Museums & Galleries, Old Town, Edinburgh (Self Guided)

Popular for its rich cultural heritage, Edinburgh attracts a large number of tourists towards its numerous history and science museums that tell the compelling story of Scotland. Edinburgh is also a city where many locals spend their free time visiting galleries and attending art events. You can find amazing collections of original artwork in the many exhibitions around town. Take this tour and see the most important museums and galleries in the Old Town of Edinburgh.
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Museums & Galleries, Old Town Map

Guide Name: Museums & Galleries, Old Town
Guide Location: Scotland » Edinburgh (See other walking tours in Edinburgh)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.2 km
Author: Helen
1
Talbot Rice Gallery

1) Talbot Rice Gallery

Talbot Rice Gallery is an historic art gallery that was built in 1975. It consists of two galleries. The White Gallery offers rotating exhibitions, while the Red Gallery preserves a magnificent collection of works, including Biblical scenes and oil portraits.

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
2
National Museums of Scotland

2) National Museums of Scotland (must see)

The National Museums of Scotland is situated on Chambers Street near the George IV Bridge and contains the principal Scottish and worldwide collections of artefacts, antiques, science and technology.

The National Museums were created in 2006 when the Royal Museum and the Museum of Scotland merged and were linked internally by opening former storage areas and the creation of the Grand Gallery. The display areas spread from the basement to the roof and the vaulted Entrance Hall is huge and truly amazing, covering an area of 1400 square metres.

The central space of the Grand Gallery contains large objects that don’t fit into the smaller exhibitions, so it is a potpourri of wonderful items. The “Window on the World” is an impressive 20 metres high and displays over 800 diverse objects. Each side of the Grand Gallery displays “Discoveries” made by Scottish inventors.

You will find something to interest everyone here; from one of Elton John’s more extravagant outfits to ancient Egyptian mummies with CT scans next to them, showing everything that is hiding under their wrappings!

The antiques collection is amazing and gives you an insight into history and past cultures. The kids will love the Natural History section with its display of dinosaur bones and extinct animals.

With 16 new galleries opened in 2011 and a further 8000 original objects on display, a visit to the National Museums is an excellent way to spend the day.

Why You Should Visit:
Not your typical museum because it is a blend of things that cater to everyone's interests.
It has recently had a hefty £47 mln refurbishment/extension and the building is amazing both inside & outside.
There's a café & bistro if you are feeling peckish or just want to take a break from exploring. And best of all, entry is free!

Tip:
Go early, start at the top and work your way down, or try a private guided tour.
There are some great 'hands-on' exhibits so take your time if you take the kids.
Check beforehand for exhibits that may cost extra (usually not much).

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sun: 10am–5pm
3
Writers' Museum

3) Writers' Museum

Lots of people dream of being a successful author with the riches and acclaim that go with the job. A visit to the Writer’s Museum on the Mound probably won’t help you on your way, but it will give you a great insight to some of Scotland’s most distinguished writers, so you shouldn’t miss visiting it.

You will find the museum in the Lady Stair’s House in the Close of the same name. The house was built in 1622 and was bought by the Dowager Countess of Stair in the late 18th century. Her descendants donated the house to the city of Edinburgh in 1907 on the premise that they use it for a museum of some sort.

They turned it into a museum dedicated to Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, with mementoes by other Scottish writers. The house is beautifully decorated in clear colours and you really get the feeling of stepping back in time.

This lovely house is full of the three great writers’ personnel objects, from a plaster cast of Robert Burns’ skull, Sir Walter Scott’s wooden rocking horse to a book won by Robert Louis Stevenson when he was at school.

You will see Scott’s personal dining room, taken from his house and lovingly recreated here, along with his chessboard and the original printing press where his Waverley novels were printed. There is also a scale model of the Scott Monument.

On Robert Burns’ writing desk you will find manuscripts and rough copies of his works, with mistakes neatly crossed out and jottings in the margins of the pages. You can admire Stevenson’s favourite fishing rod and photos of his life in Samoa.

