Cultural Edinburgh: The best galleries, museums and shops

See paintings by Impressionists, old masters and pop-art icons at the many art galleries. Take in breathtaking historic buildings and fall under the spell of Scotland’s past with a trip to Edinburgh. You can even come face to face with a Tyrannesaurous Rex.

In this guide we round up the best museums and galleries in Edinburgh, and highlight some of the events and exhibits to look out for. 

National Museum of Scotland

The one for: those fascinated by the history of Scotland and ancient creatures

Come face to face with a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex, meet endangered tigers and learn how Scots lived in centuries past at the National Museum of Scotland.  

With more than 24,000 fascinating artefacts on show, this hugely popular interactive museum has plenty to keep everyone occupied. Travel back in time to learn about when dinosaurs roamed the earth, meet a mummified priest, find out whether you weigh more than a chimpanzee and encounter the legends of Scottish history.

Must-see: The Scottish galleries, which document how the lives of everyday Scots have changed over the centuries. 

What’s on: Game Masters (until 20 April) Take a trip down memory lane at this fun exhibition that explores the development of videogames from the 1970s to the present day.

Location, opening times and more

Scottish National Gallery

The one for: those who appreciate fine art across the centuries: from the old masters to Monet and Cezanne 

Just a short walk from the station, the Scottish National Gallery houses an impressive collection of fine art, from the early renaissance to the end of the 19th century.

Marvel at the work of the Impressionists, with a collection of influential works from van Gogh, Cezanne and Degas. Then step much farther back in time with galleries dedicated to the Renaissance and more.

Overwhelmed by the choice? Begin with the paintings deemed ‘the Unmissables’ by the gallery. These 5 paintings include work by portrait painter Thomas Gainsborough, and famed Edinburgh-trained genre painter Sir David Wilkie.

Must-see: Rembrandt’s portrait of himself at the age of 51, painted in about 1657. His ageing face clearly shows the ravages of time.

What’s on:Fair Faces and Dark Places (until 15 February) This collection of prints and drawings by Dumbarton-born artist William Strang (1859-1921) depicts the effects of poverty on society and showcases portraits of leading artistic and literary figures.

Location, opening times and more

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

The one for: those who love modern art  – from the paintings of Picasso to the sculpture of Henry Moore

Set in picturesque parkland close to the Water of Leith, this gallery is a must-visit if you love the modern maestros – from painting to sculpture.

The collection ranges from the 1900s to the present day, including paintings by Matisse, Picasso and Hockney, as well as sculptures by Henry Moore, Antony Gormley and Barbara Hepworth.

You’ll also find works by contemporary Scottish talent and Turner Prize-winning artists.

Must-see: The outdoor sculptures, featuring works by Henry Moore, Tracey Emin, Rachel Whiteread and Charles Jencks.

What’s on:The Two Roberts (until 24 May) Scottish artists Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde were friends of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud who took the London art scene by storm in the 1940s but later fell from grace. Their much-forgotten work is explored here.

Location, opening times and more

 

The Queen’s Gallery

The one for: those who appreciate all things royal

This gallery, which is part of the Palace of Holyroodhouse complex on Canongate, enables works from the Royal Collection to be shown in Scotland.

It has a programme of changing exhibitions, so there’s always something new to see.

Must-see: The sweeping wooden staircase that links the two gallery floors. Lights set into the first floor illuminate the curved balustrading.

What’s on:Gold (27 March-26 July) Ever wondered what makes gold so rare and precious? This exhibition has all the answers, drawing on more than 60 items from the Royal Collection. It includes a series of film installations showing the meticulous working of gold by a bookbinder, furniture gilder and jewellery maker. 

Location, opening times and more

Top 3 art/culture shops in Edinburgh

1. Joseph Bonnar: With clientele that has included Bette Davis and Lauren Bacall, you can expect the Hollywood treatment at this New Town antique jewellery store that is still going strong after more than 40 years. Bonnar himself is a local legend, and his opulent stock is a reflection of his larger than life personality.

2. Edinburgh Printmakers Studio: Local artists use this facility to print their work, but there is also a gallery and a small shop selling screen prints, framed art, birthday cards and jewellery.

3. Studio One: Colourful ceramics and funky kitchenware sit alongside scented candles, elegant jewellery and handcrafted trinket boxes in this large Stafford Street basement store where you won’t be short of inspiration.

 

Enjoy your cultural visit to Edinburgh.