Shopping in Edinburgh: a guide to art, antiques and auctions

by Alison Craig

Edinburgh is steeped in history, which is reflected in its vibrant art, antiques and collectables market. Here are some great galleries, auction houses and antique shops to whet your whistle.

Art

There are dozens of privately-owned galleries dotted all over the city. We have five excellent national galleries across Edinburgh: The Gallery of Modern Art and, across the road, The Dean Gallery - the permanent exhibitions are free; on Princes Street The National Gallery Complex  is an impressive building that houses the national collection, from early renaissance to the end of the 19th century - it is free to get into. In addition there are constantly changing international exhibitions which do incur a charge plus the bonus of a great restaurant and shop; and just a few minutes' walk away The Portrait Gallery is currently undergoing refurbishment and due to reopen in November 2011 (www.nationalgalleries.org).  The Queens Gallery in Palace of Holyrood House is a must see, showcasing some of the wonderful art in the Royal Collection it changes as priceless art is stored as others are dusted off and given their moment in the sun. You can get a ticket just forThe Queens Gallery or if you go to see the Palace of Holyroodhouse your ticket includes entry to the gallery too.

If you are an art lover and collector there are plenty of opportunities to leave with a souvenir of Scotland that will accrue in value as time goes on.

Dundas Street, which you can easily walk to from the centre of town, is a particularly rich vein and is peppered with galleries.

The Scottish Gallery is owned and run by Guy Peploe, a direct descendant of Scottish colourist Samuel John Peploe. Guy is charming and knows everything about his subject (www.scottish-gallery.co.uk).

The Open Eye Gallery is virtually directly across the road. Tom has been here for years and always offers a wide selection of work. Recently I popped in and he had Picasso etchings sitting side by side with contemporary Scottish artists (www.openeyegallery.co.uk).

As you continue down Dundas Street you will discover many other galleries including The Bourne Gallery, Anthony Wood Gallery, James Scott Antiques, Malcom Innes Gallery, Axolotl, Di Rollo Gallery,Torrance Gallery, The Dundas Street Gallery and Hanover Fine Arts.

If you feel the need for some refreshment then just round the corner Leo's Beanery is well worth seeking out.

Another area you will want to visit is right beside Waverley Station. These galleries are all within a minute or two from one another.

The Fruitmarket Gallery is just beside the back entrance to Waverley Station. Here they specialise in modern art and you can expect the more Avant Garde. As an aside, the in house café serves excellent food - all freshly made, creative and delicious (www.fruitmarket.co.uk).

Ingleby Gallery: Just behind Waverley Station this is a modern, impressive light space. Constantly changing exhibitions specialise in contemporary work (www.inglebygallery.com).

The Collective Gallery in Cockburn Street is full of work by bright young things, with reasonable prices too (www.collectivegallery.net).

City Art Centre is right across the road and has six floors of space, which always offers a great exhibition. Photography, art - contemporary and otherwise; Bob Dylan’s paintings were exhibited recently and even artwork and costumes from Star Wars. Yup, you can expect to see it all here. Great shop and café on the ground floor too (www.edinburgh museums.org.uk).

The Edinburgh School of Art is where Sean Connery famously modelled naked – not recently! - and it disgorges an inordinate number of excellent artists every year. If your trip coincides with the degree shows in June then this is a must. It’s over to you to spot the next Damien Hirst or Henry Moore - the students cover all disciplines and it is easy to spend an entire day wandering through the myriad rooms and studios (www.eca.ac.uk).

Auctions

If you like the idea of bidding for your next collectible then there are top auction houses in Edinburgh. The websites keep you up-to-date with the various sales that are happening. Some are weekly, other more specialised auctions occur seasonally. The ones listed here include Scottish auction houses as well as some nationally-renowned names. If auctions are your thing then you will enjoy them all and what they have to offer.

Lyon & Turnbull is a traditional Edinburgh auction house. Established in 1826, it is based in a charming building in Broughton Place and runs 2-3 auctions per month. They rotate their sales from fine antiques, fine paintings, fine jewellery and silver, decorative art and in addition have seasonal sales, which encompass most of these categories. If you see something and are off home before the actual auction, there are various ways you can stay in the running. With Live Auction you can register online and bid in real time with the others in the room. Or you can arrange a phone bid and they will call you and do your bidding verbally on the day, or you can leave a commissioned bid. An example of some the goodies that come through their hands can be found in the video below. (See www.lyonandturnbull.com).

The London-based fine art auctioneers Bonham’s has an impressive Edinburgh set up. Inhabiting an entire townhouse on Queen Street, you can browse through the rooms at your leisure. Once a year it hosts the world-renowned Scottish Sale, in which you will find some seriously valuable antiques, paintings, furniture, ceramics and much more (August 16-19 2011 is the next Scottish Sale; www.bonhams.com).

