Scottish National Gallery Visitor Guide

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The Scottish National Gallery is situated in the heart of Edinburgh, midway between East and West Princes Street Gardens.

The gallery is free to enter and is one of the city’s must-do attractions thanks to its priceless collections featuring some of the world’s finest artworks, many of which were created by Scottish artists.

A unique feature of the Scottish National Gallery is that it has an underground exhibition space that joins the Royal Scottish Academy, so visitors can explore the art in both buildings without having to go outside.

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About the Scottish National Gallery

Scottish National Gallery

The Scottish National Gallery is virtually impossible to miss if you take a walk through the centre of Edinburgh, as not only is it one of the most architecturally-impressive buildings in the city, it’s located in the dead-centre of the ever-popular Princes Street Gardens.

The gallery is home to one of Europe’s finest collections of artworks by artists from across the globe, but special consideration has been given to Scotland and the gallery contains one of the most comprehensive collections of Scottish masterpieces in the country.

The location of the Scottish National Gallery means it’s a great place to explore when the weather closes in and within the space of less than a mile tourists can walk between the Scott Monument, the Museum on the Mound, and a wide range of restaurants, including those at the superb Balmoral Hotel.

Both the Scottish National Gallery and the adjacent Royal Scottish Academy (RSA) welcome huge numbers of visitors each year, partly due to the quality of art on offer and partly because it’s completely free to view these masterpieces (although there are charges for some exhibitions).

During a visit, it’s possible to meander through galleries containing many of the most important artworks in the world including paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Constable, Turner, Monet, and Van Gogh, while the biggest part of the collection covers the entire history of Scottish painting and features works by Ramsay, Raeburn, Wilkie, and McTaggart.

In fact, there’s so much to see in both galleries that most visitors will find themselves lost in the world of art for the best part of an afternoon, and that’s before visiting the nearby National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Modern Art, both of which are also free to enter.

Scottish National Gallery

Visiting the Scottish National Gallery

Tourists are spoilt for choice when it comes to things to do in Edinburgh, but the Scottish National Gallery deserves to sit somewhere near the top of any sightseeing itinerary.

If nothing else, the architecture of the national gallery is very Instagram-worthy and a visit to Scotland’s capital city wouldn’t be complete without a selfie or two in front of it.

The Scottish National Gallery building was designed by celebrated Edinburgh architect William Playfair to house the national art collection of the RSA when plans were put in place to rehouse the collection in the 1840s.

The start of the construction was marked by a foundation stone laid by Prince Albert in 1850 and after opening it housed the national art collection until 1912 when the RSA moved into an adjacent building.

After extensive remodelling, the Scottish National Gallery re-opened with an emphasis on showcasing a selection of Scottish and European art – a theme which it continues to this day.

By 1970 it was decided that additional storage space would be required to house the nation’s artworks so an extensive series of basement galleries were constructed, which were further extended in the early 2000s so that the separate buildings of the RSA and the national gallery effectively became one building.

This underground area is particularly popular with tourists as it houses an excellent restaurant and café along with a gift shop that sells reproductions of some of the artworks that can be seen in both galleries.

The café and restaurant overlooks Princes Street Gardens, so stopping for a meal or a coffee at either venue is highly recommended.

Scottish National Gallery

Discover more places to visit in Edinburgh with: Places to Visit in Edinburgh – The Ultimate Guide.

The highlights

  • Like all of Edinburgh’s best attractions, the Scottish National Gallery is completely free to enter – as are the national portrait and modern art galleries.
  • The Scottish National Gallery offers visitors the chance to see some of the world’s finest artworks from the likes of Rembrandt, Raphael and Titian as well as Scottish-born artists such as Ramsay, Raeburn and Wilkie.
  • Edinburgh is home to Scotland’s greatest art galleries including the Scottish National Gallery, the Royal Scottish Academy, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Gallery of Modern Art. The first two galleries are located immediately next to each other while the National Portrait Gallery is an 8-minute walk away. The National Gallery of Modern Art, meanwhile, is located 1.5 miles to the west and takes 30-minutes to walk, but there is a free shuttle bus that runs between both galleries.

Visiting tips

  • There’s a very clever smartphone app called Smartify that provides information about most of the artworks in the Scottish National Gallery including the story of each piece and an overview of the life of each artist. Simply scan the artwork with your phone and the app will download a collection of fascinating details as well as an audio guide. Apple: Smartify. Android: Smartify.
  • Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to places to eat in Edinburgh, but the restaurant and café in the Scottish National Gallery are highly recommended. Both the restaurant and café feature views over Princes Street Gardens and the café has an outside terrace that’s a nice place to eat on a sunny day.
  • Return visitors to any of Scotland’s national galleries should consider getting a Friends membership. For one annual payment visitors can enjoy unlimited free entry to all paid exhibitions, a 10% discount in all cafés, free entry for children, and free car parking.

