- Learn about the different discoveries and collections made by Scots throughout history.
- Meet a life-sized hippo in the National World section.
- Listen to music and see dance moves from across the world at the Performance and Lives exhibition.
- Take on the challenge with a Family Puzzle Trail that takes you around the whole Museum.
Known in part for its stunning architecture and life-like exhibits, the National Museum of Scotland is a place for those who are interested in history, culture and society. Located just off Bristo Square in central Edinburgh, a popular spot for students of the University of Edinburgh, the National Museum is one of the city's most famous museums. As you enter, you'll be taken aback by the Victorian Venetian cast iron structure that makes up the Grand Gallery, with four storeys of history to explore. A great spot for photo opportunities, this large and airy atrium is often filled with the chatter and laughter of families as they make their way around the exhibits.
Whether you're interested in learning about world cultures and international history, or checking out the fascinating old art objects on display, there is something for all interests at this brilliant Scottish Museum. As you wander the vast expanse of the Grand Gallery, take a look at the Window on the World exhibition, which goes on all the way up the four floors of the room. Here you'll find many collections of historical artefacts, from old bones to ancient weapons. As you walk through the Gallery, you won't be able to miss the famous Millennium Clock, a fascinating structure that blends the lines between art and history. The clock has a decidedly steampunk vibe, with exposed cogs, as well as medieval figures and the Pietà at the very top of the spire. Created in 1999 by five master clockmakers, kids and adults alike will see more in this original display as they keep looking. Following on past the Millennium Clock, the Discoveries gallery is filled with items that have been collected from all over the world. From mummies to penicillin, this collection celebrates the achievements and discoveries of Scottish people of the past. The Art of Ceramics collection by the cafe is also worth checking out, and has an impressive range of ceramics from throughout history.
Fashionistas should check out the Art, Design and Fashion Galleries, which are filled with tidbits from history, as well as real catwalk examples of work by famous designers including Vivienne Westwood and Pringle of Scotland. You can even find a Picasso work here, from back in 1954. Design for Living on the fifth level is also a great place for young designers to discover how art can influence how we use everyday objects.
One of the top spots in the National Museum of Scotland for families, the Natural World exhibition is the perfect place to take young animal lovers. With huge hippos, squid and even a whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling, you will immediately find yourself in the middle of an immersive animal experience. There are lots of interactive games to play around this collection, with trivia and other facts to keep kids engaged and learning about all different types of animals. Next door you can also learn about space in the Earth in Space and Restless Earth exhibitions, perfect for kids who have dreams of being an astronaut some day.
The Science and Technology galleries are a great place to learn all about the history of the bicycle, and even check out a real Apple computer from all the way back in the '70s! This section is also home to the family friendly Explore zone, which is the place to bring kids of all ages. Here they can learn hands-on with a variety of interactive exhibits, all with different themes to aid different areas of learning. No matter what their interests are, this area on the ground floor is the spot to come for some play and fun.
The Scottish History and Archaeological galleries are filled with Scottish heritage, and if you are on a visit to Edinburgh, this is the place to learn about the people of Scotland and how their lives have changed in the past few hundred years. And lastly, one of the most significant and fascinating collections as you experience the Museum, is the World Cultures collection. From the Living Lands exhibition that celebrates Indigenous cultures from all over the world, to the Imagine gallery, where kids can learn about colours, textures and patterns from different cultures, this is the perfect place to learn about how other people live, and stories from different cultures. At Facing the Sea, there is a huge amount of information all about people from the Pacific Islands, and important elements of their cultures. Creative types should head to Level 5 to check out the Artistic Legacies exhibit, featuring work from international contemporary artists, as well as the Performance and Lives area that is filled with music, song and dance.
As well as all the activities that are designed specifically for kids, there is also a Family Puzzle Trail available, where kids can find different artefacts in different areas of the Museum. You can also find a 'Top Ten' list of the best things to do at the Museum if you're short of time, which is available on the National Museum of Scotland website.
With so many fantastic things to discover and explore in its collections, it can take a couple of hours to take in the whole Museum. If you're ready for a break, the National Museum of Scotland Cafe on Level 3, also known as the Balcony Cafe, is open daily for snacks, soup, cakes and a cup of tea. There is also a Brasserie on the lower level that serves more substantial hot and cold meals, and even has an ice cream bar! Alternatively, heading outside the Museum you will find a huge number of options for food and drink. Head back to Bristo Square where you'll find vegan food at Paradise Palms or delicious Thai food at Ting Thai Caravan. The famous Royal Mile is just a few minutes walk away, and is packed with souvenir shops and places to grab lunch. The Baked Potato shop on Cockburn Street is renowned for its high-value classic huge potatoes with a variety of filling options, or head to a cafe on Nicolson Street for a cosy meal or drink.
If your family enjoyed their trip to the National Museum of Scotland and are keen to continue exploring the amazing historic city of Edinburgh, why not check out the magical Camera Obscura and World of Illusions for a seriously cool day out? Or, head to Arthur's Seat, an ancient volcano located in the heart of the city, that you can climb to see the whole of Edinburgh, Leith and beyond.
What to know before you go
- National Museum of Scotland opening times are from 10.30am - 4.30pm daily.
- Like most museums in the city of Edinburgh, the National Museum has free entry.
- There is level access to the Museum, and lifts to all levels. There are also wheelchairs available to borrow on site, and small mobility scooters are allowed too. There is a Changing Places facility on the ground floor.
- Assistance Dogs are welcome in the Museum.
- There are accessible toilets and baby changing facilities available on site.
- If you're driving to the museum, head to Nicolson Square car park which is just a five-minute walk away from the museum.
- The nearest train station is Edinburgh Waverley, which is a 10-minute walk away. There are also multiple bus services that run in the area, and can take you around the city centre or further out.
- Edinburgh is a very pedestrian and bike-friendly city, so the central location of the National Museum of Scotland means it is very easy to access via bike or on foot if you're travelling from other popular attractions in the area.