The 1867-built McManus is Dundee’s main art gallery and museum. It is located close to City Square and takes visitors on a journey through 400 million years of history.
The museum features exhibits and artefacts from the region surrounding Dundee as well as further afield in Scotland. Entry is free.
Review of the McManus Museum
The McManus museum and art gallery in Dundee is one of the city’s foremost tourist attractions, and it’s most notable for the beautiful building that houses the fascinating collections exploring the fields of fine art, natural history, modern industry, the local landscape and more.
While the V&A Design Museum (which you can read about in my Guide to the V&A) manages to wow crowds with its ultra-modern architecture, the McManus manages to go the other way entirely with a magnificent Victorian Gothic Revival building that oozes history from every 150-year-old nook and cranny.
Stand at the front of the building, look up, and prepare to be transported into a Harry Potter book with sculptured stone archways, dramatic conical towers, elaborate carvings and cathedral-like lead-lined windows catching your eye from every direction.
It’s like Hogwarts smaller Scottish cousin, and the Caledonian theme continues with a bronze statue of Dundee’s favourite cartoon character Oor Wullie sitting on the wall outside the McManus with his legendary bucket close at hand. Suffice to say this place is as Scottish as a tartan-clothed, bagpipe-playing haggis.
The building was originally commissioned as a memorial to Prince Albert and was called the Albert Institute when it opened in 1867 but it slowly developed into today’s modern museum through a series of alterations, most notably in 1889 when an additional four art galleries and four museum galleries were added.
But there’s more to this attraction than beautiful architecture and stepping inside the main entrance hall will start your journey through 400 million years thanks to state-of-the-art displays that depict the city of Dundee and the surrounding area from the dawn of the continent right up to the role the city played in Scotland’s modern history.
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Things to do at the McManus Museum
In my opinion the McManus building is so nice you should walk around it to appreciate the architecture of the place before stepping inside, so start outside the reception area in Albert Square and head off in either direction.
The opposite side of the building features a regal statue of Queen Victoria while the front is worth taking the time to snap a photo thanks to its restored stained-glass windows and Victorian Grand Stairs. The museum was given an £8 million makeover in 2005 and it really shows. No wonder it’s now classed as a Category A listed building.
Once back at the reception area you’ll be offered a portable audio tour for a small fee which is well worth getting as there’s so much to see you’ll struggle to work out which route to take, but there are guides on hand on each floor to point you in the right direction in case you get a bit lost.
The reception area is home to a decent shop so you can get a memento or two of your visit and there’s a really good café next door that has outside seating in warmer weather. I have to admit the food there is pretty good and it’s a nice space to munch away on a slice of cake. Top marks for that one, McManus.
Heading through the reception area on the ground floor will take you into the Landscapes and Lives gallery and the Making of Modern Dundee gallery, both of which are fascinating and are a great way to learn about the city’s history.
I honestly felt like I had a better understanding of Dundee’s story after visiting these galleries so I suppose that’s mission accomplished for the McManus team, and I was even surprised by a few interesting facts about the city’s industrial heritage.
Did you know, for instance, that at one time Dundee had a very profitable whaling industry that continued until the 1920s? Thankfully it’s now a long-abandoned trade (in Scotland at least) but it’s a stark reminder of how much has changed in the last hundred years, especially when it comes to our attitudes to the environment
It’s great to see museums like the McManus reminding us where we came from and they’ve accomplished the task in a way that’s both interesting and educational – something that must have been a very tricky task to get right.
It’s for that reason I recommend a visit if you’ve got children in tow and I guarantee they’ll find it just as interesting as you will.
Heading up to the first floor will take you through the modern galleries where 18th-century artworks rub shoulders with 20th-century pieces along with man-made objects sourced from Dundee and the far-flung corners of the world.
Two of these galleries in particular are pretty spectacular. The first is the Dundee and the World gallery housed in the stunning Albert Hall. You’ll find the standard collection of interesting objects in glass display cases like you would in most museums, but it’s the room itself that really impresses.
