Tattoo – Advice for First Time Visitors

As a frequent visitor to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo over the years, our family has got into something of a routine in planning our trips to this amazing spectacle, so when asked for some advice about where to park if coming to the tattoo from out of town, I realised that our experiences probably had enough ‘old timers’ knowledge in them to merit a little article on how we do it.

Families frequently make this the first experience of Edinburgh’s August Festivals, so we’re including some advice particularly for visitors who are bringing children to the Tattoo.

Tattoo Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle survived by being a difficult place to attack, and that means few ways in! On the night of the Tattoo, the only access route is via the upper section of the Royal Mile: Castlehill. To get there you will approach on foot either via Lawnmarket or Johnston Terrace. Organised tour buses will probably drop their passengers in the vicinity of Chambers Street and you’ll walk via George IV Bridge and then into the Lawnmarket.

Tattoo Travelling by Car – Where to park

If you’re coming by car, our recommendation would be to park at the Kings Stables Road/Castle Terrace car park. Time your arrival to get there after the daily shopping traffic has left, but before it gets filled by Tattoo visitors – and make sure you have a debit/credit card or a large supply of change (at least £10), for even in the evening this car park is expensive. The chances of getting a free parking space in any streets within reasonable walking distance is slim.

Tattoo – Wrap up warm!

The Tattoo takes place in the late evening and although it is August it will be COLD up there – to accommodate the huge crowds which flock there every year, giant stands are erected on three sides of the Castle Esplanade. These stands are high up above the city and even a slight breeze will mean a chilly night as it gets dark and the temperature dips. Remember also that you will be sitting still in a small space, so you won’t be able to move about much to keep warm.

This means layers: lots of lovely layers of clothing. It may be August, but dress all the family as if you are going out to play in the snow. This means hats, scarves and gloves too. A good thick pair of socks and stout walking shoes or trainers (sneakers) will be appropriate footwear. I’ve seen people come here with summer sandals and flip flops – their feet must be blue by the time the show ends. And remember, the Castlehill is cobbled and you will have lots of stairs to climb in the stands so no high heels!

Tattoo Tips and suggestions

We also find that taking a travelling rug each is a bonus. You can wrap it round your knees and then wear it shawl-like over your shoulders on the way home for added warmth. When our son was small, it was also useful for wrapping him up in to carry a sleeping bundle back to the car.

I’m the niece of a man who wore a wet suit under his clothing one year when attending the Tattoo. I’m not advocating that, but if the forecast is for rain, don’t forget that the Edinburgh Military Tattoo has never been cancelled because of the weather – the show will go on!

August Edinburgh Festivals
Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Hope this is helpful for visitors planning a visit to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Next time you come, stay a little longer.  Here are some more if you’re thinking of attending Edinburgh Festival Fringe events.

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29 thoughts on “Tattoo – Advice for First Time Visitors

  • 2 March 2017 at 3:31 am

    Can anyone tell me if we can bring a small Jansport backpack (rucksak) into the Tattoo? We’ll have our travel blanket, gloves and camera in it.

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  • 2 August 2016 at 1:40 pm

    Hi Jean
    I don’t think there are any lockers at the Tattoo site – the security of 8,600 people who attend each show is important, so you will not be able to store luggage there. I’d suggest that you store luggage at the railway station if that is where you will arrive. According to the FAQs on the event website, they will do their best to seat you if you arrive late, but I suspect you’d have to wait for a suitable gap in the performance. Perhaps you should enquire directly about advice for bringing a stroller?

  • 2 August 2016 at 10:42 am

    Hi Susan,

    I would like to ask do you know if there is any locker or luggage storage place since we probably will be heading to the performance right after our arrival(we also have a fordable stroller with us) And do you know if we can still get in to the seats even if we won’t make it on time?(like at 21:15 or so)

    Many thanks!

  • 23 March 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Hi Fiona
    The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo runs with clockwork precision and they do a fantastic job of getting visitors in and out as fast and safely as they can. Your answer will partly depend on where you are sitting on the Esplanade and how high up your seats are. As a rule, the show is finished by 10:45 and you should be able to make your train if you walk speedily back to Edinburgh Waverley.

  • 23 March 2015 at 1:49 pm

    Hi can you tell me roughly how long it will take to get out of the tattoo after the show? Our last train is at 2313!! I would rather not leave early.

    Many thanks

  • 11 August 2014 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks so much for the help. We are leaving tonight and I am now going home to take out the summer wear and pack in the fall wear. Tips on the Tatoo, for which we have tickets, was really helpful.

  • 16 April 2014 at 8:50 am

    Smart casual would be perfect. Lots of layers. There are photo opportunities from every seat in the arena, but the Premier area gives the best angles for taking views of the castle itself. Remember it will be dark, so practice night shots and maybe bring a mono-pod to balance your camera on? Hope you enjoy the Tattoo experience.

  • 12 April 2014 at 4:30 pm

    Hi Maureen
    Thanks for asking! I’m just a local holiday home owner, so not an expert in all things Tattoo, however, I’ve found this link on-line to information about the packages for the Tattoo. I’d say that you’ll probably want to dress ‘smart but warm’ for dinner at the Jacobite room followed by a seat in the East Stand, unless your host has a dress code. The seating is much improved since the new stands were designed a couple of years back, but you’re still out in the open air as it gets dark in the evening and it will be chilly. A good option is to have a travel rug with you which you can use to wrap round you while enjoying the performance. You’ll have a fabulous time, and don’t forget your camera as you’ll have the best views from the seats you’ll be in.
    Enjoy your visit to Edinburgh.

