12 Incredible museums and galleries in Edinburgh

Whether art, history or music is your passion, the wealth of museums in Edinburgh cater to all tastes. Perfect for your next trip to the Scottish capital.

Article by

  • 22 March 2021
  • • 12 min read

During your trip to the Scottish capital, make sure your itinerary includes a visit or two to some of the best museums in Edinburgh. In this historic city, you’re spoilt for choice by the enormous range of museums located in and around the city centre, easily accessible on foot. There are more than enough to keep you busy for days on end, whether you’re into art, science, history museums or all three, the city has all you could want and more. You might also be surprised at just how many free museums Edinburgh is home to. Check out the fascinating stories from medieval Scotland, accomplished work by artists from across the world and even a few optical illusions on your 2022 trip.

Looking for somewhere unique and affordable to stay in Edinburgh? Check out , located in the heart of the city next to Waverley Station.

The majority of these museums are currently closed due to the pandemic. Please check their websites for more information on opening dates and times. 

1. National Museum of Scotland

Getting to the National Museum of Scotland : Located on Chambers Street, the museum is a 9-minute walk from St Christopher’s Inns Edinburgh.  

The best free museum in Edinburgh, the National Museum of Scotland is a must-visit. With five levels of fascinating history in all different forms, there is so much to see and learn here that you could pass an entire day inside before you know it. First, explore the Grand Gallery on Level 1, where you’ll find the world’s first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, Dolly the Sheep. Then as you wander through the different worlds you’ll come across Scottish history and culture, Animal World, the Fashion and Style Gallery and far more captivating artefacts from life around the world. Visiting in 2021 means you can no longer walk into this museum when you want as you must pre-book a timed entry slot. These are released by the museum in two-week blocks. 

Sales and Events Coordinator and our Edinburgh expert, Audrey Subra, says that this is the museum she recommends the most often to hostel guests. Here’s why:

“The Scottish National Museum shows a lot of everything: art, history, inventions, science, fashion, there is something for everyone's taste. The museum in itself is very pretty, it dates from 1861 and definitely feels like travelling back to the Victorian times when entering the grand gallery.”

2. Camera Obscura and World of Illusions Museum

Getting to Camera Obscura : Located on Castlehill, the museum is a 6 minute walk from St Christopher’s Inns Edinburgh. 

Photo credit: Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, Edinburgh

Right at the top of the Royal Mile, just a few seconds walk from Edinburgh Castle, is the most fun, interactive museum on this list. Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is one to test your brain with over 100 different illusion exhibits spread across five floors of the museum. Don’t be fooled by all the interactive aspects as this museum is hilarious fun for all ages. The Mirror Maze and Vortex Tunnel are two of the most popular attractions, as well as the Camera Obscura Show in the museum’s rooftop chamber. Here, you enter a dark room to see a real camera obscura being demonstrated in the heart of Edinburgh. Visiting in 2021 means this attraction may be closed while they renovate it according to government Covid-19 guidelines - the price of your ticket will be slightly reduced to reflect this. It’s still worth visiting this optical illusion museum for the wild exhibits and sweeping views over Edinburgh from the rooftop. Book your time slot in advance online and buy your tickets for £15.95 for adults and £13.95 for students.

We visited Camera Obscura during a 48 hour trip to Edinburgh , check it out in our Youtube video

Our local Edinburgh expert, Audrey, says: 

“Camera Obscura is really fun and immersive. It’s a different experience to the other museums as it lets you discover the history of Edinburgh from a different perspective. It’s funny when travelling with friends but I also recommend it as a great ice breaker for our hostel guests who have just met each other.”

Check out the ahead of your trip

3. Museum of Childhood, Edinburgh

Getting to Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood : Located on the Royal Mile, the museum is a 5 minute walk from St Christopher’s Inns Edinburgh.

