Museums in Edinburgh cover every conceivable area of interest that you might think of.
In Edinburgh’s museums, you’ll discover– world culture, medical practice, science, finance, the history of childhood and more.
Fittingly for a city designated a UNESCO City of Literature, you will also learn the story of three of Scotland’s best-known writers.
For historical sleuths, there’s an exploration of Edinburgh’s history, people and traditions. The majority have free entry and many of them are situated within walking distance of the Royal Mile. They’re not just for rainy days.
National Museum of Scotland
Edinburgh’s largest and most popular museum is the National Museum of Scotland which houses a range of exhibits from around the world. The galleries include:
- The Grand Gallery is, in the museum’s own words a, “window on the world” with a whole host of treasures to explore.
- The Natural World galleries, dominated by a Tyrannosaurus rex, take a look at the fascinating variety of life on earth.
- The Scottish History and Archaeology galleries take you from the Palaeolithic period to the present day. Everything from Pictish, Iron Age and Roman relics to the story of William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots.
- The Science and Technology galleries take a look at how inventions have changed our lives.
- The Art Design and Fashion galleries look at creativity, fashion, design and style.
There are free guided tours, plenty of hands-on activities for the kids to try out and a range of special exhibitions which are held throughout the year. The icing on the cake is the amazing view of Edinburgh from the roof terrace.
There’s nothing dry and dusty about this museum, it’s just a fabulous day out. Other than a few of the special exhibitions entrance is free.
- For more information visit the official website of the National Museum of Scotland.
Museum on the Mound
Located in the historic Bank of Scotland building on the Mound an artificial hill that connects Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns. On the face of it, a museum about banking might sound a bit dull – on the contrary, the Bank of Scotland, founded in 1695 is part of Scotland’s history.
To raise the initial capital a subscription book was placed in the Cross Keys Tavern in Edinburgh. The first subscriber or Adventurer as they became known as the Marquis of Tweeddale, Lord High Commissioner of Scotland.
While the museum tells the fascinating story of its early history there is much more to find out about the Story of Money – crime, security and technology. Entry is free.
- For more information visit the official Museum on the Mound website.
The People’s Story Museum
The People’s Story, located within the Canongate Tollbooth on the opposite side of the road from the Museum of Edinburgh tells the fascinating story of Edinburgh’s people between the 18th and 20th centuries.
This little museum examines working conditions, social housing, crime and leisure activities in Edinburgh and is told through a collection of photographs, personal items, work tools and household items.
It’s about real people, real experiences with oral and written sources to bring their story to life. Entry is free.
- For more information visit the official People’s Story Museum website.
Museum of Edinburgh
For visitors to the city or locals who just want to know more, there are centuries of Edinburgh history to be discovered at the Museum of Edinburgh.
The collar and bowl of Greyfriars Bobby that little terrier who sat beside his master’s grave, an event which inspired numerous books and movies.
Also on show are items from WW1 commander Earl Haig and the plans for the James Craig inspired Edinburgh New Town.
Sitting close to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, this little museum with its bright yellow façade is featured in the popular Outlander series. Entry is free.
- For more information visit the official Museum of Edinburgh website.
Museum of Childhood
This Royal Mile favourite, filled with toys, games, magazines, books, comics and much more from the 18th to the 21st century, is for kids of all ages. There are over 60,000 items on display.
Established in 1955, It is the first museum of childhood in the world.
For many adults, a visit to the Museum of Childhood is a nostalgic reminder of their younger days.
How many played with the 1970’s Chopper bicycle, the Barbie doll, My Little Pony, Corgi cars, or the Fisher Price Chatter Telephone. They are just a few of the best-known names on display.
A collection of costumes and fancy dress, a photographic archive and a number of interactive displays all add to the occasion.
For children, it’s just a wonderful world of fun, a world of learning, play and entertainment. To see how their parents and grandparents played brings a smile to their faces.
It’s a museum where the conventions of Shush and don’t be so noisy are replaced with laughter and chatter.
For more information visit the official Museum website.
Writers’ Museum & Makars’ Court
Located in Lady Stair’s House on the Lawnmarket, part of the Royal Mile, it’s a building with a fascinating history dating to 1622, the year Sir William Gray of Pittendrum began construction.
The house and its various owners have a fascinating history ably told on the Edinburgh World Heritage website.
Although much has changed over the years there are still some traces of the original building.
In the early 20th century the building was gifted to the city for use as a museum.
Today it is dedicated to the life of three of Scotland’s greatest writers, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
The exhibition has a range of fascinating historic items.
- a first edition of Scott’s Waverley novel
- a first edition of Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses
- Robert Burn’s draft of Scots wha hae, Rober the Bruce’s address to his soldiers at Bannockburn
When you add personal items, photographs, collectables and other literary treasures it’s easy to understand why Lady Stair’s House is so popular with visitors.
Of the other items, a piece of furniture belonging to Stevenson and made by the infamous Deacon Brodie, a cabinet maker by day and burglar by night, serves to shine a light on some of the nefarious goings on in Edinburgh’s Old Town in the 18th century.
Connections to Edinburgh
Robert Burns is regarded as Scotland’s national poet and often visited and stayed in Edinburgh. Scott and Stevenson were both born in Edinburgh and have a real connection to the city.
The exhibition gives not only some fascinating personal and literary insights but also a valuable view of Edinburgh’s history not always understood.
Outside the Writers’ Museum is Makar’s Court. (Makar is the Scots word for poet).
It’s a public space which displays the words of a number of writers carved on flagstones. A surrounding wall displays bas relief profiles of some of the writers.
The quotations are written in Scots, Gaelic and English, three of Scotland’s literary languages.
A quotation from Scott reads, “This is my own, my native land!”
James Boswell said, “I rattled down the High Street in high elevation of spirits.”
For more information visit the official Museum website.
Museums within Edinburgh Castle
There are a number of small museums within Edinburgh Castle.
- National War Museum
- Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Museum
- Scottish National War Museum
- Royal Scots Museum
Entry is included in the price of the Castle ticket.
- For more information visit the official Castle website.
St Cecilia’s Hall & Music Museum
Owned by the University of Edinburgh, St Cecilia’s Hall and Museum was originally designed by distinguished architect Robert Mylne in 1763. Today the building includes the concert hall, the oldest one in Scotland, four galleries, studios and other rooms. It is the only venue in the world where you can hear 18th century music in an 18th century concert hall played on 18th century instruments. It is truly unique.
The galleries house the university’s historic collection of early instruments including harpsichords and other early keyboards. Following a recent renovation, it is the most exquisite place to visit.
The surrounding area is not the prettiest part of the Old Town but don’t let that put you off as what you will discover inside more than makes up for what’s outside.
- For more information visit the official Museum website