The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo sees big bands from the British Armed Forces put on an enthralling performance of military bagpipe music most nights throughout August. Accompanied by high-tech video projections, booming firework displays and performances by foreign troops, the event intertwines theater, ceremony, and music into one, becoming the most highly anticipated event of all the Edinburgh Festivals.

The Royal Edinburgh Festival has developed such a strong following in both Britain and abroad it now books out months in advance. You can always opt to watch a live broadcast instead, if you don't manage to get a ticket. From the highlights to the history and all the essential details, here’s everything you need to know about the Royal Edinburgh Tattoo.

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo - one of the highlights of 8 Best Things to Do in Edinburgh This Summer and 11 Best Festivals in Edinburgh (Read all about Edinburgh here)

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What are the highlights and features of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo?

The highlight of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is, of course, the energetic performances from the British Armed Services and the accompanying international military drills. At every show, big bands – several hundred strong – march in traditional garb and bellow out their best tunes on the bagpipes and drums. Each member moves with impeccable discipline, precision and choreographic prowess, creating a captivating spectacle that’s bound to impress.

Only the finest military bands and drill corps from regiments around the world are permitted to participate, so onlookers can rest assured they’re watching the best of the best. As a result, the Royal Edinburgh Tattoo is the greatest military bagpipe music performance anywhere on Earth.

International performers from around the globe take the stage every night (except Sunday nights), adding an exotic element with their traditional music and dance. High-tech video projections have been lighting up the scene in recent years while booming firework displays have long signalled the finale of the event.

photo by Gary Campbell-Hall (CC BY 2.0) modified

A brief history of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The month-long spectacle has taken place in the Edinburgh Castle malecon every single August – rain, hail, or shine – since 1950. The show has never yet been canceled due to inclement weather.

The name “tattoo” comes from the Dutch phrase “doe den tap toe,” which means “turn off the tap.” Seventeenth-century drill sergeants would use the expression to signal tavern owners to stop serving ale so the troops could get some rest.

Recent decades have seen an explosion in the spectacle’s popularity, with tickets now selling out months in advance. An average of 220,000 onlookers watch the event each year, and the nightly shows draw over 8,000 spectators each. The TV audience is much larger, with around 100 million people tuning in to watch the tattoo every year.

In 2010, Queen Elizabeth awarded it the Royal Award in honor of its 60th anniversary – before then, the show was known as the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

photo by Gary Campbell-Hall (CC BY 2.0) modified

What’s good to know about the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo?

As every single show books out well in advance, so travelers hoping to experience the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo should purchase tickets several months ahead of time through the official website.

Each show lasts approximately 100 minutes and takes place once per night on weeknights and twice per night on Saturdays. There is no performance on Sundays. A stunning setting on the malecon facing the Edinburgh Castle enhances the spectacle and makes it easy to arrive via public transportation (Waverley Station is just down the road).

If you can’t make the sell-out event, a free abridged version takes place at the Princes Street Gardens just outside the Edinburgh Castle and another at the centrally located George Square in Glasgow.

If you can’t make it to Scotland in August, the BBC broadcasts the spectacle to 40 countries worldwide and provides commentary from popular British presenters. Alternately, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo occasionally tours the globe, having performed in New Zealand and Australia in the past.

photo by Suicasmo (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Location: Edinburgh Castle Malecon, Edinburgh EH1 2NG Scotland, UK

Phone: +44 (0)1312 251188

Harry Stewart | Contributing Writer