Photo credit: Museum of Childhood

Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood was the world’s first museum dedicated solely to the history of children. With childhood memorabilia dating all the way back to the 1800s up until the present day, people of all ages will find elements of nostalgia within the giant collection of toys, clothes, books, games and more across the five floors. Just looking at all the different types of childhood entertainment and garments will give you a glimpse into the way children grew and developed throughout the eras. The Museum of Childhood is another one of Edinburgh’s fascinating free museums. It won’t take you too long to look around, but we’re sure you’ll leave with a sense of nostalgia and feeling as though you’ve learnt something new. 

Check out these

4. Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh

Getting to Dynamic Earth : Located off Holyrood Road, the museum is a 17 minute walk from St Christopher’s Inns Edinburgh.

Right on the edge of the Old Town behind the Scottish Parliament Building and next door to Holyrood Palace is Edinburgh’s most popular science museum, Dynamic Earth. This museum takes you on a journey from the Big Bang to modern day using 4D technology. Through interactive exhibits including a brand new, state of the art planetarium, you’ll learn all about the life of (and on) our planet. Stars, supervolcanoes, the Moon Landing, the deep ocean, rainforests - these are just a few of the fascinating topics this museum delves into. Dynamic Earth is accepting pre-bookings only as of this year with tickets costing £15.95 for adults and £13.95 for students. 

5. Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Getting to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery : Located on Queen street, the museum is a 9 minute walk from St Christopher’s Inns Edinburgh.

Photo credit: Lisa Flemming

Built back in 1889, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery was the first purpose built portrait gallery in the world. The museum is home to portraits of world famous Scottish historical figures such as Mary Queen of Scots, Prince Charles Edward Stuart and Robert Burns as well as more recent famous figures in arts, sports and science. You could spend hours browsing through all the exhibits, at the hundreds of people who helped shape Scotland. Admission is free however when visiting in 2021, remember to book a slot in advance. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is a must-visit museum in Edinburgh for all art and history enthusiasts. 

Our local Edinburgh expert, Audrey, says that she loves the Scottish National Portrait Gallery for its “Harry Potteresque atmosphere”. 

6. The Museum of Edinburgh

Getting to the Museum of Edinburgh : Located on the Royal Mile, the museum is a 9 minute walk from St Christopher’s Inns Edinburgh.

Photo credit: The Museum of Edinburgh

Get a sense of olden day Edinburgh at the museum devoted to the history of the city itself. Inside a sixteenth century mansion on the Royal Mile called Huntly House, you’ll discover centuries of Old Town and New Town history, including a miniature model of the Old Town and the first original drawings by the New Town designer. This free museum houses many rooms and little corners to explore that show off the great importance of the city in the old ages, giving you a feeling of how Edinburgh has evolved over time. You’ll even see an exhibit dedicated to Greyfriars Bobby, one of the most devoted dogs to ever have lived having spent 14 years guarding his owner’s grave. Once you’ve finished in Huntly House, you can nip over the road to another of our top museums in Edinburgh… 

7. The People’s Story Museum, Edinburgh

Getting to the People’s Story Museum : This museum is located on the other side of the road to the Museum of Edinburgh. So just a 9 minute walk from St Christopher’s Inns Edinburgh.

Photo credit: The People's Story Museum

What sets this museum apart from the others in this list are the real, personal stories told by the Edinburgh people. Read the words written and said by Edinburgh’s working class from the 18th century up until the late 20th century to get a real understanding of the history, culture, trades and crafts amongst the poorest people in Scotland’s capital, as well as the poverty they were forced to endure over the last 300 years. The collections demonstrate just how hard it must have been to live in earlier times, particular the Victorian era. You won’t need to put aside too much time to visit this free museum, but popping in for an hour’s browse is well worth the trip.

8. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Getting to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art : Located off Belford Road, the museum is a 30 minute walk or a 10 minute cycle from St Christopher’s Inns Edinburgh.

