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National Galleries of Scotland

Home > Edinburgh > Art | Exhibitions | Fun Things To Do | Museums | Places of Interest
by India Tyrer (subscribe)
Avid explorer of both Edinburgh and Manchester.
Published April 20th 2017
The best of Scotland's art under three roofs
Edinburgh is home to many lovely art galleries, both small and big. What's more is that she's home to the National Galleries of Scotland, comprising the Scottish National Gallery, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. You're spoilt for choice. Each reside in spectacular buildings all around the city. If you're an art fan, or just looking for something to do, I'd definitely recommend visiting one or all of the Galleries.

Scottish National Gallery

Situated in the very heart of the city, on the Mound just off Princes Street, you won't miss the Scottish National Gallery. You'll see two magnificent and grand buildings, both designed by William Henry Playfair, one housing the National Gallery building, the other the Royal Scottish Academy Building. Don't be confused by the two separate buildings, they are in fact connected by the underground garden level.

You can expect to find the works of world renowned artists, from Van Gogh and Rembrandt to Turner and Botticelli, just to name a few. As a national gallery, a large part of the gallery is dedicated to the history of Scottish painting, and includes the major names in Scottish art, including Wilkie, McTaggart, Reaburn, and Ramsay.

General admission to the Gallery is free, excluding selected paid-for exhibitions. Current exhibitions on show include 'Constable and McTaggart: A Meeting of Two Masterpieces,' 'Dutch and Flemish Art,' 'Seventeenth - Nineteenth Century Scottish Art,' 'Nineteenth - Twentieth Century Scottish Art,' 'Southern Baroque,' 'French Impressionism,' 'Italian Renaissance,' 'Painting as Spectacle,' 'Cabinet Pictures,' 'Rococo to Revolution,' 'Poussin's Sacraments,' 'Rubens and Van Dyke,' and 'Northern Renaissance and Gothic Renaissance.' As you can see, there's so much to explore and such variety, so something for all tastes. You can easily spend a day browsing the vast collections.

The Gallery also hosts two eateries, The Garden Cafe, and The Scottish Cafe & Restaurant. Both boast spectacular views over Princes Street Gardens, and if it's a sunny day it's lovely to enjoy your coffee outside.

edinburgh city scotland art gallery museum culture explore exhibition heritage history day out
The Scottish National Gallery


The Scottish National Portrait gallery

The portrait gallery is situated in a striking neo-gothic building, the world's first purpose built portrait gallery which was initially opened to the public in 1889. Walk through its doors and you'll find the impressive interiors of The Great Hall, full of arches, murals, friezes, and decadence. Painted by William Hole in the 19th century, look out for famous Scots including Robert Burns and Bonnie Princes Charlie.

edinburgh city scotland art gallery museum culture explore exhibition heritage history day out
The Great Hall at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery


The Gallery's purpose is to tell the story of Scotland through portrait, and there's a real and successful balance of old and new work. From famous figures throughout history such as Mary Queen of Scots, to contemporary characters such as Bradley Wiggins. Displays change on a regular basis, so there's always something new to see.

Current exhibitions include 'The Tweeddales: Power, Politics and Portraits,' 'Imagining Power, The Visual Culture of the Jacobite Cause,' 'The Age of Improvement,' 'Scots in Italy, Artists and Adventurers,' Reformation to Revolution,' 'The Modern Portrait,' and Graham MacIndoe's 'Coming Clean.'

All the exhibitions are informative and enjoyable to browse, but I personally found that 'Coming Clean' was unlike any other exhibition I'd seen before. An exploration of MacIndoe's struggles through drug addiction and rehabilitation, it's interesting to see this style of contemporary work presented in a national gallery. Likewise, the 'Modern Portrait' exhibition is an interesting insight into modern Scots and public personas that are considered important in the modern day, including actors such as Tilda Swinton, politicians including Gordon Brown, sports people, musicians, and authors.

edinburgh city scotland art gallery museum culture explore exhibition heritage history day out
MacIndoe's 'Coming Clean' Exhibition


Whatever your tastes, there's lots to see in the Gallery, and always an eclectic range of exhibitions on. Admission is free, and you'll find the gallery just a five minutes walk from Princes Street.

edinburgh city scotland art gallery museum culture explore exhibition heritage history day out
Neo-gothic architecture of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery


The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

For all modern art fans, the National Gallery houses a wide and changing range of Scotland's contemporary and modern art. The collections are vast, housed in two large buildings: Modern One and Modern Two. Modern One sits in an impressive neoclassical building dating back to 1825, although it has only served as the National Gallery of Modern Art since 1984. The grounds surrounding the Gallery are just as striking, the lawn was landscaped to a design by Charles Jenks, and showcases 'Landscape Ueda,' a beautiful sculpture park. Modern Two is across the road, and was opened in 1999 as Modern One's sister gallery.

edinburgh city scotland art gallery museum culture explore exhibition heritage history day out
Modern One


Both buildings house permanent and changing exhibitions, mostly with free admission, but with some charging entry. Joan Eardley's 'A Sense of Place' is currently ticketed at 9, and showcases paintings inspired by children in the Towhead area of Glasgow, and by Catterline, a small Scottish fishing village. Other free exhibitions include the likes of 'NOW,' a new programme of modern art exhibitions that will be held in Modern One over the three years to celebrate contemporary Scottish art. Currently showcasing Nathan Coley's iconic work 'The Lamp of Sacrifice, 286 Places of Worship, Edinburgh, 2004,' you can expect to see impressive miniature sculptures of spaces of worship in the capital.

edinburgh city scotland art gallery museum culture explore exhibition heritage history day out
Sculpture in the gardens of Modern One


Other exhibitions include 'Places Real and Imagined,' Surrealism and the Marvellous,' Figurative Art in Scotland and England 1918-1945,' 'Pop Art,' Cubism,' Expressive Art in the Twentieth Century,' 'Art at the Turn of the Century,' 'Paolozzi Studio,' and much more. Paolozzi Studio is an insightful look into the work of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, born in Leith, Edinburgh, a world renowned sculpture artist. This exhibition is unique in that you find out more about the artist by exploring his studio, an informative and interactive experience.

The collections are extensive, and you can spend a full day browsing the galleries. Helpfully, there are also two cafes and two shops, a full day of fun. The Gallery is a little way out the direct city centre, but there is a shuttle bus that takes you from the Scottish National Gallery on The Mound to the Modern Art Gallery for free.

edinburgh city scotland art gallery museum culture explore exhibition heritage history day out
Modern One




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Why? Art Exhibitions
Phone: 0131 624 6200
Where: Scottish National Gallery, the Mound
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