This article is sponsored by Edinburgh Art Festival.

A guide to a day at Edinburgh Art Festival 2021

Our guide to a day at the Edinburgh Art Festival

The Martyr / credit: Francis Dosoo and Kamilya Kuspanova

With the capital's visual art festival well underway, follow this simple route to enjoy its vast programme

After last year's hiatus, Edinburgh Art Festival has returned with over 35 new exhibitions across 30 Edinburgh venues as well as an extensive online programme, the majority of which is free to attend.

With exhibition visits still a novelty post-lockdown and many of the Scottish capital's galleries concentrated in the city centre, a single day's wander can easily be packed with the most magnificent Edinburgh Art Festival highlights.

Start the day at the Dovecot Studios on Drummond Street, a stone's throw from the heart of the Old Town. Here visitors can see Archie Brennan's Tapestry Goes Pop!, a retrospective told through 80 of the Edinburgh native's tapestries as well as archive material. Also available to view at Dovecot Studios is Paisley painter Jock McFadyen's Lost Boat Party exhibition featuring his iconic 'urban dystopian' landscapes, in celebration of his 70th birthday year.

A guide to a day at Edinburgh Art Festival 2021

Jock McFadyen, Pink Flats (2006) / credit: Lucid Plane

Head towards South Bridge and cross onto Chambers Street to Edinburgh University's Talbot Rice Gallery where The Normal exhibition reflects on life's change of pace during the pandemic in 2020. Then head left along Chambers Street toward the National Museum Of Scotland. If tempted by The Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure exhibition on display there, by all means enter. But as it's running until Sunday 12 September, those who are tight for time should continue on and turn right down George IV Bridge towards The Royal Mile (top tip: give yourself a full day to explore the National Museum).

Intersecting the Royal Mile on the right-hand side is the impressive French Institute. This building plays host to Platform: 2021, a series of exhibitions by early career artists living in Scotland. Enter to explore Glasgow-based artist Jessica Higgis' film Hold Music (Denise's Ear), London-born musician and artist Danny Pagarani's film Dear, It Backwards, Aberdonian Kirsty Russell's textile works and Isabella Widger's installation and drawings, which all respond to Gustave Flaubert's novella A Simple Heart.

Our guide to a day at the Edinburgh Art Festival

Isabella Widger drawings at French Institute / credit: Sally Jubb

Wander down towards Waverley Station will take visitors to Market Street, where Stills, Fruitmarket and City Art Centre are located. Pop in to see Sekai Machache's The Divine Sky (Stills), Karla Black's sculptures created from 2001–2021 (Fruitmarket), and Ian Hamilton Finlay's Marine (City Art Centre).

Head right along East Market Street and turn left on New Street to see permanent work A Drama In Time by Graham Fagen publicly displayed by Jacob's Ladder. Take another right onto Calton Road and head to Burns Monument for Emeka Ogboh's Song Of The Union sound installation, the hums from which are said to float invitingly around the neighbouring streets.

Our guide to a day at the Edinburgh Art Festival

Ian Hamilton Finlay (with Jim Brennan), Three Sailboats (1994) / credit: Antonia Reeve

Loop back left onto Calton Road to see part of the Associate Artist programme with an outdoor photographic exhibition by Francis Dosoo on the Calton Road Billboards, before heading up Calton Hill to Collective at the City Observatory. There visitors can discover Alison Scott's integrated print and sound work ditto ditto ditto which explores the connection between climate, weather and human nature. In the spirit of connecting with nature, finish the day by taking in the magnificent views over the city on the hill that gives Edinburgh its 'Athens of the North' name.

Additional festival venues across the city

Venture out west to the Scottish National Gallery Of Modern Art (Modern One) to see Isaac Julien's Lessons Of The Hour, centring around abolitionist Frederick Douglass' life and brief stint in Scotland. Read this interview with the artist to find out why it's one of the highlights of the festival programme.

Visit Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop in Newhaven to see Irish artist Sean Lynch's Tak Tent O' Time Ere Time Be Tint, an exhibition co-commissioned by Edinburgh Art Festival and Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop to show Edinburgh's public monuments and sculptures in a new light.

A guide to a day at Edinburgh Art Festival 2021

RESET still, Alberta Whittle (2020)

Finally, hop on a 45-minute bus ride west toward Wilkieston to Jupiter Artland, where Turner Prize co-winner Alberta Whittle's film RESET is on display. Filmed in lockdown while Whittle was in Barbados and her collaborators, including writer Ama Josephine Budge and animator Anushka Naanayakkara, were in Scotland and South Africa, RESET is Whittle's response to a series of recent global events, including the Black Lives Matter protests, ongoing threats posed by climate change and the global pandemic.

Discover other Edinburgh Art Festival routes and exhibitions to explore at this year's programme, running until Sunday 29 August at

Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the information displayed here is accurate, always check with the venue before attending (especially during the Covid-19 pandemic).

Karla Black: sculptures (2001–2021) details for a retrospective

  • 4 stars

Scottish artist Karla Black is the first artist to exhibit in the new Fruitmarket. Sculpture made since 2001 fills the lower galleries with standing, hanging and low-lying volumes and planes made with the artist’s signature cellophane, paper, pastes, oils, creams and gels. This sets the stage for a spreading powder piece…

Fruitmarket, Edinburgh

Sun 24 Oct

Free / 0131 225 2383

Part of Edinburgh Art Festival.

Marine: Ian Hamilton Finlay

Stephen Bann CBE leads this tour on the exhibition Marine: Ian Hamilton Finlay.

Isaac Julien: Lessons Of The Hour

National Galleries Scotland and Edinburgh Art Festival are delighted to be working together to present the UK and European premiere of Isaac Julien’s Lessons of the Hour. This major new ten-screen film installation by celebrated British artist Isaac Julien, CBE, RA, offers a poetic meditation on the life and times of…

Archie Brennan: Tapestry Goes Pop!

  • 4 stars

Dovecot Studios Archie Brennan: Tapestry Goes Pop! tells the story of Edinburgh native Archie Brennan (1931-2019) in the first major retrospective exhibition of his work. Bringing together over 80 tapestries as well as archive material, this is a chance to delve into the world of a master of modern tapestry. Sharp, witty…

Projects 20 | Sekai Machache & The Divine Sky

Sekai Machache (she/her) is a Zimbabwean-Scottish visual artist and curator based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her work is a deep interrogation of the notion of self. She is interested in the relationship between spirituality, imagination and the role of the artist in disseminating symbolic imagery to provide a space for…

Emeka Ogboh: Song of the Union

  • 4 stars

Emeka Ogboh’s (b. 1975, Nigeria) newly commissioned sound installation sited in Edinburgh’s Burns Monument is a response to the ongoing theatre surrounding the U.K.’s departure from the European Union. The sound installation features the recorded voices of citizens from each nation state of the European Union, singing…