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7 Museums and Monuments in Edinburgh for Flying Hippos, Scottish Artworks, and Panoramic Views

Edinburgh Museums
by Morgane Croissant Jun 27, 2023

The top tourist attraction in all of Scotland is Edinburgh Castle. Perched above Edinburgh on top of a huge volcanic rock, it’s home to the Scottish crown jewels and the oldest building in the city (a 12th-century chapel). But what if you’ve already visited the fortress and want to see another side of the Scottish capital? Besides the castle and the ubiquitous spooky tours of the city, there are plenty of monuments and museums in Edinburgh that will satisfy you and you travel companions, no matter your interests or your budget.

Where are the must-see monuments and museums in Edinburgh?

Free Museums in Edinburgh

Scottish National Gallery

Free museums in Edinburgh: Scottish National Gallery

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The Scottish National Gallery is not only free, it’s also located right in the center of city so it’s easy to just pop in whenever you need a break from busy Princes Street or if you need to escape the frequent rain showers. The gallery is somewhat low-key and on the small side which allows for a quick and relaxed visit. The pieces on display are mostly European paintings (197 of them), dating from the 13th century to the 20th century. There are big names in the Scottish National Gallery, including Constable, Rubens, Poussin, Goya, and Rembrandt, but their works are not necessarily the ones that get the most attention from visitors. Instead, the artworks that seem to catch people’s eyes are Lady Agnew of Lochnaw by John Singer Sargent; The Monarch of the Glen by Sir Edwin Landseer; Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch by Sir Henry Raeburn; and the magnificent and powerful Saint Bride by John Duncan. Visit the museum’s gift shop to purchase a few postcards featuring your favorite artworks, and enjoy afternoon tea at the on-site café-restaurant.

Address: The Mound, Edinburgh, EH2 2EL, UK
Hours of operation: Open daily, from 10 AM to 5 PM
Cost: Free

The Writers’ Museum

Writers' Museum in Edinburgh

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You don’t need to have read Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson to enjoy the Writers’ Museum which celebrates the three most famous Scottish wordsmiths with a collection of portraits, books, personal objects, and more that tell the writers’ life stories and how they came to create world-famous works. The faux-medieval, 19th-century building in which the museum is housed is typical of the city, with a turret and a lugubrious air that will transport you straight into the past. Located just off Lawnmarket, the large and busy street that leads to the castle, the Writers’ Museum is a great place to take refuge for a quiet afternoon. Makars’ Court, in front of the museum, is paved with stones where the names of Scotland’s most famous literary figures are inscribed.

Address: Lawnmarket, Lady Stair’s Close, Edinburgh EH1 2PA, UK
Hours of operation: Open daily, from 10 Am to 5 PM
Cost: Free

National Museum of Scotland

National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh

The Science and Technology galleries at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Photo: August_0802/Shutterstock

If you’re traveling with kids or if you prefer a more fun and interactive museum experience than looking at centuries-old painting or artifacts from long-dead writers, the National Museum of Scotland is your best bet for a great afternoon of learning. The seven levels of the museum encompass various galleries, some focusing on natural history, fashion, Scottish history Ancient Egypt, and much more. The Grand Gallery on level one is one of the most impressive spaces in this Victorian building. Make sure to linger and look up and and around to take it all in, including the bizarre Millennium Clock and a Giant Deer skeleton. The Wildlife Panorama section is a favorite among visitors with dozens of replicas of animals, including a hippo and a narwal, suspended from the ceiling and appearing to be flying above the flow of museum-goers.

Address: Chambers Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JF, UK
Hours of operation: Open daily, 10 AM to 5 PM
Cost: Free

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh

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If you’re a grown-up who likes to reminisce about the good old days, the Museum of Childhood will keep you very happy for hours on end. The museum, open since 1955, has a large collection of British toys, games, clothes, books, photographs, and more from the 19th century onwards. No matter your age, you’re likely find items that you played with when you were little, whether that’s a teddy bear, a doll, or a toy telephone. And if you’re not from Britain, you’ll have fun at some the toys British children have played with over the years. Make sure to check out the clothing items to see how children fashion evolved throughout the decades.

Address: 42 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1TG, UK
Hours of operation: Open daily, from 10 AM to 5 PM
Cost: Free

Museum Collections Centre

The Museum Collections Centre is the storage section of some of the museums and galleries of Edinburgh, so it’s filled with a huge variety of fascinating objects. A guided tour of the Museum Collection Center is not an ordinary museum visit, but is sure to amuse and take visitors back in time. Most of the items are day-to-day objects from decades and centuries past such as old kitchen items like teapots, tins, and even appliances; dolls houses; train sets; 19th-century clay pipes; and much more that can’t be displayed in the museums but that are very much worth a look.

