The National Museum of Scotland fuses a grand Victorian building with an extension built in the 1990s. The recently refurbished older section is a traditional grand city museum covering natural history, indigenous cultures, science and crafts from around the world. Alongside it, the clean lines and imaginatively designed interior of the modern section offer a fresh perspective on Scottish history from earliest man to the present day, laid out in broadly chronological order over seven levels.

Scotland Galleries

The seven levels of the National Museum’s modern extension make up Scotland’s premier historical museum. The nation’s beginnings and earliest peoples are covered in the basement, with artefacts including the Cramond Lioness, a sculpture from a Roman tombstone found recently in the Firth of Forth, along with carved stones and jewellery from Pictish times. Moving up through the museum, look out for the famous Lewis chessmen, idiosyncratic twelfth-century pieces carved from walrus ivory, along with pieces relating to the more significant periods of Scotland’s past, including the Highland uprisings under Bonnie Prince Charlie (whose silver travelling canteen is on display). Industry and Empire covers the era of heavy industry and mass emigration, while Scotland: A Changing Nation traces the different experiences of people living and working in contemporary Scotland, through film, objects and personal stories.

From the small roof garden, accessed by a lift, sweeping views open out to the Firth of Forth, the Pentland hills and across to the Castle and Royal Mile skyline. Other fine views can be enjoyed from the museum’s stylish Tower restaurant.

Elsewhere in the Museum

Centred on a soaring, three-storey atrium, the former Royal Museum of Scotland, a dignified Venetian-style palace with a cast-iron interior modelled on the Crystal Place in London, reopened in 2011 following a £47 million refurbishment. There’s much to appreciate simply from the building itself, with the main Grand Gallery flooded by natural light and encircled by two levels of balcony. The main exhibits are found in rooms off the Grand Gallery, the most notable (particularly for younger visitors) being the natural history collection with stuffed animals, dinosaur skeletons and numerous sea creatures suspended from the ceiling among giant plasma screens showing wildlife in action. An area dedicated to science and technology has everything from robots and space ships to a stuffed model of Dolly the sheep.

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