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With the opening in February 2019 of three new galleries at the National Museum of Scotland, we celebrated the completion of the transformation of our much-loved Victorian building.

An extraordinary journey

February 2019 marked the completion of an extraordinary journey for the National Museum of Scotland. Starting fifteen years ago, the vision was to transform the museum to be fit for the 21st century. Now, with vibrant new public spaces and new galleries revealing spectacular objects, many of which had not previously been on display, the transformation has created one of the world’s finest museums. It is the most visited museum or attraction in the UK outside London.

The transformation in numbers

  • Visitor numbers trebled to over 2,200,000
  • 29 new galleries
  • 1000+ new objects acquired
  • 13,000 objects displayed across the galleries
  • £30 million from trusts, foundations, companies and individuals
  • 1,000,000+ participants in learning activities since 2011
  • £26 million from the Scottish Government
  • 20 tonnes the weight of the heaviest object - the Boulton and Watt engine
  • 70% on display for the first time£24 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund
  • <1mm the length of the smallest object - a flake of gold panned from a Scottish river
  • 4.5 billion years the age of the oldest object - an Allende meteorite

Find out more about the new galleries here.

Record visitor numbers

For the first time in its history, the National Museum of Scotland attracted over 2.2 million visitors. A total of 3,228,688 people visited across our four museums: the National Museum of Scotland, the National Museum of Flight, the National Museum of Rural Life and the National War Museum.

Visitors enjoying a ceilidh at the National Museum of Scotland

Above: A ceilidh in progress for the Museum Late: Highland Fling event held at the National Museum of Scotland.

Diverse programming

Our collections and the stories they hold are the inspiration for the wide variety of experiences we create and programme for our visitors.

  • Embroidered Stories: Scottish Samplers offered an insight into the lives of children in the 18th and 19th centuries through a unique collection of Scottish samplers generously on loan from the Leslie B. Durst Collection.
  • Robots, a touring exhibition from London’s Science Museum and supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, came to the National Museum of Scotland. In a joint venture with the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University, we created original content giving an insight into the ground-breaking robotics development taking place here in Scotland at the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics.
  • Body Beautiful: Diversity on the Catwalk explored how today’s fashion industry is challenging perceptions and championing alternative ideals of beauty.
  • Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland opened in June and explored how dramatic Highland landscapes, heroic histories, tartan and bagpipes became some of the defining images of Scotland for many people around the world today.

Caryn Franklyn MBE photographs activist and writer Sinéad Burke at the opening of Body Beautiful: Diversity on the Catwalk.

Above: Caryn Franklyn MBE photographs activist and writer Sinéad Burke at the opening of Body Beautiful: Diversity on the Catwalk. Photo © Andy Catlin.


The national collection is an important resource historically, culturally and intellectually and we are committed to sharing it with researchers from across the globe. 

  • We support a large number of PhD students who work with and research the collections. 
  • With The Glenmorangie Company we celebrated an outstanding 11-year research partnership with a major new commission for a piece of contemporary silverwork by the internationally renowned silversmith, Simone ten Hompel. 
  • We have been testing out new ways to measure digital literacy as a partner museum in a research project run by the University of Leicester with Culture24.

Find out more about our research projects here.

Above: A 17th-century ring given by James VII to Sir Peter Halkett is one of the objects studied in research into the importance of material culture to Jacobite supporters.


We continually enhance our collections through new acquisitions which keep them relevant to contemporary society and help us to have a better understanding of the past.

  • In May, we announced the acquisition of a hunting rifle gifted by Queen Victoria to her loyal servant John Brown.
  • Major General Sir Robert Murdoch Smith was one of the most important collectors of Iranian art in 19th-century Britain and later became the third director of the Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art (now the National Museum of Scotland), from 1885–1900. An Iranian silver tea set presented to him and his portrait tile together with archival material related to his life have been acquired from his great-grandson, Rodger Harvey-Jamieson.
  • An exceptional articulated necklace crafted by the renowned Scottish jewellery designer, Dorothy Hogg MBE, has been purchased for the collection with the support of the Art Fund.

Hunting rifle presented to John Brown by Queen Victoria.

Above: Hunting rifle presented to John Brown by Queen Victoria.

Accessible for everyone

Encouraging access to our collections through a combination of telling inspiring stories and offering practical support helps us to engage with a wide range of audiences from all backgrounds and of all ages and abilities.

  • This year we worked with schools in areas or mid to high deprivation, helping them to visit by providing free transport and a healthy snack on arrival and giving guidance for self-led gallery visits.
  • Our Early Doors and After Hours sessions continue to provide access to the museum outside of public opening hours for children and young people with autism.
  • Supported by funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery targeted at relieving loneliness and isolation, we are running new outreach sessions in care homes across Edinburgh, using our collections and storytelling, dance and music to encourage social engagement, creativity and foster social connections.

Find out more about our outreach and engagement work.

School visit to the National Museum of Scotland

Above: School visit to the National Museum of Scotland.

Across Scotland

During 2018–19, through our National Programme we shared knowledge, skills and expertise with museums across Scotland, helping us to reach new audiences beyond our walls.

