Art and About: Exploring modern art in Edinburgh

Catching the last of summer, Art Fund member and Edinburgh enthusiast Ildiko explores some of the city’s modern and contemporary art with her National Art Pass.

Hi, I’m Ildiko. Originally from Hungary, I moved to Scotland over six years ago and this is where my Edinburgh adventure began.

At weekends I love exploring with my husband, whether visiting a Scottish castle, escaping to the seaside or checking out a local art exhibition. I document our explorations on my Instagram and at The Weekend Enthusiast in the form of weekend guides.

Coming from a family of art enthusiasts including an art historian cousin, I have always loved art – and modern art in particular. When Art Fund challenged us to put together an Edinburgh itinerary for fellow day trippers, we jumped at the chance to visit some of our favourite spots: Jupiter Artland and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Whether you’re local or a visitor to the city, the Scottish capital has plenty of modern art on show. Let’s start exploring!

9am: But first, coffee. Both Mr Enthusiast and I start the day with a cup of coffee. At weekends we like to go to our local indie coffee shop, Noir. It’s located in a beautiful Georgian space in Edinburgh’s West End and has amazingly high ceilings. If you’re not that into coffee, you might want to try their delicious Skye sea salt and caramel hot chocolate.

9.30am: Set off on your journey. To make the most of your morning at Jupiter Artland, aim to arrive by the opening time of 10am.

We usually drive there, but we’ve tried and tested the bus route and it works fine. From Noir, you can walk to the West Approach Road bus stop (about 10 minutes) and take bus number X27 towards Bathgate, alighting at East Calder (Coxydene). The trip takes about 20-30 minutes.

10am: Explore Jupiter Artland. A collection of contemporary art open seasonally from May to the end of September (check their site for opening dates), this vast outdoor sculpture park set within an 80-acre estate is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary of being open to the public. Some of our favourite permanent exhibits include:

Charles Jencks, Cells of Life (pictured above): Jencks’ signature landforms and four lakes surround the driveway leading to Jupiter Artland, and are much loved by both adults and children.

Pablo Bronstein, The Rose Walk (pictured top): The Argentine-born artist has created the most beautiful walk at Jupiter between two impressive Gothic and Chinoiserie style pavilions. It is particularly pretty in July and August when the white and red roses are in bloom.

Christian Boltanski, Animitas: There is nothing more calming than staring at the water and listening to the 200 small Japanese bells of Boltanski’s installation in the wind.

Other favourites include the illuminated text You Imagine What You Desire by Nathan Coley; the most recent Jupiter commission, quarry, by Phyllida Barlow, and the temporary exhibition Gateway by Joana Vasconscelos, displayed in the estate’s Ballroom.

12pm: Lunch at Café Party. You’re in luck – Jupiter Artland has a lovely café on site, should you get hungry while exploring. Run by the MILK collective, the menu features seasonal dishes with plenty of options for those with special dietary requirements.

The interior of the café was designed by Swiss artist Nicolas Party, and it features colourful wall murals as well as custom-designed furniture and crockery.

1pm: Travel back to the city (bus X27 towards Edinburgh/drive).

Along the A71 towards Edinburgh you might spot a beautiful but crumbling gateway arch just past Wilkieston village – it will be on your left. It once belonged to the Scottish baronial mansion Hatton House, which was sadly demolished in 1955 following a fire. The so-called South Gateway is one of the structures at the estate that survived, and is now on the Buildings at Risk register.

2pm: Head to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. If you’re travelling by bus, the SNGMA is about a 20-minute leisurely walk northwest from the West Approach Road bus stop. Both its buildings – Modern One and Modern Two – are surrounded by a beautiful sculpture park.

Upon entering the grounds of Modern One you may recognise a familiar sight: welcoming you is another of Charles Jencks’ distinctive landforms with crescent-shaped pools of water.

You might also spot a blue neon sign across the building’s frieze spelling ‘Everything is going to be alright’ – one of Martin Creed’s most iconic works, Work No 975 (2008).

Originally built as a refuge for fatherless children, today the impressive neoclassical building of Modern One is home to displays of the gallery’s permanent collection, as well as temporary exhibitions.

Just across the road, Modern Two is home to temporary exhibitions and works by Scottish sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi.

One of my favourite permanent displays is an entire room dedicated to the recreation of Paolozzi’s London studio. I always have the feeling that the artist may emerge from behind the creative mess of plaster casts, cardboard boxes and reference books at any time.

Another much-loved Paolozzi work is the giant welded steel sculpture Vulcan (1999). It is best viewed from the first floor balcony as it emerges above the ground floor café area.

During our visit there is also an excellent temporary exhibition featuring the works of Emil Nolde.

4pm: Follow the Water of Leith to Stockbridge. The SNGMA is conveniently located right next to the peaceful Water of Leith path. This walk by the river towards Stockbridge passes the picturesque Dean Village – perfect for reflecting on your day.

5pm: It’s cheese o’clock. After a day full of art, it’s time to get some dinner and rest. Smith & Gertrude is one of our favourite spots in Stockbridge, offering charcuterie, cheese and wine.

If you have an extra day in Edinburgh, you might consider visiting Dovecot Studios, a tapestry gallery converted from a Victorian swimming pool. If you time your visit during the viewing balcony opening hours, you’ll be able to watch the weaving in progress.

Another favourite of ours, Talbot Rice Gallery is a bit of a hidden gem. The exhibition space consists of three galleries located in the impressive Edinburgh University Old College; one of the rooms was originally designed by the architect William Playfair as a natural history museum and has been decorated beautifully in the neoclassical style.

Today Talbot Rice features the work of both Scottish and international contemporary artists in its temporary exhibition programme – and we'd highly recommend a visit.


Where does your National Art Pass take you? Share your days out with #nationalartpass on Instagram for a chance to feature on our Friday feed.

For further Edinburgh insider tips check out The Weekend Enthusiast and @edienthusiast on Instagram.

All photos: The Weekend Enthusiast.

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