An Art Lover's Guide To Edinburgh In 24 Hours

Of Form and Function By Steven Campbell at The Scottish National Gallery
Of Form and Function By Steven Campbell at The Scottish National Gallery | © John Lord / Flickr
Tori Chalmers

Edinburgh may be a city known for literature but it also embraces all things art. Entertaining all manner of interests, art lovers can expect to find an eclectic array from Cubism and Impressionism to Classical masterpieces. Since incredible art and sculpture is around every corner, we have selected the top Edinburgh arty hotspots – including museums, eateries and galleries – to satiate all artistic appetites in just 24 hours.

Must-See Museums

National Museum Of Scotland

Although the main hall of the Chambers Street Museum is a work of art in itself, there is no denying the appeal of the Art, Design and Fashion Galleries that descended upon the city in 2016. From fantastic examples of Nordic Modernist design and the exquisite archives of illustrious British fashion designer Jean Muir, to the innovative musings of sculptor Michael Eden, the collections cover centuries worth of artistic wonders across numerous mediums.

Insider Tip:Even on weekdays, the National Museum gets jam-packed and quickly. It’s best to head first thing in the morning. This allows plenty of serene moments catered to becoming lost in thought – and to grab a coffee in the lofty, upstairs café! Hours can fly by touring the exhibits, but for time’s sake, stick to the Art, Design and Fashion galleries and save the rest for the next adventure.

National Museum Of Scotland

Unsurpassable Art Galleries

Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art

A pocket of thought-provoking substance and entertaining creative conundrums, The Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art hosts two buildings. Located within a dreamy sculpture park, which is absolutely worth a wander, if only for the sculptures and fresh Scottish air, the neoclassical walls of Modern One contain a whirlwind of enticing works, while Modern Two is just as tempting. Art aficionados can drool over works from Joan Eardley, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Lee Miller, René Magritte, Andy Warhol, and Max Ernst, to name a few. Prepare to be transfixed with Tourists I, a telling sculpture by Duane Hanson, and Martin Creed’s ‘Everything Is Going To Be Alright’, an installation sign positioned at the entrance of Modern One.

Insider Tip:If the weather is in your favour, it’s worth having a wee stroll behind the museum until you reach the Water of Leith. Once more, a free mini bus service runs between the main art galleries in Edinburgh, so make sure to check the timetable to make use of it.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Scottish National Gallery

Situated in a handy central location on Princes St, the Scottish National Gallery is an epicentre of fine art. At just the right size, this gallery lends itself to quick pit stop art moments or hours of gazing longingly. Particularly captivating paintings include Sir Henry Raeburn’s Reverend Robert Walker Skating On Duddingston Loch, Lady Agnew Of Lochnaw by John Singer Sargent and The Virgin Adoring The Sleeping Christ Child by Sandro Botticelli. From Monet and Van Gogh, to Degas, Da Vinci and Raphael, there’s so much talent packed into this striking neoclassical building.

Insider Tip:When craving some caffeine to help fuel the fleeting Edinburgh arty tour, The Scottish National Gallery café happens to boast some of the best coffee in town. Also, the loos are a work of art too, so keep that in mind when you just have to go!

Scottish National Gallery Model

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Housed in an impressive Gothic Revival red sandstone edifice, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is home to the national collections of portraits – around 3000 paintings and 25000 prints and drawings! This is a great spot to brush up on Scottish history, with portraits of Mary, Queen of Scots standing out from all the other Scottish kings! Worth a gander, the portrait of James IV Of Scotland dates back to 1507, making it the oldest in the building. The plenitude of contemporary pieces also go down a treat.

Insider Tip:A great way to see portraits of old and new, the National Portrait Gallery makes for a moment of respite during busy Edinburgh times like the Festival. The café, although fab, gets really busy during lunch hours, so make sure to factor that in if you’re looking for food.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

The Fruitmarket Gallery

A stomping ground for top-notch contemporary art from Scottish and International big name artists, The Fruitmarket Gallery is an oasis of calm and creativity. The building, which has roots as a fruit and vegetable market, serves as a resplendent platform for emerging and established artists. Past exhibitions and commissions include works by the likes of Louise Bourgeois, Martin Creed, Dieter Roth, Roman Signer and Eva Hesse, to name a few. Once more, the shop has a cracking selection of enticing finds and great books, while the café sports tasty vegan cakes.

Insider Tip: Don’t miss the elevator (you will see)!

The Fruitmarket Gallery


A wondrous example of Edinburgh’s eclectic art scene, Summerhall is a true hotbed of innovation and creative flair. The happening bar and trendy café aside, this dynamite venue hosts a myriad of festivals, theatre shows and workshops. It is also a uniting hub where sciences and the arts meld to create a glorious fusion of possibilities, so expect a potion of surprises upon arrival. Between the gallery spaces, mini museums and studios, there’s a lot of talent under one roof.

Insider Tip: Those who prefer to talk art rather than deconstruct it may want to congregate here.


Arty Eats And Drinks


Popular with the locals, Dovecot is woven into the cultural fabric of Edinburgh. This tapestry studio offers a wealth of exhibitions and a first class café. The masterpiece of the minds behind Leo’s Beanery and Ted’s Bakehouse, Dovecot café is a treasure trove of award-winning home baking and an ever-evolving fresh seasonal menu. Whether artisanal hot chocolate, snack sandwich or decadent gluten-free brownies, the food and service here is as pioneering as the studio.

The Street Bar

Strategically placed a stone’s throw from the National Portrait Gallery, The Street is a party place with a perk – Scotland’s first street art gallery. And yes, the work is for sale! Sip on sumptuous cocktails, beer, and wine, devour the international street food dishes and choose a new print for your wall. Gold.


A culinary staple in the Edinburgh dining scene, the Hendersons empire – The Salad Table, Shop And Deli, Hendersons Vegan and Holyrood — is renowned for its fresh farm to table food and arty associations. Throughout the year, this umpteen star food fest hosts multiple art exhibitions, book launches and desirable events across its restaurants, with The Salad Table boasting live music each evening. Hendersons, with its enticing vibe, is a known hotspot for artists, musicians and actors alike.


The Manuscript of Monte Cassino

Although you can spend the day admiring Edinburgh’s enthralling network of sculptures and statues, The Manuscript Of Monte Cassino works beautifully for flying visits. The work of Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi, this three-part sculpture is dripping with symbolism and includes a palm, foot and portion of a limb. It can be found outside St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.

The Manuscript of Monte Cassino
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