Calling all medical students, history fanatics, and adventurers: there’s a secret gem hidden on Nicolson Street, and you’re not going to want to miss checking out this award-winning museum!
Surgeons’ Hall Museum, Edinburgh, has one of the largest historic pathology collections around. It’s one of Scotland’s oldest museums and makes for a full day of exploring (and learning!).
The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh created a collection of both natural and artificial curiosities. Their main goal was to train surgeons, and they acquired many specimens for their growing collection, most notably from Sir Charles Bell.
Unfortunately, these took up so much space that in 1832, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh ultimately hired William Henry Playfair to build the surgery museum as we know it today. In February 2015, the Royal College of Surgeons expanded the building, and the Surgeons’ Hall Museums reopened in September 2015.
If you’re planning a visit to the Surgical Museum, Edinburgh, you’re in for a treat! There are tons of fantastic attractions, from the History of Surgery Museum and the Dental Collection to the Body Voyager Gallery, Wohl Pathology Museum, and other temporary exhibitions.
Head to Edinburgh’s city centre and absorb Scotland’s surgical development through the intricate historic pathology collections. Blast into the past and learn all about women surgeons in the Second World War, find out about the real-life inspiration for Sherlock Holmes in the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, and take your time exploring the mock anatomy theatre. This is living history!
In This Post
Details to Know About Surgeons Hall Museums
Planning a trip to Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh? This wonderful award-winning museum, courtesy of the Royal College of Surgeons, has lots to offer! Before you get going, here are some important details to remember before visiting the major medical museum, Edinburgh, from opening hours and costs to travel arrangements.
Surgeons Hall Museum, Edinburgh opening hours
The Surgeons’ Hall Museums are available to visit every day of the week between 10 am and 5 pm. The last entry is at 4:30 pm, but it’s best to get there early! Unfortunately, they are closed for the holiday season every year. In 2023, they will be closed from the 22nd of December and will open their doors again on the 3rd of January 2024.
Photography is not allowed, so leave the camera at home!
Surgeons Hall Museum Tickets
Surgeons Hall Museum, Edinburgh prices can vary! You don’t need to book in advance, but it’s best to prep your wallet before you head to the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
Standard admission for adults is £9, students and NHS staff pay £5 (with ID, as Blue Light Cards are not accepted), and children under 16 plus adults over 60 are £5, too. Children under 5 can enter for free, but the Surgeons Hall Museums’ recommended age is 10+, as of course, the museum has human body remains, which may be upsetting for children.
A family ticket for two adults and two children is £23, two adults and one child is £19, and one adult with two children is £16. To get a season ticket (lasting a year), it is £24 for adults and £13 for children under 16, students, and NHS staff.
Children need to be accompanied by an adult at all times.
There are accessible toilets available in the basement of the Surgeon Hall Museums, plus access for those with mobility impairments. Low counters and drop-down counters can be easily accessed. The museum offers assisted wheelchair access, although some areas on the upper level of the Wohl Pathology Museum might not be easily accessible if your wheelchair is wider than 66cm. Luckily, there is an interactive touch screen showing the items in these areas.
To get to the Surgeon Hall Museums, one can use the stairlift wheelchair access or the lift to enter through the third floor. In terms of other mobility aids, there is a hearing loop in the History of Surgery Museum and access to is Surgeons Hall Museum free (to Surgeons Hall Museum is free”) for all carers/personal assistants to those with disabilities. Assistance dogs are welcome, too!
How to Get to Surgeons Hall Museums
Surgeons’ Museum, Edinburgh is inside The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh campus. You can find the incredible dental collection, Wohl pathology museum and Body Voyager Gallery all here! So let’s talk about how to make your way there, either by car or public transport.
Getting to Surgeons Hall Museums by Car
The Edinburgh Medical Museum is pretty central in Scotland, as it’s right in the capital! If you’re travelling from Livingston, take M8 for around a 40-minute drive. From Glasgow, you can also take the M8 but expect a longer journey of around an hour. As for parking, you can find a spot at the Edinburgh Holyrood Road car park. It’s a short 5-minute walk to the museums, and close to other attractions, such as Arthur’s Seat!
Getting to Surgeons Hall Museums by Bus
If you’re around Princes Street in Edinburgh, it’s a quick 10-minute bus journey from the South Bridge. Quite a few of the buses that pass through the city centre make a stop at the Surgeon Hall Museum.
Getting to Surgeons Hall Museums by Train
Waverley Train Station is the closest stop to the Surgeons Hall Museums. From there, it’s a very short walk, and you’ll be perusing the historic pathology collections in no time. If you’re up for a bit of a walk after, Edinburgh Castle is only 15 minutes away from the museum!
Attractions at Surgeon’s Hall Museum
There’s tons to see at the Surgeons Museum! Edinburgh holds a fantastic medical teaching resource for surgical development here, a host of interesting surgical instruments to check out, the History of Surgery Museum, the dental collection, the Wohl Pathology Museum, the Body Voyager Gallery, and more!
