EdinburghRegions of Scotland

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Visitor Guide

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh is a must-visit for art enthusiasts. Established in 1960, it houses an exceptional collection of modern and contemporary art across two buildings: Modern One and Modern Two, each of which offers a different experience.

Modern One features works from renowned artists like Picasso, Matisse, and Warhol, while Modern Two is known for its Dada and Surrealist collections, including works by Salvador Dalí and René Magritte.

National Gallery Modern Art
Address:75 Belford Road,
Opening Hours:Open daily, 10am-5pm
Admission Price:Admission free. Charges for some exhibitions.
Parking:Parking for visitors is available at both Modern One and Modern Two. A donation is requested of £3 for up to 4 hours and £6 for 4-8 hours.
Facilities:Wheelchair access, baby changing, disabled parking, lockers, bike rack, toilets, shop, restaurant
Photos:Virtual Tour
YouTube Video

The National Galleries of Scotland manages three art galleries in Edinburgh. While the Scottish National Gallery and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery are easily accessible from Princes Street, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is located slightly further afield to the west of Dean Village, so it’s a wee bit difficult to find for first-time visitors.

The journey to the gallery is well worth it though as not only is it spread out across two beautiful early 19th-century buildings but the landscaped grounds are full of artworks that can be enjoyed in addition to the ones housed indoors.

The primary purpose of the gallery is to showcase the Scottish national collection of contemporary art dating from the early 20th century to the present day, and the vast collection covers various forms of media across 6,000 unique works, from sound and video to paintings and sculptures. The collection is a real feast for the senses, and the combination of elaborate gardens and the maze of rooms spread across the two buildings will no doubt keep you entertained for a good hour or two.

The National Galleries of Scotland provide a bus service to transport visitors from the Scottish National Gallery in the city centre to the Modern Art Gallery and back again. Meanwhile, cafés can be found in both the Modern One and Modern Two buildings, alongside the National Gallery of Modern Art shop, an art library, and a book archive.

Although admission is free for the static collections and the sculpture park, there are charges for some of the exhibitions, so you might want to check the National Galleries Scotland website before you leave home to see what’s currently on.

National Gallery Modern Art

The Highlights

1: The gallery boasts a vast and diverse collection of modern and contemporary art, ranging from the late 19th century to the present day. It includes works by some of the most important artists of the modern period such as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, and David Hockney.

2: The gallery is set within extensive parkland that includes a sculpture park. This outdoor space features a permanent collection of modern sculptures by renowned artists such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and Rachel Whiteread, set against a backdrop of green lawns.

3: Modern Two, formerly the Dean Orphan Hospital, hosts an extensive library, archive, and special exhibitions, often focusing on graphic work and photography. It also includes the Gabrielle Keiller Library, a treasure trove of books, archives, and works on paper, and the Paolozzi Studio, a recreation of the studio belonging to the Scottish sculptor Sir Eduardo Paolozzi.

Visiting Tips

1: If you’re interested in specific artists or movements, research the gallery’s collections online beforehand to ensure you don’t miss works that are on display.

2: Allow time to explore the sculpture park and gardens, which can be a highlight of a visit, especially on a sunny day. I suggest planning 2-3 hours for a visit, or 3-4 hours if you view the paid exhibitions and eat in the cafe.

3: Take advantage of the gallery’s amenities, including the café, for a break and refreshments. The gallery shop also offers a variety of books, prints, and souvenirs related to modern and contemporary art.

National Gallery Modern Art

Modern One is highly regarded for its rotating collection of exhibits, and the permanent collection includes dramatic pieces from renowned artists like Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Tracey Emin, and Andy Warhol. Across the road, Modern Two houses selected pieces from the permanent collection as well as a continually updated catalogue of exhibits, and members of the public can also view the history of modern art media in the comprehensive archive library.

Outside, Charles Jencks’ sculpture park dominates the lawn of Modern One, where a sizable serpentine mound encircles a crescent-shaped pool of water. It’s certainly impressive, and it reminded me of my last visit to Jupiter Artland which features an even bigger Jencks artwork.

While walking around the grounds, you’ll be able to get up close to artworks like the bronze sculpture ‘Master of the Universe’ by Eduardo Paolozzi, which is based on a drawing of Sir Isaac Newton, and the installation on the façade of Modern One by the artist and musician Martin Creed.

It’s all very interesting but I’ll be the first to admit that this gallery isn’t for everyone, and by its very nature modern art is going to divide opinions so bear that in mind if you find yourself rolling your eyes whenever you see critics enthusing over some bizarre painting or sculpture. But if you’d like to see an attraction that’s just a bit different from the standard tourist traps you’ll find on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, I reckon the National Gallery of Modern Art is well worth a visit.