There are many temporary exhibitions displaying the works of contemporary Scottish writers and a great gift shop where you can buy copies of the writers’ books and poems.

Hours: Monday-Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
4
The Scotch Whisky Experience

4) The Scotch Whisky Experience (must see)

What is the difference between “whisky” and “whiskey”? If you don’t know, visit The Scotch Whisky Experience to find the answer to that question and discover a whole lot of other interesting facts about Scotland’s favourite tipple.

This interactive museum is great fun, even for children, who have their own guide – “Peat the Cat”, that will take them on an exciting tour full of fun facts and games. For the adults, the journey through the museum begins with a barrel ride taking them through a mechanical replica of one of the first whisky distilleries. In there, the “Whisky Ghost” will tell you all about the distilling procedure.

Leaving the distillery, you’ll enter the MacIntyre Whisky Gallery where you will learn some, but not all, the secrets about how the different whisky flavours are reached. Certain procedures are kept secret to keep the concurrence guessing! From this gallery, you’ll continue into Sense of Scotland and experience the heady aromas of different types of whisky.

Finally, you’ll visit the tasting room where you will certainly find a whisky to suit your taste buds – just don’t ask for ice or soda, as these additives are almost hanging offenses! The museum has a wonderful shop with over 300 different malts on offer and gift boxes of miniatures.

The shop is open to museum visitors and the general public alike, but if you have taken the tour, you will have a generous discount on your purchases.

Why You Should Visit:
To feast your eyes on the largest collection of unopened whiskys with around 3400 different bottles valued at millions of pounds.
You'll learn some history and tasting tips, and get to try whisky on its own as well as with artisan Scottish cheese and chocolate.

Tip:
If going on the tour with others who do not like whisky as much, they should sign up for the 'silver' and you can sign up for the 'gold' – the two tours are not separate.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6:30pm
5
Museum on the Mound

5) Museum on the Mound

The Museum on the Mound is an enriching and eye-opening experience that you really shouldn’t miss.

This fascinating museum opened in 2006 and is housed in the former Bank of Scotland headquarters which is decorated with portraits of notable Scottish bankers, pictures and maps showing Edinburgh over the centuries. But the museum isn’t about the history of the city; it’s about money. It is one of the three banking museums in the United Kingdom.

It covers over 4000 years of the history of money – from the time when goods were paid for in feathers, sand, salt or tea to the modern credit cards. You’ll learn about how the banking system evolved from people leaving their savings hidden in churches and monasteries to futuristic electronic banking.

You will see coins galore and bank notes from over the ages, including the first Scottish bank note, which in 1716 was the first paper currency to be printed in the world. One gallery is dedicated to the history of the Bank of Scotland.

There are interesting interactive displays and you can even try your hand at cracking a safe! In the Forgery Section you will learn the different methods used by notorious forgers and behind a glass display case is a million pounds in bank notes. Don’t get any ideas from your safe-cracking experiment – the notes are genuine, but cancelled!

Hours: Tuesday-Friday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; Saturday-Sunday 1:00 – 5:00 pm
6
City Art Centre

6) City Art Centre

The City Art Centre is a modern gallery with a fine art collection that hosts various exhibitions. Opened in 1980, with six floors containing galleries, visitors can enjoy fun workshops, shows and hands-on activities. Due to its rich programs it is one of the most visited exhibition centers in Edinburgh.

Hours: Monday - Saturday 10am - 5pm; Sunday 12pm - 5pm.
7
Museum of Childhood

7) Museum of Childhood (must see)

If your kids are a bit fed up with visiting ancient monuments and galleries, it’s time to take them to the Museum of Childhood on the Royal Mile.

In the early 1950s, Patrick Murray, a member of the Edinburgh Council, realized that a lot of children weren’t very interested in the museums their parents took them to on cold, wet days. He began to think about a museum dedicated to children and everything that centers around kids – their education, their health and, of course, their toys and games. In this way, he hoped to amuse and educate both children and adults. In 1955 he founded the Museum of Childhood.