Address: 10 Broughton Market, Edinburgh EH3 6NU, UK
Hours of operation: You must book a tour to see the Museum Collections Center

Must-see monuments in Edinburgh

The Scott Monument

The Scott Monument in Edinburgh

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After the Edinburgh Castle, the Scott Monument is the most famous structure in all of Edinburgh. Located in Princes Street Gardens, right in the middle of the city center, the monument is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, one of the most famous Scottish writers. Built a few years after Scott’s death in 1832, the monument is the result of an architectural competition won by George Meikle Kemp. You can climb the Scott monument by purchasing a ticket at the booth. The first floor comprises a museum all about the monument, as well as a beautiful display of stained glass, and the third floor offers great views of the city.

Address: E. Princes St Gardens, Edinburgh EH2 2EJ, UK
Hours of operation: Open daily, from 10 AM to 12:30 PM and from 1:45 PM to 4:30 PM
Cost: $10.20 (£8) for adults; $7.65 (£6) for children. Family discounts are available.

The Dugald Stewart Monument

The Dugald Stewart Monument in Edinburgh

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While the walk to this monument is steep and requires some good shoes, it’s worth the effort. Located on Calton Hill, AKA Edinburgh’s Acropolis, where you’ll also find the Nelson Monument, the National Monument, and the Robert Burns Monument among others, the Dugald Stewart Monument is often featured on photos of the city. That’s because the panoramic views from this specific point are exceptional — especially at sunset. The 1830s monument is a circular structure based on the design of an Athenian structure and is dedicated to Scottish philosopher Dugald Stewart.

Address: Calton Hill, Edinburgh EH1 3BJ, UK
Hours of operation: Open 24/7
Cost: Free

What is Edinburgh famous for?

View of Edinburgh Castle from the streets below

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The Scottish capital is famous throughout the world for many things, including:

  • The Edinburgh Castle, a fortress built perched above the city on top of an extinct volcano
  • The city is home to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the English monarch in Edinburgh
  • It is the city where J.K Rowling wrote most of the Harry Potter books.
  • Edinburgh is the home of the largest performance festival in the world: the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It started in 1947 and takes place every August.

How to pronounce Edinburgh?

If you’re headed to the Scottish capital, learn how to pronounce its name properly first. You’ll look like a pro and you’ll allow the locals to take a break from rolling their eyes at the tourists. It’s not [Ed-in-berg] like in “Pittsburgh”, nor is it [ed-in-boro] like in “borough”, it’s [ed-in-bra] like in “bra”.

How far is Edinburgh from London?

LNER train in King's Cross station. LNER trains run between London and Edinburgh.

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The easiest way to travel from London to Edinburgh is to take the train. There are two railway companies running direct, high-speed trains between London (King’s Cross) and Edinburgh (Waverley): LNER and Lumo. The ride lasts between four hours and 20 minutes and four hours and 45 minutes.

There is also a sleeper train, the Caledonian Sleeper, that runs between London and Edinburgh six days a week. It is a pricier and longer option than the high-speed trains listed above, but it’s a unique and very comfortable experience.

What are the best places to stay in Edinburgh?

Check out Matador’s selection of the best hotels in Edinburgh close to the must-see sights, and the top Airbnbs in Edinburgh in the Old City, New City, and Circus Lane.

We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

The Scotsman Hotel

Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia

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The Scotsman Hotel is a four-star property located in the heart of Old Town, close to the main train station, Princes Street, and all the museums and monuments listed above. The Baroque building is as stunning from the outside as it is inside with stained glass windows, marble staircases, chandeliers, and more. In contrast to the exterior and the shared spaces, the rooms and suites are decorated in a simple, elegant, and modern style, with high-quality furnishings and few colors, and radiate tranquility. There are dining options on site with a café-restaurant, a bar-lounge, and the possibility of breakfast and afternoon tea.

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Prestonfield House

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Photo: Expedia
Photo: Expedia

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Prestonfield House is a hotel like no other. Located outside of the city center, a 10-minute drive to the castle, this unique property is more akin to an immense and extravagant country estate than a five-star hotel. The 23 rooms and suites are all decorated with opulence and maximalism in mind, with rich textiles, intricately made furniture, gold-covered frames and mirrors, and heavily pattern wallpapers. There is a restaurant on site and afternoon tea is available.

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The Roseate Edinburgh

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Located in the affluent West End district, a 20-minute walk to the city center and Edinburgh Castle, the Roseate Edinburgh is a five-star luxury property. The hotel has 35 beautifully decorated rooms and suites full of elegant details. There is a restaurant-bar on site for breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea. There is a patio and a garden where you can relax and take in the exterior beauty of the magnificent 1860s building.

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