National Gallery Modern Art

The galleries are divided into the Modern One and the Modern Two, and both have equally interesting histories. While the very first gallery of modern art was located at the Edinburgh Botanic Garden, it soon became apparent that larger premises would be needed to house the growing collection. In 1984, the gallery moved to its first location (Modern One) on Belford Road and then expanded into another building (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two) across the road in 1999.

The gallery took over the John Watson School, a facility for fatherless children that William Burn had designed in 1825, and renamed it Modern One. Modern Two was created by Thomas Hamilton in 1831 as a hospital for orphans and was subsequently used as an education centre before being converted into its present use as a home for a collection of modern surrealist artworks.

National Gallery Modern Art

Things to Do

View Priceless Artworks: The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art houses an impressive collection of contemporary and modern artworks. Spend your day admiring pieces from renowned artists like Picasso, Warhol, and Hockney. Each artwork offers a unique glimpse into the artist’s mind, transporting you into their world, one piece at a time.

Explore the Sculpture Park: The Gallery’s extensive grounds are a sight to behold and are home to a remarkable array of outdoor sculptures from the enormous earthworks by Charles Jencks to the mind-bending sculptures by Eduardo Paolozzi.

Event Experiences: The expert guides and conservators at the gallery offer bespoke experiences from tours to informative talks about the artworks on display. If you’d rather learn about the stories behind the art at your own pace, you might like to download the Smartify app onto your phone instead.

Participate in Art Workshops: The Gallery often runs interactive workshops and events ranging from painting and sculpting workshops to lectures on art history. These sessions are a good opportunity to learn more about art, engage in hands-on activities, and even create your own masterpiece.

Relax at the Coffee Shop: After exploring the gallery, unwind at Paolozzi’s Kitchen, the excellent on-site café. Enjoy a coffee, a cake, or a delicious meal while feasting your eyes on the stunning views of the sculpture park. If it’s a nice day there’s a terrace at the rear of the garden to enjoy your lunch in the sun.

National Gallery Modern Art

The Water of Leith Walkway. Damside, Edinburgh EH4 3BE. 9-minute walk.
The Water of Leith is a river that starts in the Colzium Hills outside of Edinburgh and flows all the way to Leith. The majority of the section inside the city has paved pathways alongside it that are suitable for use by all ages and abilities.

The Parish Church of St. Cuthbert. 5 Lothian Rd., Edinburgh, EH1 2EP, is a 21-minute walk. St. Cuthbert’s is the oldest Christian site in Edinburgh and is believed to have been founded in 670 AD. The church is located at the west end of Princes Street Gardens, where it is overlooked by Edinburgh Castle.

The Georgian House. 7 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, EH2 4DR, is a 19-minute walk.
An 18th-century luxury townhouse designed by the architect Adam Smith. The National Trust for Scotland is in charge of managing it right now and has put in antique furniture, costumes, and artwork.

St. Bernards Well. MacKenzie Pl, Edinburgh EH3 6TS. 17-minute walk.
Famous Edinburgh landmark set alongside the Water of Leith that lies midway between Stockbridge and Dean Village.

The Ross Fountain. Princes St, Edinburgh EH1 2EU. 22-minute walk.
A cast-iron fountain set in the western end of Princes Street Gardens. The fountain was created in 1872 and represents Edinburgh’s associations with science, the arts, poetry and industry. The fountain is a popular location for tourists as it offers superb photo opportunities of Edinburgh Castle.

Is there parking at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art?

Paid car parking is available at both the Modern One and Modern Two buildings. Visitors cannot park for more than 8 hours, and overnight parking is not permitted.

How much does it cost to visit the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art?

All Scottish National Galleries are free to enter, though there are some paid exhibitions. Visit the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art tickets page for the latest prices.

Can you take photos in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art?

Visitors are allowed to take photos in all National Galleries Scotland properties, except where it is stated otherwise. Some exhibitions allow photography for personal-only use without a flash or tripod.

What visitor facilities are there at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art?

Wheelchair access, disabled parking, lockers, bike racks, car parking, café, shop. Visit the gallery website for updated information on available facilities.

Craig Neil

Craig Neil is the author, photographer, admin, and pretty much everything else behind Out About Scotland. He lives near Edinburgh and spends his free time exploring Scotland and writing about his experiences. Follow him on Pinterest, Facebook, and YouTube.