74 Years in the Making: The Incredible History of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

by | 19 Mar 2024

It’s the international spectacle that has been thrilling audiences for almost three-quarters of a century. Staged on the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade, The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has become one of the most iconic performances in Europe, renowned for its dazzling mix of music, dance, and military display.

From its humble beginnings to its current form as one of Scotland’s premier events, we take a closer look at the remarkable Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Experience the incredible spectacle of The Edinburgh Military Tattoo on select departures of our Scotland tours


What is The Tattoo?

When you take your seat at The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo you will be treated to a spectacular series of performances by the British Armed Forces, and international military and cultural bands. The atmosphere is electric, with music, lighting and projections adding to the already-incredible atmosphere generated by the performers and spectators.

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Origins of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The first Edinburgh Military Tattoo took place over seventy years ago in 1950, inspired by a simple 1949 show called ‘Something About a Solider’. Taking place at the Ross bandstand, ‘Something About a Solider’ was produced by Lieutenant Colonel George Malcolm as part of the Edinburgh International Festival of Music and Drama. The Lieutenant Colonel was then invited to present a military ‘show’ the following year at the Edinburgh Festival.

His first production featured eight items and attracted an audience of 100,000 over its 20 performances. With the inaugural Edinburgh Tattoo proving such a success, it was decided it should become an annual event. It has since been held every year, apart from 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and HRH Princess Margaret attended the final night of the inaugural production, and the English conductor and impresario Sir Thomas Beecham conducted the combined military bands. A firework display concluded the event, a tradition that continues to this day. ‘Royal’ was added to the Edinburgh Tattoo’s title in 2010 by HM The Queen Elizabeth to celebrate the show’s 60th anniversary.

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How The Tattoo has grown and evolved

Today The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an internationally renowned event that attracts over 220,000 people to its three-week run each August.

The show was first televised in 1951, produced and broadcast by the BBC. And when color television was invented in 1968 the performances became available to audiences in all their glory. Now an estimated 100 million viewers worldwide enjoy the spectacle across various viewing platforms.

Overseas performers first took part in 1952, with the first the first women’s group, the Women’s Royal Army Corps Band and the P.T. Display, performing in 1953. To date over 50 nations have taken part in this truly international spectacle.

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A uniquely Scottish spectacle

As you sit in the high stands against the amazing backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, prepare to be amazed. There are over 800 performers at the tattoo, each bringing a flavor of their own local culture. The musical swell of the massed bands of pipes and drums is a uniquely stirring experience, while soloists and dancers add the sparkle.

Over the years The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has featured the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Force, the RAF Police Dog Demonstration Team, fire brigade displays and a demonstration from the Strongest Man in the World. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is also a charitable organization, contributing a sizable portion of its profits to charities.

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Top tips for attending The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Dress appropriately: The Tattoo is held outdoors in the evening, so dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes. The weather in Edinburgh can be unpredictable, so bring a waterproof jacket or umbrella just in case.

Arrive early: Gates open an hour and a half before the performance starts, so arriving early gives you plenty of time to find your seat, get some refreshments and soak in the atmosphere. You can also take in the stunning view of Edinburgh Castle at dusk.

Embrace the atmosphere: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an incredibly atmospheric event, with music, dance, and a thrilling display of military precision. Feel free to join in the singing and clapping as you bask in the excitement and energy around you.

Bring a camera: You’ll want to capture the breathtaking performances and stunning visuals, so bring a camera or smartphone to snap some photos or record video. Just be aware that no flash photography or tripods/monopods are allowed is not allowed during certain parts of the show, so check the rules beforehand: edintattoo.co.uk/the-venue

Stay for the finale: The Tattoo’s grand finale is a highlight of the show, featuring a dramatic display of fireworks and music. Make sure you stay until the very end to experience this unforgettable moment.

To see how you can enjoy the magic of Scotland, including the Edinburgh Military Tattoo on selected departures, take a look at our premium tours to Scotland 

I'm a writer, editor and interview specialist with a lifetime's love of travel. There’s nothing more inspiring to me than meeting, and writing about, the world's leading destination experts and travel industry insiders. The thing I love most about writing for Insightful is that I'm always learning something new.