Exploring the National Museum of Scotland – 10 Things You Can’t Miss…
…by Riho / from Japan / studied at The University of Edinburgh between 2018-2019 on exchange
Edinburgh is full of museums – you’ll never get tired of visiting them, since there are a lot! But of all the museums in Edinburgh, the National Museum of Scotland is the most famous. Today, I would like to introduce what can’t be missed when visiting the National Museum of Scotland. The museum is so big that it would take more than a day to see every exhibition, so I hope this article helps you decide what you want to see in your limited time.
Before getting started, let me briefly introduce some general information about the museum. It is located in the heart of Old Town—super close to George Square. This means you can visit the museum just after finishing your lecture! It is also free entry (donations welcome), so go as many times as you want! The museum consists of eight floors (from B1 to 7th) but can be logically divided into two parts: the first focuses on science, animals, culture and art, while the second is all about Scottish history. The museum is massive, so I recommend you spend your time efficiently.
- Meet the world’s most famous sheep
Dolly the sheep is the first mammal cloned from an adult cell. You might wonder why Dolly is in Edinburgh now? Well, she was born and spent her life at the Roslin Institute, a part of the University of Edinburgh! She was cloned from a cell taken from the udder of a Finn Dorset ewe, and her surrogate mother was a Scottish blackface ewe. The success rates for cloning are very low. Out of 277 reconstructed eggs, Dolly was the only lamb produced. In 2003, she suffered severe osteoarthritis, which is uncommon in a six-year-old sheep, which led to a decision to euthanise Dolly.
- Get to know more about Scottish historical figures
Can you think of any famous Scottish people? Have you ever heard of these names: Sir Walter Scot, James Watt, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Burns, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Stevenson, Sir Alexander Fleming… All of them have a connection with Scotland in some way! Considering how small Scotland is, you may be surprised to see so many famous historical figures! At this museum, you will see exhibitions related to all of them.
- Feel the long long history of Scotland
The History section starts in the first basement, from the very beginning of the history of Scotland – how the landscape was formed and how Britain was separated from the European Continent. On the same floor, you’ll also learn about Vikings and Roman invasions. As you go upstairs, you can just follow the Scottish history in chronological order. For instance, if you are interested in Industrial Revolution, you should visit the fourth and fifth floor which make up a segment called, “Industry and Empire.” In this area you can see original locomotive models, steam engines, beetling engines, and more!
- Explore the wonders of nature
In the Natural World section, you will be amazed to see stuffings and skeletons of so many different species of animals! At the same time, the gallery introduces some sad facts like animal extinction, so it is a good chance to think about the importance and beauty of our diverse world. You can also see some exhibitions related to earth and outer space.
- Unexpected Reunion with your home country’s culture
The National Museum of Scotland is not all about Scotland. They have collected historical heritage from all over the world. Do you feel a little homesick? You might want to have a look at the World Cultures section to find your home country! In my case, I unexpectedly reunited with some Japanese cultural elements like Noh theatre masks. What a surprise!
- Check out some spooky stuff as well
The museum owns many mysterious collections including “Arthur’s Seat’s coffins.” The coffins were found by a group of boys who intended to hunt for rabbits at Arthur’s Seat in 1836. They originally found 17 coffins but only 8 remain, all of which are now in the museum. But who made such an intricate carved figures? And who did they represent and who placed them in their secret sepulchre, and for what purpose? These questions are still unresolved, although the museum and scholars are trying to uncover the mystery. I also recommend you to have a look at Alexander Peden’s mask. Alexander Peden was one of the Covenanters who refused to accept the King as the spiritual head of the church in Scotland. The mask is absolutely frightening!
- Deepen your understanding in Scottish culture
I assume you have a typical image of Scotland—maybe something like this: a man with a kilt playing the bagpipes… But here you can learn the background history of this image. Why did the tartan become so popular? Who wore it and why are there so many different colours and patterns? Are there any other Scottish musical instruments apart from bagpipes? Try to find the answers at the museum.
- Think about future sources of energy
Here is a serious topic. We currently use coal, oil and natural gas as sources of energy, but these are non-renewable. Renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydro-power are now going to be used more. Since Scotland is rich in energy sources—including hydro-power (which is plentiful in the rainy climate), strong wind (which we do not normally appreciate in everyday life, but in this context we can’t appreciate it enough), and natural gas from the North Sea—I think Scotland will be a leading model for a more sustainable future. You can learn the future sources of energy by visiting the “Survival” section.
- Have a Fashion Show
If you are studying art, design or fashion, this will be your favourite section. It covers a variety of fashion and design from different times in history. I was personally astonished to see a blouse and headscarf whose prints featured brick wall posters displaying slogans during wartime in Britain.
- Don’t forget to go to Roof Terrace
Finally, you should go up to the 7th floor to see the beautiful scenery from the top! On a sunny day, you can see Edinburgh Castle very clearly, as in this pic:
I hope you enjoy your visit to the National Museum of Scotland and that you take away a lot of new knowledge and wisdom!
***For more blogs from students who have studied abroad at The University of Edinburgh check out the the Study Abroad at UoE blog at https://usinedinb.wordpress.com/