BSL tablet
  • Braille script ​​​​​​ ​​​​​

Complete the Britannia experience with a visit to the  Gift Shop in Ocean Terminal, where you’ll find exclusive Britannia souvenirs, china, toys, gifts and nautical items.

Berthed just moments away, Britannia's sister ship, floating hotel Fingal, offers 22 luxurious cabins inspired by the former Northern Lighthouse Board tender's rich maritime heritage. For further information, visit Fingal's website .


-  Please note that due to upcoming construction work at Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre, Britannia will be closed 11 - 23 March and 25 - 28 June. -  All weather experience -  Highly accessible for wheelchair users, single buggies and those with limited mobility. Read our accessibility statement here . -  Free Annual Pass for 12 months admission included -  The entrance to Britannia is via our Visitor Centre on the 2nd floor of Ocean Terminal shopping centre.

How to get here?

By tram: Take the tram to stop 'Ocean Terminal' (Newhaven direction).

By bus: Majestic Tour Bus and Lothian Buses 10, 16, 34 and 35 run from the city centre towards Ocean Terminal. Majestic Tour buses depart regularly from Waterloo Place / St Andrew Square in the centre of Edinburgh. The Majestic Tour is operated by Edinburgh Bus Tours .

By train:  Arrive in the city centre at Edinburgh Waverley Train Station, just 2 miles from Britannia. 

By car: Follow signs to Edinburgh and Leith or North Edinburgh. Then follow brown tourist signs for Britannia. Free car parking at Ocean Terminal (level E is nearest). For satnav our postcode is EH6 6JJ. Go inside the shopping centre for Britannia’s visitor centre and the start of the tour. By plane: Britannia is approximately 40 minutes’ drive from Edinburgh Airport.

For further information on finding Britannia, please see here .  


Please check the Britannia website for full opening times and prices. EVENING EVENTS Exclusive dinners and receptions can be hosted on board. Call our events team on +44 (0) 131 555 8800 and see how we can create your event of a lifetime, or visit the events section of our website .

PRIVATE TOURS A private tour on board The Royal Yacht Britannia is an exclusive experience, giving you access to Britannia’s five decks, and a unique insight into the history of the Royal Yacht and how the Royal Family and crew lived and worked on board. Both Morning and Evening tours are available. Call our events team on +44 (0) 131 555 8800 or for more information visit click here . PRESERVING BRITANNIA Britannia is cared for by The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust , a self-funding charity registered in Scotland (SC028070). By visiting Britannia you will be helping us to preserve this important piece of history for future generations. See our reviews on Tripadvisor Like us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Pinterest Follow us on Instagram

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What to Know About the Royal Yacht Britannia Featured on 'The Crown' Season 5

The Royal Yacht Britannia served as the official royal yacht of the British monarchy for 44 years

the royal yacht britannia

The Crown is diving into royal events from the '90s in season 5 , and that includes the decommissioning of Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia, also known as the Royal Yacht Britannia.

In the first episode of the new season, Claire Foy ( who portrayed Queen Elizabeth II in seasons 1 and 2) reprises her role as the monarch as a flashback shows the yacht's official launch in April 1953.

At the time, the new yacht held special significance as it was launched by the Queen just before her own coronation in June 1953 .

Through the years, the vessel sailed over 1,000,000 nautical miles on 968 state visits with the royal family as they entertained prime ministers and presidents, per the Royal Yacht Britannia website. It also served as the venue for several royal honeymoons , including Princess Diana and Princes Charles in 1981 .

From when it was commissioned to where the Royal Yacht Britannia is now, here's everything to know about the royal yacht.

When was the Royal Yacht Britannia commissioned?

As shown on The Crown , Royal Yacht Britannia was officially launched on April 16, 1953 , at the shipyard of John Brown & Co. Ltd in Clydebank, Dunbartonshire, where Queen Elizabeth unveiled the yacht's official name.

Following Queen Elizabeth 's coronation on June 2, 1953, the Royal Yacht Britannia was commissioned into the Royal Navy on January 11, 1954, before sailing her first overseas port on April 22.

How big is the Royal Yacht Britannia?

The Royal Yacht Britannia is about 412 feet long , with a beam width of 55 feet and five decks , and weighs over 4,000 tons.

Who used the Royal Yacht Britannia?

The yacht was described as the royal family's "floating residence" during its 44 years of service. As it was used to host "magnificent state receptions and banquets, and guests ," numerous world leaders boarded the yacht over the years, including Sir Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Ronald Reagan and Rajiv Gandhi.

