Edinburgh is a city awash with museums and art galleries, covering all sorts of topics – whether it be toys in the Museum of Childhood, or famous Scottish authors and poets in the Writers’ Museum. Here are what we consider to be the really unmissable ones.
1. National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street
Opening times: 10.00 -17.00
An obvious choice we know, but the National Museum is truly a treasure-trove of items. It is divided into a few main sections. The most impressive space in the museum is its central gallery – a grand hall, with fascinating and beautiful objects covering the walls over several floors. Even if you aren’t one for reading every last detail about what’s in a museum, you can have a great time just looking at all the wonderful things.
There’s also a whole building dealing with Scottish history, from the arrival of humans in Scotland to the present day. It is incredibly detailed and assembles together many of the most significant items from Scotland’s past.
If history’s not your thing you’ll still find plenty to look at as there are also other exhibitions on animals, all branches of science and cultures of the world.
Don’t miss: The Millennium Clock. Commemorating the best and the worst parts of the twentieth century, this clock draws inspiration from medieval cathedrals to create a fascinating spectacle. Best seen when it whirls into action, every hour, on the hour.
2. Scottish National Gallery, The Mound
Opening times: 10.00-17.00
People can sometimes feel a tad put off by art galleries, but the Scottish National Gallery is a very accessible one. Its main exhibition will guide you through Western art history from the renaissance to the nineteenth century.
It’s not so large as to feel unmanageable and has some real gems with works by the likes of Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck, Degas, Monet, Cézanne, Gaugin, Vermeer, Turner, Benjamin West and Van Gogh. It also includes a large selection of Scottish artists, from a wide range of periods.
If you fancy going to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery or the Gallery of Modern Art, a free bus can take you directly from the National Gallery.
Don’t miss: The Skating Minister by Henry Raeburn. Recently returned from a North American tour, this icon of Scottish art depicts an eighteenth century clergyman skating on Duddingston Loch, just outside of Edinburgh.
3. Surgeon’s Hall Museums, Nicolson Street
Price: £6 (students/ under 16s/ concessions £4)
Opening times: 10.00-17.00
Originally founded as a teaching museum, used by Edinburgh medical students to examine pieces of the body affected by disease before the advent of photography, the Surgeon’s Hall Museum houses one of the largest collections of human body pieces in the world. Utterly fascinating for anyone curious to learn more about what’s inside of them (and what can go wrong), it is not for the feint-hearted, and is sure to leave even those with a very strong stomach feeling a tad queasy.
The museum also discusses Edinburgh’s medical history and its role in key medical advances such as antiseptic and anaesthetic, as well as the Edinburgh surgeon who was the inspiration behind the famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.
Don’t miss: the leather wallet, said to be made from the flesh of prominent Edinburgh serial killer, William Burke. To find out more about Burke, and other dark aspects of Edinburgh’s history, come our Free Ghost Tour, each night at 7pm.
4. Jupiter Artland, Wilkieston
Price: £8.50 (Students/ Children £4.50)
Opening times: 10.00-17.00 (Only open certain days May-October, so check their website before going to avoid disappointment)
On the Number 27 bus it’s about a forty minute journey out to Jupiter Artland, but you’ll find it entirely worthwhile once you’re there. It’s a beautiful sculpture park set in the grounds of an old manor house, with a rich variety of modern art to see. A stunning combination of nature and culture.
Don’t miss: Cells of Life. An entrancing series of undulating hills and lakes
5. John Knox House, Royal Mile
Price: £5 (Concession £4)
Dating from the late fifteenth century, this house was once inhabited by possibly the most explosive figure in Scottish history – John Knox, the figurehead of the Scottish reformation. This house and the one next to it are the only medieval buildings still standing on the Royal Mile, but it is better known for its connections to the Reformation and the turmoil that resulted from it.
The house also tells the story of another of its residents, James Mosman, who was involved in an attempt to seize Edinburgh Castle to try to restore Mary, Queen of Scots to the throne after her abdication.
A house filled with fascinating tales, it is, very appropriately, attached to the Scottish Storytelling Centre, who have a diverse program of events throughout the year. Check their website for details.
Don’t miss: the time capsule, buried in the wall of the house in the 1840s.