It is really a great place for everyone; the exhibits are spread out in five galleries over five floors and deal, as Mr. Murray hoped, with every aspect of childhood. In the Education section, your children can learn about how schools were run between 1950 and the present day and see photos of classic classrooms. Different uniforms are on display as well as the famous “birch rod”, used to discipline unruly pupils.

There are wonderful hands-on activities with a dressing-up room and a puppet theatre. And of course, there are toys all over the place! The children will see and learn about the toys and games that kept you and your parents happy long before video games were ever thought of. They can play with dolls and teddy bears, tin soldiers with cannons that fire match-sticks, numerous board games, train sets and other toys from all around the world.

The museum has a wonderful toy shop, where you’ll quickly find that your kids will be choosing a special toy to take home – and where you can perhaps buy a replacement for that favourite teddy you cuddled up with when you were a child.

Why You Should Visit:
To step back in time – this place is not just for families. There are all sort of interesting toys & games on display, some dating back centuries, others from recent past decades.

Tip:
Free entry, but there are donation boxes as well as funny things and souvenirs you can buy on the ground floor.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
8
John Knox House

8) John Knox House

House museums are always interesting to visit, not only because you get a fascinating insight into the lives of the building’s former owners, but also because you can see what fashions were like in the owner’s day. John Knox House is no exception.

The house was built in around 1490 and is the oldest house on the Royal Mile. It has wonderful hand-painted ceilings, oak beams and wooden galleries. Today it is owned and managed by the Church of Scotland, but once it belonged to James Mossman, who was a royal goldsmith. He fashioned the crown for Mary, Queen of Scots and later, the crown for her son, King James VI of Scotland.

Whether John Knox, the 16th century Protestant Reformer, actually ever lived there is debatable, but the house, which had become badly dilapidated, was saved from demolition in the 18th century by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, who put about the rumour that this had been Knox’s home before he died.

The house museum is a great place to visit for anyone who is interested in religious history as there are many manuscripts and artefacts from the Reformation, including papers placed in a time capsule by Knox.

The museum is part of the Scottish Story-Telling Centre and the history of Knox, Mossman and life Edinburgh before and after the Reformation are related by guides in dress costume. There is a special room for children, full of puzzles and where they can dress up as John Knox.

Hours: Monday-Saturday 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
9
People's Story Museum

9) People's Story Museum

Learning about Scotland’s royalty and nobility is all very interesting, but sometimes you might ask: what about the ordinary people, how did they live? The answer is to be found in the People’s Story Museum.

Housed in Canongate Tolbooth, built in 1591 and once a customs house and jail, the museum tells the history of Edinburgh seen through the eyes of the people who lived and worked there, from the 18th century to the present.

A written and oral presentation, backed up with photographs, drawings and artefacts, will take you through their day to day lives, both at work and in the home. You will visit beautifully recreated replicas of a bookbinder’s shop, a pub, a prison cell, a tea-room and a war-time kitchen, all filled with copies of the original objects once used by people like you and me.

In the Edinburgh Life section you will see how communities helped each other; how they protested against injustice and the meetings and rallies they held. Working in Edinburgh will show you how books, beer and cakes were made in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Leith Collection focuses on work in the shipyards, how ships were built, repaired and unloaded in the docks. The Newhaven Collection covers working and day-to-day life in a small fishing community, and At Home in Edinburgh displays household items such as furniture, crockery, cutlery, domestic appliances, record players and toys.

It is a fascinating museum and the kids will love it and it will give you the chance to show them how you managed in life without a mobile phone or an MP4 player! The museum shop sells books and gift items related to the objects on display.

Hours: Monday-Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
10
Museum of Edinburgh

10) Museum of Edinburgh

Don’t miss a visit to the Museum of Edinburgh, which you will find in the 16th century Huntley House on the Royal Mile.

