If you are looking for something to do during the day, somewhere to inspire you (and keep you dry), Edinburgh has plenty of absorbing museums to capture your imagination. From exploring the old underground city to nosing about the Queen’s old holiday ‘yacht’, Edinburgh has something for everyone, no matter what you are interested in.
While not technically a museum, we couldn’t leave this one off the list. Sitting on top of a gigantic rock is Edinburgh’s (and Scotland’s) most famous building, Edinburgh Castle. It’s usually a must-see for anyone visiting Edinburgh and it’s certainly worth the trip.
With an entry fee of around £15 (check the website for up to date prices), it’s not the cheapest city attraction but it is well worth it. Your tickets allow you access into the castle walls where you can visit St Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest building in Edinburgh), learn about the Laird’s Lug spyhole, see the Crown Jewels, visit the dungeons where Caribbean pirates were held and discover the characters that make up the Castle’s storied past.
With so much fascinating history, Edinburgh’s most iconic visitor attraction is definitely worth the visit. And for those friends and family asking the inevitable question, you can say ‘Yes, I’ve been to the Castle!’
National Museum of Scotland
From giant T-Rex skeletons to space rocks via fashion and human history, this is Edinburgh’s largest museum. The museum sits on Chambers Street, a few minutes walk from the University of Edinburgh’s central campus. And entry is FREE, which makes it even better.
The Grand Gallery is the bright and airy centrepiece to the museum, filled with amazing artefacts from around the world. The themed galleries are placed off the main hall, covering such varied topics that you are bound to find your favourite gallery before long.
The National Museum also runs regular exhibitions, which tend to charge an entrance fee but are well worth keeping an eye on. Some past exhibitions include some very impressive and high-tech wizardry with ‘Robots’, breathtaking photography with ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’ and ‘Rip It Up’ which looked into the history of Scottish pop music. Keep an eye on their website for upcoming exhibitions, and for more general information on the museum.
The Real Mary King’s Close
Hidden beneath the Royal Mile is a story that not many people know about. The 17th Century close, with its maze of streets, homes and alleyways is a perfectly preserved glimpse back in time, shrouded in myths and mysteries. Your tour guide will walk you through the streets telling tales of the people that once lived and worked there including maids, murderers and plague doctors.
You will also get to visit the room where Annie is said to frequent! This ghostly little girl wonders the closes looking for her lost doll. You will see a pile of dolls in the corner of the room which has been left there by visitors.
Once open to the elements, those living on the close either moved out or died and it became more of a dangerous place. However, it was eventually built over and blocked up, leaving a perfectly preserved time capsule under the heart of the city. Check out prices and tour times on their website.
There are a number of other underground closes and alleyway around the Royal Mile, all filled with their own fascinating, and terrifying stories. There are plenty of tours that will take you below ground where you can find out about the darker side of Edinburgh’s past. Mercat Tours would be our recommendation for both ghost tours and history walks. Very memorable and great fun!
Museum of Childhood
This is a great, free, museum on the Royal Mile. Well worth a visit to find out how the children of Edinburgh past the time through the years. Filled with toys, games, clothes, books and dolls dating back to the 18th Century, this museum is packed with plenty of interesting artefacts to keep you entertained for an hour or two.
Highlights include a teddy that was on the last train out of Vienna to rescue Jewish children from Nazi Germany in 1939, a large doll’s house with running water and electricity and a doll from 1905 made from the sole of a shoe, showing the ingenuity of a family struggling to make ends meet.
This place is sure to bring a smile to your face when you look back on how simplistic the toys of a bygone era were. How would you have coped as a child back then?
Royal Yacht Britannia
Why not walk in the footsteps of royalty with a visit to Ocean Terminal in Leith for a tour around the Royal Yacht Britannia. This palace on the sea was a home away from home for the Royal family, touring the world for over 40 years. The Royal Apartments on board hosted world leaders such as Sir Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Rajiv Gandhi.
From the Engine Room to the private lounge, you’ll get to explore all five decks and see where Princes William and Harry spent their summer holidays. You’ll also get a glimpse of how the crew lived on board, giving you the full picture of life on the open ocean.
Prices start at around £15 for students and include an audio tour which will provide you with all the information and stories you need while walking around this regal ship.