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Monday, October 7, 2019

Edinburgh Museums I Loved

I'm a sucker for a good museum, and Edinburgh is full of them. In fact, the whole of Old and New Town are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning they preserve as much as possible when they can. You'll notice in my pictures just how many old buildings there are, and I'm there for it. It's amazing.

All four of the following museums are promoted by Visit Scotland, though only one charges admission. This means your day out in Edinburgh and the surrounding area can be really affordable. Save your money for all that scrumptious food that I'm missing.

Scottish National Gallery

Our first day in Edinburgh was spent at the Royal Yacht Britannia in the morning and then walking through Old Town when we returned from Leith. It was really windy, so we decided to duck into the Scottish National Gallery, which has free admission and is warm and inviting. The walls are all painted in jewel tones, which makes for a perfect backdrop to the wonderful art you can find there.

Throughout the rooms, you'll find art from many different artists, including Rembrandt, Monet, and Van Gogh, but also a whole exhibit featuring Scottish artists through history, giving you a wonderful look at the art of the country. I found some of my favorite pieces here, and we also found the original piece that had a prominent place in our Airbnb living room, which was fun. 

I may not have a great eye for artwork, but I know what I like and I can appreciate a well done scene, purposeful brush strokes, and, for some reason, an amazing gilded frame. This gallery has it all, including gorgeous skylights. If the one gallery isn't enough for you, there are two others in the collection, and you can pay £1 to take the gallery bus between the Scottish National Gallery, The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (which features portraits of important Scots). Of course, walking is not a bad option either. I'm only sad I didn't have more time to get to either of those.

National Mining Museum of Scotland

Had we not been out by Dalhousie Castle, we probably would not have made it to the Mining Museum, but I'm so glad we did. When I looked at where the wedding was being held, I Googled all the places around it that we could easily walk or Uber to. There are several cool ruins out by the castle, but the Mining Museum caugh my eye, because it wasn't a traditional tourist attraction and tours are run by actual ex-miners, meaning I could ask questions that someone who had real experience could answer. 

Our tour guide was Jim Lennie. He's one of the 6 miners who work at the museum and take you through the operations, what the miners had to carry for safety, and the way mining changed with technology and machinery. Jim wanted to become a miner at age 15 (his father worked in the mines), but his mom set him up with a job in a kitchen, so he had to learn how to cook for 4 years until he could go work in the mines. He then worked there for 16 years until a bunch of miners were let go. At age 70, Jim was still passionate about the mining industry and only seemed sad that he couldn't work in the mines longer. 

Us with our tour guide in front of the still working (over 100 years old!) Winding Machine that raised and lowered the cage into the pithead throughout the day. 

On this tour, you go through a recreated pithead and the surviving colliery (where they brought up and processed the coal) and learn about the intricacies of 8-year-old boys pushing mine carts and little girls who were hired to keep certain doors closed for safety. You also learn about how the miners were paid by cart loads, how the carts make it up from the mine and even the shenanigans miners engaged in before their shifts. The building itself is original and made from local bricks that were produced down the road. Even if you don't think mining is that interesting, you might think differently by the time you leave. I know I did. You can even take the bus directly to Newtongrange (8 miles from downtown Edinburgh), which drops you off directly in front of the museum. (It takes about an hour, so just think of it as a cheap tour of the countryside.)

Writer's Museum

Another great free museum is the Writer's Museum. It's down Lady Stair's Close, which is a small walkway off the Royal Mile that opens into a sweet little courtyard that features a Celtic cross, the Writer's Museum, a bank of apartments and a bar. If you love classical authors, literature, and/or poetry, then this little museum is for you. There are multiple floors, which you have to get to by small staircases, including a teeny spiral one, and each room is very small, but still packed with information, books, and items from author.

The museum focuses on Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson, three prominent Scottish writers. See some of their original works, writing desks, clothing and more. Though there are several small rooms to explore, there's a lot to see, and there's even a fantastic little gift shop right in the main room. 

Even if you don't get excited by literature, the building itself is beautiful and worth exploring. It's an old building filled with antiques, which is pretty much all I need to draw me to a place, but I learned quite a bit about these writers and added a few new titles to my must-read list, not having read all the classics yet. 

National Museum of Scotland

I have a lot to say about the National Museum of Scotland, much like the museum itself. There are 5+ floors full of artifacts from Scottish life, science, flight, nature and more. The building is gorgeous and broken up into different galleries like Ancient Scotland, Transportation, fashion, and Wildlife. As you walk through each level, you learn more about the world and Scotland in general.

I love that the whole middle of the building is open and airy, giving you the feeling of being outside a bit. Half of one veranda is devoted to the cafe, so people can dine, watch others, and see artifacts across the way. You could easily spend half a day wandering in and out of rooms and reading about the different things housed in this museum, so if you have limited time, make sure you have a strategy for what you want to see, especially if that includes the ever-changing main exhibit that requires a paid ticket. During our visit, that was Wild and Majestic, an exhibit featuring landscapes, tartans and everything Scottish.  

You can also take a museum tour if you don't want to spend all your time trying to figure out what is most important for you to see. I adore science, so I beelined to the Dolly the Sheep exhibit. Dolly was the first cloned animal and was the only successful embryo out of over 200. You can view her in the lower gallery (despite what your map says). And don't forget to wander the main floor between galleries for gorgeous exhibit pieces, like a lighthouse glass and the most beautiful drinking fountain I've ever seen. You'll even find cool things along the stairs and down in the lobby. 

If you can find your way to the stairs that take you to the roof, I highly recommend it for the view. I'd suggest the elevator (it's probably a safe option), but we got trapped in there for over an hour with a bunch of other people and they finally had to call the Fire Brigade to come get us, since only the elevator engineer could get it open using the mechanism, and it was Saturday. It's cool though, because the story was on the news and all the people in there were chill and nobody had to pee.

This is just a small sample of the cool museums of Edinburgh, but I liked all the ones I visited and would love to go back to see more, including another visit to the National Museum of Scotland where I don't get trapped in a lift. 

My next post will take you through some of Edinburgh's historical attractions and landmarks that didn't fit in the last two categories. 

If you've been to Scotland, what activities would you recommend? If you haven't, what do you want to do/see most?

Disclaimer: Our admission to the Mining Museum was complimentary of Visit Scotland, but all opinions are my own, and I'm truly grateful for the opportunity to work with them on this whirlwind trip.

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