12 Unusual Museums in Scotland

by Roisin McAuley  |  Published April 26, 2019

Scotland conjures up many images of mystery. It is, after all, a country that claims the Unicorn as its national animal and hunts the ever elusive sea monster Nessie. The birthplace of two of the world’s most popular pieces of technology: the television and the phone, creativity is in its blood. With this innovation, and sometimes just outright peculiarity, it’s not a surprise that the country is home to a variety of odd museums and unique sights.

3384 bottles of Scottish Whisky are at the heart of the Scottish Whisky Experience (Photo: The Scottish Whisky Experience)

Across the islands, museums celebrate the best of Scotland’s past and showcase its most popular contemporary exports. If you thought Scotland was all whisky and bagpipes, then head to the museums listed below to see more of the quirky offerings of the country… And of course, there are whisky and bagpipes too.


The Scotch Whisky Experience 

3384 bottles of Scottish Whisky glow in the vault of  The Scotch Whisky Experience. It is, somewhat surprisingly perhaps, that it is Brazilian whisky enthusiast Claive Vidiz we have to thank for this ode to whisky. The bottles, which chart over 35 years and all of the nation’s whisky regions, were purchased by whisky distiller Diageo and returned to Scotland, finding their home in the heart of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Both the original collector and the Whisky Experience exhibit the dedication and enthusiasm found worldwide for one of Scotland’s biggest exports. Visiting the Whisky Experience,  guests can enjoy tours of the vault as well as whisky tastings and pairings. Enthusiasts or beginners are welcome here; its aim is to continue to share the collection with a growing audience and build on people’s passion for the spirit.

354 Castlehill, The Royal Mile

The Writers’ Museum & Makars’ Court

Publications and books might be described as exhibitions of literature in themselves. The Writers’ Museum & Makars’ Court takes this exhibition to new heights to celebrate three of giants of Scottish literature: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. This museum dedicates its rooms to Scotland’s literary past; alongside the books it displays manuscripts, portraits and unique personal items of the writers. Neighbouring the Writers’ Museum is the intriguing space of Makars’ Court, aka the court of poets. This literary monument continues to evolve, its stones either inscribed with famous quotes of great Scottish writers past and present or waiting to be embellished. 

Lawnmarket, Lady Stair’s Close

A different perspective on things at Camera Obscura and World of Illusions (Photo: Camera Obscura and World of Illusions)

Camera Obscura & World of Illusions 

In Edinburgh there are numerous places to view the picturesque city. Occupying five floors, at the top of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, the Camera Obscura & World of Illusions has the prime location for taking in the city from a unique perspective. In the towering space, visitors interact with 150 illusions and an inbuilt camera obscura which regularly dazzles spectators. The legacy of the original owner, Maria Short, and her commitment to sharing the magic of this camera with others continues today. Explore contemporary Edinburgh via this original photographic method, as images of the city are made in front of your eyes – without a camera!

549 Castlehill, The Royal Mile

The Library of Mistakes

Given that hindsight is such wonderful thing someone took the opportunity to make a library that highlights mistakes the world has made. The library is dedicated to that which some might consider a somewhat dry topic: promoting the study of financial history. The collectors not only want to call out mistakes, they also wish to encourage current and future generations to learn from them. The collection of books, and other materials, relate to business and finance. Its aim is to highlight the failure of the industries to learn lessons from the past and prevent future economic crises. Visitors can only access the library if they have made an appointment prior to arrival, so if you’re intrigued contact the team in advance to schedule your visit.

4 Wemyss Place Mews

Specimens and surgical instruments demonstrate a scientific past at Surgeons’ Hall Museum (Photo: Surgeons’ Hall Museum)

Surgeons’ Hall Museum

At the Surgeons’ Hall Museum, expect to see fascinating collections of surgical pathology. Artefacts include bone and tissue specimens, surgical and dental instruments and works of art. This collection of natural and artificial curiosities dates back to 1699 and provides the rare opportunity to get close to human and scientific matter that is rarely seen by those outside of the medical profession. The museum itself is one of the oldest in Scotland and combines three collections: Wohl Pathology Museum, the History of Surgery Museum and The Dental Collection. Ran by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, the collection is considered to hold national significance and was originally used for teaching purposes before opening to the public.

