Scotland's National Galleries in Edinburgh

National Gallery, the Mound.
Karl Blackwell / Getty Images

Scotland's three great national art galleries, collectively known as the National Galleries of Scotland, are located in historic buildings around the center of Edinburgh. Actually, there are four - since the Scottish Modern Art Gallery is, in fact, two separate galleries. But more on that later.

Together, these galleries house one of the world's great collections of fine art, modern art, and portraiture, along with an extensive sculpture garden and a full schedule of special exhibitions and events.

As elsewhere with Britain's most important national collections, visiting the three Scottish galleries in Edinburgh is free for all, though admission may be charged for special exhibitions.

The Scottish National Gallery

After Edinburgh Castle, the Scottish National Gallery is Edinburgh's second most popular attraction. The great neoclassical gallery, designed in the early 19th century by William Henry Playfair, occupies a prominent site on the Mound, Princes Street, in the city center. The gallery collections span the early Renaissance through the end of the 19th century, with work by Raphael, Titian, El Greco, Velazquez, and Rubens as well as such modern masters as Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, Degas, and Gauguin. There is also a very fine collection of Scottish painting. Since 2004, the gallery has been connected, under the Princes Street Gardens, to the Scottish Royal Academy which frequently hosts temporary exhibitions.

Where: On the Mound, Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2EL. Take any City Centre/Princes Street Bus.

When: Open daily, 10am-5pm, Thursdays until 7pm.

Facilities: The gallery has a shop selling books, art prints and Scottish designed giftware. A special Art on Demand feature allows visitors to order art prints or canvas prints of their favorite works.

The gallery also has a full-service restaurant overlooking the Princes Street gardens and a Garden Cafe offering coffees, teas and sweets.

Contact: +44 (0)131 624 6200, Shop enquiries - +44 (0)131 624 6219

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery reopened in November 28, 2011, following a £17.6 million restoration project, the first in its 120-year history. Here portraits are given a broad interpretation, with important figures in Scottish history represented in painting, sculpture, photography, and film. The collections are housed in a grand, neogothic building on Queen Street, paid for in the late 19th century by John Ritchie Findlay, the then proprietor of the newspaper, the Scotsman. Findlay also left the gallery an endowment. The collection was largely built on the private portrait collection of famous Scots assembled by the 11th Earl of Buchan in the 18th century. Among the highlights today are a startling painting of Robert Louis Stevenson by Count Girolamo Nerli, done in Samoa, where the author of "Treasure Island" died. The "Face to Face With Scotland" trail through the galleries is an eye opener too.

Where:1 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 1JD, around the corner from Harvey Nichols

When: Open daily, 10am-5pm. Thursdays until 7pm.

Facilities: Besides the usual books and posters, the new shop features gifts and souvenirs by Scottish designers. The gallery's cafe serves meals and snacks throughout the day, subscribing to a manifesto of green business practices and sustainable sourcing.

Contact: +44 (0)131 624 6200

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

You'd expect a city that has so many great arts festivals as Edinburgh to have an outstanding collection of modern and contemporary art. In fact, it has two. The Gallery of Modern Art occupies two impressive buildings, surrounded by extensive sculpture gardens, across Belford Road from each other on the edge of the city center. Modern Art One occupies an early 19th-century neoclassical building, the former John Watson School, an institution for "fatherless" children.

Its collections include early 20th century French and Russian Art, an important collection of postwar Scottish art and a modern to contemporary collection that includes Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Antony Gormley, Gilbert & George, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

Modern Art Two, in the 19th century Dean Orphan Hospital, houses the Scotland's collection of Dada-ist and Surrealist art as well as work by sculpture Eduardo Paolozzi. Paolozzi's monumental sculpture "Vulcan" was commissioned for the great hall of this gallery and is among its highlights.

Wander in the sculpture gardens of both museums to see work by Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and Rachel Whiteread, among others.

Where: 75 Belford Road, Edinburgh, EH4 3DR. The galleries, in their extensive parklands, are only about a 15-minute walk from the city center.

When: Open daily, 10am-5pm. Thursdays until 7pm.

Facilities: Both Modern Art One and Modern Art Two have shops selling books, posters, post cards as well as homewares, jewelry, and gifts. Both galleries also have cafes. Modern One has a recently refurbished, informal cafe featuring home made dishes from locally sourced ingredients. Modern Art Two has a more intimate cafe with table service.

Contact: +44 (0)131 624 6200

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