As the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is a spectacular place to visit, and it is especially good for historians because there are over 36 museums. Located on the southern shores of the Firth of Forth, the city is also full of beautiful hills, stunning mountains, and some really cool castles. No matter where you go in this city, you can also find a lot of Scottish history to learn about.
Some of the most impressive attractions in Edinburgh are the museums, art galleries, and castles full of antique furniture, crown jewels, and sophisticated artwork. From the Edinburgh Castle to the National War Museum and everything in between, you can spend weeks in the city and not see them all.
The modern and contemporary art at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art with its two buildings is full of fascinating displays of artworks. Learn more about the world cultures with over 400 musical instruments for the Edinburgh Musical Society at the Music Museum in St. Cecilia's Hall.
History museums in Edinburgh are located all over the city and you can learn more about everything from local history to ancient Egypt. Some Edinburgh museums are full of childhood memorabilia like teddy bears while others have an impressive collection of interactive exhibits for everyone to enjoy.
But make sure you leave your suitcases with one of our Edinburgh luggage storage partners for safekeeping because you cannot bring them with you. And why would you want to? You do not want to have to drag your bags around while you are trying to learn more about the local history, and you certainly cannot bring them with you into Edinburgh Castle on top of Castle Rock.
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Established in 1889, the Scotland National Portrait Gallery was the very first gallery for portraits ever built and it is housed in a stunning red Gothic revival building. The museum boasts thousands of portraits of world-famous Scottish historical figures like Robert Burns, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, and Mary Queen of Scots.
Today, the collection features approximately 38,000 photos, 25,000 drawings, and about 3,000 paintings mostly done by foreign artists. Some of the most recognized include Adrian Vanson from 1599, Mary: Queen of Scots from 1610, and John Baptist Medina from 1698. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery boasts almost 375,000 visitors per year.
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
For more artworks, visit the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art at the National Galleries of Scotland. See over 6,000 paintings as well as sculptures, drawings, prints, and videos as well as rotating exhibitions. There are two buildings named Modern One and Modern Two facing each other on Belford in the city center in a spectacular sculpture park right beside Dean Village.
In Modern One, you will find a collection of European art from the 1900s with artists like Pablo Picasso and Henry Matisse as well as newer works by Andy Warhol and Francis Bacon. Modern Two features exhibitions from all over the world including items from Salvador Dali, Eduardo Paolozzi, and Rene Magritte.
The Museum of Childhood
For those who have children or those who still want to be children, the Museum of Childhood is a special place full of toys and other items dating back to the 1700s. Located on the Royal Mile and opened in 1955, it was the first museum in the world dedicated to childhood history with more than 60,000 items.
From teddy bears owned by a child on the Kindertransport to dollhouses with plumbing and electricity, this place will give you a view of how children played hundreds of years ago. One of the oldest is a Queen Anne doll from 1740 and one of the most popular is the Funfair Galloper Horse from 1902.
Surgeons Hall Museums
The Royal College of Surgeons opened in 1505 and the museum opened almost 200 years later in 1699. The Surgeons' Hall is actually a group of three museums that include the History of Surgery, the Wohl Pathology Museum, and the Dental Collection. it was the first museum devoted to medical history in Europe.
The Surgeons' Hall has one of the largest collections of anatomical pathology in the world with most of it coming from the Charles Bell Collection. The permanent exhibitions of Barclay, Menzies Campbell, and Greig are also featured, which include 250 skulls, three human skeletons, and a variety of dental items.
The National Museum of Scotland
Located in Old Town Edinburgh on Chambers Street, the National Museum of Scotland boasts more than 8,000 artifacts featuring Scottish history, culture, and antiquities. With over 2.2 million visitors a year, this is one of the most popular museums in the world. It houses the largest art exhibit in Britain, the Grand Gallery as well as items from around the world like technology, science, archaeology, and geology.
There are tons of interactive exhibits for everyone to enjoy at the National Museum and you can see Dolly the cloned sheep, Ancient Egyptian items, and some of Elton John's vibrant suits. Don't miss the Hunterston Brooch from 700 AD and the Rogart Brooch from 751 AD. From the history of Scotland to the natural world, there is something for everyone.
