Best Family-Friendly Museums in Edinburgh

Entertain the Whole Family with One of Edinburgh's Wonderful Museums

When you are looking for an attraction to entertain everyone in the family a great place to start is with one of Edinburgh’s many museums. They are informative, fun and interactive, and best of all many of them have no entrance fee!

The pick of the bunch has to be the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street. They have a wonderful Egyptian collection, an impressive natural history section, a fascinating science and technology section and loads of interactive exhibits. You can dig for dinosaur bones, put on your own shadow puppet play or try out the racing simulator.

If you and your family are interested in the arts you are spoiled for choice. The city of Edinburgh is home to three of Scotland’s national galleries (the National Gallery of Scotland on the Mound, the Gallery of Modern Art and the National Portrait Gallery) and the wonderful City Art Center. Each has an impressive permanent collection of art works and regularly hosts temporary exhibitions of featured artists or artistic styles. All have fun activities and creative workshops to keep the little ones, and bigger ones, amused.

To combine entertainment with education why not head to Our Dynamic Earth. Fascinating interactive exhibits take you inside a volcano, to the depths of the ocean, though a tropical rain forest and soaring over spectacular polar ice floes.

For some great days out just check out our list of the best family friendly museums in Edinburgh.


This fascinating attraction was the first museum in the world to be dedicated to the history of childhood. The collection was originally established by Patrick Murray, an Edinburgh Councilor who was a passionate collector of toys and childhood memorabilia. The permanent exhibition contains a huge collection of antique toys, games and teddy bears (including a collection of early Steiff bears). There are also fascinating exhibits exploring the history of education, clubs and growing up. There is a recreated Victorian street complete with outdoor toys, a 1930s classroom and great collection of dressing up clothes for children to enjoy. This delightful museum is not just for children, the exhibits are bound to delight older visitors too.

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For such a small country Scotland has had a surprising influence on the world. At the Scottish National Portrait Gallery you'll find stunning portraits in various styles of some of the most influential Scots past and present. There are works by masters from Europe and America including Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Copley, Rodin and Ramsay. There is also a photography collection that offers a fascinating insight into the development of Scotland since the 1840s. You'll also find sculptures, miniatures, coins, medallions, drawings and watercolours. Entry is free though there are occasionally special exhibitions which charge an admission fee. There is also a cafe and a shop.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Children will love following the clues to solve a historical mystery at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Simon's expert tip: The recently renovated Scottish National Portrait Gallery is an impressive building, both inside and out. It tends to attract fewer tourists than some of the more high profile attractions but it really shouldn't be missed. If you're overdosing on history then the contemporary entries here will be a welcome change.

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Museum of Edinburgh

The Museum of Edinburgh is dedicated to displaying the local history of Edinburgh. You will see Greyfriars Bobby's collar and feeding bowl and the National Covenant, signed by leaders of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland in 1638. There are also displays of crafts that were important in the lives of past populations, including glassmaking, pottery, wool processing, and cabinetry. You'll find this old house on the Royal Mile and every room is crammed with interesting curiosities, there are also regular exhibitions, and a fascinating attraction that charts Edinburgh's growth over the past few centuries into the city it is today. Also open Sunday afternoons in August.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The Learning Space in the Museum of Edinburgh has a great collection of dressing up clothes and loads of fun activities for the kids.

Simon's expert tip: You'll find fun activities that offer a glimpse into the past here for kids and adults, so check what's on to plan your visit.

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The Scottish National Gallery is one of the most popular attractions in Scotland and it is situated right in the heart of Edinburgh. This gallery boasts broad offerings of sculpture, paintings and furniture that range from the Italian Renaissance to French Impressionism. Artists represented include Monet, Degas, van Gogh, Renoir, Gauguin, Cezanne, Rembrandt and Reubens. It is an impressive collection that's not to be missed. Entry is generally free but there are occasionally special exhibitions which charge for admission. The gallery is part of a complex on The Mound which includes a restaurant, cafe and a shop. It can be found in the middle of Princes Street Gardens.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Free activity trails specially designed for children will keep the little ones happy while the grown-ups enjoy their great collection of fine art.

Simon's expert tip: The permanent collection is fairly small so an hour is enough to explore it and entry is free. There are often interesting temporary exhibitions on which charge for entry so it's always worth checking out the calendar to see what's on.

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You'll find the National Gallery of Modern Art housed in a stunning neo-classical building in the west of the New Town. It was originally a school, built in the 19th century. The sizable grounds are a perfect home for an interesting mixture of sculpture and the huge "Landform" landscaped front lawn is sure to catch your eye on the way in. Inside the gallery you'll find a stunning array of works by artists such as Picasso, Braque, Mondrian, Ben Nicholson, Matisse, Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein. There are also frequent international exhibitions. Entry to the permanent collection is free, special exhibitions sometimes have an entry fee.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Regular events and a great sculpture trail set in extensive grounds make the National Gallery of Modern Art a great place to take the kids.

