This post is in partnership with the National Art Pass & Art Fund
The lovely folk at Art Fund have recently completed an interesting study on wellbeing. Specifically, how our wellbeing is impacted by how we use our time and how stressed we feel. They highlight the fact that even though we know leisure time is good for us, we don’t always make time for it. That rang such a bell for me.
As someone who works full-time, I often struggle to make time to visit museums and galleries. It’s just one of those things, isn’t it? I know I should try and see more (especially in Edinburgh where there’s a wealth of culture right on my doorstep, just waiting for me to step out and discover it!) but I don’t make the time. Art Fund’s research showed that regularly visiting museums and galleries – taking that time to soak in culture – can have a huge impact on our wellbeing.
So, with that in mind, I set myself a challenge. At the beginning of November, I resolved to visit a couple of different museums and galleries using my National Art Pass to see if experiencing the culture Edinburgh has to offer would make difference to my wellbeing. Instead of lazing around on a Sunday morning, I got up and took myself to see the Georgian House on Charlotte Square (something I’ve meant to do since I first moved to Edinburgh!) On a freezing cold Saturday afternoon, I went to mooch round the National Gallery rather than window shopping on Princes Street. Instead of whiling away my lunch hour at my desk, I went for a mooch around the National Museum of Scotland. You get the idea! It turns out, when you do break your routine, it’s surprisingly easy to inject a bit of culture into your life.
The Georgian House
The Georgian House, situated on Edinburgh’s leafy Charlotte Square, has been on my to-do list for longer than I’d care to admit. As a bookworm with a soft spot for Georgian literature (hello Jane Austen!) and a lover of period dramas, the idea of wandering round a magnificent restored Georgian house is right up my street. Despite living in Edinburgh for over eight years, I’d still never made the effort to go. So when I found myself with a quiet Sunday morning with nothing to do, I flicked through Art Fund’s Art map and was surprised (but delighted!) to discover that the National Art Pass would give me free entry. Instead of lazing about in my pyjamas (no doubt scrolling endlessly through Instagram!) I got up and headed out to explore.
Built in 1796, the Georgian House at No. 7 Charlotte Square is a classic example of the grandeur of Edinburgh’s New Town. It once belonged to the wealthy Lamont family and was the home of John Lamont of Lamont, his wife and their family of five children – one of whom was called Georgina! There’s a lovely video screening on the top floor which the guides encourage you to watch first. It’s well worth watching as it breathes life into the whole building as you tour the rooms and descend from the lofty upper floors to the servants quarters below. Very Downton Abbey indeed.
“Ah! There is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.” – Jane Austen
No. 7 Charlotte Square has been fully restored by the Scottish National Trust and everything has been brought back to its former glory. The upstairs rooms are, of course, total luxury. But it was below stairs that things got interesting. As beautiful as the upper rooms are, they were incredibly expensive to maintain (even the Lamont family struggled to keep up!) and if we were to go back in time, most of us would likely be working in domestic service down in the kitchens and the scullery. It was lovely to wander around and imagine the hardworking people who would’ve toiled to keep the fires burning and food on the table!
I had such a lovely morning wandering round the house, chatting to all the volunteer guides (who were so friendly and full of information and tidbits about the house and its history!) It’s really not something I would’ve usually made the time to do and I came out feeling so relaxed and inspired. Also, I’m a stickler for detail and a bit of a Harry Potter nut, so I was completely obsessed with this amazing cabinet full of lotions and potions dating back to the Georgian era. It looked like something you’d pick up on Diagon Alley to me!
