The best 15 museums in Edinburgh

Tiempo de lectura: 9 minutos
Museum of Modern Art, Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a city that’s stuffed to the gunwales with history. That’s maybe why it has so many museums! In fact, there are more than thirty of them!

Unless you’re in town for a month, we reckon you’ll be hard pushed to see them all, so here’s our guide to the best 15 museums in Edinburgh. We’ve split them into categories to try and make life easier. We love things that make life easier!

We’ve chosen 5 categories: history, art, science and technology, family-friendly and hidden gems. That doesn’t mean that a museum that’s a hidden gem has nothing to do with history or that it won’t be fun for the kids. We could only put each one in one box, but there’s no reason why the kids won’t love them all. Or why you won’t learn some interesting facts about the past at any you choose to visit!

Best history museums

You come to Edinburgh; you want history. Well, you’re in luck, the fantastic museums here have it in spades.

National Museum of Scotland

The National Museum of Scotland is the place you absolutely have to go if you want to learn all about the country’s rich tapestry of history, culture, and science. It’s a must-visit. You can’t come to Edinburgh and not go there!

This brilliant museum really does tell the story of Scottish from beginning to where we are now. The story starts in prehistory and goes right through to the modern day.

One of the most interesting episodes you’ll learn about is the Darien Expedition, a failed attempt to set up a Scottish colony in Panama that helped lead to the establishment of the United Kingdom.

The museum might not be in our kids’ section, but we know they’ll love it too. Who wouldn’t be thrilled to meet Dolly the sheep? And as a public museum, entrance is free. You’ve really got no excuse for skipping this one.

Museum of Edinburgh

Museum of Edinburgh

The Museum of Edinburgh is wee in comparison to the Museum of Scotland, but we suppose that makes sense as Scotland is a lot bigger than Edinburgh!

It might be small in size, but its big in history.

Among the fascinating exhibits are Greyfriar’s Bobby’s collar and bowl. If you don’t know who Greyfriar’s Bobby is, you will by the time you leave Edinburgh. This famous pooch is one of the city’s most legendary characters! And he’s left his mark in more than one place.

As much a star of the show as the fascinating exhibits is the building the museum is in. Called Huntly House, it’s actually a collection of 16th-century dwellings built around a courtyard. We don’t think it’s too much to say it’s one of the architectural jewels of the city.

Like most museums in the city, the Museum of Edinburgh is free to visit. Though they do accept donations to help keep the museum going.

The People's Story Museum


If you’re a fan of museums that don’t tell the standard history, the People’s Story Museum is for you. This is one of our favourite places in the city.

This free museum focuses on the lives of ordinary people in Edinburgh from the 18th century onwards. Through personal stories and objects, the museum explores themes of work, leisure, and social change. You’ll get to see what life was like in the old tenement houses and learn about the lives of the locals.

The People’s Story Museum is also housed in an amazing building. Some say it’s the most attractive on the whole Royal Mile! The building was once the Canongate Tollbooth. A tollbooth in old Scotland was the seat of municipal power. Believe it or not, Canongate was actually a separate burgh (like a town or city) from Edinburgh!

John Knox House


John Knox was a key figure in the Scottish Reformation, a turbulent period in Scottish history. The house gets its name from me Knox, even though it now seems that he never actually lived there. He would almost certainly have known it though. With the adjoining Moubray House, it’s the oldest surviving building on the Royal Mile.

Today, the building is home to a museum which tells the story of John Knox and some of the building’s actual inhabitants. It gives you a fascinating insight into Edinburgh and Scotland’s past, especially the Scottish reformation.

Best art galleries

Edinburgh is as rich in art as it is in history. Glasgow might dispute it, but Edinburgh can make a strong case for being the capital of Scottish art. Here are the three main reasons, Glasgow might find it hard to argue.

Scottish National Gallery

Scottish National Gallery

Known these days as the National, this gallery houses an impressive collection of Western European art from the 14th to the 19th centuries, including works by Raphael, Titian, El Greco, and Velázquez.

There are also works by Constable, Monet and Vermeer, among many others. It’s also home to “Monarch of the Glen” by Sir Edward Landseer, one of the paintings most strongly associated with Scotland despite it being painted by an Englishman!

The galley is worth visiting just to see the building it’s housed in. It’s like an Ancient Greek temple transplanted from sunny Athens to less sunny Edinburgh!

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Modern One, Edinburgh

The difference between this National Gallery and the one you’ve just read about it lies in its name! Here you’ll find a fantastic collection of modern and contemporary art, including works by Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, and Alexander Calder.

Known as the Modern, it’s actually split into two separate galleries, Modern One and Modern Two, which sit in an amazing sculpture park.

We think the kids will love the Modern. There’s lots of the weird and wonderful to get the whole family talking!

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Following the names of the two galleries above, this one is now referred to as Portait. So, it won’t come as much of a surprise that it features a whole load of portraits! You’ll be able to see portraits of a whole load of prominent Scots, from royalty and politicians to artists and writers.

There are loads of historical figures like Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Sir Walter Scott. And some more modern ones too such as Billie Connolly, Tilda Swinton and Robbie Coltrane. Curiously, Wee Jimmy Krankie is nowhere to be seen!

Best science and technology museums

Definitely interesting for the kids are the more scientific museums and Edinburgh has a couple of great ones.

Dynamic Earth

Our Dynamic Earth, EdinburghThis brilliant interactive museum takes you on a journey through all history! From the big bang to the very formation of our planet and the present day. You start by going in a time machine to the very beginnings of the universe! That’s not something you get to do every day, is it?