Look up and you’ll see stained-glass windows and a vaulted wooden roof that wouldn’t seem out of place in a cathedral. But equally attractive is The Victoria Gallery with its bright and airy glass ceiling, ornate plasterwork and beautiful collection of oil paintings that date from the mid-1700s all the way through to the early-1900s.
They’re a bit like mini versions of the Scottish National Museum and the National Galleries in Edinburgh, which is high praise because those two attractions are among the best places to visit in Scotland. By the way, don’t forget to take a look at my guide to The 25 best things to do in Edinburgh for more suggestions for places to visit in Scotland’s capital city.
After you’ve meandered around the exhibits and artwork you might like to pop up to the first floor which is home to a gallery that showcases ceramics, oil paintings from the 20th-century, and a Creative Learning Suite where the museum team offer hands-on activities and workshops.
See, I told you there’s a lot more to this museum than you might at first think.
- The MacManus Museum is much bigger than you initially think and the collections are all first-class.
- There’s an educational element to this museum but it never gets boring. Kids will love it.
- The museum and art galleries are free to enter, there’s free WiFi, and the café is reasonably priced.
- Visitors often forget the picturesque coastal town of St. Andrews is just a 30-minute drive south from Dundee. After your visit to the McManus museum consider exploring St. Andrew’s Cathedral and St. Andrews Aquarium.
- If you come by car you’ll find car parks at Bank Street which is just a couple of minutes walk from the McManus.
- Opposite the McManus is Howff Graveyard which was established in 1564 and houses one of the most important tombstone collections in Scotland.
Photo gallery and video
Things to do near the McManus Museum
- V&A Dundee. 1 Riverside Esplanade, Dundee DD1 4EZ. 11-minute walk. The main design museum in Scotland is open for public viewing at no charge, though certain exhibitions are paid-entry only. There are galleries on the upper level and a shop and café on the floor level.
- Dundee Law. Law Rd, Dundee DD3. 32-minute walk. Historic natural landmark overlooking Dundee with scenic views from the top and a variety of nature trails. A monument at the summit stands where an ancient fortification once stood over 3,000 years ago.
- Mills Observatory. Balgay Park, Glamis Rd, Dundee DD2 2UB. 40-minute walk. Britain’s first public-built observatory is situated in a scenic woodland. Visitors can watch stars and planets through the telescopes and there is a gift shop on site. Entry is free.
- Dundee Museum of Transport. 10 Market Mews, Market St, Dundee DD1 3LA. 21-minute walk. A museum dedicated to Scotland’s transport history. A range of exhibits cover trams, rail, shipping and cars and many of the displays can be interacted with.
- D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum. Carnelley Building, University of Dundee DD1 4HN. 13-minute walk. A natural history museum founded in the 1880s that is part of Dundee University. The museum is open to the public on certain days only. See the university website for details.
More places to visit in Central Scotland
- The Scottish Deer Centre – Fife: Complete Visitor GuideSet in 55 acres of lovely Fife countryside, The Scottish Deer Centre is an animal conservation park that looks after 14 species of deer from around the world as well as wolves, otters, wildcats, and birds of prey.
- Scone Palace – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideScone Palace is widely recognised as one of the top tourist attractions in central Scotland, not only because It’s a genuinely interesting place to visit but also because it’s absolutely steeped in history.
- The Crieff Hydro – Perthshire: Complete Visitor GuideThe Crieff Hydro is a popular resort in the Perthshire countryside that offers a range of health-based activities as well as large grounds for walking and relaxation. The hotel boasts over 200 bedrooms and over 50 self-catering properties, as well as restaurants, cafes and bars.
- The Kelpies – Stirlingshire: Complete Visitor GuideThese equine marvels are Scotland’s celebration of a bygone era of horse-drawn barges that kept the nation’s industry going for well over a hundred years, and although Clydesdale’s (the breed of horse) are no longer a sight on the canals you can at least enjoy the spectacle of the world’s biggest horse sculptures when you go to visit them at Helix Park.