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The UK’s Best Historic Ships to Visit this Winter

With your boat all tucked up for winter it can be a long wait for spring when that boating wanderlust is niggling away at you. But fear not, there are many ways to get your maritime fix and fuel the kid’s love of the ocean and sailing until it’s time to launch your boat once again. The UK has a long and proud maritime history, from Admiral Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory playing a key role in the battle of Trafalgar, to the Cutty Sark transporting tea from China to the UK. As such, museums, attractions and museum ships dedicated to all things boating can be found all along our shores. So here we take a look at 10 of the best to visit this winter.


1. National Maritime Museum, London

Where better to start your explorations than at London’s acclaimed National Maritime Museum, arguably the best maritime museum in the UK. It forms part of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site which is UNESCO designated for its importance in astronomy, navigation and navy welfare during historic times. Today it offers visitors a deep insight into Britain’s proud maritime past, particularly the Tudor and Stuart eras, with thousands of artefacts on display. 



2. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and the Mary Rose, Portsmouth

It’s hard to know where to start at the gargantuan Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. With countless maritime and navy attractions it’s undoubtedly one of the must-see boat museums in the UK. The legendary Mary Rose, a Tudor warship of Henry VIII notoriously sunk in 1545 in the Solent, and was raised 400 years later in 1982. Today she sits in a vast, specially made room and visitors can get up close not just to the wreck of this famous ship but to the fascinating artefacts discovered on her that together make for an invaluable contribution to understanding Britain’s history. From Lord Nelson’s HMS Victory to HMS Warrior, a historic warship, Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard holds treasures from Britain’s long maritime past. 



3. HMS Victory, Portsmouth

As part of the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the HMS Victory is one of the highlights of a visit, and arguably the most famous ship to have ever served in the Royal navy. Nelson’s warship was built in 1759 and sailed him to victory in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, a battle which cost him his life. Today visitors can explore this fascinating wooden ship and venture below decks to see what life was life for mariners in the Georgian Navy as well as pay homage to Nelson at the plaque which marks the spot on deck where he fell. HMS Victory retains its status as a fully commissioned ship in the Royal Navy and serves as the flagship of the Naval Home Command and served in the American Revolution, French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars. 



4. HMS Warrior, Portsmouth

Staying at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the HMS Warrior is another top maritime attraction in the UK and famed as not only the largest but also the fastest warship of her day and was the first iron-hulled, armoured battleship in Britain. Built in 1860, she combined sail and steam and served for 20 years before mastless ships were brought into the Royal Navy. Today she offers visitors the chance to explore in depth a Victorian Royal Navy ship and see what life would have been like for sailors. Step back in time and explore the boiler room and captain’s cabin, see what they would have eaten in the galley and ask the crew as many questions as you can think of as you get to know Queen Victoria’s favourite warship. 



5. Titanic Belfast, Belfast

There are few, if any, ships as famous as the RMS Titanic, the ill-fated ocean liner who sank in the Atlantic Ocean in 1912 on her maiden voyage, killing more than 1,500 passengers and crew. The story of the Titanic has been told many times throughout the decades, but nowhere will you discover more than at the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard where she was built. The vast museum – which resembles a ship – has been built to the same height as the ship (126 feet high) and gives an immediate scale of the size. Visitors will learn not just about the fateful voyage, but also look at the people who were on board and tell the stories of those who built it with the help of state-of the-art displays. 


6. SS Great Britain, Bristol

Take the family back to Victorian times at Bristol’s SS Great Britain, once the longest ship in the world at 98 metres long. Designed by the famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the passenger steamship was revolutionary in its design and was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic (which it did in 14 days). The SS Great Britain has been beautifully preserved and is today on display as part of a museum complex. Get up close to the great ship, climb the 25 metre high mast (if you dare) and discover life the different conditions in first class and steerage. 


7. Cutty Sark, London

In the heart of London, the Cutty Sark is one of Britain’s legendary ships and makes for a fascinating day out for the whole family. She was built in 1869 to carry tea back from China, and has visited many of the great ports in the world during her years carrying an estimated 10 million pounds of tea. Today she is part of the part of Royal Museums Greenwich, and offers visitors the chance to meet the colourful characters who tell stories of her past, as well as visit the crews quarters and captain’s cabin. Discover why her hydrodynamic hull was so revolutionary before enjoying a cup of the tea which the Cutty Sark spent her years bringing to Britain. 


8. Golden Hinde, London

Meet Sir Francis Drake’s famous ship in which he circumnavigated the globe in 1577-1580. While Golden Hinde was known as The Pelican when Drake captained her, the ship had an illustrious past, and today the replica of the beautiful black and gold galleon can be seen on display in St Mary Ovarie Dock in London. In fact, the replica also sailed all the way around the world! Learn about life in Tudor England at the time, discover stories of Drake’s travels and marvel at the craftsmanship and traditional shipbuilding techniques that went into creating the replica. 


9. Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh

The Royal Yacht Britannia is one of the most famous yachts on the planet, having hosted hundreds of receptions and banquets with royals and dignitaries all over the world. The Queen and British Royal Family used the magnificent ship for 44 years after her launch in 1953, during which time she travelled over one million nautical miles around the world. Today she is retired from service and open to the public who can wander around her exquisite cabins and state rooms (including the Queen’s bedroom) and learn about the royal family’s connection to the great ship.  


10. HMS Cavalier, Chatham

Housed in Kent’s Historic Dockyard Chatham, the HMS Cavalier is a Royal Navy destroyer who served in the Arctic, Western Approaches and British Pacific Fleet before being decommissioned in 1972. Today she stands as a memorial to the 11,000 lives and 142 ships which were lost during World War II. Climb aboard and discover what life was life for the 200 mariners who served on her ad learn about the role of the Royal Navy in during the Second World War. 


For more articles, guides and boating inspiration, dive into Rightboat.com’s vast library as you plan for more boating adventures. Whether you’re new to boating or a seasoned pro, looking to buy a boat or sell a boat, we have all the answers and hundreds of boats for sale all around the world. 


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Written By: Samantha Wilson

Samantha Wilson has spent her entire life on and around boats, from tiny sailing dinghies all the way up to superyachts. She writes for many boating and yachting publications, top charter agencies, and some of the largest travel businesses in the industry, combining her knowledge and passion of boating, travel and writing to create topical, useful and engaging content.

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