Sitting on The Mound, the hill that connects Edinburgh’s parts together, is The National. This gallery is Scotland’s national art gallery and once bore the name the Scottish National Gallery. The mid-19th century building decorates central Edinburgh with its elegant neoclassical architectural style. Under the direction of the National Galleries Scotland, The National is administered along with its peer buildings, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
The National is an artistic heaven where art lovers can meet, gaze upon the magnificence of the exhibitions, and perhaps join an art discussion over a meal in the gallery’s restaurant or a cup of joe in the building’s café. Even if you aren’t a huge art fan, The National’s wide variety of artistic exhibitions will draw you in, at least for a bit of history and incomparable beauty.
Here, we introduce you to the Scottish National Gallery, giving you the upper crust of the gallery’s history and what you can expect during your visit, and we will answer some popular questions you might see regarding the gallery online. Then we end with some majestic landmarks that you can visit near the Scottish National Gallery.
The Scottish National Gallery: History Snippet
The history of art collection on a national level in Edinburgh, Scotland, goes back to the first quarter of the 19th century with the establishment of the Royal Institution. The institution had one purpose: to encourage the collection of fine arts in Scotland and make them available for public viewing in an open exhibition space. Nine years after the institution’s establishment, its official building on The Mound was inaugurated in 1828. In objection to the institution’s policies, a disgruntled group of artists formed the Royal Scottish Academy, which also aimed at building a national art collection and, by 1835, had acquired exhibition space inside the institution to showcase the new collection.
A few years later, Prince Albert blessed and laid the foundation stone of the new RSA building. The two-sectioned building was completed under the supervision of William Henry Playfair, a Scottish architect. One section of the building contained the collection of the RSA, while the other contained that of the Royal Institution under the name of the National Gallery of Scotland. More than 60 years later, the RSA’s collection merged with the institution’s and united their goal of building an art collection that Scotland would be proud of.
In the last century, the National Galleries of Scotland underwent two major rebranding campaigns. The first campaigns finished in 2004, with the opening of a new basement space that connects the Scottish National Gallery and the RSA building. The National Gallery of Scotland acquired its new name, the Scottish National Gallery, in 2012. Lastly, the Scottish National Gallery acquired its latest name, The National, in 2023 after another rebranding campaign that included all the galleries under the National Galleries Scotland.
What can you see at the Scottish National Gallery?
It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that the National received its purchase grant. This meant that all collections thus far were those of the RSA and the Royal Institution. The National’s incredible art collection includes works by Scottish and international artists. These works of art have different styles: Surrealism, Contemporary Art, Renaissance and Neoclassical, just to name a few.
Scottish artists who have their artwork on display at The National include Sir Henry Raeburn and his painting The Skating Minister, James Guthrie and his painting A Hind’s Daughter, and Alexander Nasmyth and his portrait of Robert Burns. Works by world-renowned artists on display at the gallery include Jacopo Bassano and his painting The Adoration of the Kings, Claude Monet and his Poplars on the Epte painting, Vincent van Gogh and his Orchard in Blossom painting and Paul Gauguin and his Vision After the Sermon painting.
Your most FAQ about the Scottish National Gallery answered
If you’re planning to visit the Scottish National Gallery, you might have some questions about the gallery, tickets, opening times and more. We bring you all these questions and more.
Is the Scottish National Gallery free?
Yes, you can enjoy the gallery’s masterpieces for free. The gallery often holds special exhibitions, which may cost an additional charge.
Moreover, if you have an Edinburgh City Pass, you can enter some of the paid exhibitions. The Edinburgh City Pass is a pass you get to grant you entry to numerous attractions around the city. This pass’ value can cost from €48.70 for one day to €70.40 for three days.
What are the Scottish National Gallery’s working hours?
The gallery welcomes visitors every day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Is The National open all week?
Yes, The National, or Scottish National Gallery, is open all year round and closes only for Christmas, on the 25th and 26th December. On January 1st, The National opens at 12:00 p.m.
