An Edinburgh Must Do: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

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By far, one of the most memorable and enjoyable things we did on our trip to the United Kingdom this summer was attending The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. I had absolutely no idea what a military tattoo was until recently, but boy am I glad that I found out.

 

Think castles, bagpipes, Highland Dancers, marching bands, motorcycle tricks, dancing, fireworks, cheering, and more and you have the annual Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The Tattoo performs for a few weeks each August just outside the walls of the Edinburgh Castle in an outdoor arena. Please read the rest of the post, but I’ll jump to the summary and say please just go to the Tattoo if you ever have the chance as it is that good.

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The first Edinburgh Tattoo was held in 1950, and it has been performed for 14 million people since then…and, perhaps more impressively if you know Edinburgh weather, a performance has never been cancelled!

We lucked out with perfect cool, clear weather

We lucked out with perfect cool, clear weather

The name itself comes not from painful permanent ink that may be drawn on your arm, but rather the word ‘tattoo’ comes from the closing-time cry in the inns in the Low Countries during the 17th and 18th centuries – ‘Doe den tap toe’ (‘Turn off the taps’), or so says their very informative website.

When I travel somewhere I want to feel like I am actually there. I have no idea how to feel more Scottish than to see Highland Dancers, marching bands, bagpipes, and the Edinburgh Castle…and perhaps enjoy some whiskey before and/or after. Seriously, we dumb lucked into being there are the right time for this, but I’d argue it is worth planning a trip around the Tattoo.

The US even had a military band present

The US even had a military band present

Edinburgh Military Tattoo Package with Castle Tour and Dinner

Since we didn’t buy tickets until pretty close-in, the only tickets left were packages that included a tour of the Edinburgh Castle as well as a pre-show dinner in the castle. These packages were really expensive, though worth it for the two of us. Because of the price, I don’t think we would have selected a package if normal Tattoo tickets were still available, but it turned out to be a fortunate accident as the small group tour of the castle was exceptional and very informative.

The dinner was a passed small plates affair, which turned out fine, but many of us were a little concerned when food was scarce at the beginning. Eventually the servers made enough rounds to fill hungry bellies with salmon, steak, and more. There were also unlimited wine and some infused fruit drinks/waters.  The views of Edinburgh from the castle at dusk were outstanding.

At the end of the meal, a bagpipe performer from the Tattoo marched in and really set the tone for the show that was to come.

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Even walking back through castle grounds after dinner as the performers had gathered within the castle walls was a fun sneak preview of what would soon march through the castle gate and into the performance arena. I heard more than one entertaining conversation about how to secure whiskey in the kilts…

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Attending the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo 

The show itself starts at 9PM Mondays – Fridays and is stated to run for 90 minutes with fireworks at the end. We had to leave before it was over to go back to the room and help get the girls to bed (Grandma was with them), but everything we saw was so entertaining and well done. On Saturdays there are performances at 7.30pm and 10.30pm, with no shows on Sundays.

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Even the kids in Scotland have way more talent than me…

Look back at the #edintattoo

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The Tattoo had performers from all over the world, and word is that the show is totally different each year. Normal tickets to just the Tattoo start at £25 each, and even less for the preview performances. You will want to book many months in advance to be able and grab those less expensive tickets. If you have the money to splurge on a package in the castle, I doubt you will regret it, but even just the Tattoo is worth the trip.

Seriously, if this at all looks interesting to you, add the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo to your “must do” travel list. I did not take my one and six year old with us this time, but very much hope to take them to the Tattoo in the future. I think the six year old would have enjoyed it now, but that is about the youngest age I would recommend since it is late at night, it may be cold or wet, and you need to stay seated for the duration of the show in bleacher-style seats.

Have you attended the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo? Is it on your “Must Do” list?

Here are some other posts from our recent UK trip…

Flying British Airways Business Class With Children

British Airways Kid Meals

Hyatt Regency Churchill Executive Suite

Hyatt Regency Churchill Regency Club

Three Fun Activities for Families in London

Taking the Train from London to Edinburgh

 

Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

Comments

  1. The Tattoo is entertaining and a worthwhile experience, but should only be part of a longer week in Edinburgh enjoying the magnificence and multiplicity of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which fills almost the entire month of August. At over 300 plus venues, both large and small, there are about 1000 opportunities every day to see comedy, drama, musicals, dance, satire, mime, circus, vaudeville, children shows, etc. performances throughout predominately the old town of Edinburgh for very reasonable prices {mostly in the $10-15 range with ample options offering 2 for 1 pricing and some that are even free}. The shows are available from late morning until early the following morning. The venues are close enough that walking between shows is not a problem. My wife and I have seen as many as 7 shows in a day. It is the largest festival for the performing arts in the world and there are copy Fringes from the US to Australia. None of them are as comprehensive and diverse. My wife and I have gone for 4 straight years and have already set or plans for 2017. Go to the Tattoo, but make it a part of the whole Fringe Festival.

    • Absolutely agree…we didn’t get to see any of the shows due to having a one year old along for the ride, but if she was a little older the children’s shows would have been a blast! We enjoyed many street performances.

  2. Thanks for posting Summer, I performed at the Military Tattoo in 1987 with the Western United States Collegiate Band. What an experience! Imagine if I entered the mile game back then instead of a few years ago. Along with getting to share life experience with the Scottish and English guard, touring restricted areas of the castle remains the highlight.

    Brings back many memories, thanks again.

  3. I feel like we took the same summer trip this year – London, Hyatt Churchill, VirginEast train, Edinburgh and Tatoo. Like you, we did not know much about the Tattoo until we arrived. Tried to get tickets but it was sold out. Was told that there may be returns so we showed up at the ticket office in the morning. It’s not by the castle but across the street from the train station. There was a queue of people standing in line so our hopes weren’t too high. When we finally got to the ticket desk, we were able to snag 3 tickets to the Sat night shows. I wouldn’t say there were a lot of tickets but there was a selection of different prices available including pricey VIP seats (don’t know if they included dinner but they were located in the sections facing the castle). Since we were a party of 3, finding 3 seats together was challenging. We decided to split up. My wife went to the early show and had a seat in the 3rd row. I took my 12 year old son to the later show. The late show was extremely windy so they cancelled the fireworks.
    We also took advantage of the Fringe festival. We tried to attend around 2 shows a day in addition to the free street performances. They even had shows that kept our 12 year old entertained like Science Magic and a one man Star Wars trilogy reenactment. Definitely recommend the Tattoo and the Fringe.

  4. Dear Mommypoints,
    Thanks for the great post. I had not heard of the military tattoo, but had some interest in seeing Scotland. I just finished booking a 2-week tour of Scotland, timed around the military tattoo and August festivals. I just secured tattoo tickets this morning. We are very much looking forward to it.

  5. You are right – the Tattoo should be on everyone’s “to do” list. I consider it one of the best events in Europe – but I am a little biased. I’ve always loved Edinburgh and now with a Scot for a wife we are able to get up and visit her family whenever we like (my wife’s sister regularly dances at the Tattoo). I’m also lucky enough to work for a company who promotes Edinburgh as a travel destination so you are reading the words of one very happy bunny!

  6. Summer, do you remember the name of the package you purchased? There are so many options on the Tatoo website. I would normally go for just the tickets, but a castle tour and small dinner before sound like a nice addition.

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