There are so many things to see and do in this beautiful city, but the best way to get to know Scotland’s history is through the city’s top museums. Whether you’re interested in history, art, or both, you’ll get plenty of options; Edinburgh is home to well over 80 museums, so it tops the list amongst UK cities when it comes to cultural desinations. Explore the city’s rich culture by visiting these museums in Edinburgh, which are just a few of our favourite ones in town.
1. National Museum of Scotland
We start the list with one of the most visited museums in the world, which is home to over 5 million objects. The National Museum of Scotland has many exhibits, including displays on social history, natural history, science and technology, and art. Plus, a brand new Doctor Who exhibition is taking over the museum until May, 2023!
Apart from this, you’ll also get to see Animal World on level 1, the fashion and style gallery, a National Museum of Scotland model made entirely out of LEGO bricks, and much more. Meanwhile, the eatery on level three has an awesome view of Grand Gallery, which is going to look fabulous on your ‘gram.
Find the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street, EH1 1JF. It’s free to visit, and open between 10am and 5pm every day. More information here.
2. Scottish National Portrait Gallery
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is a must-see for art lovers. It features some 3,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, and 25,000 drawings. Moreover, around 38,000 photographs display the stories of Scotland, including those of historic figures, and royalty and nobility of the 16th century. And not to mention the amazingly gorgeous historic building the museum resides in.
It’s a special experience for visitors, partly because the extravagant decorative framework, expressive murals, and extensive sculptural adornment make it one of the best museums in Edinburgh.
Find the Scottish National Portrait Gallery at 1 Queen Street, EH2 1JD. It’s free to visit, and no advance booking is required. Open daily between 10am & 5pm. More info here.
3. National War Museum
Formally known as the Scottish United Services Museum, this museum is an extraordinary survey of Scotland’s history of war. The museum was set up in 1933 to honour the Scots who served during World War I, and a wide range of artefacts used by Scotland’s troops over the centuries was added later.
The National War Museum focuses on the impact of war on civilians, and you’d better believe the influence of Scotland’s frequently volatile connections with England are put under a microscope here too.
Find the National War Museum within the walls of Edinburgh Castle, EH1 2NG. The museum is open to all for free, but booking your tickets to Edinburgh Castle is a requirement (they’re around ₤18 for adults and ₤11 for children). Opening hours are 9:45am until 17:45pm.
4. Camera Obscura and World of Illusions Museum
This museum, built in 1835, is one of the most fun attractions in Edinburgh for visitors of all ages. Camera Obscura and World of Illusions Museum are Scotland’s oldest purpose-built attractions, and feature a magnificent rooftop terrace with enviable views of the city. You can enjoy many amusing optical illusions, or get happily lost in the mirror maze.
The museum’s magic gallery is marvellous; you can shake hands with your ghost and walk on water as well. Finally, there’s a wonderful projection show put on after dark or in bad weather that’s worth catching.
Find the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions Museum on Castlehill, Royal Mile, EH1 2ND. Adult tickets are £18.95, but discounts are available for children, students, and seniors. Open 9am-8pm (Monday to Thursday), 9am-9pm (Friday & Sunday), and 9am-10pm (Saturday).
5. Dynamic Earth
An outstanding science centre in Edinburgh, Dynamic Earth is a great place for visitors of all ages to learn about planet Earth. On a trip here, you’ll discover how nature’s ancient forces shaped our globe, taking a journey across space and time that traces our planet’s history. It’s an unforgettable way to experience the Big Bang, and their recent opening ‘Discover the Deep’ plunges you into the fascinating environment of the world’s oceans. With all this on offer, it’s not surprising to find it on our list of the best museums in Edinburgh.
Find Dynamic Earth on Holyrood Road, EH8 8AS, next to the Scottish Parliament Building. It’s open from 10am – 5pm every day, and you can book a tour here (which also includes a planetarium visit).
6. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art has two galleries, Modern One & Modern Two. Sculptures by prominent artists as well as a fantastic collection of art spanning the 1900s to the present day can be found at Modern One.
Meanwhile, The Stairwell Project, a large-scale, permanent piece by 2009 Turner Prize winner Richard Wright, may be found in Modern Two. The sculpture is one of Wright’s most complicated and extensive works to date, with thousands of individually hand-painted forms. Oh, and you’ll know the museum instantly from the giant neon sign on the exterior: “everything is going to be alright”.
Find the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art at 73 Belford Road, EH4 3DR. The museum is free for all, but you need to book tickets for events and activities in advance. It’s open every day from 10am to 5pm.
7. Museum of Childhood (currently closed)
Your kids won’t be bored at the first specially built museum in Edinburgh and the world to display the history of childhood. The Museum of Childhood has a collection of toys and playthings dating back to the 18th century, and underwent a 2018 renovation to track the growth of a toddler through a digital photo gallery. Sadly, it remains closed due to the delays during the pandemic, but is expected to reopen in short order.
Find the Museum of Childhood at 42 High Street, EH1 1TG. Check their official website for reopening dates.