The People's Story Museum is a historic museum that focuses on showcasing what life was like for working-class people in Edinburgh back in the late 18th century. For the most part, this museum displays written sources and artwork depicting working-class conditions, but you'll also find oral histories and movie screenings. The actual words of Edinburgh's working-class people take center stage and are the backbone of all exhibitions here.

When you visit this museum, you'll find a wide range of stories told by the working people of Edinburgh. You can listen to these stories and examine objects that not only relate to the diverse communities of Edinburgh's working class but showcase their struggles and movements as well. It'll take about an hour to see everything it has on offer plus a little extra time if you choose to attend any movie screenings.

The People's Story Museum in Edinburgh - one of the highlights of 12 Best Museums in Edinburgh (Read all about Edinburgh here)

The People's Story Museum highlights

Inside the People's Story Museum, you'll find 3 floors, and each has something special to offer. On the first floor, you'll find life-size waxworks of working people that offer insight into their daily lives. This includes what they did at their jobs, how they spent their time at home and even how some criminals were punished.

Climbing to the second floor, you'll be able to see a darker side of working-class life. Focused primarily around the 19th and 20th centuries, these depictions showcase the consolidation of businesses in which working people were primarily employees rather than running their own stands. You'll also learn how wartime led to widespread poverty. Finally, the third floor has a more lighthearted tone that showcases what the working class did to relax and how they celebrated vacations. This is particularly useful in depicting how different religions and cultures influenced various generations.

photo by Andrew Abbott (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

The People's Story Museum history

The museum opened to the public in 1989, but looking at the building, it's clear that the history goes back much further. Located within the Canongate Tolbooth building, the museum is a structure dating back to 1591 that was originally built as a civic hall and a penitentiary. Given that so many working-class people came through the building, it's only fitting that it eventually became a place to tell their stories.

As centuries passed, the building stayed within the realm of law enforcement for the most part, but it has also served as a library and literary institute. When it finally became a museum, it joined with the adjacent tenement, creating the massive interior space that you can explore today. Since the museum's induction, its collection has expanded quite a bit, especially its collection of banners. These banners depict moments in history, like protests and social reform movements.

photo by N Chadwick (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified

Good to know when visiting the People's Story Museum

The first thing to know about the People's Story Museum is that entry is free. You won't have to factor it into your budget when planning your trip. Just set aside a solid hour or 2 to explore its fascinating collection. The museum has extended hours during the Edinburgh Festival.

You'll find this museum next to Canongate Kirk on the Royal Mile, so you're well within walking distance of several other attractions as well. The scenic Calton Hill is just a short distance north, while Edinburgh Castle is less than a mile to the west. The Scottish National Gallery can also be found in the area, allowing you to explore a wide variety of offerings on foot. Additionally, the People's Story Museum is easily accessible with a short walk from Edinburgh Waverley train station.

The People's Story Museum in Edinburgh

Location: The Royal Mile, 163 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8BN, UK

Open: Monday and Thursday–Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday from noon to 5 pm (closed Tuesday–Wednesday)

Phone: +44 (0)1315 294057