Scottish National Portrait Gallery

In a nutshell

The world's first public portrait gallery now displays portraits covering 600 years of influential Scots in a building fit for the 21st century.


1 Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JD

Contact details

Tel: 0131 624 6200

Activity type

Historical Sites, Indoor Activities, Museums and Art Centres

Suitable for

Ages 5 - 12, Schools and Groups, Teenagers

Price guide


(based on family of 4)

Scottish National Portrait Gallery details...

Come face to face with the people who have shaped modern Scotland. Scotland’s National Portrait Gallery is conveniently placed in the heart of the New Town. The first purpose-built portrait gallery in the world to open to the public, it has welcomed visitors since 1889. The Gallery reopened in 2011 after a two-year renovation during which the Museum was restored almost to it’s original layout. After many decades of small, piecemeal changes, which resulted in cramped, dark and less than ideal viewing conditions, the National Portrait Gallery emerged as a bright, clean space capable of showing its’ collections in the best light possible. The inclusion of a glass elevator has also made the Museum more accessible to disabled visitors and those with young children too.

As you would expect, the gallery holds the national collections of portraits of Scots, not all by Scottish artists. There are over 30,000 works of art, including sculpture, dating from the renaissance period to the modern day. The earliest work in the collection is a portrait of James IV by an unknown artist, dating from 1507. Naturally there are a good number of works depicting the Stuart dynasty, including two portraits of Mary, Queen of Scots and portraits of James VI by the Flemish artists Bronckhorst and Vanson. Some of the latest portraits include members of the acting profession, such as a portrait of Alan Cumming OBE, by Christian Hook and a vibrant portrait in chalk of Tilda Swinton, by John Byrne.

The National Portrait Gallery is also home to the Scottish National Photography Collection, which currently numbers over 40,000 items. Possibly most interesting from a Scottish perspective is the collection of works by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson. Over a four year period in the 1840’s, shortly after the invention of photography, they built up a remarkable body of work that included landscape, portrait and social history providing an unrivalled view of Scotland in that period. This work is acknowledged world-wide as one of the earliest examples of photography as an artistic medium. The Photography Collection is only open by appointment Monday – Friday from 10.00 – 13.00 and 14.00 – 16.30.

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