The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo (often simply called the Edinburgh Tattoo) is a true highlight of the summer festivals season. Having taken place every year since 1950 - and with not a single performance cancelled in over 60 years - the Tattoo has thrilled and delighted generations of visitors to the city and has rightly become a renowned international spectacle.
Originally staged by the British Army (who have an active military base in at Edinburgh Castle) as a post-war contribution to the Edinburgh Festival, there was a single performance at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens in 1949, ahead of the formal Tattoo presentation launching on the Castle esplanade in 1950.
The name 'Tattoo' is a corruption of a Dutch phrase "Doe den tap toe", meaning 'Turn off the beer taps', which was the cry which greeted the return to camp of British military forces fighting in Flanders in the eighteenth-century.
The performance itself comprises a display of military bands, and each year a variety of international military forces are invited to take part, bringing a taste of military spectacle to Edinburgh. In recent years the production has welcomed performers from New Zealand, South Korea, Norway, the Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, India, and China, as well as the massed pipes and bands of homegrown forces from the Scottish military brigades. Each performance concludes with a haunting performance by a lone bagpiper, playing atop the battlements of Edinburgh Castle, and a fireworks display that lights up the sky above the city centre.
Performances take place nightly during August (no performances Sundays, two performances on Saturdays), and the production runs for three weeks. Tickets go on sale in December each year for the following August, and often sell out well in advance of the performances. Although a limited number of tickets may be available on the day of any given performance, it is advisable to book your tickets early to secure seats for what is an internationally popular event - over 200,000 witness the spectacle live each year, whilst the performance is also recorded and broadcast on television to an estimated audience of 100 million viewers around the world.
Be warned that the construction of the special stadium seating for the Tattoo takes two months to erect, meaning the castle esplanade is affected by works from May each year, lasting until it has all been fully dismantled, often not until into October. During this period access to some parts of the esplanade may be limited, and the views out over the city may be particularly affected by this work.
Explore Edinburgh in more detail with a customised city walking tour!
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth, an adopted native of Edinburgh, with over 20 years experience of living and working in the city...
Search the blog archive...
© COPYRIGHT GARETH DAVIES 2014-21