There are some cities that just have a natural magical aroma surrounding them. Whether that’s with fairytale castles with damsels awaiting their knight in shining armour (not literally obvs), or horse and carts running up and down the busy streets. That’s how I feel whenever I visit Edinburgh, engulfed by the vibrance and quirkiness of this fairytale-sque city. Maybe it’s thanks to the legendary J.K. Rowling shaping a mythical Harry Potter element to the city (literally, every other shop is a wizardry wonderland), the centuries old castle on the hill, or cobbled alleys nuzzled around every corner.
Sure everyone’s heard of the Edinburgh Fringe festival, landing in the city every August, bringing thousands of critics, cultural art lovers and journalists into to the city. But did you know Edinburgh is actually the world’s leading festival city? Back in 1947, the Edinburgh Festivals, led by the Edinburgh International Festival was born out of a global love for art and culture, to help conquer world conflict. Fast forward to 2019 and you’ll find 11 major cultural festivals arriving in the city every year making it the ultimate festival city to explore. Not bad for little ol’ Scotland, eh? (Plus who doesn’t love themselves some haggis and tatties?).
So I jumped at the opportunity to explore this wonderful city during the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival to see what it had to offer.
Think medieval cobbled streets, underground vaults, a whopping great castle on top of a hill (no, it’s not the one from Ed Sheeran’s hit) and you’ve got Edinburgh. And, the festivals encroach every nook and cranny of the historic city, with each festival running anything from three days to a month long extravaganza. You won’t find teenagers running wild here with thousands of tents squashed within an acre of green-space. Nope, it’s defo a much more civilised affair up there in Scotland with the sound of bagpipes blowing through the air.
Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival was grown out of a love for, well, jazz and blues obviously, bringing musicians, composers and musical extraordinaires to the centre of the city for 10 days of jamming, grooving and festival fun. After an exhausting train journey up from the big smoke, my partner and I arrived eager to stretch our legs and run riot for the opening weekend.
On the cards for the first evening was heading to see Bomba Titinka at Teviot Row. At the heart of the festival, the venue was home to 40 concerts and an array of free entertainment waiting to be discovered. If you think jazz and blues is a dying craft, then Bomba Titinka are here to defy your thoughts entirely. The band roared and ruptured delivering a refreshing take on electro swing, and the crowd went wild for it. Most of the guests began seated and by the end of it were running wild on the dance floor chanting for more. This Italian quintet blended a swirl of swing and jive with a bit of electronic dance music and scatting.
The city is filled with quaint shops and cobbled streets, all of which are picture perfect of course. If you’re looking for the ultimate Harry Potter vibes, saunter on down Victoria Street, Edinburgh’s very own Diagon Alley, where you’ll find a whirlwind of trinket shops and eateries (okay, you’ll find about eight Harry Potter shops but who doesn’t love a bit of magic, eh?) As we wandered down, the air was filled with saxophones, bellowing double bass and trumpets. We found ourselves arriving at Edinburgh’s very own Mardi Gras at the Grassmarket. The sun was shining after a horrific downpour the night before, we’d stumbled on a hub of non-stop entertainment, bringing a taste of New Orleans to the Scots. And, it was all for free, winner!
Another performance we had the delight in seeing was at the grand Assembly Hall. Defined as the festivals own sweetheart, Davina and The Vagabonds stole the hearts of ours as well. The performance was emotional, heartwarming and a whole lotta fun all rolled into one. Whether Davina and her band were bellowing out covers, pumping out their hits or cracking jokes about their love for Iron Bru and scotch eggs in-between their sets, their warm Minnesota souls left a mark on every single member of the audience, proving their dedication had earned them the right have seven rocking performances over the course of the festival.
As always our last day rolled round far too quickly but brought with it a rip-roaringly flamboyant carnival thrown in for good measure. Edinburgh’s famous Princes Street and the gardens played host to the Edinburgh Festival Carnival. It’s a far cry from the local carnival I’d become victim too growing up at the dodgy town recreational ground (I’m getting horrifying flashbacks just thinking about it).
From the top of the Mound to the West End of Princes Street, dancers, acrobatics and musicians from across the world came together for an afternoon filled with flamboyant outfits and electric music allowing the Scots (and fellow tourists like myself) to experience a blurring of cultures in one. The party continued over at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens with live bands performing their hearts out in the beating sun.
For me, Edinburgh has a lingering sense of community spirit running through the air, with the festivals being at the forefront of it all. Edinburgh’s festivals showcase Scotland at its finest, giving artists, performers and creatives an international platform to showoff their passion. And, it’s a city which never fails to woo me with its magic.