If the National Museum of Scotland was in London rather than Edinburgh it would probably make many of the city’s museums feel a bit redundant. It manages to combine the V&A, Natural History Museum, British Museum and Science Museum in one building, part of which is a Victorian hall inspired by the Crystal Palace that was built in London for the Great Exhibition in 1851. So it even beats London in architecture too, as this palace burnt down in 1936.
The museum has much more of a design focus than I was expecting. For instance, the Scottish Galleries contain information and artefacts relating to Mary Queen of Scots bringing the Renaissance to Scotland and the “Queen Mary Harp” with West Highland decoration – as opposed to presenting a historical narrative of this famous Queen. The same gallery has nine of the Lewis chessmen displayed quite unassumingly in a case at the end of the room.
The Scottish galleries continue upstairs with displays about the Jacobite rebellions and Bonnie Prince Charlie. This area does have more historical narrative, but I love how it remains object focused throughout. Elsewhere in the Scottish Galleries is a ‘Cruck-framed’ house from the 1720s, a Newcommen steam engine and information on great Scots such as Robert Louis Stevenson, John Logie Baird and James Watt.
What I really loved about this museum was that each part was curated beautifully. In the natural history section animals surround you every way you look and rather than being grouped by species, different themes are explored, which makes you think differently. Or you can just enjoy the spectacle.
In the art and design sections I thought I’d just have a quick look round, but I got totally caught up in how and why design changed from each period to the next and had to read each perfectly brief text panel and look at everything on display.
And the world cultures section was exactly what you need to excite and inspire people about exploring other cultures they might not have come across before.
The Victorian hall works as a breathing space, a great place to stand and be seen if you’ve lost your friends and as an antidote to the grey skies outside as the gleaming white and glass structure always seems bright.
But be warned, it really will take hours to see everything and you may need to break up your day by checking out the view from the roof terrace across Edinburgh – to the castle, to the hills beyond the city. A pretty perfect day out.
National Museum of Scotland