For scale, no show in Edinburgh can rival the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Literally hundreds of performers, both from Scotland and bands and outfits from abroad, gather under the dramatic backdrop of Edinburgh Castle.
The series of displays, which take place on the castle esplanade (an 18th century parade ground), combines traditional military ingredients and modern lighting and sound elements that you'd expect on a big stage arena. The key ingredients are pipes and drums, breathtaking shows of military precision, military bands, traditional dancers, and a lone piper playing from the castle battlements. But given a contemporary twist.
The "ultimate crowd-pleaser", as former Edinburgh Lord Provost George Grubb called the Tattoo, often sells out each year, long before its Summer performances, with armies of people coming to Edinburgh by bus and coach each night during the Festival.
The Tattoo takes place daily (except Sunday) during its August run, with the fireworks finale punctuating the city evenings.
The 2024 Edinburgh Military Tattoo show is titled "Journeys" and will run from 2-24 August 2024.
The Royal Navy has been confirmed as the lead service.
One highlight in 2024 will be the 30-strong Swiss Majesticks Drum Corps, making its Tattoo debut with a show that combines synchronised drum drills, visual effects and humour.
As always the Massed Pipes and Drums will be an essential component (expect The Royal Regiment of Scotland and the Bands of His Majesty's Royal Marines), along with the Tattoo Pipes and Drums and Tattoo Dancers. As well as a major home contingent, Journeys will continue to celebrate the history and heritage of Scotland's global family over the course of the 100-minute programme, but will incorporate its ethos of greater innovation and creativity that it introduced in 2022 and that it calls "Performance in a New Light".
The show's big bangs and fireworks display thunder across Edinburgh each night, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays when the Tattoo typically holds an extended fireworks display.
The Tattoo traditionally draws to a close with the lone piper playing from the castle ramparts and the massed pipes and drums rallying on the parade ground, before marching off down the High Street.
Find out how the Tattoo has changed: read EG's Review of "Voices" - the Royal Edinburgh Military's 2022 show
In 2023, the show saw 56 Tattoo dancers and 240 Pipers and Drummers perform on the Castle Esplanade. A total of 168 dance shoes were worn - three pairs per dancer - and 340 drumsticks banged against 170 drums.
The 2024 Tattoo will be the first under new CEO Jason Barrett, a former infantry officer of 20 years in the US Marine Corps.
This sometimes catches people unaware. The nightly Tattoo fireworks can be heard around Edinburgh during August, especially the weekend fireworks. If you are staying in central Edinburgh, you'll known them when you hear them.
The Tattoo show incorporates a short fireworks display, usually near the end of the show (weather permitting) with what the Tattoo calls "pyrotechnic accents" throughout the show, for example, in the 2023 show this included the Trinidad and Tobago fire-breathers (at 30 mins), Swiss Armed Forces Central Band fireworks (40 mins), short fireworks during the performance by His Majesty The King’s Guard Band and Drill Team of Norway (at 42 mins), and multiple fire bursts for 3 minutes during the Electro Pipes section (57 mins).
For the Tattoo Finale, there's a minute of fireworks at around 22:48 (78-minute mark) and a four-minute firework display at 22:52 (the 82-minute mark).
Flyovers take place during the course of several Tattoo 2024 shows, but the dates for flyovers are not announced until nearer the time. The dates are dependant on operational demands and weather conditions.
Edinburgh Tattoo times (2-24 August, 2024)
- Monday - Friday: 9.30pm (except Friday 9th August, which has 2 perfs at 6.15pm & 9.30pm)
- Saturday early show: 6.15pm
- Saturday evening show: 9.30pm
- Sunday: no performance
Edinburgh Tattoo 2024 Ticket Prices and Best Seats
Early bird tickets for the Tattoo go on sale a year in advance, in August, with the first 25,000 tickets for the 2024 Tattoo selling at 2023 prices.
The Edinburgh Tattoo introduced a £16 million pound new grand stand in 2011. The new stand has 8,700 seats, with a third more space per seat than the former grand stand, which had been in commission since 1972.
