Of all the attractions in Edinburgh, the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street is the one that I find myself recommending most often to visitors, and to locals too!
Part of the National Museums of Scotland umbrella group (which includes the National War Museum within Edinburgh Castle, the National Museum of Flight in East Lothian, and the National Museum of Rural Life in South Lanarkshire) the National Museum was formed by the amalgamation of the former Royal Scottish Museum, constructed between 1861 and 1888, and the Museum of Scotland, a modern wing which opened in 1998.
The National Museum underwent a significant three-year renovation to modernise and improve its facilities and exhibition spaces, reopening to the public in 2011, and is today the most visited attraction in the whole of Scotland.
Part of the museum's appeal (and value) is its free admission to the main collections and exhibitions, with additional charges for special exhibitions held throughout the year. But for the cost of absolutely nothing, you can access an array of world-class displays on a variety of subjects, from the history of Scotland and its people, to the world's wildlife, and even origins of the Earth and the universe itself. Children will be engaged by a variety of hands-on exhibits to entertain, educate and inspire them, and adults can wander through the maze-like buildings to find interesting and unusual exhibits at every turn.
Architecturally the two buildings are as fascinating as each other, depending on your preference for the clean lines and open spaces of the Victorian exhibition hall or the curved staircases and sandstone geometry of the modern wing. It is easy to lose track of your location in the rooms and spaces, so do pick up a free map on your way in to help you navigate the exhibits more easily.
Regular guided tours lead you around some highlights of the museum, and there is a programme of events each month to engage and inspire visitors - check at the visitor services desk on arrival whether there is an event that you can join today.
Things you shouldn't miss:
Find your way to the open rooftop terrace for panoramic 360-degree views around the city - a great location to get some choice photographs of your visit on a good weather day.
Catch the mechanical wonder that is the Museum's 10-metre high Millennium Clock, complete with animated figures, dancing skeletons and all manner of curious and intricate carvings. The five-minute 'performance' takes place on the hour, every hour through the day.
The Natural World gallery displays preserved animals from all around the world, including a swimming hippo and a giraffe sticking its tongue out, as well as the skeleton of a tyrannosaurus rex - sure to be a hit with the kids!
The Kingdom of the Scots exhibition in the modern wing features treasures of Scotland dating back to pre-history, including neolithic carvings, Edinburgh's original guillotine, and a crucifix believed to have belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots.
Dolly the Sheep! The world's first genetically cloned mammal, created by scientists from Edinburgh's Rosslyn Institute, is preserved in all her mundane majesty in the Science and Technology galleries.
Plus the Museum has a cafe and a brasserie to cater for your dining requirements during your visit.
So whether you are taking shelter from the worst of the Scottish weather, or spending an afternoon exploring for hidden gems, you'll find something to interest you at the National Museum of Scotland, and given that it's a free entry attraction if you run out of time during your afternoon, or have a spare hour before catching your flight home, it's an ideal place to revisit again and again and again!
Get more recommendations for things to do in Edinburgh on my private city walking tours!
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