If you visit the historic town of Dartmouth or take a river boat ride up the scenic Dart Valley, you will have noticed a grand building with its domed tower looking down on the town. This is the Britannia Royal Naval College and until 2013 it was only accessible to Royal Navy staff and trainee officers.

The Dartmouth Royal Naval College now provides excellent guided tours through the main parts of this splendid historic facility. However, strict security at this working military establishment means that you must book your place ahead of time and show photo ID before the tour commences. The tours start from the centre of Dartmouth where you will be picked up by coach and transported up the hill and in through the grand gates in style.

Britannia Royal Naval College Building

Dartmouth has been an important hub for training Royal Navy officers since 1863, when cadets were housed aboard the HMS Britannia moored on the River Dart. The existing grand building was designed by Sir Aston Webb and opened in 1905. Early cadets as young as 13 trained and lived at the college prior to going to sea at the tender age of 17.

During World War 2, the college was naturally a target for German bombs, and the building had two hits which caused damage to some of the rooms you will see on the tour.

The college has seen plenty of royal trainees in its time including the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, and Prince William. It is also where the Queen first met the Duke of Edinburgh.

What to expect on a guided tour of Dartmouth Royal Naval College

Your informative guide will cover the history of this beautiful Grade 1 building, officer training courses and the role of the modern-day Royal Navy. Guides are usually retired naval officers themselves and often have plenty of anecdotes and stories of their own days as an officer cadet.

The tour includes a great deal of information about the Royal Navy ships as well as those who serve aboard them. A visit to the Naval Chapel as part of the walking tour shows the names of all the men and women who have lost their lives serving in the Royal Navy ‐ a sobering moment for all. The tour also visits the Gun Room (Officer's Dining Room) and the huge hall known as the Quarterdeck.

In between, you will be walking up some of the long corridors where you will meet cadets, staff, and if you're lucky the Commanding Officer himself! It is truly a journey into the history of our Royal Navy as well as providing insight into what goes on behind that red brick façade.

I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, which was even better than I had hoped. Almost everyone who has done the tour agrees that the visit and the rich history of the Royal Naval college complex are truly memorable and very impressive.

Book ahead for a Britannia Naval College Tour

Tours take place on Monday afternoons year-round, and additionally on Wednesdays afternoons in the peak visitor season from April through October. Admission on a guided tour costs £12 for adults with concessions for seniors and children. Places must be booked in advance through the Dartmouth Tourist Information Office (01803 834224).

I can definitely recommend this great tour to anyone interested in history, architecture or the Royal Navy. The guided tour lasts around two hours and is both interesting and comprehensive. Of course, there's plenty of time for you to ask questions of the Britannia Association Officer who will be leading your tour, making it ideal for anyone with family serving in the Royal Navy.

Have you visited the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, or perhaps the older Royal Naval College at Greenwich? We'd love to hear your thoughts on this aspect of British history.