Top 10 historic ships and boats

As a group of islands, it’s not surprising that Great Britain has a long and rich maritime history. Until the aircraft was invented, we needed ships to leave Britain, ships to import and export goods, ships to defend ourselves and ships to explore anywhere outside of mainland Britain. Ships come in all different shapes and sizes and a fair few of the historically significant ones have been beautifully preserved as visitor attractions and museums today. We’ve compiled a list of our top 10 favourite ships for all lovers of history and the seas.

1. Cutty Sark / Greenwich

A merchant tea clipper vessel, the Cutty Sark is the last remaining ship of its type and represents a bygone era of importing and exporting sought after goods such as tea around the world. Now one of the world’s most famous ships, this beautiful little clipper first sailed in 1869 and worked as a cargo ship around the world until 1922. After undergoing massive renovations in recent years, the ship now has a fabulous museum built around her to tell the story of the Cutty Sark and the Victorian merchant ship industry.

2. HMS Belfast / London

The HMS Belfast has become an established part of the London skyline as this massive 9 decked ship sits on the Thames River right at the heart of London. Now part of the Imperial War Museum group, you can board and explore this historic war ship which supported allied troops as they fought in the D-Day landings of World War 2. Built in 1936 this modern era naval ship was the largest and grandest ship in the Royal naval fleet and was decommissioned in 1963.

3. HMS Victory / Portsmouth

One of our absolute favourites, the HMS Victory is one of the incredible historic ships held by Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. As Lord Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory literally drips in history as she played a famous role in the battle of Trafalgar and was of course the vessel on which Lord Nelson himself was killed in battle. It is a beautifully preserved museum which represents the Georgian era of the Royal Navy and immediately takes you straight back to what life on board one of these historic war ships must have been like.

4. Royal Yacht Britannia / Edinburgh

The only Yacht in our top 10, the Royal yacht Britannia is one of Edinburgh’s most popular visitor attractions. For anyone who has ever sung ‘Rule Britannia’, a visit to this ship is an absolute essential. The ship has plenty of pictures of the Royal Family using the ship around the globe which really brings the surprisingly unglamorous living quarters to life. It’s not often one has opportunity to view Queen Elizabeth II’s bedroom but Britannia provides a fascinating glimpse into the private lives of the modern British Royal Family.

5. RRS Discovery / Dundee

The RRS Discovery is a wonderful ship with its own unique story. The ship served as Captain Scott’s Antarctic vessel through his remarkable journey to the South Pole. On board you can discover the unique factors that made her able to withstand the extreme polar conditions of the Antarctic seas as well as the navigational equipment used to get the famous Explorer and his team as near as possible to the South Pole.

6. U-534 / Liverpool

On 5th May 1945 U-534 was ordered to surrender. Ignoring the command of its Admiral the submarine continued its journey north shortly before the RAF dropped depth charges, sinking the ship. The U-boat lay on the sea bed for 40 years before being raised in the hope of discovering treasure and a reason for the ships refusal to follow orders. The U-boat Story is a fascinating exhibition which allows you to see directly into the sunken vessel and experience life on board a German World War 2 submarine. The secret of the ships refusal to surrender remains a mystery to this day.

7. HMS Warrior / Portsmouth

HMS Warrior was launched in 1860 as the first iron hulled, armoured war ship of Queen Victoria’s Royal Naval fleet. She was powered by steam and sail making her the largest, most powerful and more intimidating vessel of her day. For a short time she was the pride of the Royal navy and yet within a few years she became obsolete. Built in response to France’s first iron hulled ship, she was 60% bigger which served as a deterrent against potential French sea battles. By 1883 she was no longer regarded as the great ship she was built to be and unworthy of repair. She is the last remaining iron hulled war ship of this era.

8. SS Great Britain / Bristol

The SS Great Britain was designed in 1843 by world famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Hailed as one of the most important historic ships in the world, when she was built this world’s first ocean liner was called the ‘greatest experiment since creation’. Combining an iron clad ship with a powerful steam engine and screw propeller, these innovations created a ship that changed history. Today the ship sits at the heart of a beautifully modern and enjoyable museum which is regarded as one of Britain’s finest visitor attractions.

9. Mary Rose / Portsmouth

The oldest ship in our top 10, the Mary Rose was a favourite vessel of King Henry VII’s Royal Fleet. Built in 1610, she sank during battle 34 years later off the coast of Portsmouth. Thought to have disintegrated, the mighty ship was discovered under the sea bed in 1971 and raised in 1982. Now in the final stages of conservation, this ghostly skeleton of a long forgotten era is now housed in a brand new purpose built museum and sits as a centre piece surrounded by thousands of perfectly preserved artefacts which truly bring this ship to life.

10. Titanic Exhibition / Belfast

Ok, so we all know that the Titanic wreckage is sat somewhere below the freezing Atlantic Ocean and we are all fairly clear on when and how the ‘unsinkable’ ship sank so dramatically on that famous night – we’ve seen the movie. But, what’s not so well known are the true stories of the ship builders and designers, the real people on board the ship (Jack and Rose were both sadly fictional!) and just what life was really like back on the launch day of the Titanic. The brand new Titanic experience in Belfast sits right on the site of the Titanic builder’s yard and the bow of the building is actually a scale replica of the bow of the ship. This very modern and well thought through museum really brings home the true impact of the doomed ship and her incredible story as well as plenty of exact replicas of various rooms and items on board the ship.