  • 97 museums were supported through training, loans, acquisitions, touring and community engagement projects.
  • 246 learning experiences were delivered to 186 staff from 69 museums in 28 local authority areas.
  • 4,828 objects were loaned to 72 organisations across Scotland, including loans to four new venues.
  • 10,784 people were engaged through outreach programmes beyond our museums.
  • The Powering Up programme funded by ScottishPower reached 4,899 pupils from 44 primary schools in five local authority areas.
  • Over 25,000 visitors saw our first East Asia Reveal display, Dress to Impress, at Perth Museum & Art Gallery
  • 58 acquisitions were supported by the National Fund for Acquisitions with a total purchase price of £520,282, helping to develop and enhance the collections of 26 organisations in 17 local authorities across Scotland.

Find out more about our national work here.

Craig Sinclair, Science, Engagement and Outreach Assistant, leads a Powering Up workshop with school pupils.

Above: Craig Sinclair, Science, Engagement and Outreach Assistant, leads a Powering Up workshop with school pupils. 

National partnerships

Partnerships are an essential aspect of our work, helping us reach new audiences and sharing access to the collections.

  • In April, we launched a partnership with the Scottish Government to create and deliver Maths Week Scotland, a focal week of events and activity in September each year.
  • The Discovering Ancient Egypt exhibition tour is part of an innovative national programme which is funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund. It extends the reach and impact of the Ancient Egypt Rediscovered and Exploring East Asia galleries beyond the National Museum of Scotland’s walls to engage other museums and new audiences across Scotland. 
  • Thanks to generous support from the John Ellerman Foundation, our Natural Sciences Across Scotland project began in early March. The project aims to review fossil collections in Scottish Museums, produce a ‘State of the Nation’ report on natural science collections and deliver a programme of training and skills development for museum partners.
  • To mark the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the Traprain Law Treasure, a selection of objects from the hoard were lent to East Lothian Council Museums for the exhibition Treasures from the Hoard. 

Dr Daniel Potter with a statue discovered in the collection of Montrose Museum.

Above: Dr Daniel Potter with a statue discovered in the collection of Montrose Museum. Photo © Neil Hanna.

International collaboration

Our collection is one of the most diverse in the world and, as an important resource historically, culturally and intellectually, is drawn on by museums from across the world. In 2018–19 we sent 127 objects from the national collections to venues around the world. 

  • In March this year, we lent a ceremonial shield from the Solomon Islands and a wooden figure from Rapa Nui on Easter Island to the Musée Du Quai Branly, in Paris for their Oceania exhibition.
  • In March, archaeological artefacts excavated from a burial at Culduthel Mains in Inverness, went to the Museo Archueologico Regional in Madrid.
  • Funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) will support a one-year collaborative project Women’s Identity, Textiles and Heritage: Coastal Style in Mozambique with the Fisheries and Fortress Museums, Maputo, Mozambique.

Capulana with ‘Museu das Pescas’ pattern commissioned by the Fisheries Museum: Africa, East Africa, Mozambique, Maputo, 2018.

Above: Capulana with ‘Museu das Pescas’ pattern commissioned by the Fisheries Museum: Africa, East Africa, Mozambique, Maputo, 2018.

Caring for our collections

The National Museums Collection Centre lies at the heart of our activities, a vibrant and active hub for collection storage, access and conservation and an internationally important resource for research and specialist training.

  • In the past year, 1,898 objects were assessed and treated by our skilled conservation team, for display at our own museums and to enable loans from our collections to exhibitions and displays in Scottish museums and internationally.
  • In April, we completed a major two-year project relocating all the parts of our collections that were held in several commercial storage locations to the Collection Centre. This work which involved people from across collections services, curatorial departments, facilities management and estates teams consisted of a phased movement of over 20,000 objects.

New storage facilities at the National Museums Collection Centre.

Above: New storage facilities at the National Museums Collection Centre.


Our ongoing commitment to reducing our carbon consumption is guided by our Sustainable Development Strategy, and since commencing a carbon reduction programme in 2013, we have more than halved our carbon emissions.

  • In this financial year, we have continued to make strides in reducing our CO2 emissions, decreasing our consumption from 5,750 to 4,330 tonnes of CO2, equating to an 18% reduction in gas consumption and 11% reduction in electricity. 
  • We have been effective in reducing the volume of paper purchased, and associated paper waste and recycling costs through making changes to office printers and their functionality which has led to an overall reduction in printing and photocopying across the organisation.
  • Our catering providers have removed all plastic straws from the cafés and restaurants across our museums.
  • Our dedication to working responsibly, ethically and sustainably, and the reduction in our carbon footprint all contributed towards us continuing to hold Green Tourism Awards for the National Museum of Scotland, the National Museum of Rural Life and the National Museum of Flight.

Visitors walking along a path at the National Museum of Rural Life

Above: Visitors enjoy the great outdoors at the National Museum of Rural Life, which retained its Green Tourism Award in 2019.

With thanks

Our volunteers make an invaluable contribution to many activities across our museum sites. We were delighted that two of them received awards in recognition of their outstanding volunteering contributions at the annual Inspiring Volunteer Awards ceremony in Edinburgh.

Many of our achievements during 2019, including the completion of the 15-year transformation of the National Museum of Scotland, simply would not have been realised without our supporters. We are enormously grateful to all of our supporters for their enthusiasm for our museums. Their support has helped enabled exhibitions to be created, buildings to be restored, new galleries to be developed, research discoveries to be made, new audiences to be reached and schools programmes to be expanded. All of this helps ensure Scotland’s treasures and their remarkable stories continue to delight and inspire millions of people each year.

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