Right in the very heart of the city, you’ll find one of Scotland’s largest and finest collections of art in the Scottish National Gallery. A complex of three different buildings seamlessly interconnected, this wide collection consists of ever-changing exhibitions in the Royal Academy, and permanent works from the great names of European art like Monet, Raphael, Titian and Rembrandt.
The galleries have three main areas: the exhibitions in the Royal Academy of Scotland, the permanent displays in The Scottish National Gallery, and a cafe and shopping area in between the two in the Gardens Entrance.
The Gardens Entrance
The Gardens entrance can be found (as the name aptly suggests) in Princes Street Gardens, positioned roughly between the two main buildings on the mound. This modern area has a cafe, a restaurant, a shop and usually a small exhibition space which changes on a regular basis.
At the moment, the space has a really interesting display called “Come to the Gallery with Katie”, celebrating 25 years of Katie books by James Mayhew. The pictures are really charming and will go down well with young and old alike (see featured image, above).
The Royal Scottish Academy
If you come in the Gardens Entrance, you’ll have the option to follow either the blue or red dots. The red dots will take you to the Royal Scottish Academy, which is the building closest to Princes Street.
Inside the Royal Scottish Academy, you’ll find ever-changing displays of contemporary visual art. It is usually free to enter, but some exhibitions may charge a small fee. You’ll also find that a lot of the pieces are up for sale too, so if you are so inclined, you can take a piece of the Academy home with you!
The Scottish National Gallery
The blue dots will take you to the Scottish National Gallery, which is home to most of the gallery’s permanent collections. This grand space consists of 18 areas, hosting paintings from the Northern and Gothic Renaissance, Southern Baroque, Italian Renaissance and French Impressionism, to name a few.
Towards the back of the gallery you’ll find stairs down to the lower level, the entirety of which is dedicated to Scottish art. Here you’ll find famous works such as The Skating Minister, which is replicated in places all over Edinburgh. You’ll also find a scale model of the gallery complex, which gives you an idea of the size and scale of the place:
To fully enjoy all parts of the gallery complex, I would set aside half a day at least, as there are lots of collections to see. Even better, set aside a couple of hours to see the Royal Scottish Academy one day, and another couple of hours for the Scottish National Gallery the next. I like to think that I enjoy an art gallery visit as much as the next person, but towards the end of my four hour visit, I did find my enthusiasm waning, so I will probably savour it in smaller chunks next time!
Having said that, there are very few better ways to spend a quiet afternoon in Edinburgh. No entrance fee means that you can dip in and out as you please, and you feel free to enjoy the gallery’s diverse and inspiring collections at your own pace.
The Scottish National Gallery can be found on The Mound, EH2 2EL. There are entrances to the complex on Princes Street, The Mound and in Princes Street Gardens. You can get there via any bus that goes through the city centre. It is free to enter most exhibitions but, if you can, a small donation is always appreciated.