Per the Royal Yacht Britannia website, the yacht also " allowed the Royal Family some rare privacy away from their public duties and was famously described by HM Queen Elizabeth II as 'the one place I can truly relax.' "

Furthermore, the Royal Yacht Britannia was the venue of four royal honeymoons : Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones, and Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson. All four royal marriages ended in divorce, which Queen Elizabeth famously reflected on in her 1992 speech where she referred to the past year as her "annus horribilis ," or horrible year.

When was the Royal Yacht Britannia decommissioned?

The yacht's retirement was announced in 1994 as a result of the substantial costs needed to repair the ship. It was estimated that the cost would £17 million, which would only prolong the yacht for another five years.

On December 11, 1997, the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned during an official ceremony that was attended by most of the senior members of the royal family. It was been reported that Queen Elizabeth was seen uncharacteristically shedding a tear during the decommissioning.

"Looking back over 44 years we can all reflect with pride and gratitude upon this great ship which has served the country, the Royal Navy and my family with such distinction," the Queen said at the time .

Where is the Royal Yacht Britannia now?

Listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, people can now visit the Royal Yacht Britannia at Port of Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland. Visitors are able to see various parts of the yacht including Britannia's five decks, the state apartments, as well as the Sun Lounge, which was the Queen's favorite room in which to have her afternoon tea.

Does the Royal Yacht Britannia have a successor?

Plans for a successor to the Royal Yacht Britannia first began in 2019 when it was reported that the late Sir Donald Gosling had donated £50 million to pay for the construction . In 2021, the yacht was commissioned by Boris Johnson to host trade fairs and diplomatic events and it was expected to go into service in 2024 or 2025.

However, in November 2022, it was reported by BBC that plans for the yacht were being scrapped as the government "searches for spending cuts." The new yacht was estimated to cost up to £250 million.

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The Royal Yacht Britannia : A History of Queen Elizabeth II’s Favorite Palace

By Lisa Liebman

The Royal Yacht Britannia in Hong Kong during its last voyage in July of 1997.

The christening of The Royal Yacht Britannia serves as a cheeky season opener to  The Crown . Black-and-white Pathé News–style footage shows a soon-to-be-crowned Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) cheered on by shipbuilders as she launches her new 412-foot yacht. “I hope that this brand-new vessel, like your brand-new queen, will prove to be dependable and constant. Capable of weathering any storm,” she says about the royal replacement for the  Victoria and Albert III . By the series’ season finale, set 44 years later, both the sovereign and the floating palace she christened  Britannia will have hit rough seas—the cost of repairing the creaky old vessel and the modern role of the monarchy both in question. Ultimately, the yacht that undertook 968 official voyages all over the world, hosting dignitaries—including 13 US presidents—at receptions and banquets, was dry-docked near Edinburgh, Scotland, where it continues to be a popular tourist attraction. Here are some of the most buoyant facts about the palace the Queen famously said was “the one place where I can truly relax.”

The sun room on the Royal Yacht Britannia as photographed in 1981.

The sun room on the Royal Yacht Britannia as photographed in 1981. 

In a nod to the country’s post-war austerity, Elizabeth scaled back the design of the ship that her father, King George VI, had commissioned just two days before he died. Rather than following the opulent plan laid out by the Scottish firm McInnes Gardner & Partners, she opted for the understated elegance envisioned by architect Sir Hugh Casson, who described “running a lawn mower over the Louis XVIl adornments” in favor of simple white walls, lilac-gray carpeting, and “a bit of gilding in grand places.” Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Phillip, were said to have personally chosen the furniture—much of it, including linens, recycled from the  Victoria and Albert —fabrics (florals, chintz, toile), and paintings. 

Prince Charles and Princess Diana on board the Royal Yacht Britannia as they prepare to depart on their honeymoon cruise...

Prince Charles and Princess Diana on board the Royal Yacht Britannia as they prepare to depart on their honeymoon cruise in 1981.

As a former Royal Navy Commander, Prince Phillip also saw to the ship’s technical details, and his Bluebottle racing yacht inspired the Britannia ’s navy-hued hull. Outer decks were made of two-inch Burmese teak. The steering wheel was reclaimed from Britannia ’s namesake, King Edward VII’s 1893 racing yacht; a wheelhouse wheel came from George V’s racing yacht; and a gold-and-white binnacle (housing the ship’s compass) was salvaged from King George III’s yacht and installed on the Veranda deck. Fittings from former royal ships were also reused. 