Simon's expert tip: This is a great place to sit outdoors on a sunny day and there are plenty of works to enjoy in the grounds of this grand building.

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The People's Story details the history of the residents of Edinburgh from the 18th century to the modern day. The museum is housed in the historic Canongate Tollbooth, an impressive Edinburgh landmark built in 1591, in the heart of the Royal Mile. The exhibition includes fascinating displays such as a recreation of the jail which was once housed in the building, an 18th century book binder's workshop and a wartime kitchen. Each display features beautifully costumed figures and the recollections of real people are recorded throughout. There is also a fascinating collection of banners in support of "votes for women", labour reform and the anti-apartheid movement. This great little museum is sure to spark the imagination of all visitors, young and old alike.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The People's Story has some wonderful detailed exhibits relating to life in Edinburgh over the years which are sure to inspire all of the family.

Simon's expert tip: The video room is well worth a look with fascinating interviews and clips of life in Edinburgh since the turn of the century.

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Lauriston Castle is a great attraction for some family fun. It was built in three phases. The oldest part is a Tower House or Keep dating to 1593. A two story extension was added in the 1820s by architect William Burn, and finally a library was added in the 1870s. The interior is beautifully decorated and furnished in Edwardian style and features some beautiful works of art. There are regular craft workshops for all ages held in the Victorian kitchen throughout the year. The extensive grounds were laid out by William Henry Playfair in the 1840s. A series of craft workshops, art activities and garden events are held in the beautiful glasshouse and there are some great woodland walks.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Lauriston Castle is a beautiful stately house set in gorgeous grounds with regular activities and workshops for all ages.

Simon's expert tip: The Japanese garden is particularly beautiful and a wonderful place to chill out.

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Our Dynamic Earth

This phenomenal museum celebrates the beauty of the earth via innovative technology. It is situated at the opposite end of the Old Town from the castle, near Holyrood Palace in the shadow of the crags and Arthur's Seat. Interactive exhibits allow visitors to experience simulated earthquakes, tropical rainstorms, the ocean floor, ice ages, glaciers and mountains. Particularly interesting is the virtual tour around the eleven Earthscapes. It is educational fun for the whole family and can serve as a good introduction to concepts surrounding the formation of the planet, the creatures we share the earth with, and the growth of the human population.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Great interactive exhibits which are informative and fascinating make Our Dynamic Earth a great attraction for all of the family.

Simon's expert tip: There are frequent special exhibits and events, so check up on the calendar before you go.

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City Art Centre

The City Art Center nestles under the bridge beside Waverley Station in the heart of Edinburgh. Housed in a former warehouse that was once part of the Scotsman building and spread over nine floors, it is a great exhibition space with a vibrant and lively atmosphere. The City Art Center is the home of a permanent collection of over 4,500 pieces of Scottish art including paintings, sculptures and photographs. In addition, it is host to a constantly changing series of exhibitions and events covering such diverse topics as Egyptian and Roman history, modern photography and Star Wars memorabilia. There are also regular interactive events and workshops for children and adults. There is a great gift shop and a wonderful café serving both delicious main meals and tasty snacks and cakes.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: The City Art Center has a great permanent collection, temporary exhibitions and regular activities and workshops for the whole family.

Simon's expert tip: If you want to see one of the Scottish paintings in their collection and it is not on show you can request a private viewing.

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National Museum of Scotland
Photo courtesy of Simon Hill

The diverse collection at the National Museum of Scotland encompasses the history of Scotland along with exhibitions of international interest. You can learn all about Scotland's past from the age of chivalry through to the industrial revolution and beyond. You'll also find diverse displays on everything from the pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the samurais of Japan. The natural world, science and technology, discoveries, art and design, and world cultures are all explored. There are interactive elements and activities to suit children of all ages, including science experiments, musical instruments and unusual photo opportunities. There are also regular exhibitions and you'll find plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants. It is a fantastic location for the whole family.

Recommended for Family-Friendly Museums because: Packed with interactive exhibits for all age groups the National Museum of Scotland is probably the best free attraction for families in Edinburgh.

Simon's expert tip: There are lots of great, interactive activities for children and plenty to keep adults interested so this is fun for the whole family. Kids of all ages love the models of trains and engines because you can push a button to activate the displays.

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Meet Simon Hill

Simon has lived in various corners of Edinburgh over the last 18 years. He fell in love with the city as a small child after visiting the castle and returned to study Scottish History.

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