What is the Royal Military Tattoo in Edinburgh and when does it take place each year?

It’s the world-famous event that draws thousands of tourists to the capital every year, but what is the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and why does it take place every summer?

One of the most popular dates in the Edinburgh calendar, the sell-out event regularly sees military bands and display teams from across the world perform exciting routines to the imposing backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.

Taking place over the month of August, the festival is set to return for 2022 after being postponed over the past two years due to the pandemic.

Running alongside the Edinburgh Festivals, each year features an exciting new theme – here is everything you need to know about this exciting annual event.

What is the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo?

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an annual military performance that dates back to 1950 and celebrates regiments, musicians, and performers from militaries around the globe and offers a glittering showcase for them to show off their talents and skills.

Where does the name Tattoo come from?

A military tattoo is a performance of music or a display put on by armed forces, with the name having nothing to do with body ink. In fact, it actually derives from a Dutch phrase supposedly created during the Thirty Year’s War.

‘Doe den tap toe’ which means “turn off the tap” (presumably the beer or genever tap) was an instruction given by Dutch commanders using drums to signal that it was curfew time and soldiers should return to their barracks.

In 2010, the event was renamed The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo after Her Majesty the Queen bestowed the Royal title in honor of its 60th birthday.

When and where does it take place?

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo takes place in front of Edinburgh Castle

The event takes place each year on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, with temporary stands set up for spectators. Each year it runs over the month of August and this year runs from August 5 until August 27.

Was there a military tattoo last year?

No, the event was canceled for 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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What happens at the Royal Military Tattoo?

Highland dancers perform at the Tattoo.
Highland dancers perform at the Tattoo.

The Tattoo is performed to a live audience of 220,000 annually on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, with a further global TV audience of over 100m people. Performers from over 50 countries have taken part.

Each year sees performances from drum and pipe bands, Highland dancers, regiments and of course, unique musical specialists from armies from the Commonwealth and beyond.

Intricate marching formations, bands, displays and even sometimes vehicle stunts are all usually involved.

The Tattoo also features a special firework display which spectacularly closes the festival each night.

This year there are plans to light up the castle esplanade for the first time and deploy state-of-the-art digital mapping technology to transform the look of Edinburgh Castle.

A more dramatic beginning and finale have also been also promised after the two-year absence, with the show running for nearly half an hour less than in recent years and shorter sequences in a bid to be more ‘energetic’.

Does the Queen attend the Edinburgh Military Tattoo?

Her Majesty has been known to attend on occasion and was present at the first-ever event in 1950 but there are no current plans for her to attend this year.

How can you get tickets?

Tickets start from £30 and are available to buy here.

What is this year’s theme?

This year’s theme is ‘Voices’, which will be a celebration of the connections, cultures and languages ​​that bring us together.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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