The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

One of the most iconic events on the festival calendar, this is a must-see show for all the family.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo returns to Edinburgh Castle Esplanade from 04 to 26 August 2023.

A worldwide celebration

-The Royal Edinburgh Tattoo
©The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Set against the backdrop of Edinburgh’s impressive castle, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is one of the most special events in Edinburgh’s calendar. Bringing together audiences from across the globe, the Tattoo celebrates the skills and talents of military bands, precision drill teams and cultural performers from around the world.

There are few such moving festival moments, a fact to which any of the over 220,000 people who experience it live every year can attest – not to mention the further 100 million watching on television around the globe! Audiences get into the spirit and stamp and cheer to the sounds of the military pipes and drums, clap to the highland dancers and watch in awe at the precision drills and intricate marching formations.

The sounds of the bands can be heard throughout the city, followed by the cheers of the audience, the roar of military jets flying over the city, and finally the glorious fireworks that colour the night sky.

The history of the Tattoo

Drum Major - The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The Tattoo began over 70 years ago and from humble beginnings it has risen to become one of the most iconic events in Edinburgh’s calendar.

In 1949 a performance entitled ‘Something About a Soldier’ was shown at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens, followed by ‘The King’s Men’ on the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade. The shows were so well received that the new Lord Provost of Edinburgh invited the General Officer Commanding the Army in Scotland to produce a military show, to be called the Edinburgh Tattoo, to take place each year as part of the Edinburgh International Festival.

With an audience of 100,000, the first Edinburgh Tattoo took place in 1950. By 1951, audience numbers had increased to 160,000 (7,000 per performance) and the event was televised.

The first overseas performers – The Pipes and Drums of the 1st Canadian Highland Battalion, La Fanfare à Cheval de La Garde Republicaine de Paris (France) and The Koninklijke Militaire Kapel (Royal Netherlands Grenadiers) took to the stage in 1952. Over the years, worldwide participants grew considerably – performers from Ireland, Pakistan, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Australia and Nepal taking part in 1955, and United States Marine Corps in 1958.

1962 saw a slight break from tradition – at the end of the evening, the audience was invited onto Edinburgh Castle Esplanade to dance along as the band played Chubby Checker’s Let’s Twist Again!

By 1993 performances had taken on a more theatrical side, with clear historical themes. Past themes have included concepts such as Scotland’s homecoming, creativity and nature.

In 2010 the Tattoo became The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo; a title bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II. It was also at this time that it celebrated its Diamond Jubilee.

In recent years, the Tattoo has also performed overseas, taking the mighty spectacular to locations such as Australia and New Zealand, but it always returns home to Edinburgh in August for three weeks of military might and musical grace.

Discover more about the history of the Tattoo 

Savour the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

For visitors attending this iconic event, expect spectacle: hundreds of dancers in the floodlights never setting a foot out of step, displays of marching and drumming prowess, and more bagpipes than you can ever imagine, playing in perfect harmony. What makes the whole thing even more impressive is the knowledge that it all comes together in just a few days of rehearsals!

The word, Tattoo, comes from the Dutch “Doe den tap toe”, the evening call that went out for bars to turn off their beer taps and send soldiers to their beds. The British army adopted it as a musical signal, performed each evening by the band, simultaneously a command and a form of evening entertainment – though after experiencing the impressiveness of the Tattoo yourself, you might be forgiven for ignoring orders and sneaking a wee dram o’ whisky on the Royal Mile!

The Tattoo takes place every weekday evening during the busy festival season in August, with two performances on Saturday evening and in 2023 an additional performance will take place on Friday 18 August at 6.15pm

2023 – ‘Stories’

‘Stories’ will run from 04 to 26 August 2023, featuring the military at the heart of the showcase with the Royal Air Force confirmed as the lead service.

Audiences can expect the magnificent sounds of the Massed Pipes and Drums filling up the Esplanade alongside performances from the incredibly talented Tattoo Pipes and Drums and Tattoo Dancers. International acts will also join the 2023 line-up bringing new cultures and vibrancy to this sought after spectacle.

Discover more about the majestic Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and book your tickets for 2023 here 

This page was created in collaboration with our friends at Festivals Edinburgh. 

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