From historical figures to contemporary stars, get face-to-face with Scottish culture at the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is among the most-visited and iconic art galleries. It offers an unparalleled view of Scotland’s history through the lens of portraits, film, sculptures, and more.
Holding the Scottish National Photography Gallery, the Victorian Library, and over 3000 paintings, the National Portrait Gallery is one of three Scottish National Galleries in Edinburgh. These national collections provide an all-encompassing view of Scottish and international art from the Renaissance to the modern day. We’ve written about The Scottish Modern One and Two Galleries and the Scottish National Gallery, too, so make sure to check them out if you’re interested in learning more.
If you’re planning on gracing a visit to this national collection, read our complete guide for the important details and the top things to do while you’re there:
In This Post
Important Details to Know
Before enjoying the vast and unique exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery, keep in mind these important details to know to make your visit the best it can be.
Here are the accessibility options available at the National Portrait Gallery:
- There is wheelchair access available throughout the Portrait Gallery, and wheelchairs are available for use on arrival. Please contact the National Portrait Gallery ahead of time to reserve or enquire about wheelchair availability for your arrival.
- The Gallery has accessible toilets throughout the gallery spaces.
- Baby-changing facilities and buggy parking are also readily available on-site.
- There is a bike rack for storing bikes during the length of your visit.
- The National Portrait Gallery offers BLS, visually-impaired, Dementia-friendly, and learning disability-friendly tours as separate tours through the Portrait Gallery. Check out the National Portrait Gallery website for more details on when these tours occur.
For any more enquiries about accessibility, please contact the National Portrait Gallery ahead of your visit.
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is open from 10:00 to 17:00 daily. Similarly, the Café Portrait is open between 10:00 and 17:00, with last orders at 16:30.
Entry into the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is free! You don’t need to purchase a ticket in order to enter.
How to Get There
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is located at 1 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 1JD. Here are the ways to reach the destination via car, train, and bus.
How to Reach the Portrait Gallery by Car
You can find this national gallery in Edinburgh’s city centre, so in many cases, you won’t need a car to reach the attraction thanks to the city’s wide range of public transportation options. But if you’re driving from the airport or from outside Edinburgh, here’s how to get there.
Take Eastfield Road down to Glasgow Road from the airport and follow it towards the city. Transition to Maybury Road after Grosvenor Casino, then take Queensferry Road towards Edinburgh’s New Town. Drive down Queen Street (admiring Edinburgh Castle along the way), and the National Portrait Gallery should be on your right.
Parking is limited on-street parking, so your best bet to find parking will be at St James Quarter Car Park.
How to Reach the Portrait Gallery by Bus
The closest bus station to the National Portrait Gallery is right next to the Edinburgh Bus Station. If you’re planning to reach the Gallery by bus, take bus numbers 10, 11, 12, 16, 26, and 44. Otherwise, take a bus that stops at St Andrews Square, Dublin Street, or North St David Street.
How to Reach the Portrait Gallery by Train
The Waverly Station is only an eight-minute walk from the National Portrait Gallery, which makes it a great attraction to visit if you’re planning to enter Edinburgh by train.
Attractions to See
Now that we’ve ticked off all the essential things you need to know and you’ve stepped into the world-famous great hall of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, what exactly is there to see here? Don’t worry! We’ll break down all the amazing things to do here and the top sights you need to see before you leave.
If you’re short on time or just want to hit the highlights, then this is for you!
See Scottish Historical Figures Face-to-Face
The Scottish National Gallery is home to several famous historical figures etched onto canvas. History lovers can look forward to seeing key moments along the Scottish timeline, from “The Baptism of Prince Charles Edward Stuart” to “James VI and I”.
The historical galleries at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery can be found on Level 2, between Rooms 1 and 10. The National Galleries of Scotland’s design takes you through time, with the beautiful Neo-Gothic Palace design of the Portrait Gallery immersing you in history.
There are Rooms dedicated to the Reformation of Scotland, the Jacobite Rebellions, and the Heroes of Scotland in the Victorian Age that feature images of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Robert Burns, Mary, Queen of Scots, and more!
In addition to the elaborate murals, visitors can look forward to sculptural embellishments inside the second level of the Portrait Gallery. This stunning set of galleries is an unmissable part of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, so come and see James VI and other familiar faces from Scottish history.
Don’t Forget Scotland’s Contemporary Portraits
Come and spot recent pioneers in Scotland’s history when you discover contemporary portraits at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The contemporary gallery heralds the recent additions to the Scottish story and inspires the broadest possible public it can.
The Modern Gallery and the Contemporary Gallery have portraits of Scotland’s finest artists, scientific minds, pop culture icons, politics, and sports like Billy Connolly, Karen Gillan, Joan Eardley, and many more!
Come and see the way the neo-gothic palace dedicated space to the modern icons of Scotland, available on the Ground Floor and Level 1 of the National Gallery.
Visit the Photographic Gallery
Take a breather from the historical portraits of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and enjoy one of the country’s most impressive collections of photographs.
This hidden gem within the Scottish National Portrait Gallery offers a look at prominent Scottish and international photographers, with exhibits that focus on the beauty of modern architecture, various aspects of humanity, and Scotland’s outstanding natural landscapes.
The Photography Gallery can be found at the east end of the First Floor of the Gallery. The current exhibit at the time of writing is “Making Space | The Robert Mapplethorpe Photography Gallery”, but the gallery rotates the exhibitions to accommodate new pictures.
Read a Book at the Victorian Library
Also on the First Floor is the atmospheric Victorian Library, which has a vast collection of prints available to peruse. In fact, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery has over 2,500 prints within it and a select sample is shown off at the Victorian Library.
Visits to the Victorian Library are free, whether you’re planning to peruse the works here for pleasure or engage in some research about the arts. The Victorian Library is a favourite of the National Gallery and is one of Edinburgh’s notable hidden gems. If you’re planning to visit the Victorian Library, ensure you pre-book your opportunity with the Gallery — the visits to the Library are free but do require booking in advance.
Enjoy a Quick Coffee at Cafe Portrait
Wow, there’s a lot to do at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery! It’s easy to lose track of time and explore the many exhibitions within. And if you begin to hear your stomach growling or feel parched, why not enjoy something hearty and delicious at the Cafe Portrait?
The welcoming Café Portrait has a superb selection of soups, salads, sandwiches, and more to rest and relax while you digest some of the thought-provoking pieces within the Gallery. The Cafe is located next to the main hall of the Gallery, sitting to your right as you enter. Don’t miss the opportunity to refuel at this cafe before tackling the other attractions within Edinburgh.
Pick up a Souvenir at the Gallery Shop
Have you fallen in love with a piece of art within the National Gallery and want to take it home with you? Well, while the Portrait Gallery would be upset at you for removing a portrait from the wall, they certainly would encourage picking up a souvenir of your favourite artwork at the Gallery Shop.
Here, you can find several of the famed pieces of the building on display in miniature as postcards, letters, or framed pictures to rest on your desk or decorate a shelf. Picking up a memoir from the gallery shop also ensures that you continue your support of the Portrait Gallery and its amazing exhibitions.
More Scottish Galleries to Visit
- Aberdeen Art Gallery
- An Lanntair Arts Centre
- Compass Gallery
- Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries
- Gallery of Modern Art
- Hunterian Art Gallery
- Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
- Jupiter Artland
- Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
- Kirkcudbright Gallery
- McManus Art Gallery
- National Galleries Scotland: Modern
- National Galleries Scotland: National
- Pier Arts Centre
- Royal Scottish Academy
- Stills Gallery
- Talbot Rice Gallery
- The Burrell Collection
- The Fruitmarket Gallery