Where to See Contemporary and Modern Art in Edinburgh

Edinburgh's creative spirit makes it a perfect place to explore contemporary and modern art
Edinburgh's creative spirit makes it a perfect place to explore contemporary and modern art | © Pako Mera / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Tamarin Fountain
7 August 2020

With a flourishing creative scene, a wealth of galleries and a large community of avant-garde local artists, Edinburgh is a fantastic place to take in contemporary and modern art. Original works from some of the world’s most renowned Surrealists and Pop artists like Eduardo Paolozzi and Salvador Dalí can be found among those of emergent Scottish artists.

Whether you’re into left-field visual art, abstract painting, photography, sculpture, craft or design, there’s plenty to whet the appetite here – most offering free entry. From temporary pop-ups to resident showcases, we’ve got the lowdown on the most interesting and exciting spots to see contemporary and modern art in the city of Edinburgh.

See Dada and Dalí at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Art Gallery, Museum
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Formerly Dean Gallery, but now renamed Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art - Modern Two off Belford Road in Edinburgh
© John Peter Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
This is the biggest and best-known modern art gallery in the city. It’s spread over two imposing Neoclassical buildings, Modern One and Modern Two, surrounded by arty landscaped grounds and a mini lake. Each comprises a mix of permanent and pop-up exhibitions. Entry is free, although some of the temporary exhibitions require visitors to buy a ticket. A shuttle bus runs between all of the Scottish National Gallery sites.

Check out national artworks at the City Art Centre

Art Gallery
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The City Art Centre is found opposite Waverley Station and the Edinburgh Dungeon. The expansive gallery takes up six floors and chiefly promotes Scottish art. There’s a regularly revolving feast of free design, craft, photography and applied art, as well as touring exhibitions. It’s part of the city’s Museums & Galleries network (so entry is free), and it also houses the kitsch Mimi’s Bakehouse on the ground floor.

Browse forward-thinking art at the Fruitmarket Gallery

Art Gallery
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Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
© Kevin George / Alamy Stock Photo
Established in 1938 as a fruit and veg market, this space took on a new form showcasing home-grown art in 1974. The Fruitmarket Gallery commissions national and international artists and curators, focussing on projects involving new thinking. It continues to help discover and launch many talents such as Callum Innes and Claire Barclay and offers free entry to most of its displays. The airy café specialises in vegan treats and sits alongside its shop, selling some of the most eclectic and interesting reads and coffee table books in the city.

Dip into creative film and photography at Stills on Cockburn Street

Art Gallery
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Stills is an intimate space tucked away in the Old Town centre. It exhibits photography and film (the latter in the on-site movie lounge) and has a history spanning four decades. The gallery’s projects provide a platform for both up-and-coming and established photographic artists, presenting three major exhibitions each year, in additions to smaller pop-up displays, all of which are free to view.

Peruse and purchase locally made tapestry at Dovecot Studios

Art Gallery
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Gallery front of house manager Sinead Bracken takes a look at some of the tapestry work by artist Grayson Perry before the exhibition is opened to the public at the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh.
© PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Conceived in 1912 as a tapestry studio, Dovecot has earned international acclaim as a craft, design and contemporary art centre. It specialises in handwoven tapestries and gun-tufted rugs, alongside temporary exhibitions that include work from well-known creators Grayson Perry, Matt Connors and Orla Kiely. Special events require tickets (concessions are available) and donations are encouraged, but visitors are free to wander in and out of the rest of Dovecot without paying a penny.

Take home a unique piece from Urbane Art Gallery

Art Gallery
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Take a short amble from the Royal Mile to discover international, diverse and award-winning art curated to appeal to a large audience. A showcase for collectables, many visit Urbane to buy, as well as browse. Catch screenings, artist talks and lectures in addition to its mixed and solo exhibitions. It’s a relative newcomer, having opened in 2014, but is fast gaining traction as an accessible go-to gallery.

Wander the open studios at Coburg House

Art Gallery
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Venture off the beaten tourist track, to the bohemian district of Leith. Over 80 artists create, design and make prints, textiles, jewellery, boxes and ceramics at Coburg House, a former granary building. It’s very much a community space, with open studios enabling visitors to watch art in the making, as well as pottering around the monthly hyper-local exhibitions. There’s also a shop selling many of the in-house wares.

Explore the quirky pop-ups at Edinburgh Palette

Art Gallery, Building, Market
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St Margaret's House, Meadowbank, Edinburgh.
© Ian Rutherford / Alamy Stock Photo

A noticeable landmark, just a little away from the main city, Edinburgh Palette is housed in a high-rise office block, emblazoned with the word ART. It’s a melting pot of culture, with open studios, resident makers and performance artists. The galleries here range from large to small, housing pop-up grass-roots exhibitions from the nearby Leith School of Art, Edinburgh College of Art and other local creators.

These recommendations were updated on August 7, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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