Things to do in Edinburgh

Published 12 February 2016

Whether you love cutting-edge art or historic stately homes, there's a vibrant cultural scene in Edinburgh and its surrounding area.


Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Your visit begins before you even step inside; outdoor sculptures by Henry Moore, Rachel Whiteread and Barbara Hepworth are scattered round the extensive surrounding parkland, while even the landscaped lawns are a work of art – designed by theorist, critic and architect Charles Jencks. Within the gallery walls are more than 5,000 20th-century works by the likes of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Andy Warhol and Lucian Freud, as well as pieces by prominent contemporary artists such as Antony Gormley, Gilbert & George, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. A second gallery, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two, showcases the career of renowned Edinburgh-born artist Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, and holds an incredible trove of Dada and Surrealist art and literature.


Scottish National Gallery

The Scottish National Gallery is a welcoming place, staffed by friendly gallery attendants in smart tartan trousers. The handsome Neoclassical building sits in the heart of Edinburgh, opposite Princes Street. It houses most of Scotland's sensational art collection, ranging from Old Masters, such as Raphael, Botticelli, Titian, Velázquez, Poussin, and Rembrandt to much-loved 19th-century works by Monet, Van Gogh and Gauguin. Naturally Scottish art is well represented: Wilkie, Ramsay and MacTaggart are all on show, along with Raeburn's iconic The Reverend Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch. The Gallery is linked to the neighbouring Royal Scottish Academy building, which is used for temporary exhibitions.


National Museum of Scotland

Scotland's incredible National Museum has 36 galleries containing items from all over Scotland and beyond, including the taxidermy remains of Dolly the Sheep, Viking brooches, ancient chessmen and Queen Mary's clarsach. In 2011, a £47m renovation saw 8,000 additional objects go on display – none of which had been exhibited before. The museum is vast, so it may be wise to pick one or two areas to explore in detail. Highlights include the Science and Technology Gallery, where you can explore space travel, genetics and robotics, and the Natural World Gallery, where you can see a life-sized casts of Tyrannosaurus rex and a giant squid. New galleries showcasing the museum's collection of decorative art, design and fashion open in 2016.


Georgian House

No 7 Charlotte Square, also known as the Georgian House, was built in 1796 for John Lamont, 18th Chief of the Clan Lamont. It was architect Robert Adam's crowning glory, intended to be a paradigm of the Georgian ideal in the centre of Edinburgh. In the early 1970s, National Trust for Scotland restored the building to resemble a typical Edinburgh town house of the late 18th/early 19th century. Featuring fine collections of china, silver, furniture and paintings – many with a Scottish/Edinburgh provenance – the house reveals what life was like for the Lamont family and their servants.


Kirkcaldy Galleries

Kirkcaldy is just to the north of the capital. The galleries house an award-winning local history display and an important collection of Scottish art, including over 100 ArtFunded works. Highlights include romantic landscapes and seascapes by William McTaggart and the Glasgow Boys, and vibrant portraits and paintings by the Scottish Colourists, such as Samuel John Peploe and George Leslie Hunter. Contemporary artists – including Jack Vettriano – are also represented in this truly amazing collection.

Hopetoun House

Hopetoun House

Situated on the outskirts of Edinburgh is Hopetoun Estate: 150 acres of rolling parkland, forest woodland and a deer park. The house itself has been the residence of the Earls of Hopetoun since 1699, and it is one of the finest examples of 18th-century architecture in Britain. Originally designed by William Bruce, William Adam began enlarging the property in 1721, adding colonnades to the facades and grand apartments for entertaining. The opulent interiors, which have remained virtually unchanged for three centuries, reflect the aristocratic grandeur of the early Georgian era and feature Scottish carving, plasterwork, gilding and ceiling painting. Outdoor activities at Hopetoun include nature walks, archery, quad trekking and clay shooting.



The neo-Palladian villa of Newhailles lies just east of Edinburgh in Musselburgh. It was designed by James Smith in the late 1600s, but financial difficulties forced him to sell the house just a decade after it was built. Sir David Dalrymple bought the property in 1709, and after adding a new library wing to hold his vast collection of books, Newhailles become known as an intellectual hub, with philosopher David Hume borrowing from its collection. Dalrymple's son added the Great Apartment, commissioning splendid Baroque decorations. The conservation policy at the house is to do as much as is necessary, but as little as possible, meaning the building is in good order but retains an untouched atmosphere. Newhailes also has its own art collection, with works by Allan Ramsay, Jean Baptiste de Medina and William Aikman, while the grounds hold an 18th-century tea house, a shell grotto and a pet cemetery.

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