How can you get to the Scottish National Gallery?
You can get to The National through all means of public transportation
- Bus: The bus line city centre/Princes Street pass by The National.
- Tram: if you take the tram, you’ll find it passes by The National on The Mound in either direction.
- On Foot and by bike: if you’re at Waverley Station, you will find The National at Princes Street, a few minutes away.
- Train: if you arrive at Waverley train station, just take the Waverley Bridge exit through the Princes Street gardens.
When does the Gallery shop open?
The Gallery shop opens the same as the gallery every day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Is there a café at The National?
Yes. There is a café and restaurant at the National, The Scottish Café and Restaurant, that opens daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, but beware of the last orders at 4:00 pm. The other café is the Cafe Espresso café, which is open daily from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
Things to do around the Scottish National Gallery
The Scottish National Gallery is in the heart of Edinburgh, where the Old Town showcases its most wondrous landmarks awaiting visitors.
Up high, she stands regal and overlooks her city, like a knight looking after their fellow warriors. Edinburgh Castle is a witness to the strength and resilience of the Scottish people as they fought for their land under the Kingdom of Scotland. The volcanic rock atop which the castle stands has a history of habitation since the Iron Age. The seat of the Scottish Kingdom has a dark history of hauntings and eerie incidents due to the number of political prisoners once held between its dungeons.
The Royal Mile
The Royal Mile is the network of streets connecting Edinburgh’s heart. Edinburgh Castle stands majestically on one end, while Holyroodhouse Palace stands on the other. The intricate network of streets is a witness to the Old Town’s dark history. During the reign of King James VI, who was obsessed with witchcraft, he believed any woman who had an interest in science or even exhibited signs of mental illness was a witch. He ordered the burning and execution of a large number of women due to this unjustified obsession. However, the execution of witches isn’t the only dark secret of the Royal Mile; a series of inexplicable murders took place at the mile during the 17th and 20th centuries.
National Museum of Scotland
If you wish to continue the dive through history from the Scottish National Museum, you can head to the National Museum of Scotland. Not only a museum of artwork, this museum has an incredible collection of antiquities, science and technology, natural history and Scottish and worldwide cultures. The adjoining building, the Royal Scottish Museum, is a mid-19th century building with a regal Victorian Venetian Renaissance façade, while the National Museum of Scotland boasts a Modernist building from the late 20th century.
Calton Hill overlooks the magical city of Edinburgh. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is studded with numerous historical landmarks such as the seat of the Scottish Government, the Dugald Stewart Monument and the Scottish National Monument. As with every corner in Edinburgh, Calton Hill has rich history of monastic friaries, the infamous Calton Jail and even once hosted a hospital for lepers. It sounds grandeur to visit the buildings on the hill, and it definitely gave us a shiver to go up there.
The Scott Monument
The nearby Waverley Station derives its name from the Scott Monument. This commemorative monument was built in memory of Scottish novelist and historian Sir Walter Scott. A popular figure during his time, the locals wished to remember Scott after his death and held a competition to design the monument. The stonemasons carved 64 figures from Scott’s novels on the monument, and 16 heads of popular Scottish authors and poets while a statue of Scott and his dog stands beneath the monument’s four pillars. The Scott Monument offers an enchanting panoramic view of Edinburgh and its surrounding landmarks.
The Real Mary King’s Close
Beneath the intertwining streets of Edinburgh is the Real Mary King’s Close. This reportedly haunted close got its name from the merchant burgess who lived there during the 17th century, Mary King. In the next century, the government partially closed the close, which allowed homeless, sick and poor people to seek refuge between its corners. Unfortunately, when the government completely sealed the place shut, tales of ghosts had spread throughout the city and tourists, both local and international, had an undying curiosity to experience the close’s paranormal phenomena.
A visit to The National and its surrounding landmarks in Edinburgh’s heart will immerse you in the rich Scottish history, one we promise you wouldn’t want to get out of.