This is where I can truly relax,” said HM the Queen, while aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia. Traditionally, royal yachts have been scuttled at the end of their serving lives, but Britannia has been given a new lease of life as a visitor attraction, berthed at Leith Docks, Edinburgh.
Step onboard and the magic seeps through your feet immediately. It’s two ships in one: forward of the mainmast it’s a Royal Navy vessel, whereas aft it’s a royal residence fit to entertain presidents. Don’t expect a palace. The Queen wanted Britannia to have the feel of a country house at sea.
Wander around the State Drawing Room and the Queen’s Sitting Room to see the chintzy, yet homely, fabrics used on sofas and curtains, and family photos adorning the furniture. Used for formal state occasions, such as meeting world leaders, the State Drawing Room was also where the Queen would relax with her family before dinner. Noel Coward, Diana, Princess of Wales and Princess Margaret have all played on the Walmar baby grand piano, bolted to the floor in case of rough seas.
Britannia is full of surprises. It’s the only place where you can see the private bedroom of our current reigning monarch (the Queen’s sheets are larger than Prince Philip’s because she likes a larger turnback). When you explore the gleaming Engine Room, note the mat is on the outside of the door for people to wipe their feet on before going in.
When US Army General Schwarzkopf was given a tour, he thought he’d seen a museum piece, not the real Engine Room. Look out for the tea list in the Laundry. Staff here worked in 45°C heat, processing 600 shirts a day, for Britannia’s 240 crew, who sometimes had to change uniforms up to six times a day.
Britannia’s five-deck tour offers an amazing insight into the Queen’s taste and is a true legacy of her reign. Commissioned two days before her father’s death in February 1952, the ship has the personality of the Queen and Prince Philip stamped all over it from throughout her long reign.
Round off your Edinburgh royal day with a walk in Holyrood Park, beside the Queen’s official Scottish residence, the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Enclosed as a royal park in the 16th century, it’s a beautiful volcanic, rocky and uncultivated area. Climb the reclining-lion-like, 251m- (823ft) high Arthur’s Seat at its centre, for fantastic views across the city and Firth of Forth.