Museum City Guide: My Top 5 in Edinburgh

August 5, 2013


Oh my, it’s August already! There was no question which city to choose next for a Museum City Guide – August is all about Edinburgh, with its multitude of festivals. And I’ve got something a little extra special to go with it. You may remember, I recently took an online video portrait workshop. Well, I enjoyed it so much, I signed up for another workshop – this time on map making, taught by the lovely Anne Ditmeyer. The result of this course, is a little hand drawn map to my five favourite museums in Edinburgh!


Please note that this map has been simplified quite a lot, including just the relevant streets and landmarks. The numbers on the map correspond to the numbers in my Top 5 selection below.

1. National Museum of Scotland


It will come as no surprise to you – especially if you’ve been following this blog for a while – that the National Museum of Scotland comes top of my list. It has the whole world under one roof: natural history, science & technology, world cultures, history, art… There are interactive, hands-on galleries for families and more quiet, contemplative spaces for others. The staff are always super friendly, and the architecture of the building itself is a must see. The light flooded Grand Gallery, with its Victorian glass roof, is often the venue for performances, and we enjoy nothing more than sitting at the foot of the Millennium Clock watching it come to life on the hour. You can easily spend a day here. It’s open daily, except for Christmas Day, and admission is free. The museum is located on Chambers Street.

See an overview of my guides to the individual galleries at the National Museum of Scotland

See all blog posts about the National Museum of Scotland

2. Museum of Childhood


You can’t get more nostalgic than the Museum of Childhood. As well as the collection of toys and games that will take you down memory lane, the museum also covers all aspects of growing up, including birth and baptism, health and home life, books and school days. Although it’s not an actual children’s museums, there are quite a few activities for little visitors to get their hands on, such as a puppet theatre, dolls house and toy car garage to play with, alongside other games and a couple of working models that can be brought to life at the press of a button or drop of a coin. The museum is open daily throughout the year (though double check their website for information on Christmas and New Year), and admission is free. The museum is located on the Royal Mile at 42 High Street.

3. Edinburgh Museum of Fire


If there ever was a museum in Edinburgh made for the title of “hidden gem”, then the Museum of Fire is it. Housed in Lauriston Place station’s former engine room and stables, it is a treasure trove of historical engines that were used on site, alongside related objects that have been acquired or donated since the museum opened. Together, the displays chart the development of firefighting through the years and the role that firefighters have played in Edinburgh, which is proud  to be the birthplace of the UK’s, and possibly the world’s, oldest municipal fire brigade. Currently, guided tours are the only option to get a fully informed look around, but it’s well worth calling ahead to make an appointment. Their phone number is 0131 228 2401. The museum is located at the west end of Lauriston Place.

Read my full length post about Edinburgh’s Museum of Fire.

4. Museum on the Mound


The name may be a little inconspicuous, but the Museum on the Mound is actually a fascinating little museum run by the Bank of Scotland. It tells the story not only of the history of the bank itself, but also the history and significance of money itself, the rise of building societies, and the creation of life assurances. You’ll find out about art and design, technology and trade, security and crime. There’s also various fun activities scattered around the museum, such as creating your own 1820s life assurance policy, or trying to crack a safe to win a chocolate prize. The museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays and on Bank Holiday Mondays. Admission is free. The museum is located at the top of The Mound.

5. Scottish National Portrait Gallery


The Scottish National Portrait Gallery belongs to the family of National Galleries Scotland scattered throughout the city. Here the story of Scotland is told through portraits of her people, including both famous historical figures such Mary, Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlies or everyone’s favourite national bard, Robert Burns, as well as more recent significant figures from the arts, science and sport. The building itself is a fantastic piece of architecture to behold, and the amazing mural in the Great Hall not to be missed. Neither are the cakes in the café, but more on those in a moment! The museum is open daily year round, except at Christmas. Admission is free. The museum is located at 1 Queen Street.

Other Museums & Attractions

Other favourite museums nearby worth checking out include the National Gallery of Scotland, at the bottom of The Mound, and Surgeon’s Hall Museums, which include the history of pathology and surgery. For those in search of some of the tourist ‘must sees’, Edinburgh Castle is within walking distance and even if you don’t want to shell out for the hefty entrance fee, you still get some good views of the city from outside the Castle.

All that museum visiting making you hungry?

I’ve already mentioned the café at the National Portrait Gallery, and some say their cakes are the best thing about visiting. I don’t want to play down the art, but I can confirm that the cakes truly are magnificent – and a couple of gluten free options are usually included on the menu! The National Museum of Scotland also has a nice cafe, with lovely views of the Grand Gallery and delicious hot chocolate, but for something a little different head to the Elephant House up the road. It gets its name from the extensive collection of elephants scattered around the café – including some elephant shaped chairs – and serves, among other things, amazing hot chocolate as well as a very good haggis, neeps & tatties supper for anyone wanting to relish the local cuisine. Another great lunch option is Olly Bongo’s, a little bistro on Teviot Place near the Museum of Scotland and Museum of Fire, which has a Mediterranean influenced menu but also serves, in my humble opinion, the best baked potatoes in town.


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4 Responses to “Museum City Guide: My Top 5 in Edinburgh”

  1. Renata Says:

    Thank you for the lovely suggestions. I’m going to visit some friends at Edinburgh next week and this will certainly be a great guide. :)


  2. jane gardiner Says:

    So glad I’ve found this webpage! I’m a painter, who has been visiting loads of museums this year, and painting them – on my facebook page you can see a video of my solo show that opened last week, where all the paintings are based on museums – – sure you’ll recognize some stuff.

    Anyway, I’m not going to stop painting museums any time soon, so this page I think is going to become an invaluable resource – thank you



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