The drawing room on the Royal Yacht Britannia as photographed in 1978.

The drawing room on the Royal Yacht Britannia as photographed in 1978. 

The 4,000-ton yacht had a crew of 220 Royal Yachtsmen who lived on board, about 45 household staff, and occasionally a 26-member Royal Marine embarked to entertain dignitaries. The monarch often welcomed guests from the ship’s grand staircase. (Stairs leading from the Veranda to the Royal deck were sometimes transformed into a water slide for the kids.)  Britannia ’s apartments were designed like those of a first-class ocean liner. A 56-seat state dining room, where many of the gifts given to the monarch (a wood-carved shark from Pitcairn Island, a bejeweled gold statue from Bangkok) were displayed, was the scene of formal dinners with guests such as Sir Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Nelson Mandela, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. More intimate gatherings were held in the Queen’s official reception room, a smaller state drawing room with floral upholstered pieces, simple wood tables, an electric fireplace, and a Welmar baby grand piano bolted to the deck—played by everyone from Sir Noël Coward to Princesses Diana and Margaret. The teak-clad sun lounge, with rattan furniture and a toile loveseat, was Elizabeth’s favorite place—where she had her breakfast, afternoon tea, and also enjoyed her favorite Dubonnet and gin cocktails.

The Queens sitting room on the Royal Yacht Britannia as photographed in 1981.

The Queen’s sitting room on the Royal Yacht Britannia as photographed in 1981. 

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A ship elevator reserved for royal use moved between the Upper and Shelter Decks. The latter is where four Royal Apartments (bedrooms), including the Queen and Prince Phillip’s connecting compartments, were located. Hers featured florals, his had red accents. Elizabeth’s understated Upper Deck private sitting room, done in pastels and neutrals, served as the office where she conducted state business. Phillip used his sitting room, with its wood desk facing a model of his first command, the HMS Magpie , as his study. Below deck there was a wine cellar, as well as a cargo hold that could carry a barge, speed- and sailboats, plus a royal Range Rover and Rolls-Royce. The yacht could also be converted into a hospital (though it never was).

The Queen shed a tear at the decommissioning ceremony for thye Royal Yacht Britannia.

The Queen shed a tear at the decommissioning ceremony for thye Royal Yacht Britannia.

As depicted in  The Crown, Britannia ’s final official trip was to Hong Kong in 1997, where Prince Charles attended the handover of the territory to China. By then, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s administration was complaining that the £11 million a year needed to keep the boat afloat couldn’t be justified. With Queen Elizabeth, Prince Phillip, and all of their children in attendance,  Britannia was decommissioned at a ceremony in Portsmouth, England on December 11, 1997, with the monarch seen wiping away a tear. The yacht, now docked in Leith, Scotland, is open to the public as a museum and events space. (Prior to their wedding, Princess Anne and Mark Phillips’s daughter Zara Phillips and her fiancé Mike Tindall had a celebration there.) Visitors will note that every clock on board reads 3:01, the exact time the Queen disembarked her beloved  Britannia for the final time on that December day.

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  1. The Story Behind the Royal Family's Yacht, Britannia

    The Story Behind the Royal Family's Yacht, Britannia. The ship hosted four royal honeymoons in its 44 years of service. By Lauren Hubbard Published: Nov 09, 2022 1:54 PM EST. Tim Graham //...

  2. About Former Floating Palace

    History. A Floating Palace. Britannia was launched from the John Brown & Company shipyard in Clydebank, Scotland, on 16 April, 1953. For over 44 years the Royal Yacht served the Royal Family, travelling more than a million nautical miles to become one of the most famous ships in the world.

  3. The Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh

    Edinburgh. Midlothian. Experience Tripadvisor's Best UK Attraction 2023. Follow in the footsteps of Royalty and explore this floating Royal residence with a fascinating audio tour of five decks (available in over 30 languages).

  4. All About the Royal Yacht Britannia Featured on The Crown Season

    The Royal Yacht Britannia is about 412 feet long, with a beam width of 55 feet and five decks, and weighs over 4,000 tons. Fact-Checking 'The Crown' — How Much of Season 5 Is True and What Is...

  5. The Royal Yacht Britannia

    The Royal Yacht Britannia: A History of Queen Elizabeth II’s Favorite Palace | Architectural Digest. The Royal Family. The Royal Yacht Britannia: A History of Queen Elizabeth II’s Favorite...