Navigate our articles
Review rating: 3.5/5

National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh - Guide and Reviews

These two very distinctive looking buildings exist on the same site. Until 2006 they were 2 separate museums Royal Museum of Edinburgh and Museum of Scotland. However,  despite that they are very different in terms of the collections that they display. They formed the oldest and youngest components of the National Museums of Scotland, which incorporates a total of seven museums. The National Heritage (Scotland) Act of 1985 names them as separate entities and brought the 2 of them together. They were created during the museum building rage that followed the Great Exhibition of 1851. Although other reasons for their existence do exist previous to that moment in time.

History - Many Different Names Over the Years

2 museums were merged in 2006 to unify what is now called The National Museum of Scotland. One of the 2, The Royal Museum, underwent quite a few name changes in its own right. Founded in 1854, it began under the name of the Industrial Museum of Scotland and was intended to be a new building. Its future collections were to focus on natural history, geology, science and technology as well the decorative arts. These collections came from various sources, such as Edinburgh's National History Museum, which would form the backbone of the museum's collections. Designed by Francis Fowke, the building was begun in 1861 and opened in 1866. However, when its emphasis and role started changing to match the feel of the time, the result was a name change, the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art in 1864.

The colonial expansion in the third quarter of the 19th century helped increase its collections as officials and explorers sent back thousands of items from Africa, India, Far East, Australasia and the Americas, thus giving the museum its present international flavour.

Need for Expansion

All museums suffer from a need for space and the National Museum is very well experienced with it. The original museum was founded by the Society of Antiquities. These were the people behind the National Museum of Antiquities in its time. They found space problems and soon ran into trouble. They had to return again and again to both the city council and national government to give them more room.

Their appetite for collections grew faster than the space they had could absorb. The collections were constantly moved around during the first decades of the 19th century. Attempts were made to combine its collections with those of the Industrial Museum of Scotland, but the Society demurred and would have to wait quite some time, which was spent placing the collections for free public viewing in the Royal Scottish Academy and in the Findlay building.

Space - Finally a Solution

To resolve the space issue, a commission was appointed in 1931 recommending a new museum, but nothing was done until the mid 1990s when a competition was finally opened to design a new building. The winners were Benson & Forsyth. The Museum of Scotland only opened in November 1998 and was designed to show Scotland's archaeological history starting from the earliest record to the beginning of the 20th century.

Looking at their size, the Royal Museum had over 36 galleries, while the Museum of Scotland was much smaller. Its design was built around a central gallery. It started from the basement and moves upward as Scottish history moves forward through six periods, such as the Kingdom of the Scots covering the period 900 to 1707.

Architecture and Design

The first thing you see upon entering the old Royal Museum is the Main Hall with its elegant 'bird-cage' design. Natural light comes flooding in transforming the Hall into something to see prior to proceeding into the principal exhibits. Interestingly, when coming into the old Museum of Scotland, one is struck by much the same feeling. This was because the materials used, such as sandstone on the exterior and limestone and beech on the interior, convey a massive sense of light and space. Both of the designers wanted to open each museum up to the world.


Some of the exhibits at the Museum of Scotland include the Darien Chest, which used to be in the Bank of Scotland and was secured by 15 bolts activated by a single key, while at the Royal Museum, you can see the Wylam Dilly, which is the oldest steam locomotive dating back to 1813.

Enter your review