Top Arts & Theatre Must-Sees in Edinburgh

11 June 2021

Modern Art D

Whether you love classic or contemporary, culture-lovers of all genres are spoilt for choice in Edinburgh. With an ever-evolving series of events, not to mention permanent exhibitions, the city has an art space, gallery or theatre to suit all interests. 

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

Traverse Theatre

The Traverse

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.

10 Cambridge Street, Edinburgh EH1 2ED

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.

2 Market Street, Edinburgh EH1 1DE

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 Scottish National 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.

75 Belford Road, Edinburgh, EH4 3DR

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. 

1 Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JD

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.

The Mound, Edinburgh, EH2 2EL

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.

Lothian Road, Edinburgh, EH1 2EA

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 hosted in disused spaces and venues around Edinburgh, revealing hidden parts of the city. 

Steadily growing in size and reputation since establishing in 2014, when it hosted a 9-day festival in the abandoned Market Street vaults, in 2017 the festival breathed new life into the old Leith Theatre, 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, 2021 will see the festival move to Granton Gasworks showcasing and outdoor festival of music, visual art, theatre, dance and spoken word.

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. 

10 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LT

Playhouse Theatre

Edinburgh Playhouse

[Image Credit: Playhouse Theatre]

Seating over 3,000, the Edinburgh Playhouse is the UK's largest all seated theatre. Originally used as a cinema, the venue now hosts large scale touring productions and has played host to some of the biggest names in live music, comedy and musical theatre.

The theatre's 2021 lineup sees 9 to 5 the Musical, Chicago and Riverdance, the 25th Anniversary Show, amongst others arrive into Edinburgh. Keep up to date forthcoming shows at the Playhouse on their website.

18-22 Greenside Place, Edinburgh EH1 3AA

The Royal Lyceum Theatre

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 UK. 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.

30b Grindlay Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9AX