Ramsay & Cornish is another local auction house. Every Thursday at 11am is features the 'Lane Sale' an Edinburgh institution dating back over 100 years. You can find anything and everything here. It is all piled high so prepare to guddle about, which is half the fun. Furniture, vintage pieces, enamel-ware, Victorian lace and linen, stuffed animals, garden tools, jewellery, just all sorts - modern and otherwise. You can view the goodies from 9.30am on the day of the sale. They also do a more traditional auction every Saturday. Viewing for Saturday sales: Fridays 9.30am-5pm and on morning of sale from 9.30am. All sales commence at 11am (www.ramsaycornish.com).

Antiques and collectables

There are a good number of charming antique shops in Edinburgh that you will simply come across wandering in the centre, but some I recommend you get off the beaten track to find.

Joseph Bonnar - antique jewellery specialiast in Thistle Street (see more in Shopping in Edinburgh: credit cards at the ready ).

Georgian Antiques in Leith Links, is vast. You could spend days exploring this 50,000 square feet showroom. If you are an antique fan this will make your heart beat a little faster (www.georgianantiques.net; Mon- Fri 8.30am - 5.30pm and Saturday 10am - 2pm, closed Sunday).

EASY, which stands for Edinburgh Architectural Salvage Yard, is on the same side of town as Georgian Antiques and is a treasure trove of pieces stripped from the old houses of Edinburgh. Iron roll top baths, antique door handles, marble, stone and wooden period fireplaces, staircases, pews, pulpits, old steel radiators, Belfast sinks, shutters, stone lions, stained glass windows - there are always lots of surprises (Mon- Fri 9am-5pm, Sat noon-5pm; www.easy-arch-salv.co.uk).

Where to stay

You can see my full list of recommendations here – Edinburgh Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Edinburgh.

You can also read advice on Shopping in Edinburgh: high quality Scottish goods and Shopping in Edinburgh: credit cards at the ready or visit Shopping in Edinburgh.

Alison Craig

I am a writer and broadcaster from Scotland. I have been lucky enough to live and work in Edinburgh for most of my adult life and I love it. Aesthetically I believe it to be the most beautiful city in Europe. Culturally rich, it is buzzing with great restaurants, bars and lively venues. Music, art, history and architecture are everywhere and, frankly, shopping is a joy. The choice is dazzling from the local cheesemonger, antique jewellery shop and hidden boutiques to the high-end world-renowned designer shops. It’s all here and what’s more I’ve made it my business and passion to know where you can find the Edinburgh that interests and excites you. You can enjoy Edinburgh on a shoestring or a Platinum card once you have the information...it’s entirely up to you. http://alisonsdiary.com is my daily blog, all about Edinburgh Scotland and life!

My Edinburgh

Where I always grab a hot drink: There are endless choices but for a top skinny latte with homemade cakes my favourite is Cent Otre on George Street. Situated in a converted bank building, it has a sense of grandeur as well as some remarkably tasty cupcakes and a zingy atmosphere thanks to the warm Italian hospitality that abounds.

My favourite stroll: If the weather allows, I love to walk along the Water of Leith, starting at Stockbridge and heading towards the Modern Art Gallery - you could be in the middle of the countryside. Keep an eye out for the Antony Gormley sculptures en route and the resident heron.

If it’s too darn cold and wet, The National Gallery on the mound in the centre of Princes Street has a permanent stunning collection of art with a top class coffee shop and gallery shop to browse too. When the weather clears, you are in the heart of everything.

Where to be seen: In Harvey Nichols' cocktail bar all year round. On warm days, on Oloroso roof terrace and dancing in Lulu.

The most breathtaking view: From Edinburgh Castle ramparts, the top of Calton Hill or Arthur's Seat. Both Calton Hill and Arthur's Seat take a bit of puff to get to and if time is tight then head for the Castle from where the city of Edinburgh is laid out at your feet.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: The Royal Botanic Gardens are stunning and are a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by. There are several vantage points from where you can look out over the city if gazing at your navel becomes tedious.

Shopaholics beware: So many shops, so little time! If you are restricted to one day, go along Thistle Street from end to end, back along George Street, along Rose Street and finish on Princes Street. Phew! End to end shops, all in a square mile - great.

Don’t leave without...walking top to bottom or bottom to top of The Royal Mile with Edinburgh Castle at one end and Holyrood Palace at the other. Right along this street you will find myriad treasures architecturally and culturally as well as some eccentric quirky little shops for this and that.