The Best Galleries to Visit in Edinburgh in 2024

Most of the must-visit art galleries in Edinburgh are free and open to the public.

The National. gillian hayes

Scotland’s vibrant capital city is a destination steeped in history and brimming with character with loads to see and do. Edinburgh Castle looms over the skyline and sits opposite Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano situated in the middle of the wild but walkable highland landscape of Holyrood Park. The city also boasts centuries-old pubs, Michelin-starred restaurants, luxury accommodations like Gleneagles Townhouse and stunning architecture.

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Edinburgh’s art scene is yet another draw, and in fact, the city may be best known to culturally attuned international visitors as the site of the annual Fringe Festival—the largest performing arts festival in the world. Beyond the Fringe, however, the city’s thriving year-round visual arts scene offers an exciting program of exhibitions, events and installations in an array of galleries and museums.

SEE ALSO: These (Some of) Are the World’s Most Visually Stunning Museums

The list below features some of Edinburgh’s top art galleries, but it’s by no means an exhaustive list (honorable mentions include the eclectic Velvet Easel Gallery, the multi-arts venue Summerhall, Ingleby Gallery and the photography focused Stills Gallery). Most of the must-visit art galleries in Edinburgh are free and open to the public, and all offer something unique within the realm of visual arts, from textile works to outdoor installations and more.

Edinburgh’s Best Art Galleries

Fruitmarket Gallery

An industrial looking gallery exterior
Fruitmarket Gallery. RUTH CLARK

If you’re traveling to or from Edinburgh by train, then you don’t have much of an excuse not to visit Fruitmarket. Built in the 1970s on the site of a former fruit and vegetable market, Fruitmarket Gallery is a small, independent exhibition space nestled right next to Waverley Station, making it the perfect place to call in before continuing your journey.

Despite its relatively small size, Fruitmarket has shown big names in contemporary art throughout the years, including David Hockney, Eduardo Paolozzi and Nancy Spero. Under the careful directorship of Fiona Bradley, who took the helm in 2003, there’s always something fascinating to explore in the gallery’s three exhibition spaces.

Recent highlights include “the apparent length of a floor area,” an exhibition by Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes. Her sculptural installations are inspired by traditional artisanal techniques and make use of cork, wood and rope to rethink how sculpture is defined. Fruitmarket is currently screening a documentary film on climate change entitled “Project Paradise” by the artist Sarah Woods, and the gallery hosts Edinburgh’s annual Artists’ Bookmarket, a festival that celebrates artist-led publishing.

Fruitmarket celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and will be presenting a program of Scottish, British and international artists including work by Turner Prize-winning sculptor Martin Boyce and Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama. There’s also a fantastic cafe and gallery shop to enjoy once you’ve finished exploring the exhibitions.

Jupiter Artland

Sculptures in the woods
Jupiter Artland. Allan Pollok-Morris

Founded in 2009 by Robert and Nicky Wilson, Jupiter Artland is a fabulous and sprawling sculpture garden located just on the edge of Edinburgh. In the peaceful surrounds of the 100-acre estate, you can plot a route between more than thirty outdoor installations, including Antony Gormley’s Firmament, a giant polygonal structure constructed of steel balls, and Landscape with Gun and Tree, the nine-meter-tall cast-iron shotgun by Cornelia Parker that leans against one of the park’s trees. You can even check exactly how many kilometers away you are from the planet Jupiter thanks to Peter Liversidge’s handy Signpost to Jupiter.

The interplay between art and nature at Jupiter Artland is often whimsical, but there are more unsettling pieces to unwrap, too. A particular highlight is Scottish artist Nathan Coley’s In Memory, which depicts a private cemetery containing several gravestones with the names of the deceased removed. Site-specific works by artists such as Christian Boltanski, whose Animitas installation sits within Jupiter Artland’s Duck Pond, invite visitors to sit and reflect using all five senses (Animitas has over 200 Japanese bells that gently chime in the wind).

Recent exhibitions have included a series of raw and deeply personal works by Tracey Emin entitled “I Lay Here For You” (2022), as well as a hugely well-received first solo show by Lindsey Mendick entitled “SH*TFACED” (2023).

Alongside slightly more adult-oriented artwork, there’s also plenty for families with children to enjoy. Easter time brings egg hunts in the park, while at Christmas, the estate transforms into a Winter Wonderland complete with Festive Donkeys and an Elf Workshop. The permanent installations offer plenty for young children as well, with Peter Jencks’ landform work Cells of Life providing a network of sculpted hillsides and small lakes to explore. Incidentally, you can find another outdoor work by Jencks, Ueda, right outside the entrance to Modern One (see below).