The History of Surgery Museum, Edinburgh
At the History of Surgery Museum, you can hear all about the history of one of the oldest museums in Scotland, neatly tucked away in the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. Examine the historic collection, examine interesting human remains, and learn about the advancement of medicine and surgery. For the detective fans, this is also where you’ll learn about the Surgeons Hall Museums is connected to the inspiration of Sherlock Holmes; no spoilers!
In Edinburgh, Surgeons Hall is the place to be if you’re looking to understand what surgery was like back in the pre-anaesthesia days. With an interactive dissection table, a reconstructed anatomy theatre, and discussions about the infamous Burke and Hare murders and dissection, you’re in for a wild day!
After learning all there is to know about museums, you’ll want to see the remnants of history yourself! One of the top pieces to see is Burke’s death mask and a book bound from his skin, items left over from the Burke and Hare murders.
The Bell collection, sold to the college by Charles Bell, is also a sight to behold! Bell was one of the educators at the school. He went on to buy the Great Windmill Street Anatomy School and sold his collection of approximately 3,000 to the Royal College. You can see lymph vessels, a spermatic cord, a skeleton with osteomalacia, an aorta with an aneurysm, and more!
The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh prides itself on the History of Surgery Museum; its collection from Robert Knox, a famous conservator, is particularly notable. It features his diploma from the college, a lung, larynx, uterus, biceps tendon, lymph nodes, ovary and dermoid cyst, and a lot more to explore.
The Greig collection offers an extremely rare sight: a skull showing orbital hypertelorism, which is the separation of the eyes and slowed development of the bone at the base of the skull, also called Greig’s (II) Syndrome!
The Barclay collection also shouldn’t be missed! It shows off an actual human dissection performed by John Barclay, as well as an Indian elephant skull.
There are quite a few fantastic exhibits to see at the Surgeons Hall Museums, including radiology, instruments, histopathology, and portrait collections, as well as temporary exhibitions and objects of the week/month.
Explore the Dental Collection
The museum has one of the best dental collections in the United Kingdom, with items tracing back to the earliest days of dentistry techniques. Here you can find rare artefacts from a breakthrough discovery, domestic instruments, and the collection of the legendary John Menzies Campbell, a Glasgow dental historian, which includes many interesting items, models, and more.
When you visit Edinburgh, Surgeons Hall should be at the top of your list, especially as now you can also see the 19th-century dentist’s office (including instruments from this period!)
Wander the Wohl Pathology Museum
Once you’re through with the ground floor, head to the Playfair Building, where you’ll find this awesome historical gem! It’s got a huge collection of pathological anatomy.
In 2016, the Maurice Wohl Charitable Foundation supported the cause, and the Playfair Building opening was rushed with eager students and enthusiastic history lovers keen to learn about the origins of medical collections, from the cabinets of curiosity to the preparations and preservation of certain specimens.
Here, you can learn about women in surgery and military surgery until the Second World War, as well as see the finely-shelved cardiothoracic and vascular surgery sections (plus more than you could even imagine!) It’s also an important experience in understanding the suffering of those who came before us and contributed to the advancement of medicine. The museum is governed by the Human Tissue Act of 2006, so everything you see is real human remains, giving you the opportunity to learn alongside visual representations from the medical field.
See the Future at the Body Voyager Gallery
Moving away from the past, the Body Voyager Gallery takes a step into the innovative technology of the future! You’ll be taken through an adventure of the different ways computerised and robotic technology are changing for the better to improve patient care and the way doctors do surgery.
In the gallery, you’ll find AV presentations, working surgical instruments, interactive technology, and more to understand surgery equipment, from the first piece of intelligence to what we use today. Could we be operated on by robot surgeons in the future? Find out for yourself!
Surgeons’ Hall Museum is for everybody. With stairlift wheelchair access, accessible toilets and mobility aids for visitors, anyone can enjoy several floors of majestic history and artefacts. Besides the usual exhibits at the Surgeon Museum, Edinburgh, it’s also important to keep an eye out for what’s on the horizon. There are lots of interesting Surgeons’ Hall Museum Events and special presentations happening all the time, from walking tours to new items.
Keep in mind that exploring the entirety of the museums is bound to take a while. Consider finding accommodation in Edinburgh so you can stay close to the action!
Uncover centuries of history in the stunning collections, expand your medical education, and make your trip to Edinburgh one for the books!
More Scottish Museums to Visit
- Black Watch Museum
- Camera Obscura & World of Illusions
- Edinburgh Writers Museum
- Glasgow Science Centre
- Highland Folk Museum
- Museum of Childhood
- Museum of Edinburgh
- Museum of the Isles
- Museum on the Mound
- National Mining Museum
- National Museum of Flight
- National War Museum
- People’s Palace
- Riverside Museum
- Royal Yacht Britannia
- Scottish Maritime Museum
- Shetland Museum & Archives
- St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art
- V&A Dundee