Scottish National Gallery
I’ve always found galleries to be such a calming place. Perhaps it’s because they’re often quiet and peaceful – people whisper and wander, quietly absorbed in the art adorning the walls. Whatever it is, it appeals to me. Yet visiting a gallery isn’t often top of my to-do list – which is something I’m really keen to change. My boyfriend is a real art-lover and I’d like to take a leaf out of his book. To break our usual weekend routine, we headed to the National Gallery with our National Art Pass and spent a lovely afternoon wandering round and admiring all the treasures on show…
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” – Thomas Merton
Using the National Art Pass, I was able to get tickets for the Scottish National Gallery’s exhibition “Pin-Ups: Toulouse-Lautrec and the Art of Celebrity” half price. I was one of many (many!) students to have a print of Toulouse-Lautrec’s Le Chat Noir poster on my wall at university so to see the real deal in the flesh was just lovely.
We then crossed over into the National Gallery’s permanent collection, one of my absolute favourite places in Edinburgh. It’s such a grand space, filled with stunning paintings, sculptures and flooded by the most beautiful natural light. To view the gallery’s permanent collection is completely free – just show up and mooch round to your heart’s content – making it the perfect way to finish-up a visit to whatever exhibition is on at that time! (Click here to see all the Gallery’s upcoming exhibitions.)
“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” – Leonardo da Vinci
We left feeling calm and inspired which is a lovely way to feel on a Saturday afternoon. Rather than rushing about doing chores or shopping, we’d actually made time for ourselves and I definitely intend to keep that up. According to Art Fund’s study, 27% of adults feel guilty about taking time for themselves. It’s so easy to put off these things but visiting museums and galleries can be such a wonderful way to de-stress. I know I felt the benefits afterwards! As we left the gallery, we were also treated to the most incredible sunset which really was the perfect end to our afternoon.
The National Museum of Scotland
My final destination was the National Museum of Scotland. I’m lucky enough to work in central Edinburgh so it’s really easy for me to get to places like the National Museum. Yet, despite that, I never used to go! There’s something about places being on your doorstep that makes them easy to overlook, isn’t there?
Art Fund’s study supports the argument that just 30 minutes of leisure activity – doing something that makes you feel good – can have huge benefits for wellbeing. Taking that half hour can work wonders in terms of de-stressing so I decided to put my lunch break to good use. Getting out of the office, away from my desk, genuinely did make such a difference. I picked up a coffee at the museum cafe and had a wander round their latest exhibition “Rip it Up: the Story of Scottish Pop” which was much nicer than eating a sandwich at the office, I can tell you!
“Don’t go to a museum with a destination. Museums are wormholes to other worlds. They are ecstasy machines. Follow your eyes to wherever they lead you…and the world should begin to change for you.” – Jerry Saltz
Now, unfortunately the exhibition didn’t permit photography so you’ll just have to take my word for how good it was! As a lover of bands like Biffy Clyro, Frightened Rabbit and Paolo Nutini, it was just up my street. I also managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the museum’s panoramic roof terrace before heading back to the office. The roof terrace remains one of Edinburgh’s hidden gems and you really do get the most incredible views from up there. Don’t miss it if you’re visiting! You’ll find the (fairly well-hidden!) lift on the third floor. Take it all the way to the top and you’ll be rewarded with views like this…
About the National Art Pass
Art Fund is a charity which supports UK museums and galleries, helping them in their efforts to bring the enjoyment of visiting these wonderful places to the public. One of the ways they do this is with the National Art Pass which gives free entry to over 240 venues (museums, galleries and historic houses!) across the UK and 50% off entry to major exhibitions. It’s similar to memberships like the National Trust and Historic Scotland and costs £67 a year. If you’d like to read more about the National Art Pass and Art Fund click here.
Challenging myself to visit museums and galleries across Edinburgh has been such an eye-opening experience. There’s something about stepping out of my usual routine that I find really refreshing and inspiring. I will definitely be keeping it up! I’ve even lined up a list of places across Scotland that I want to visit using the National Art Pass. I’m all for making tiny changes (like visiting a gallery on my lunch break!) especially if it improves my sense of wellbeing.
All of the places mentioned here are featured on my local’s guide to Edinburgh map, perfect if you’re planning a trip to the city soon!