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With so many different options to suit all ages and interests, a visit to (at least) one Museum in Edinburgh is an absolute must. We’ll point out some of our favorite Edinburgh museums and all the best insider tips you’ll need to know in this guide.
When most people plan a visit to Edinburgh, their itinerary usually consists of classic spots such as The Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, and Arthur’s Seat. However, did you know that Edinburgh has got loads of fantastic museums (many of which are free!) that you can visit year-round?
Museums in Edinburgh
1. National Museum of Scotland
The National Museum of Scotland, located on Chambers Street in Edinburgh’s Old Town, is generally thought of as the best Museum in Edinburgh.
It’s also free, and one of our top recommend free things to do in Edinburgh.
This family-friendly Edinburgh museum focuses on the many wondrous things in Scotland’s past, present, and future, showcasing things like Scottish history, nature, and science.
2. Surgeons’ Hall Museums
Surgeons’ Hall Museums is a collection of museums: the Wohl Pathology Museum, the History of Surgery Museum, and The Dental Collection.
This award-winning museum is one of the oldest in Scotland.
It first began as a teaching museum for students but has been open to the public for nearly 200 years.
A staple in the Edinburgh museum circuit, this one isn’t for the faint-hearted.
This famous museum showcases hundreds of years worth of technological advances in surgical instruments and medicinal practices; the gruesome displays are both fascinating and a bit fearsome- and very interesting.
It is one of the few museums in Edinburgh that isn’t free, but with an £8.00 adult ticket and concession/student tickets for £4.50, it still meets most budgets.
You’ll find the iconic Edinburgh Surgeons’ Halls Museum on Nicholson Street; just a short walk away from the National Museum of Scotland.
Everything Edinburgh highly recommends the walking tour run by the Surgeons’ Hall.
3. St Cecilia’s Hall Concert Room and Music Museum
In the heart of the Old Town, you’ll find St Cecilia’s Hall Concert Room and Music Museum on Niddry Street, which exists today as part of Edinburgh University.
It is the oldest concert hall in Scotland, and along with being one of many free museums in Edinburgh, they also hold various concerts and events throughout the year.
In the museum, you’ll find a world-class selection of many old and some new instruments from around the world with exhibits on keyboards, strings, brasswind, woodwind, and percussion.
4. Museum of Childhood
If you’re looking for activities in Edinburgh that are good for kids AND adults, the Museum of Childhood, situated on the Royal Mile, will tick every box.
The kids can enjoy some fun hands-on play while the adults can take a step back in a time machine and see the toys from yesteryear.
This tiny museum packs a big punch in its five rooms, showcasing over 200 years of toys and childhood relics, making it one of the most fun museums in Edinburgh.
5. John Knox House Museum
The John Knox House Museum is just across from the Museum of Childhood but couldn’t be more different.
This 15th-century building tells the intense story of Scotland’s Reformation and the following civil war and abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots.
The house itself is a world of wonderment filled with tricks and traps to fool intruders and ornate rooms with beautiful architecture that tell a story all of their own.
With the help of an informative mobile guide along with the information displayed through the house, you’ll leave with a near expert level of knowledge.
This is one of the few non-free Edinburgh museums out there, but tickets range from only £1-£7.
Just around the corner you will find Edinburgh’s only chocolate tour, The Chocolatarium where you can sample and make your own chocolate bar!
6. Museum of Edinburgh
The iconically bright yellow Museum of Edinburgh, located on the East side of The Royal Mile, is another excellent free Edinburgh museum for kids.
It tells the fantastic story of Edinburgh through its permanent collections and frequently changing exhibits, and the kids can get involved on the detective trails and the storytelling corner.
A fan-favorite element is Foundation Edinburgh – The Story of a City.
This short but comprehensive film gives the viewer a look at Edinburgh’s story from the very beginning to the present day.
There is also a neat model of the town as it used to look.
7. The People’s Story Museum
Just across from the Museum of Edinburgh on the Royal Mile inside the historic Canongate Tolbooth is The People’s Story Museum.
This free Edinburgh museum has been open for just over 30 years but tells the story of Edinburgh’s residents from the late 18th century to today.
The collections tell about Edinburgh’s people and their history, culture, and everyday life for the last two centuries and touch on more current issues, events and opinions.
If you like to learn about local culture during your trip, consider one of these Highland tours from Edinburgh too.
8. The Writer’s Museum
The Writers’ Museum is tucked away in the 17th century Lady Stair’s House, just off Lawnmarket, and is so much more than just another free museum in Edinburgh.
This small museum only takes about an hour to go through.
It is dedicated to Scotland’s most beloved writers and literary figures, specifically Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Inside you will a wealth of treasures about the writers’ lives as well as odd assortments such as Scott’s childhood rocking chair, Burns’ writing desk, and Stevenson’s riding boots.
The Writers’ Museum appears on many Instagram grids. Check out our guide to IG spots in Edinburgh for more.
9. Museum on the Mound
The Museum on the Mound is all about money- however, it is free to enter.
You’ll find it inside the historic Bank of Scotland on The Mound, just a short walk away from Edinburgh Castle and steps away from The Writer’s Museum.
In this hands-on museum, you’ll learn all about Scottish money and the history surrounding it, including how the Bank of Scotland came to be.
You’ll also get a shot at cracking open a safe, apply for an 1820s-style life assurance policy, and check out the interactive maps to see how the city has changed and grown since the 1600s.
10. National War Museum
The National War Museum is located inside Edinburgh Castle, so while entry to the museum is free, you’ll need to pay £15.50 to enter the castle.
Inside, you’ll find out what 400 years of conflict in one museum looks like.
It chronicles Scottish military history over the last several centuries, telling its story from the middle ages to the modern day.
The museum is filled with storyboards that tell about the naval, air, and land armies and displays showing original uniforms, weapons, flags, medals.
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There’s so much to see & sometimes not a lot of time to see it. We organized this list in a geographical range, so if you’ve only have one day in Edinburgh to cram everything in you can make it happen!