Ticket prices depend on seat location, the time of the show and how early you buy the tickets. The cheapest seats at Tattoo 2024 start at £35. There are 4 levels of seat - bands A, B, C and D - with band A sections of the arena offering the best seats.
Premier seats (which include cushioned seats, programme, poncho, fast track access, and good views) start at £200 in 2024. There are also more expensive tickets with hospitality packages (costing £hundreds) available.
The bulk of the seating, on either side of the main body of the arena, give a good view of the performances on the esplanade, and generally start at £77.50 (£88 on Fri/Sat) at 2024 prices.
Seats that face Edinburgh Castle, giving you that classic Tattoo backdrop, with the massed pipes and bands marching with the castle behind them, cost more.
The most expensive seats are in the Royal Gallery itself, the covered box on the east side of the arena. These prime seats, directly opposite the castle, are elevated above the performance, without being too far away. Royal Gallery seats range from £415 to £970. These seats are part and parcel of Tattoo hospitality packages.
Not only is the castle the backdrop to the show from the East side, there’s a clear view the length of the esplanade to where the performers march in and out of the castle gate.
Due to the rectangular shape of the Esplanade stage, the troops of Tattoo participants will tend to direct themselves toward the Royal Gallery as they strut their stuff, particularly for ceremonial aspects of the show, such as the taking of the salute by the guest of honour in the Royal Gallery.
Premier seats below the Royal Gallery on the East Stand range from £200 to £220 (or more with dining added), while seats on the corners on the east side of the arena start at £108 depending on location and view.
The various hospitality packages include pre-show dining at nearby Royal Mile restaurants, drinks and canapes reception with Tattoo performers, whisky tasting, and for groups of 50-120 guests, a dining experience in Edinburgh Castle's Queen Anne Room.
Tattoo Ticket Sales
Tickets for the Edinburgh Tattoo 2024 show "Journeys" went on sale on 7 August 2023 at 10:00am, following the opening weekend of the Tattoo 2023 show "Stories". You can buy tickets online and from the Edinburgh Tattoo Office.
N.B. Half-price Tattoo tickets for the preview show on the first Thursday (when the media are recording the performance), typically go on sale around a month before the first show. The show is exactly the same as performed on other nights, with the exception that press photographers and television cameras are among some of the performers recording the show.
Dressing for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo
Remember this is Scotland and cool weather and/or rainstorms are not uncommon even in the middle of summer so check the weather forecast in advance and dress accordingly. The outdoor arena on the castle esplanade is exposed to the elements.
2020-2022: Covid-19, Operation Unicorn, and the Edinburgh Tattoo
The year 2020 would have been the 70th Anniversary of the Tattoo. The show was dubbed "The Platinum Edition", and would celebrate the Tattoo's "enduring ability to link the Armed Forces with society and bring people together to celebrate the cultures and heritage of allies and friends".
It was due to commemorate the rich maritime heritage of the Royal Navy and tie into Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters. The Royal Navy, known as the Senior Service for being the eldest of the British Armed Forces, was lined up to be the lead for 2020.
Of course, due to Covid-19, it was cancelled.
A year later, the conditions were still not ripe for such a large capacity event, even though restrictions had eased significantly.
The Tattoo announced: “Despite the sense of optimism around the UK’s emergence from the Pandemic and our huge enthusiasm to stage a performance this year, it is now clear that the financial risks we confront in delivering The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, at scale, on the Castle Esplanade in August are simply too great."
The Tattoo could have lost another year in 2022, if Queen Elizabeth II had died in August during the run of the 2022 Tattoo show Voices. The Scotsman reported later that, under Operation Unicorn, Tattoo organisers had agreed to cancel the remaining run of the show in the event of the monarch's death in Scotland. The Tattoo was unable to secure insurance against such an event and ran the risk of losing up to £12 million. In the end, the Queen died two weeks after the show's run had ended and over 92% of Tattoo 2022 tickets were sold. Stories - the Edinburgh Tattoo 2023 show - will honour the late monarch with a special tribute.
The Edinburgh Military Tattoo celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2025.