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Do you remember the last time that you sat and listened to a live bagpipe? Did chills run down your spine or tears prick your eyes? I don’t know what it is about that majestic instrument, but I feel like my heart swells a little every time I listen to one.
So, as you can imagine, I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to see many of them live. As I was planning the trip to Edinburgh, numerous people mentioned that we needed to experience the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle. All I needed to hear was “castle” and “bagpipes” and I was ready to buy my ticket.
A City of Festivals
If you’ve never been to Edinburgh during the month of August, you should know – it’s really crowded. The whole city celebrates the Edinburgh Festivals, which draws people from all over the world. Each of the festivals has a different aim – we were there for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (which is focused on theater and the performing arts), but there is also an Film Festival, a Science Festival, a Jazz festival, and more. All in all, the city holds over 3,000 events during the month of August, with over 25,000 performers and 4.5 million attendees representing 70 countries.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is one of the highlights of the festival season. Held at the beautiful Edinburgh Castle every night for 3 weeks, it is one of the hottest tickets in town. Every night, a few hours before the performance starts, the police shut down the roads leading up to the castle. The only traffic allowed is the buses that bring in the performers. As the castle is on top of a hill, this means all the audience members have a bit of a hike to get to their seats. We thought that we were going to be super early, but with all the crowds and craziness, we ended up in our seats with only about 10 minutes to spare.
A Tip About Tickets
One solid piece of advice that we got (and that I want to make sure I pass along) is to get your tickets early. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo regularly sells out, so it’s best to get your tickets months in advance. You can get them through the website here.
So What is a Military Tattoo?
A military tattoo (as I came to learn) is a performance of music by a group of armed forces. Basically, it’s people in uniform playing rousing songs and marching in different parade styles.
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
As far as military tattoo’s go, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle is in a class above the rest. As you enter through the main gates of the castle yard, you are sent through the underside of some bleachers and out into the performance space. The performance space itself is someone reminiscent of a football field. A large rectangle, with bleachers on three sides, all facing the fourth side, which is the Castle itself. All of the different performance groups come marching out of the castle drawbridge and down the “field”, before exiting through the same doors the audience initially entered. We had seats in the middle (towards the back) of one of the long sides, which ended up being just perfect. We had a great view of the impressive entrances, and could see the full scope of the performances.
We also had a great view of the castle itself. Walking in, you can’t help but be in a bit of awe of this beautiful structure. Since the tattoo is held in an outdoor courtyard, that meant that there was still a touch of daylight lighting the performance space when we started. As the sky continued to darken, the lights of the castle came on, lending a different type of beauty. But it really became impressive as they started to use it as a backdrop for projections that covered the entire castle. It was a visual feast for the audiences and created an amazing atmosphere for the performances.
Now, the expectation that I had going in was that this particular military tattoo focused on Scottish heritage. I should have done a bit more research beforehand! While there is a good portion of the night dedicated to different Scottish regiments, there is a greater international focus to the whole event. We saw military bands from England, India, the USA, Germany, and a large variety of other countries. While surprised at first, I was inspired by all the different cultures that came through, proudly displaying their military history.
A Sea of Dancers
Another surprise was that it wasn’t all just military bands and music. There were dancers from the Edinburgh Ballet that performed traditional Highland dances as well as dances from the different cultures represented during the performance. I can’t even imagine how many times they had to change their costumes over the course of the evening!
The Lone Bagpiper
Of course, as much as I enjoyed the other groups, the real treat of the night was the bagpipers. There were several different moments when there were enough bagpipers to cover the entire field. The sounds emanated were thrilling, coursing through your entire body. Check out a clip of it below!
The absolute highlight, however, was the final performance of the lone bagpiper. Perched at the top of the castle, so he was nothing more than a speck in the sky, this single bagpiper filled the night with his touching rendition “Sleep Dearie Sleep.” I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the entire audience.
We went to the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo on our final night in Scotland, which was a great decision. It was one of the highlights of the entire trip and really ended our entire journey with a bang. I left the castle with the amazing music ringing through my ears and my soul. It is a night that I will not forget easily.
What excites you most about the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
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Another great pin for our travel map!