Bagpipes, Kilts, and a Tattoo Your Dad Will Approve

“You have to go to the Military Tattoo while you’re there,” my friend told me. “It’s fantastic, and there are lots of men in military uniforms.”

August is festival month in Edinburgh, and if you didn’t know that when you planned your visit, you’d figure it out soon after arriving. Really, there’s always a festival of some sort going on here, but three of the biggest ones converge in August: the Fringe, the International Festival, and the Book Festival. The draw from these festivals is so big, in fact, that the population of the city almost doubles in August.

Of course, no festival in Scotland would be complete without bagpipes and kilts. Enter the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

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My friend had told me to go to the Tattoo, but I was still unclear as to what it was, and duly forgot about it. In her defense, she did ask me if I was going to go several times. I just always forgot. Not knowing what a military tattoo was, I didn’t know what was so interesting about it. I was also focusing on more pressing issues, such as getting a visa and trying to figure out how to find an apartment.

While I was occupied with that stuff, my mom was searching for things to do. What do you know, she comes across an internet advertisement for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. After some deliberation about which seats to buy, she bought tickets and we had a night out.

As it turns out, the Military Tattoo is a big deal in Edinburgh. Every night for the entire month of August, the Tattoo is given up at Edinburgh Castle. Talk about an amazing backdrop for a show.

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Until we showed up, claimed our seats, and watched the show, we didn’t quite know what to expect. We knew that it was an event for military bands, and that was about it. Given that description, we didn’t expect there to be so much fanfare – after all, what do military bands do? Drums, pipes, maybe some horns and fancy marching, right? Right. But it n Edinburgh, it’s done on a grand scale.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo features military bands from around the world. This year’s event included performances from the American, Nepalese, Norwegian, and Jordanian military bands, among others. They really pulled out all the stops for this. There were light shows, motorcycle stunts, pyrotechnics, musicians, singers, dancers, the whole nine yards.

There were also pipers.

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If you go to the Military Tattoo, you will have the unique experience of being serenaded by the single largest contingent of Scottish bagpipers you will ever have the privilege of seeing. (It should be noted, though, that my father said he expected more reprisals of the bagpiping sequence.)

What could be better than a night of modernized show tunes, daredevil stunts, military uniforms, and more bagpipes than you can shake a stick at? The reasons for putting the show on, of course!

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo has run since 1950, and not a single performance has ever been canceled. The 2014 Tattoo marked sixteen years of sell-out seasons (note: seasons, not individual shows), and over the years 48 countries have sent their military bands to participate. Why?

For charity. The Tattoo has raised over £8 million for charities run by both the military and civilian organizations, and that doesn’t include the roughly £77 million it has put back into the Scottish economy over the years.

From where I’m sitting, that’s a pretty cool event.

My suggestion: If you ever find yourself in Edinburgh in August (or if you plan on finding yourself in Edinburgh in August), pick up some tickets for the Tattoo. It’s worth it for the venue alone.

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