Scottish National Portrait Gallery

The best of Scotland’s art under three roofs

In Edinburgh we’re spoilt for choice for art galleries. Big and small, national and local.

What’s more, we’re lucky enough to be the home of the National Galleries of Scotland, comprising the Scottish National Gallery, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Each reside in equally spectacular buildings around the city. Whether you’re a die-hard art fan, or just looking for a fun day out in the capital, the National Galleries offer up something for all tastes.

The 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. Here, you’ll spot two magnificent buildings, both designed by William Henry Playfair, one housing the National Gallery, the other the Royal Scottish Academy.

Within the Gallery you can expect to find the works of world renowned artists, from Van Gogh to Rembrandt, Turner to Botticelli. And that’s just to name a few!

A large section of the Gallery is dedicated to the history of Scottish painting. If you’re visiting the capital and want to find out more about its artistic heritage you can find the works of Scottish artists including Wilkie, McTaggart, Raeburn and Ramsay.

General admission to the Gallery is free, so this is the perfect place to soak up some culture on a budget. There are seasonal exhibitions with an admission fee. These change throughout the year, so make sure you check out the National Galleries’ website for more information.

Current free exhibitions include the likes of  ‘Dutch and Flemish Art,’ ‘Seventeenth – Nineteenth Century Scottish Art,’ ‘Nineteenth – Twentieth Century Scottish Art,’ ‘Southern Baroque,’ ‘French Impressionism,’ ‘Italian Renaissance,’ and ‘Northern Renaissance and Gothic Renaissance’ just to name a few. As you can see, there’s tons to explore. With the sheer breadth of variety there’s something to suit all tastes.

If you’re feeling peckish after all that browsing you’re in luck. The Gallery hosts two eateries, The Garden Cafe, and The Scottish Cafe & Restaurant. Both boast spectacular views over Princes Street Gardens. If it’s a sunny day it’s lovely to enjoy your coffee outside.


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.

The Gallery’s purpose is to tell the story of Scotland through portrait. The Gallery perfectly presents a perfect 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 ‘Victoria Crowe, Beyond Likeness,’ ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Transportation Photographs from the National Galleries of Scotland,’ ‘Imagining Power, The Visual Culture of the Jacobite Cause,’ ‘Scots in Italy, Artists and Adventurers’ and ‘Heroes and Heroines, The victorian Age,’ amongst others. Again, some of the exhibitions are permanent, but others change. It’s always best to visit the website before taking your trip so you’re well informed.

Admission is free and the Gallery is just a short 5 minute walk from Princes Street.

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

This is one for all you modern art fans out there. The National Gallery of Modern Art is home to a vast collection of contemporary art housed over two large buildings: Modern One and Modern Two.

Modern One is an impressive neoclassical building dating back to 1825, although it has only served as the National Gallery of Modern Art since 1984. The surrounding grounds are equally as striking. The landscaped lawn was designed by Charles Jenks and is complete with an impressive sculpture park.

You’ll find Modern Two across the road. This part of the Gallery was opened in 1999 as Modern One’s sister Gallery.

In both you’ll find permanent and  changing exhibitions. Most of the exhibitions are free to visit, with only the seasonal exhibitions charging an entry fee.

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.

The collections are extensive, and you can spend a full day browsing the galleries.  The Gallery is a little distance from the city centre, but there is a shuttle bus that takes you from the Scottish National Gallery on The Mound to the Modern Art Gallery free of charge.

The Water of Leith is nearby if you fancy a peaceful walk along Edinburgh’s beautiful waters.

Enjoyed this guide to the National Galleries of Scotland? Make sure you check out our other blog posts for weekend inspiration!