Directions to the Scottish National Gallery

The Mound,

Click the map for directions

Google Map of scottish national gallery, edinburgh, scotland
Google Map of scottish national gallery, edinburgh, scotland

Explore this area with a detailed paper map from Ordnance Survey:

Edinburgh – 350 Explorer.

Edinburgh – 66 Landranger.

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Things to do near the Scottish National Gallery

  • Balmoral Hotel. 1 Princes St, Edinburgh EH2 2EQ. 6-minute walk. A grand Victorian hotel in Princes Street. The Balmoral Hotel sports a luxurious interior and has several spaces to eat and drink including the glass-domed Palm Court and the ultra-chic Bar Prince.
  • Princes Street Gardens. This is a sizeable public park in the centre of Edinburgh. There are numerous monuments and statues inside the landscaped gardens including the Scott Monument.
  • Calton Hill. Edinburgh, EH7 5AA. 11-minute walk. A prominent landmark in Edinburgh that offers panoramic views of the city. Also the location of the city planetarium, the National Monument and the Nelson Monument.
  • Princes Street. 1-minute walk. Arguably the most famous street in Scotland. Princes Street is the first port of call for most visitors to the city as it offers a wide range of shops and restaurants and borders Princes Street Gardens.
  • Museum on the Mound. The Mound, Edinburgh, EH1 1YZ. 4-minute walk. A museum located in the historic Bank of Scotland head office. Visitors can explore the history of money in Scotland with a collection of exhibits that include the country’s oldest banknote and £1 Million of real notes.

Accommodation near the Scottish National Gallery

  • The Witchery by the Castle. 0.2 miles. Castlehill, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Old Town, EH1 2NF. This is a top-tier hotel and restaurant located on Edinburgh’s world-famous Royal Mile. The hotel features deluxe suites with 4-post beds, separate seating areas, large bathrooms, and walk-in dressing rooms.
  • Radisson Collection Hotel. 0.3 miles. 1 George IV Bridge, Old Town, Edinburgh, EH1 1AD. Quality hotel set in the heart of the historic Royal Mile. There are 136 bedrooms and suites plus a bar, spa, swimming pool and a fitness centre. Rooms include Nespresso machines, TV, and high-speed internet.
  • The Inn Place. 0.4 miles. 20-30 Cockburn Street, Old Town, Edinburgh, EH1 1NY. This hotel has double, twin, and King rooms plus private dormitories. The hotel is located within a 10-minute walk of Edinburgh Castle.
  • Radisson Blu Hotel. 0.3 miles. The Royal Mile, Old Town, Edinburgh, EH1 1TH. Radisson Blue is situated on the Royal Mile close to the High Street/North Bridge junction. The hotel has a fitness centre, a restaurant, and a bar. Rooms are available in standard, superior and premium grades, as well as junior and luxury suites.
  • The Place Hotel. 0.4 miles. 36 York Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3HU. The 4-star Place Hotel is set across 3 Georgian town houses close to Edinburgh city centre. Guests have access to a restaurant and bar. Rooms include standard double and twin, superior double and twin, and junior suites.

FAQ’s about the Scottish National Gallery

Is the National Gallery of Scotland free?

There is no fee to enter the Scottish National Gallery. Likewise, there is no fee to visit the Royal Scottish Academy, though there are occasional paid exhibitions.
Both galleries are open daily, 10am to 5pm.

Where is the Scottish Portrait Gallery?

The Scottish Portrait Gallery is located at: 1 Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JD.
The Scottish National Gallery is located at: The Mound, Edinburgh, EH2 2EL.

Why is the National Gallery of Scotland so famous?

The Scottish National Gallery is famous both for its stunning architecture and its world-leading art collections.

The gallery was designed by William Henry Playfair in 1859 and is one of Scotland’s finest neoclassical buildings. The Royal Scottish Academy is situated next to the Scottish National Gallery and both are linked by an underground basement.

The National Gallery of Scotland is also known for its collection of masterpieces that include works by Gainsborough, Vermeer, Botticelli, Constable, Turner, Rembrandt and many other famous artists.

Can you take photos in the Scottish National Gallery?

Visitors to all sites of the National Galleries of Scotland are allowed to take photos or videos for personal, non-commercial use. All other uses require prior permission from the National Galleries of Scotland.

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Scottish National Gallery

By Craig Neil

Craig Neil is a travel writer and specialist 360° photographer from Edinburgh, Scotland. When he's not zooming around the country with his trusty camera in hand, he can usually be found working on the Out About Scotland website and Vartour virtual tours.