Designed by Benson & Forsyth, the NMS was judged to be the Scottish Building of the Year after opening in 1998. The huge, airy complex is full of stairways and windows that lead to or look out on other levels, reminiscent of the city's architecture of centuries gone by. Ever since it opened, the NMS has been physically linked to the Victorian-era Royal Museum next door; you can usually walk through from one to the other. As such, it's a stretch to consider the pair as two museums: they're more like two complementary parts of one large complex.
The NMS displays cover everything from Scotland's geological origins to Neolithic artefacts, Roman silver, Dark Age stone carvings, medieval reliquaries and the like, through the industrial period and right up to the modern day. Thousands of items are on display, from everyday objects to a whisky still. Grim relics of the darker side of Edinburgh's past are also on show, among them the Maiden of Edinburgh guillotine and an iron gaud used to restrain prisoners on the old Tolbooth. It's really all you need to know about Scotland under one roof.
The Royal Museum, meanwhile, is known for its special exhibitions, and displays on natural history and engineering. Or, at least, it was until it closed in 2008 for a £46 million refurbishment. It will be closed to the public until some time in 2011; the National Museum of Scotland, though, remains open as usual.