Edinburgh National Museum

Which museums to visit in Edinburgh

Edinburgh boasts some of the finest museums and galleries in the world, from the grandiose National Museum of Scotland to more niche collections of coinage and conflicts. Here’s our pick of the best of the best. 

One look at Edinburgh and it’s clear that this is a city with stories to tell. The stone buildings of the Old Town, the imposing castle on the hill and the winding cobbled streets all hint at a fascinating past. It’s in the city’s museums and galleries, however, where these stories come to vivid life in front of your very eyes, whether that’s seeing a wallet made from the skin of a notorious killer or portraits of famous Scotsmen and women from throughout history. Here are some of our favourite spots to get a true taste of Scotland of days gone by.
Museum on the Mound

Located in the Bank of Scotland building, the Museum on the Mound is an engaging look into the history of money and currency in Scotland, but don’t mistake that for a boring lecture on financial history. Highlights include a display of a million pounds in used £20 notes, the oldest bank note in Scotland, and the opportunity to try your hand at cracking a safe without the danger of facing breaking and entering charges. There’s also a fascinating look at forgery and forgers.

Surgeon’s Hall
This museum within the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh has a variety of artefacts that will enthral the more morbidly curious visitor. Chief among these is a seemingly innocuous pocketbook that is made from the hide of something other than a cow or a sheep. It is, reportedly, the skin of William Burke, one half of the notorious serial-killing and grave-robbing duo Burke & Hare, immortalised in the 2010 film starring Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis. An interactive anatomy theatre offers glimpses of the history of surgery, without the need for a patient, while there’s also an array of some wince-inducing instruments from days past and a look at the college’s association with Joseph Bell, said to be the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.
National Museum of Flight
Anyone with a love of fantastic flying machines will be on cloud nine at this former airfield in East Lothian, just under 40 minutes’ drive from the city centre. The star of the show is Scotland’s Concorde and visitors can tour the historic supersonic aircraft with an audio tour from its former pilot Jock Reid. The museum is also home to some notable military aircraft, including the iconic WWII Spitfire and the Harrier, as well as a range of passenger planes, light aircraft and hang-gliders. 
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Thanks to an expensive refurbishment, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery now boasts an interior befitting the impressive portraits it contains. This imposing neo-Gothic building on Queen Street is home to a huge collection of paintings and photos – the first portrait gallery in the world when it opened in 1889 – including the national collection of portraits, which features the likenesses of famous Scots throughout history, from Robert Burns and Mary Queen of Scots to Annie Lennox and Alan Cumming.
National War Museum
Scotland’s military history is explored in exquisite detail in this museum inside Edinburgh Castle, from the country’s historically fractious relationship with its neighbours to the south to its role in conflicts overseas. After immersing yourself in the lives of soldiers who have defended Scotland at home and abroad, head to the National War Memorial for a moving artistic tribute to those who died in that service.
National Museum of Scotland
There’s a very good reason that the National Museum of Scotland is considered one of the best museums in the world. This is not only a fusion of two wildly different but equally impressive feats of architecture, but a coming together of some truly incredible exhibits and collections representing the near and distant past of Scotland and the wider world. Must-see exhibits, from the thousands representing archaeology, science, natural history, technology, art and anthropology, include the stuffed remains of the famous Dolly, the first cloned mammal, and one of Elton John’s more extravagant outfits.
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