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Nicolson Street

East Scotland

The Vintage Bus Museum

A unique transport exhibition, comprised of 190 vehicles from the 1920s to the 1990s, sprawls across over 49-acres in Lathalmond, near Dunfermline. Navigate the site to see over 160 vintage buses; there is the opportunity to take a tour of its workshop too. Here mechanics and bus enthusiasts can learn about the restoration procedures and processes that have brought these buses back to life, though the offer of this tour is completely dependent on the schedule of the workshop.

M90 Commerce Park, Dunfermline

H.M.S Unicorn is docked in Dundee’s victoria Docks (Photo: H.M.S. Unicorn)

HMS Unicorn 

The unicorn figure head might seem a little out of place to those not from Scotland; even to those from the larger UK bit be perplexed. But, take a look at any UK passport and you’ll find it features a unicorn: the national animal of Scotland. This wooden warship started her life as an aircraft repair vessel and a light aircraft carrier, serving in World War II. After 150 years on the water, the ship docked in Dundee and is now one of the few warships from this era that still exists in the world. Converting the vessel into a museum, trips take visitors across four of the ship’s decks to learn about life at sea, the Navy in Dundee and the Golden Age of Sail.

South Victoria Dock Road, Victoria Dock, Dundee


Scotland Street School Museum

Scotland Street School Museum combines the history of education with Mackintosh architecture; it’s an odd mix that comes together to make a great experience. For most Glaswegians, a visit to Scotland Street School Museum is a standard school trip or day out at some point in their lives. All of the museum’s features provides entertainment: it exhibits beautiful stone work and architecture, reconstructs classrooms and tells the history of the education system under Queen Victoria. This unique museum engages with individuals from all ages and even offers the opportunity to fully immerse in the experience by dressing up as a pupil from 1950s and 60s. 

Scotland Street

(Photo: The National Piping Centre)

Museum of Piping 

Synonymous the world over with Scotland, the Museum of Piping pays tribute to 300 years of piping history. Visitors might expect to see purely Scottish instruments here, but the nation’s bagpipes are exhibited alongside pieces from the British Isles and mainland Europe: the instrument was played in various countries before being adopted by Scotland. The exhibition covers everything you might need to know about the bagpipes: the heritage of the Great Highland Bagpipe, the instrument’s manufacturing process and the printing of pipe music. A central piece of the exhibition is the chanter of Iain Dall MacKay, aka Blind John; this is the oldest of its kind anywhere in the world- for those unfamiliar with chanters, they are the section of the instrument played by the pipers’ fingers. Whether you finish your tour baffled or inspired, take on the challenge of the instrument and have a go on the bagpipes yourself.

The National Piping Centre, 30-34 McPhater Street

Fossil Grove in Victoria Park

In an unassuming corner of Glasgow’s Victoria Park, a group of strange looking tree stumps constitute a major scientific research site. Discovered in 1887, Fossil Grove preserves the fossilised remains of eleven extinct trees of the Lepidodendron species. The building that surrounds these extremely rare prehistoric remains is even classified as a museum itself. The magnitude and importance of these fossils is completely at odds with their tranquil Westend environment, making this an unexpected attraction for anyone taking a wander through the park. 

Victoria Park Drive South

The Borders

The Devil’s Porridge

A curious name, the Devil’s Porridge is definitely not something you’d want to try. Labeled by the sight of the gunpowder paste that was mixed there, the Devil’s Porridge sits 7 miles from the English border. Known previously as HM Factory Gretna, the munitions factory was the answer to the huge ammunition shortage on the Western Front in the early years of World War I. At the time it was the UK’s largest munitions factory. Now, through the local community’s grass-root action, the factory has transformed into an interactive war museum, featuring stories from World War l, World War ll and exterior transport exhibitions. 

Annan Road, Eastriggs

The Islands

Skye Museum of Island Life

Have you ever wondered what life on Skye would be like? Have you ever wondered what it would have been like 100 years ago? Even if the answer is no, the Museum of Island Life is a curious exhibition showcasing the island’s old way of life. In the north of the Isle of Skye, the museum exhibits townships and crofts- or for those not familiar with Scotland’s crofting community, small plots of land with thatched cottage dwellings. The purpose built croft houses, and larger museum, evidence the conditions on the island at the end of the nineteenth century. Though Skye continues to modernise with technology, transforming life on the island, locals stay faithful to their heritage and celebrate their past with visitors bringing these crofts back to life. 

Kilmuir, By Portree