Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland and one of the country’s most historic places. From the medieval atmosphere of the Royal Mile to the ancient ruins at Arthur’s Seat, the Scottish capital is a treasure trove of culture and history. In fact, just walking around the city center will give you a sense of its rich heritage even after centuries have gone by.
One of the best ways to learn about Edinburgh’s history is through its museums; the city is filled with cultural institutions dedicated to the different aspects of its history. The museums in Edinburgh cover pretty much all areas of interest – from art and history to science and literature. Below are the top 10 museums in Edinburgh you cannot miss.
Must-Visit Museums in Edinburgh
Edinburgh boasts a rich and fascinating history, which is reflected in the abundance of museums found across the city. If you’re thinking about museum hopping in Edinburgh but have no idea where to start, check out this list of must-visit museums. Note that a lot of these establishments do not allow carrying of oversized luggage or bags; instead, find an Edinburgh luggage storage locker where you can temporarily store your items.
Located right in the heart of the city, the National Museum of Scotland is no doubt the most well-known museum in Edinburgh as well as a top tourist attraction, welcoming more than two million visitors annually. This anthropological and natural museum opened in 2011 and is comprised of 16 galleries that contain over 8,000 different objects, relics, and artifacts. Some of the interesting items on display at the museum include Dolly the Sheep, which is the first-ever cloned mammal, and the infamous Maiden, one of the earliest forms of the guillotine. The best part? Entrance to the National Museum of Scotland is completely free!
- Museum of Edinburgh
If you want to learn all about the history of the city, the Museum of Edinburgh is the place to go. Located in the iconic Royal Mile, housed in the 16th-century building known as Huntly House, the museum tells the story of the Scottish capital through its display of artifacts, including city plans for the New Town, significant documents such as the 1638 National Covenant and the bowl and collar that belonged to legendary dog Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier who stayed at his master’s grave for 14 years after his death.
Not for the faint of heart, the Surgeons’ Hall Museum is one of the most unique and fascinating museums that you’ll ever visit in your life. Established in 1726, the museum houses a collection of artifacts and exhibits focused on the city’s medical history and its vital role in the development of medicine and surgery.
Some items on display here include torturous looking dental and surgical tools as well as actual body parts such as cancerous lungs and gangrenous fingers. There are also some historically-significant oddities in the exhibits, such as the pocketbook made out of skin taken from William Burke, one-half of the notorious grave robbers Burke and Hare.
- The Writers’ Museum
Edinburgh is a city with a successful literary heritage, which is why the presence of The Writer’s Museum makes perfect sense. As its name suggests, this museum is dedicated to three of the most well-known Edinburgh writers – Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, and Sir Walter Scott. Stevenson’s work focused on adventure stories; Burns is a famous Romantic poet and a Scottish icon, and Scott is a novelist whose historical works helped shaped Scotland’s ideas. The museum’s collection involves inscriptions of some of the authors’ most renowned quotes, a number of their personal belongings, and more.
- Museum of Childhood
Another one-of-a-kind museum found in the Scottish capital is the Museum of Childhood, which features an extensive collection of childhood memorabilia throughout the years. The four-story museum houses items such as retro model trains, board games, teddy bears, and other nostalgic items. Additionally, the Museum of Childhood also has interactive exhibits and hosts a number of special events to engage young visitors.
Located inside the iconic Edinburgh Castle, the National War Museum chronicles the country’s war history between the 17th and 20th centuries. Inside the museum are displays of war-related items and artifacts, such as military insignia, servicemen uniforms, and equipment used during the wars. Guests also get an insight into the lives of the soldiers through their journals and other personal effects. Admission to the museum is free with an entrance ticket to the Edinburgh Castle, which you can book here.
Found within the walls of the former headquarters of the Bank of Scotland, the Museum on the Mound is a cultural facility dedicated to finance and money, including its history, art, design, and other aspects. The museum’s seven rooms contain exhibits that detail how money developed over the years. One of the highlights here is a briefcase that contains £20 notes amounting to one million pounds in cash.
- The People’s Story Museum
Nestled in the Royal Mile and sister to the Museum of Edinburgh, The People’s Story Museum gives you a look into the lives of the city’s working class from the 18th century to present day. The museum, which is housed in a 1591 Tolbooth building, features three galleries that tell the tale of Edinburgh residents, including replicas of a bookbinder’s workshop and collections of early reform flags and banners. There is also a film room where guests can watch documentaries about actual citizens from various periods of time.
- Scottish National Gallery
Arguably the most important art gallery in the city, the Scottish National Gallery boasts an impressive collection of local and international art, primarily art curated from the 16th to 19th centuries. Established in 1859, the Neoclassical-style gallery houses works from artists such as Monet, Van Gogh, Titian, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Botticelli, Velazquez, and Gauguin. Some highlights include Titian’s 500-year-old work Venus Anadyomene and Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch by Scottish artist Henry Raeburn.
If science and technology is your thing, then you definitely shouldn’t miss Dynamic Earth, found at the foot of Arthur’s Seat. One of Edinburgh’s most visited attractions, the science center features advanced technology and special effects to recreate the Earth’s journey from millions of years ago until present day. Guests of all ages are treated to a number of innovative and hands-on facilities, including the 4Dventure flight simulator, where you can experience “flying” through time and space.