Ten facts about the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo you may not have known:

  1. The first tattoo took place in 1950. A performance has never been cancelled in all this time since except for the two years 2020 and 2021 when events all over the world stopped due to the Covid pandemic.
  2. It happens most August weekday evenings except Sundays for the majority of the month. It is always sold out in advance and has been for the last ten years and longer. If you wish to attend on a solo visit to Scotland, purchase your tickets months before you go, or if on an arranged tour, ensure the tour includes tickets to this wonderful event.
  3. Yearly attendance is over the two hundred thousand mark with a hundred million watching the event on television.

Edinburgh Castle – Scene of the Tattoo Every August (Image: Bigstock)

4. The Tattoo is always held at Edinburgh Castle with the finale march of the performers, massed pipes and drums (to the tune of The Black Bear – a blood-stirring tune well known to lovers of such music) , and massed military bands down the Royal Mile, the famous street in Edinburgh.

5. Edinburgh Castle provides the perfect back drop to the performance. A sound and light show is projected on the Castle walls. It looms solid against the night sky lit by the fireworks display incorporated into every Saturday’s second evening performance. And what better place to have a piper play the evening’s ending lament but from a position high on the walls of the Half Moon Battery.

6. The tattoo rotates its highlight performance based on the four branches of service: the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Royal Air Force and the British Army.

Military-Tattoo--Parade of Bands

Tattoo Parade (Image: Bigstock)

7. Military bands and performers come from all over the world as well, one of the more popular being the Royal Netherland Grenadiers. Nearly 50 countries have participated since its inception.

8. The Tattoo contributes a large portion of its profits to charities helping people such as the RAF Benevolent Fund, the Soldiers Charity, and many more to help alleviate those fighting poverty, stress, unemployment or coping with disabilities and sickness.

9. The patron of the Tattoo , rather fittingly, is HRH, The Princess Royal, Princess Anne.

10. Lastly, a bit of trivia. Tattoos can be found all over Britain ( and indeed the world) so if you come across one in your travels, do attend as they are amazing, military-based performances and music. The trivia? The word tattoo really has nothing much if anything to do with this type of performance – it comes from “last call” in the Dutch pubs in the 1600’s – “doe den tap toe”.

Military Tattoo - RAF Flyover

RAF Red Arrows at the 2014 Tattoo (Image: Bigstock)

As related in Fact # 10, there are tattoos held elsewhere. The author’s fondest memory of one was stumbling over it by accident on an early trip to Britain in the 70’s, the Tidworth Tattoo. It was small at that time (no grandstands only a rope separating the onlookers from the action) so you were up close and personal with the thrilling and entertaining action. What a memory! In Canada, a popular attraction in Halifax every summer is the tattoo, a splendid indoor event with performers from all over the world.  And the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo actually goes on tour sometimes too. But if in Edinburgh, this, along with the Castle, is one sight not to be missed – even if you have a nae a drop o’ Scottish blood.

Feature photo of Edinburgh and the Royal mile courtesy of Pixabay. Article originally published in 2016, updated in 2023.