You may not associate Edinburgh with great art, but you should. Royal patronage over the centuries contributed to a flowering of culture and art in the city, but it was the 18th century enlightenment that really put Edinburgh on the European map as a city of culture. The explosion of intellectual and scientific achievement spilled over into the arts, and the city has retained an appreciation of, and devotion to, art in all its many forms ever since. The finest collections of Scottish and international art in the city are housed across three sites and art lovers need to visit each one. As well as a permanent collection of thousands of artworks, there are also countless exhibitions and events held every year.
National Gallery on The Mound — Photo courtesy of Simon Hill
The first stop on your artistic pilgrimage should be the National Gallery of Scotland which is a stunning complex of buildings, combining modern architecture with neo-classical design. It could not be more centrally located, as it sits on The Mound, between the New Town and the Old Town, in the middle of Princes Street gardens. Behind the columns of the grand entrance you’ll find paintings by Monet, Degas, van Gogh, Renoir, Gauguin, Cezanne, Rembrandt and Reubens.
National Portrait Gallery — Photo courtesy of Simon Hill
When you’ve finished treating yourself to the masters, you can head across Princes Street into the New Town and onto Queen Street to find the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. This red sandstone neo-gothic palace is an artwork in itself. Within you’ll find portraits of important historical figures such as Mary, Queen of Scots, Prince Charles Edward Stuart and Robert Burns. There are also some more contemporary portraits, and a huge collection of photography.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art — Photo courtesy of M J Richardson
Leaving Queen Street behind take a bus or taxi to the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art found on Belford Road in the west of the city. You’ll discover paintings by Matisse and Picasso, as well as more modern works by the likes of Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. There’s even a collection of outdoor sculpture, including the unmissable “landform” by Charles Jencks which you’ll see when you first arrive.
You should check the calendar of events and exhibitions before you visit, you’ll find it at the National Galleries Scotland website. Admission to all three galleries is completely free and they are open every day. Some exhibitions and events may have an entry fee. You’ll find all three galleries have excellent facilities, good cafes, and souvenir shops.