  • 10 April 2014 at 6:29 pm

    Hi Susan
    We will be dinning in the Jacobite room before the tattoo, can we dress casually or should we be more formal ?

    Thank you

  • 29 March 2014 at 9:15 am

    Hi Susan!

    Thanks for the information. I thought August would be warm! 🙂 Thanks for the tip on dressing warm. I am planning on taking up a hospitality package… spending my birthday there this year, so want to go all out. Would you recommend sitting in the Premier area? I also want to get some good photos while there… Would appreciate any advice on what to wear – smart casual in the Premier area? Am excited! 🙂

  • 11 February 2014 at 6:34 am

    Hi Susan,
    thanks for all the info. Just a quick question: are there discounted tickets for kids older than 3 if bought locally? We couldn’t find reduced tickets in the online store. Thank you

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  • 15 August 2013 at 7:47 pm

    Hi Cathy – yes, jeans and trainers ok. Layers are important for warmth. For organised coach trips, if you’re sitting in either the North Stand or the South Stand, then no need to dress up. Everyone will be in casual clothes, including hats (and maybe even gloves). After the sun goes down it’s chilly up there. If you’re sitting in the East Stand (the VIP section), then dress may be a bit more formal if you’re attending pre or post-Tattoo entertainments or reception. But I’m sure from what you’ve said, that you’ll be quite comfortable in casual clothes. Enjoy! Come back soon.

  • 15 August 2013 at 1:35 pm

    Sorry- just realised that in my previous post I put the wrong name – should have put Susan…. sorry.

  • 15 August 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Hi Michelle

    Just wanted to check – are jeans and trainers ok to wear? We are going as part of an organised coach trip – just to the show – no meal or hospitality. With all your experience of the show, do people tend to dress up a bit??



  • 12 August 2013 at 8:03 pm

    Hi Susan,
    Thanks so much for the useful information.

  • 11 August 2013 at 10:48 am

    Hi Michelle

    I know that all bags are searched on the way in for security. I don’t think there’s any prohibition about bringing food or drink in to the Castle Esplanade. However, I’d probably restrict amounts of anything you’re bringing as there’s not much room to stow gear once you’re in the stands – so forget the large wicker picnic basket! If you are thinking about bringing a wee dram, probably best to have it in a small plastic container or hip flask. Once the show starts, you’ll be so enthralled, you’ll probably not be thinking about food and drink.
    Other thought is that the seats are high and the rows are long, so you definitely don’t want to be going out to the toilet during the show.
    Hope this helps.

  • 9 August 2013 at 10:14 am

    Hi Susan,
    do you know if we are permitted to take in any refreshments eg snacks , flask of coffee or maybe a little tipple?
    Any info greatly appreciated.
    Many thanks

  • 26 July 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Hi Uri

    No, the stairs from Johnston Terrace to Castlehill are closed during entry to the Tattoo. All arriving guests must pass through security at Castlehill before entering the Castle Esplanade.

    Chances of getting a Taxi after the show are ok – but you may need to walk to a spot out of the city centre a little to get one. For example, last year, when we went to the late performance on a Saturday night, it took us over an hour to find a Taxi, but we had to stay in the city centre as my Mum was with us and she can’t walk too well. If you’re fit and healthy, and prepared for a bit of a walk, you’ll be ok.

    Hope you enjoy the Tattoo.


  • 26 July 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Hi Laura,
    Thanks for the useful information. I have 2 questions though.
    1. I see on the Google maps link that you provided stairs that lead from Johneston Terrace to Castlehill. Any idea if those stairs are open to the public at the time of the Tattoo?
    2. What are the chances of getting a taxi after the show?

    Thank you again for the useful especially weather and clothing information.


  • 11 May 2013 at 5:26 pm

    If you are going to the early performance, or the only performance on the night my advice would be to get there early. If you are going to the later performance, it might be advisable to time your arrival for the time when the earlier performance starts to leave. Hope this helps.

  • 11 May 2013 at 4:02 pm

    Great info susan, thanks. What is the probability that we find this carpark full?

  • 19 June 2012 at 10:39 am

    Hi Laura, thanks for asking! Tattoo is a favourite for everyone. Main things to consider would be whether your children are able to stay awake late as it takes place after dark, and simply to make sure that they wrap up warm. The new stands which were created for the 2011 performance are much more comfortable and afford better viewing for all, but wrapping the children in travelling rugs is still to be recommended as are hats, gloves etc. Our daughter went to her first Tattoo performance when she was in pre-school, and our son did too. That’s him in the picture on this blog post – when he was still young enough to carry home, tired but very excited by all he had seen. Enjoy!

  • 17 June 2012 at 9:34 pm

    Hi, we’re coming to Scotland for a holiday in august and are hoping to get tickets for the tattoo. What age would you recommend for children to attend? We’ll have 5 yr olds and 4 yr olds? Kind regards, Laura Hunter

  • 21 August 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Hi Susan,
    Many thanks for your valuable information. Without knowing it, you may have saved our lives.
    We were going to get that extra cardigan just in case, however where we come from ( Malta EU), August wear is nothing more than a short-sleeved cotton top and bermudas.
    Have to rush to pack my Skiing gear
    Thanks again

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