Explore incredible exhibits on volcanoes, earthquakes, dinosaurs, and climate change. The kids will have so much fun. And you will too! It’s absolute proof that learning can be a whole lot of fun.

Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

There aren’t many things cooler than a camera obscura! Though they’ve been around for hundreds of years, they still feel like magic. This one has been thrilling visitors to the city since the middle of the 19th century! The kids will love how the outside world suddenly appears before them in the darkened top room of the buildings tower.

The museum features historical exhibits on photography and the development of the camera obscura with a funhouse-style experience featuring mind-bending optical illusions and interactive activities. There’s a reason this place has being going for nearly two centuries!

Best family-friendly museums

Sometimes, it’s hard to find a balance between what’s fun for you and what’s fun for the kids (if you’ve got them). Thankfully, Edinburgh has plenty of options that will keep all ages happy. The two museums above definitely fit bill. Here are two more places to check out:

Museum of Childhood

Childhood ain’t what it used to be! Remember when there were no screens to keep children permanently entertained? This museum has an incredible collection of toys, games, and dolls from around the world that offer a glimpse into what kids did before they could watch endless YouTube videos and learn silly dances from TikTok!

Even without kids, it’s a fascinating window into the past. There might even be some things you remember from your own childhood!

The Royal Yacht Britannia

Want to discover some of the secrets of how the Royals live? Then, this is going to be right up your street! You’ll get to see what life was like for Queen Elizabeth II and her family when she was on her royal yacht.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana had their honeymoon aboard the Britannia. That’s just one of the fascinating episodes that make up its history. You’ll get to learn about them all during your visit. Our Royal Edinburgh Ticket includes admission to the Britannia as well as some of  the city’s other leading attractions.

Best hidden gems

Edinburgh also has some fascinating lesser-known museums that are also worth a visit. Here are some of our favourites.

The Writers' Museum & Makars Court

Writers' Museum, EdinburghScotland has long been home to amazing writers. Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson are three of the greatest of all. The Writers’ Museum celebrates their lives and their work. The museum will give you a fascinating into the lives of these three great men.

The Writers’ Museum is situated by Makars’ Court which is a monument to Scotland’s finest wordsmiths. The flagstones bear the words of some of the country’s greatest writers and new ones are added all the time.

Museum on the Mound

Museum in EdinburghThe Museum on the Mound is a strange name that doesn’t really give much away, does it? All it tells you is where the museum is. On The Mound!

The museum is housed in the old Bank of Scotland building and that gives you more of a clue as to what it’s a museum of. Money. The various exhibits and displays will tell you all you could want to know about the green stuff! Maybe, our favourite thing there is you get to see what a million pounds looks like! Spoiler alert: It looks like a lot of money!

The Scotch Whisky Experience

Did you know that a million pounds wouldn’t be enough to buy you the most expensive bottle of whisky ever sold? It wouldn’t even get you half of it! We reckon that you don’t need to spend that much to enjoy a decent glass of whisky!

If the “water of life” interests you, then the Scotch Whisky Experience is somewhere you just can’t miss. It’s the place to go if you want to learn all about Scotland’s most famous export. At the end of the tour, you’ll get to taste a glass of one of the country’s fine single malts.

Gladstone's Land

Another museum with a misleading name is Gladstone’s Land, which is a building and not a place. This 17th-century high tenement building is one of the most notable constructions on the Royal Mile. Narrow and 6 storeys tall, it’s been converted into a museum of 17th-century life in the city. It’s a wonderful window into the past.

So much to see in Edinburgh

Remember, this is just a starting point, and there are many other excellent museums in Edinburgh to explore. With its rich history and cultural heritage, the city is sure to have something for everyone.

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Frequently Asked Questions

The best way to reach Edinburgh’s museums is by using the City Sightseeing Hop-On Hop-Off bus service. It covers a vast array of tourist hotspots, including the city’s best-known museums such as the National Museum of Scotland, the Museum of Edinburgh, and the Museum of Edinburgh. You can hop off at your favoured museum, explore at your leisure, and hop back on to proceed to the next stop on your itinerary easily.

Yes, most major museums in Edinburgh, including the National Museum of Scotland, the Museum of Edinburgh, and the Museum of Edinburgh, provide cloakroom facilities for visitors. This allows you to safely store any bags, coats, or umbrellas while you explore the exhibits. However, it’s best to check in advance with each museum regarding their policies, especially during busy periods or due to current health and safety regulations.

The National Museum of Scotland holds the most extensive collection in Edinburgh. It houses phenomenal exhibits across several categories including natural history, world cultures, art and design, science and technology, and Scottish history and archaeology. The museum offers a fantastic breadth and depth of artefacts, from ancient Egypt to the technology of the future.

Edinburgh offers several kid-friendly museums guaranteed to pique their curiosity. Some top picks include:

  • National Museum of Scotland: Offers interactive exhibits on diverse subjects like natural history, science, world cultures and more. Their ‘Adventure Planet’ exhibit is particularly popular with kids.
  • Museum of Edinburgh: Lets kids explore the city’s rich history through various exhibits.
  • Dynamic Earth: An earth science museum with highly interactive and fascinating exhibits about our planet. It offers a fun and educational experience for children and adults alike.

Remember, bus routes on the City Sightseeing Hop-On Hop-Off service conveniently cover most of these spots!

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