The Museum of Edinburgh
Also known as the Huntly House, this place takes you deep into the history of Edinburgh with its legends, history, and origins. Inside the 16th century mansion, you can see hundreds of years of history including items from the Great War, the National Covenant as well as clocks, pottery, costumes, and more.
Located on the Royal Mile just across from the People's Story Museum, you can also learn about the story of a small dog named Greyfriars Bobby who spent 14 years guarding his owner's grave. Inside, the collections of cut and engraved glass, silver items, and porcelain from the 1760s are stunning and photo-worthy for sure. After you look around here, check out the fabulous shopping options on the Royal Mile.
The People's Story Museum Edinburgh
As mentioned, this museum is right across from the Museum of Edinburgh and has all sorts of collections featuring the stories of working-class peoples in Edinburgh dating back to the 1700s. These collections are housed in the Canongate Tolbooth, which is a historic landmark from 1591.
There are three galleries in the museum. Some of the most notable items inside include 144 banners from Britain's political reform, wax figures, images, and even personal stories from the past. Learn all about what makes Edinburgh what it is today.
John Knox House Edinburgh
According to the legend, John Knox lived in this house on the Royal Mile dating back to 1470. The stories say that he lived there for several months during the siege of Edinburgh and although it has been rebuilt over the years, it is one of the oldest houses in the city.
The top floor features the Oak Room, which is a stunning place with wood paneling and a painted ceiling. The entire structure and its contents show you how people lived over 400 years ago and how Knox spent time preaching to the people from the first floor.
The Writers' Museum
Learn more about the fascinating history of three literature legends, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Burns at the Writers' Museum, also along the Royal Mile in Lady Stair's Close. The house is filled with their books as well as personal items like Robert Burns' writing desk as well as Robert Louis Stevenson's riding boots and ring.
You can also see the printing press that was used to publish many of Scott Waverley's novels like Rob Roy and Ivanhoe. The statue of Robert Burns is a fantastic spot for some selfies and the Ballantyne display is so lifelike you will have to look closely. Be sure to stop by the gift shop for some unique souvenirs.
Atop Castle Rock where people have lived since the Iron Age, Edinburgh Castle is an awesome sight to see. The royal castle has been there since at least the 1100s during the reign of David and continued to be home to royalty until 1633. By then, it was mostly used as the barracks for the military, and it is still a majestic sight to see today.
Some spectacular items can still be seen like the hornwork from the 1500s, the Gatehouse, the Battery and One o'Clock Gun, and the Mons Meg siege gun with a few of the 300-pound gun stones. St. Margaret's Chapel is the oldest building, built back in the 1100s as a private chapel for the family.
Dynamic Earth Edinburgh
Right next to the Scottish Parliament Building in the Holyrood area of Edinburgh, Dynamic Earth is one of the most popular science museums in Scotland. See the Big Bang up close and personal, marvel at a real iceberg, and experience the thrill of an earthquake. The Deep Time Machine takes you back to the beginning of it all with 4D technology and multimedia.
This is a very interactive museum where you get to see, touch, and even smell things from the past like a life-sized pterodactyl and an undersea tunnel. Also, the 360-degree cinema, the ShowDome, has all sorts of educational films and a full planetarium experience. You can even get some souvenirs and grab a bite at the Food Chain Cafe.
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions Museum
The Tower at the Cinema Obscura and World of Illusions is an interactive simulation that lets you test your brain with more than 100 spectacular illusions. The place has six floors full of amazing exhibits like a vortex tunnel, a mirror maze, and optical illusions of color and light.
If you like puzzles, holograms, and photography, this place will blow your mind. In fact, you do not have to like any of that to enjoy this one-of-a-kind museum. It was built by ecologist and sociologist Patrick Geddes in 1892 to demonstrate his philosophy of planning and urban study. Today, it is one of the most interactive and enjoyable museums in the Scottish capital. This museum may be one of the things the kids want to see while in Edinburgh.
Popular Attractions and Scottish History
Learning about Scottish history, culture, and art at some of the best museums makes your trip to Edinburgh full of history. See hundreds of weapons and artifacts at the National War Museum, fascinating insight at the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street, and writing artifacts of Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott at the Writers' Museum. The musical instruments at the Music Museum and the dental collection at the Surgeons' Hall Surgery Museum are also pretty cool.