Official Guide to Edinburgh
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Top Arts & Theatre Must-Sees in Edinburgh

22 November 2017

Edinburgh has been named Arts & Theatre Destination of the Year 2018 in the Luxury Travel Guides Awards. With so much to offer culture-lovers, it's really not hard to see why.

That does mean that sometimes it's hard to know where to start - so to get you started we've put together a list of just ten of Edinburgh's best must-sees for arts and theatre lovers.

Traverse Theatre

Traverse Theatre

[Image credit: David Monteith-Hodge]

Opened in 1963, the Traverse Theatre's original aim was to keep the spirit of the Edinburgh festivals alive throughout the year. Today it not only does that, also serving as a focal point for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, but its focus on new writing in Scottish Theatre contributes to its other aim of entertaining and challenging audiences. 

The Traverse has helped launch the careers of some of today's most exciting writers, while playing home to theatre that challenges the status quo and invites discussion and debate. The theatre also has an active engagement programme, encouraging budding and seasoned writers, directors and actors in their craft.

City Art Centre

City Art Centre 600X250

The City Art Centre, located just steps from Waverley Train Station, is one of Edinburgh's main art galleries, hosting some of the finest in Scottish Art. A busy programme of expertly-curated exhibitions - refreshed and updated regularly and spread over six floors - makes the City Art Centre a place worth visiting again and again.

Past exhibitions have included Roman and Egyptian objects, rarely-seen items from the city's collections, photography, contemporary art & design as well as architecture, sculpture and even artwork and costumes from the Star Wars films. After viewing the exhibitions - which are always free - make sure you enjoy a sit-down in the centre's brilliant café.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art No Miracles

Home to Scotland's outstanding collection of modern and conetmporary art, the Gallery of Modern Art is a must-see venue. The Gallery is spread across two buildings in its current location since 1984: Modern One with its lawn sculpted by Charles Jencks, houses many of the gallery's permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as its print-room and conservation workshop.

Modern One was joined by Modern Two in 1999 which was converted to house the gallery's collection of Dada and Surreallist artwork along with the work of sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi - including a recreation of his London workshop. In Modern Two you'll also find the Keiller Library - a specially designed library gallery.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Scottish Portrait Gallery Creative

The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is one of Edinburgh’s most remarkable buildings – a great red sandstone neo-gothic palace sitting proudly on the city’s skyline. Opened to the public in 1889 as the world’s first purpose-built portrait gallery, its displays explore different aspects of the story of Scotland and her people, told through a wealth of imagery including portraits of famous historical figures such as Mary Queen of Scots, Prince Charles Edward Stuart and Robert Burns, through to more recent pioneers in science, sport and the arts.

The building itself is as breathtaking internally as it is externally - running along the walls of the Great Hall is a painted frieze by the nineteenth-century artist William Hole. In reverse chronological order it depicts famous people from Scottish history including Robert Burns, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Mary Queen of Scots and many more. 

The Scottish National Gallery

National Gallery

The Scottish National Gallery displays some of the greatest art in the world, including masterpieces by Botticelli, Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Constable, Turner, Monet, Van Gogh and Gauguin, amongst many others. The most comprehensive  part of the collection covers the history of Scottish painting – all the major names, including Ramsay, Raeburn, Wilkie and McTaggart, are represented.

The Scottish National Gallery comprises both the National Gallery Building and the Royal Scottish Academy Building. Both of these buildings, designed by William Henry Playfair, stand in the heart of Edinburgh. Although originally built as separate structures, their histories have long been intertwined, and, since 2004, they have been physically connected by the underground Gardens Level.

Usher Hall

Usher Hall Audience Cr Stuart Armitt

Scotland's only five-star concert hall has hosted concerts year-round ranging from rock, pop, classical, jazz, world and folk music since its opening over 100 years ago in 1914. Well-loved by performers and audiences alike from all over the world, the stunning Edwardian building offers magnificent acoustics, no matter the genre.

The Usher Hall is the city's key venue for visiting national and international orchestras and has been the main venue for the Edinburgh International Festival since 1947. An always-fresh and regularly updated programme sees the venue play host to some of the world's finest musicians and performers.

Hidden Door Festival

Hidden Door Festival

[Image Credit: Hidden Door Festival]

Hidden Door is an arts organisation which aims to open up urban spaces as a platform for new and emerging artists, musicians, theatre makers, film makers and poets. Peripatetic in nature, the Hidden Door Festival has found itself hosted in disused spaces and venues around Edinburgh, most recently reviving every nook and cranny of the abandoned Leith Theatre in 2017, bringing it back to life with art installations and experimental performances allowing audiences to explore a space left desolate for 25 years.

Unprecedented in the festival's history, 2018 will see Hidden Door return to the Leith Theatre from 25 May - 3 June, bringing with it a fusion of music, theatre, visual art, film, dance, spoken word, late-night DJs and special events. 

Dovecot Studios

Dovecot Studios

[Image Credit: Dovecot Studios]

Dovecot Studios is a must-visit for anyone with an interest in tapestries and fine craftsmanship. The studio is home to five weavers and two apprentices and the gallery is home to collections curated by Dovecot as well as touring exhibitions featuring work by artists from around the world.

Visitors to Dovecot can explore exhibitions and attend events to learn about the tapestry studio's projects, as well as relax in the cafe and visit the studios' shops. 

Playhouse Theatre

Edinburgh Playhouse

[Image Credit: Playhouse Theatre]

Seating over 3,000, the Edinburgh Playhouse is the largest working theatre in the UK in terms of audience capacity. Originally used as a cinema, the venue now hosts large scale touring musical productions, with Flashdance, Shrek and Tango Moderno amongst just a few of its recent shows.

The theatre's 2018 lineup sees The Ratpack, Blood Brothers, Wicked and Titanic: The Musical arrive into Edinburgh, showing just a little of the strong line-up to come. nKeep up to date with what's on at the Playhouse on their website.

The Royal Lyceum Theatre

Royal Lyceum

[Image Credit: The Royal Lyceum Theatre]

The Royal Lyceum Theatre is one of Scotland's leading producing theatres, and also one of the largest producing companies in the whole of the United Kingdom. Throughout its long history, the company has welcomed many stars to its stage including David Tennant, Alan Cumming and Emily Mortimer to Tony Conti, Ian McKellan and Marlene Dietrich.

The company's engagement and outreach programme is run through their Creative Learning team which also runs the Lyceum Youth Theatre which has helped launch the careers of many Scottish actors. All costumes and sets for productions are designed and built in Edinburgh making the Lyceum a proudly Edinburgh-based source of high production value entertainment for all theatre fans.

Find out what's on in Edinburgh's Galleries and Theatres >