Scotland’s 10 most popular museums and art galleries

MILLIONS of people visit Scotland’s museums and art galleries each year – but which ones are the most popular?

National Museum of Scotland welcomed 1,639,509 visitors through its doors in 2014. Picture: Ian Rutherford
National Museum of Scotland welcomed 1,639,509 visitors through its doors in 2014. Picture: Ian Rutherford

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SCOTLAND (1,639,509 visitors)

Founded in 2006 after a merger between the Museum of Scotland and Royal Museum, the National Museum of Scotland is now the country’s most visited cultural landmark, beating even Edinburgh Castle. The national museum provides a fascinating insight into the country’s heritage, a number of cultures from across the globe, and exhibitions of the natural world. All under the roof of one of Scotland’s most dynamic combinations of new and old architecture.

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The Scottish National Gallery on Princes Street saw visitors wandering its exhibition last year. Picture: Jane Barlow

SCOTTISH NATIONAL GALLERY (1,295,015 visitors)

Standing proudly just off Edinburgh’s Princes Street, the national gallery was first opened to the general public in 1859. The collections within contain works dating as far back as the 14th century. You’ll find masterpieces by Flemish painter Van Dyck as well as Italian artists Jacopo Bassano and Giambattista Tiepolo.


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Glasgow’s most popular museum attracts more than 1 million visitors a year. The Kelvingrove is home too Europe’s finest art collections and has been a city favourite since opening in 1901. A popular urban myth claims that the baroque style building was built back-to-front (with the grand entrance facing onto Kelvingrove Park); once the architect realised this, so the story goes, he threw himself from one of the towers to his death.

RIVERSIDE MUSEUM (1,049,834 visitors)

The newest entry to the country’s one million visitors club. Developed around the pre-existing Glasgow Museum of Transport, Riverside Museum has proved a popular destination on the Glasgow harbour since opening in 2011. The unique Zaha Hadid-designed building was named European Museum of the Year in 2013.


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NATIONAL WAR MUSEUM (593,639 visitors)

Nestled within the walls of Edinburgh Castle, the National War Museum tells the story of battles won and lost throughout Scotland’s history through military artefacts and historic personal records from those on the battlefield.

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PEOPLE’S PALACE (380,110 visitors)

“Open to the people for ever and ever,” were the words of the Earl Of Rosebery as he opened People’s Palace in 1898. In a time when Glasgow’s East End was struggling with extreme poverty and health problems, the social history museum was founded to provide a beacon of hope for those in need, as well as telling their story for generations to come.


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Stunning both inside and out, the modern art gallery is split between two Edinburgh buildings (John Watson’s Institution and Dean Orphan Hospital) and surrounded by rolling grounds complete with lakes, sculpture installations and a pig rock bothy. Mixing the gallery’s own collection with a rotating number of guest exhibitions, it’s a must for any art lovers in Edinburgh.

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The many faces of Scotland, both past and present, sit together on Edinburgh’s Queen Street. The Portrait Gallery. The gallery is home to the country’s national collection of portraits as well as the Scottish National Photography Collection. The red sandstone gothic architecture is also a pleasure to observe and explore.


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THE BURRELL COLLECTION (172,420 visitors)

Made up of over 9,000 antiques, paintings and tapestries, The Burrell Collection is considered one of the finest historic art collections in the world. Collector Sir William Burrell amassed these items over an 80-year period, before gifting it to the city of Glasgow in 1944. The stunning offering of artefacts currently resides in a museum in centre of Pollok Country Park.


Named after Glasgow’s patron saint and built in 1989, the museum is an institution dedicated to promoting understanding and acceptance of different faiths. St Mungo houses a number of artefacts, historical pieces and artwork tied together by the theme of religion.


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