Guide to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 2009
The Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 2009 (image source Leannetpf via Flickr)

With an annual international television audience of around 100 million and 220 thousand live spectators, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo is one of the biggest events on Scotland’s calendar and well worth a visit if you’re visiting in August.  Whether you’re on one of our pre-set guided Scotland tours or on one of our fully customised Scotland tours, you can attend the Edinburgh Military Tattoo; just tell us well in advance and we can make sure to fit the tattoo into your itinerary. This is Inspiring Travel Scotland’s approach to our Scotland tours: we will change or customise anything to ensure our guests have the perfect, personalised Scotland trip.

What is the Edinburgh Military Tattoo?

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 2007
The Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 2007 (Image source theedinburghblog via Flickr)

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an annual military performance by the British Armed Forces and several other armed forces from the British Commonwealth and several countries outside of the Commonwealth. Each year, military regiments from all over the World meet up and perform to large crowds of spectators. In total, there are usually around 220,000 spectators who attend the tattoo throughout August.

When is the Edinburgh Military Tattoo?

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is usually held in August each year. However, the start and end dates change a little each year, so make sure you keep an eye on the official website for the programme. The whole tattoo usually lasts a little over 20 days, so there’s a large window for guests to attend.

What does the Word Tattoo Mean?

The 2009 Edinburgh Military Tattoo
The 2009 Edinburgh Military Tattoo (Image source mrs_timpers via Flickr)

There is a lot of confusion about the word ‘tattoo’, but its meaning (and origin) have nothing to do with the ink tattoos people put on their skin. The word ‘tattoo’ when referring to marking ink onto skin comes from Tahiti, whilst the word ‘tattoo’ when describing a military performance comes from an early 17th century Dutch phrase “doe den tap toe”, which means “turn off the tap” and it refers to the signal made by trumpeters or drummers to tell nearby inns and bars to stop serving soldiers alcohol and for the soldiers to return to the barracks. The term tattoo became associated with all kinds of military performances and it is used by lots of countries all around the world.

Where is the Edinburgh Tattoo Held?

The tattoo is held on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle — arguably one of Britain’s most impressive castles. Edinburgh Castle is impressive at any time of year, but it’s at its best when decked out in full military regalia during the Military Tattoo. Edinburgh Castle rests on a hill overlooking the city and is almost as impressive from afar as it is up close. Edinburgh Tattoo aside, any visit to Edinburgh, at any time of year, should include a trip to the castle — especially for visitors from America and Canada who have significantly fewer castles than the majority of European countries.

How Old is the Edinburgh Military Tattoo?

The very first Edinburgh Military Tattoo was in 1950. In the same year, Hollywood movie producer, Mike Todd (who also happened to be Elizabeth Taylor’s fourth husband) made a documentary about the tattoo. It began purely as a British Military affair, but invitations were sent out in the years that followed. Not only was it more entertaining for the spectators to see different militaries’ performances, but it was a great way to forge and consolidate military alliances. In 1952, the first non-British regiments took part in the Edinburgh Tattoo; this included regiments from The Netherlands, Canada, and France. In the 60s, the event was televised and proved very popular around the World. And in 1968, it appeared on people’s televisions in full colour. Approximately 35% of the audience who attends the Edinburgh Military Tattoo each year come from outside the UK. It is a huge draw for tourists keen to enjoy the atmosphere, the visual spectacle, and the range of musical performances.

What Kinds of Shows Will You See at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo?

2017 Edinburgh Military Tattoo
2017 Edinburgh Military Tattoo (Image source thejointstaff via Flickr)

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is different each year. The regular Scottish and British regiments vary their musical and drill performances from year to year, and there are different guest regiments from various different countries. Canada, the US, India, and France are all common participants, and each country’s military brings with it its own style of music and military ceremony. In 2018’s Military Tattoo, the special guest regiment is from Japan. This is the first time the Japanese military has taken part in the festivities.  Other than musical performances, with marches and other military ceremonies, you can also expect several spectacular firework displays at the tattoo throughout August!

We hope this guide has answered any questions you had about the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. It’s the biggest festival of its kind and well worth attending if you’re visiting Edinburgh in August — perhaps as part of our Two Cities Scotland tour. If you have any questions about the Military Tattoo, or about any of our Scottish tours, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Plan your big Scottish adventure with a little help from Inspiring Travel Scotland!

2017 Edinburgh Military Tattoo

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