This wonderful museum is all about the origins, the history and the legends of the city. The house once belonged to the Guild of Hammermen and there are many fine silverware objects on display.

There is also a collection of beautiful glassware, engraved in nearby Canongate, fine Scottish pottery, magnificent grandfather clocks and a Sedan chair. There is an interactive area with workshops, quizzes and you can dress up in costumes that represent fashion in different centuries. Each item in the museum is clearly named and has a short history about its origins.

You can admire relics from a 1st century Roman settlement found during excavations in Cramond, a small village to the north-west of the city where the River Almond empties into the Firth of Forth.

You will also find the original copy of the National Covenant, James Craig’s designs for the New Town and Greyfriars Bobby’s dog dish and collar. There is a “rogues’ gallery” of sorts, where you will meet Deacon Brodie, who was a cabinet maker by day and a house-breaker by night, or Burke and Hare, the infamous body-snatchers who sold their gruesome merchandise to Dr Robert Knox of the University of Medicine.

Hours: Monday-Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm; Sunday 12:00 – 5:00 pm

Walking Tours in Edinburgh, Scotland

Create Your Own Walk in Edinburgh

Create Your Own Walk in Edinburgh

Creating your own self-guided walk in Edinburgh is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Religious Sites Walking Tour

Religious Sites Walking Tour

Edinburgh is an enchanting city and home to numerous places of worship. The city is open to all religions and features magnificent Presbyterian and Catholic churches, the main two religions in Scotland; as well as Jewish synagogues and Islamic mosques, and even Buddhist centers. Check out this tour and visit some of Edinburgh’s beautiful religious sites.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.3 km
Royal Mile Walking Tour

Royal Mile Walking Tour

The Royal Mile is not in fact a street, but the name given to a succession of streets forming a thoroughfare at the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town. The thoroughfare is about a mile long and runs between the famed Edinburgh Castle and the Holyrood Palace. The Mile is home to the Courts, St. Giles Cathedral, the City Chambers, John Knox's house, and also numerous shops and restaurants. Take...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.9 km
Souvenir Shopping

Souvenir Shopping

It would be a pity to leave Edinburgh without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to Edinburgh, that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 km
Cannongate Walking Tour

Cannongate Walking Tour

The Canongate district takes its name from the main street called the "Canongate" and forms the lower, eastern half of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh's historic Old Town. It contains some other notable public buildings, including Huntly House (now the Museum of Edinburgh) and the historic Canongate Tolbooth (now housing the People's Story Museum), as well as the Canongate Kirk and...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.0 km
City Orientation Walk

City Orientation Walk

Comfortably yet tightly packed on the hilly terrain, Edinburgh – the Scottish capital – is a picturesque city much popular with tourists, in large part, due to its unique architecture comprising medieval (Old Town) and elegant Georgian (New Town) buildings. The cityscape is dominated by Edinburgh Castle, once the seat of the Scottish royals and now home to the country's crown jewels. To...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.3 km
Old and New Town Best Pubs

Old and New Town Best Pubs

Edinburgh is known for its sheer number of pubs, old and new, that offer various events, and provide the best drinks and food to their visitors. Many of them have live music performances that attract both locals and tourists, and although most traditional pubs are laid back and offer a quiet and relaxing atmosphere, some do have dance floors and double as nightclubs. Take this self-guided tour to...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 km

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip


Top 12 Pubs On and Around Royal Mile in Edinburgh

Top 12 Pubs On and Around Royal Mile in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a vibrant city with abundant nightlife and no shortage of places to go after dusk. The Royal Mile alone, in the very heart of Edinburgh, is laden with character spots craving to be discovered by the first time visitors to the city. This is the highlight of some of the most notable bars...
Scottish Souvenirs: 15 Authentic Scottish Things to Buy in Edinburgh

Scottish Souvenirs: 15 Authentic Scottish Things to Buy in Edinburgh

The popularity of Scotland stretches far beyond its geographical borders, fueled, in large part, by Hollywood's interest in the Scottish theme - Sean Connery (as James Bond), "Braveheart", etc. Indeed, the cultural spectrum of this part of Britain is enormous and comprises great...
19 Best Pubs in New Town, Edinburgh

19 Best Pubs in New Town, Edinburgh

A guide to the pubs that make up the area that is called Edinburgh's New Town. A description about what you can expect from each of the locations in the directory. A fantastic directory if you are a tourist or even a...

Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in Edinburgh for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best Edinburgh has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Saving Money with City Passes


To save yourself time and money visiting Edinburgh's multiple sights, you may want to resort to the so-called city passes, such as the Historic Scotland Explorer Pass and Edinburgh City Pass.

A city pass combines all or multiple Edinburgh's top highlights, tours and experiences in one prepaid attractions pass, using which you can save incredible amounts on general admission fees as compared to purchasing tickets separately. Often, a city pass also allows you to skip the lines at major attractions, thus saving you precious time.

Staying at Walk-Friendly Hotels


Since you're keen on exploring cities on foot (we assume that you are, and this is why you're here), it is important that you stay at a hotel close to the city's major attractions. It saves you time and energy. Here are a few of Edinburgh hotels that are conveniently located, but at the same time, also not so ridiculously expensive: Radisson Collection Hotel - Royal Mile Edinburgh, Royal Mile Suites by the Castle, Grassmarket Hotel.

Taking Care of Your Feet


To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as Edinburgh, it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device


Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.

Exploring City on Guided Tours


We have a strong bias towards exploring a city on foot, at your own pace, because this is how you get to see things up close with a maximum freedom. You decide how much time you wish to spend at each attraction and don't have to worry about following a crowd. That said, however, we also understand that some of you may want to go with a guided tour. If that is your case, here are some guided tours to consider. Be ready to fork out a bit of money, though, as a guided tour of Edinburgh typically costs somewhere between US$15 and US$40 or more per person:

- Board a hop-on hop-off double-decker to enjoy sightseeing of Edinburgh from the open top of the bus, listening in the headsets to the commentary provided in a variety of languages, and be able get on and off at any of the stops along the route. The ticket is valid for one day (24 hrs).

- No sightseeing of Edinburgh is imaginable without a visit to the imposing Edinburgh Castle dominating the city skyline from atop a hill that was once a volcano. A 2-hour tour of the castle will give you an insider’s view of Edinburgh's no.1 attraction, revealing some of its secrets and wicked stories.

- Join a guided walk led by a highly knowledgeable local resident to explore the cultural, historical and architectural treasures of Edinburgh learning, en route, the secrets of its past, stories of its famous personalities and other interesting facts presented in a rather entertaining and witty manner.

- Summon your bravery and curiosity to explore the ghastly side of Edinburgh on a ghost walk set to reveal the stories of treason and torture, bring light to the darkest corners of the Scottish capital and prepare you to hear the tales of its supernatural past and present.

- Come see the places that once inspired J.K. Rowling to write her world-famous Harry Potter series on a Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh visiting the prototype of the Hogwarts school of magic and other locations closely associated with the witches and wizards of Edinburgh.

Day Trips


If you have a day to spare whilst in Edinburgh, why not use it to explore some of the out-of-town destinations like Loch Ness and the Highlands, West Highlands, St Andrews and Fife, Rosslyn Chapel and Stirling Castle, or the Da Vinci Code places and Scottish Borders. For as little as circa US$40+ to US$60+ per person you will get a chance to step inside a nature documentary, relive a history show, and explore the postcard-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage sights comprising breathtaking medieval ruins, misty castles, sparkling lochs, quaint coastal villages with sweeping views, heather-clad mountains, and other impressive and mysterious locations. For any of these tours you will be picked up straight from your hotel in Edinburgh and transported by a comfortable air-conditioned coach/minibus to the destination of your choice and back again.