National Galleries of Scotland: National

Scotland’s National gallery. Gillian Hayes

The National is (as the name suggests) the national gallery of Scotland. The building is in the middle of the city, overlooked by Edinburgh Castle, and directly surrounded by other iconic locations including Princes Street Gardens, the Balmoral Hotel and the Scott Monument. Easy to access and mostly free to enter (bar certain temporary exhibitions), the National Gallery is an excellent introduction to Scotland’s artistic heritage.

After years of renovation work, the gallery now boasts a stunning new wing devoted to the finest in Scottish artwork. Its open-plan design, which features a series of large windows, allows visitors to admire works by pioneering Scottish artists such as William McTaggart and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, while also enjoying snapshots of Edinburgh’s iconic city center in the background.

For many, Sir Edwin Landseer’s The Monarch of the Glen will be the most recognizable painting on display. The majestic red deer stag sits among a host of traditional Scottish oil-on-canvas landscapes. But there are other jewels in the new wing, too, including The Progress of a Soul, a stunning series of four embroidered panels by Phoebe Anna Traquair that depict the soul’s journey from birth to final redemption.

The National also offers an array of international art, including Renaissance works by Titian and paintings by Dutch masters Rembrandt and Vermeer. For families with children, the venue hosts an activity space and relaxed informal events for parents and youngsters, including ‘Bring Your Own Baby’ and ‘Family Fridays.’ Finish off your visit with lunch at the cafe, which overlooks Princes Street Gardens or treat yourself to a souvenir from the gallery gift shop.

Dovecot Studios

A large open space with weaving tables
The Dovecot Studios weaving floor. Shannon Tofts

Dovecot Studios offers something different from other art galleries in Edinburgh. Located a stone’s throw from the city’s historic Cowgate, Dovecot is a unique artistic center that combines a working textile studio with a traditional gallery space.

Visitors don’t have to pay to enter the studios, where you can peer down from the Tapestry Studio’s viewing balcony and watch the resident Dovecot weavers at work. This is a real treat—members of the public can observe works-in-progress as they’re hand-woven in real time. The Dovecot team has collaborated with a host of famous artists over the years, including Turner Prize winner Chris Ofili and renowned Scottish-Barbadian artist Alberta Whittle.

In addition to the viewing balcony, Dovecot Studios hosts a program of paid exhibitions throughout the year. A special mention must go to the hugely well-received “Scottish Women Artists – 250 Years of Challenging Perception” which closed in January after a tremendous six-month run and celebrated the work of female artists including Joan Eardley and Victoria Crowe. Now Dovecot is playing host to the first-ever showcase of Andy Warhol’s commercial textile designs.

National Galleries of Scotland: Modern

A mansion-like building set in a sprawling lawn
Scottish National Gallery Modern One. Keith Hunter

Modern is the place to visit for Edinburgh’s most outstanding collection of contemporary art. The gallery is split into two buildings, Modern One and Two, both of which are located on Belford Road in the city’s stunning Dean Village neighborhood. The grounds feature a striking landform by Charles Jencks, with other outdoor installations by the likes of Martin Creed to discover along the pathways up to each gallery.

Contemporary art lovers of all tastes and styles will find something to enjoy here. The permanent collection at Modern One hosts work by big names such as Henri Matisse and Barbara Hepworth and lesser-known gems such as Slow Movement by Eileen Agar. Modern Two tends to focus on abstract and experimental work from the late 19th Century onwards.

Modern is an excellent introduction to contemporary art and has previously played host to the British Art Show (“British Art Show 8”), as well as recent exhibitions on Surrealism. This year promises more exciting and challenging displays: from May onwards you can visit “Women in Revolt! Art and Activism in the UK 1970-1990.” And if the Scottish weather holds out and the sun is shining, make sure to enjoy the courtyard cafe at Modern One for some tea and scones.

National Galleries of Scotland: Portrait

A Gothic building
National Portrait Gallery of Scotland. Andrew Lee

Last but by no means least, the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland is not to be missed. Its diverse collection of portraits, which includes iconic faces from Mary, Queen of Scots through to Billy Connolly and Chris Hoy, tells the story of Scotland through its people—and the artists who painted them.

Located in the city center on Queen Street, the gallery building is an attraction in itself. Surrounded on all sides by modern architecture, Portrait is a Neo-Gothic masterpiece. Inside its Great Hall, the beautiful so-called ‘Zodiac ceiling’ has thousands of golden stars and 47 constellations.

The collection itself is a fascinating glimpse into some of the lives that have shaped the Scotland we know today. And when you need a break from viewing the portraits, you can browse the building’s stunning 19th-century Library and Print Room.

The Best Galleries to Visit in Edinburgh in 2024