Photo credit: Keith Hunter

If you’re a fan of modern and contemporary art then the short walk outside the city centre is a must-do to visit the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Split between two buildings (known as Modern One and Modern Two), the museum showcases work of both local artists and those from across the world, all of which will guarantee your visit to this museum to be extremely thought provoking. Most people can’t quite believe this is one of Edinburgh’s free museums! Navigate your way through the multiple galleries, stopping to browse paintings by the likes of Magritte and Picasso, and don’t miss the surrealism exhibit - the museum’s most famous and a real highlight. When you’re finished browsing through all the displays and exhibitions, head outside for a stroll through the gardens and Sculpture Park. While entry to this museum is free, bear in mind that some of the exhibitions require a paid ticket. 

Our local Edinburgh expert, Audrey, says:

“The National Galleries of Modern Art are my personal favourite museums in Edinburgh. They have really interesting temporary exhibitions focusing on great artists like Andy Warhol and Eduardo Paolozzi (the Scottish father of pop art). That was a temporary one, but they tend to have a great ongoing range of modern art exhibitions. Plus it’s located in a beautiful sculpture park and is right next to Dean Village.”

9. Surgeons Hall Museums, Edinburgh

Getting to Surgeons Hall Museum : Located on Nicolson Street, the museum is a 9 minute walk from St Christopher’s Inns Edinburgh.

The Surgeon’s Hall Museums are three museums rolled into one: the History of Surgery Museum, the Wohl Pathology Museum and the Dental Collection. The oldest artefacts inside these museums date back to 1699, however the building didn't open to the public until 1832 making this one of the oldest museums in Scotland. If you’re interested in olden day medical equipment and the way in which surgical techniques have developed over the centuries then this award-winning museum is a stop you shouldn’t miss. It’s home to one of the world’s biggest pathology collections and tells fascinating stories from the beginnings of genius new innovations like antiseptic and anaesthetic, and even the story behind Scotland’s first public dissection. When visiting in 2021, make sure you reserve your time slot in advance. Adult tickets are £8 while for concessions it’s £4.50.

10. John Knox House, Edinburgh

Getting to John Knox House : Located on the Royal Mile, the museum is a 6 minute walk from St Christopher’s Inns Edinburgh.

Photo credit: David Ross

John Knox (1514-1572) was a Scottish minister, founder of the Scottish Presbyterian Church and leader of the Scottish Reformation. No one knows for sure whether he truly did live at what is now known as John Knox House, however there is plenty of evidence that Mary Queen of Scots’ goldsmith did. Legend has it that Knox spent a brief time living here before he died, and regardless of whether or not that’s true, the story saved the building from being demolished further down the line. The majority of this charming-looking house on the Royal Mile was built back in the mid-16th century, with some parts dating back even further to 1470. Visit John Knox House to hear stories of the Reformation, find out how people lived 400 years ago and see a time capsule that was found hidden in one of the walls of the medieval house. Ticket prices are £6 for adults or £5 concession. 

11. Writers’ Museum, Edinburgh

Getting to the Writers’ Museum : Located on Lady Stair’s Close, the museum is a 6 minute walk from St Christopher’s Inns Edinburgh. 

Whether you’re interested in literature or not, you’ve more than likely heard of at least one of these three: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. The Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh celebrates the lives of these three world renowned Scottish writers, dubbed as literary giants by many, and you certainly don’t need to know or have read any of their work to enjoy a visit to this museum. Some of the most notable objects you’ll see inside the 17th century mansion-turned-museum include Robert Burns’ writing desk, Sir Walter Scott’s printing press on which his most notable novels were printed and Stevenson’s riding boots and smoking pipe. Pop into this free museum right by the Royal Mile, even if just for a short browse, to learn a little more about the lives of these fascinating Scotsmen.

There are countless fun and fascinating things to do in Edinburgh including, of course, all of the incredible museums on this list. Read all about the as soon as you can do so, and check out these that we bet you didn't know before...

Lead image photo credit: Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, Edinburgh

Liked this article? Share with friends

Read all Travel Blogs