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6 Top military tattoo events around the world

If you’re looking to attend an event celebrating culture through music and dance, look no further.  

Military tattoos are a celebration highlighting a country’s military prowess. Globally, military tattoos represent a sense of patriotism rooted in history and culture. Each hosting city does their tattoo celebrations differently, as they bring together drumlines, pipers, and buglers and mary the traditional sounds and songs of militaries with modern music, dance and more.  

The tradition of tattoos started in the 1600s during the 30 Years’ War. In military towns, a curfew would sound, instructing innkeepers to stop serving the soldiers and for them to return to their barracks. The term tattoo evolved from the Dutch “doe den tap toe,” meaning turn off the taps. 

Over the years, English speakers adopted the term and the curfew performance. The name was shortened until it came to be tattoo. From there, the curfew call evolved into grand performances that celebrate the distinct culture and history of the armed forces.   

Attending a military tattoo is an incredible experience for travellers that offers a unique immersion into the heritage of a country. These festivals feature outstanding performances by military bands and celebrate veterans and first responders’ dedication to their country. 

Not sure which tattoos to check out? Here are the top military tattoo events around the world. 

Nova Scotia Tattoo, Canada

The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo is Canada’s largest annual indoor tattoo event in the world. The tattoo brings military performers, dancers and musicians to the Canadian stage, creating a vibrant event that captivates audiences as it fuses talent and a strong focus on military heritage.   

The tattoo occurs annually in Halifax and kicks off the summer on Canada’s east coast. Featuring over 2000 performers from across Canada and worldwide, the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo combines modern and traditional celebrations and performances that show who Nova Scotia is. The performances include march-pasts, colourful flags, military drummers, and more. Plus, Nova Scotia’s tattoo is uniquely a full theatrical performance, put on in a theatre of the round style, with costumes and props.   

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Scotland

Edinburgh Military Tatoo
hanneliese | Adobe Stock

Scotland’s Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is one of the best-known military tattoos globally. With its annual audience of over 200,000 people, the event is also the largest military tattoo in the world. Every year in August, tourists and locals flock to Edinburg to take in the tattoo, set to the backdrop of Edinburg Castle.   

Edinburg’s tattoo is based on creativity and features music from around the world. Besides the military bands, dancers and pipers, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo offers an unforgettable fireworks display. The festival fosters creativity and connections and focuses on contributing to the community, connecting audiences to Edinburg’s heritage. Plus, the tattoo is themed yearly, meaning all shows are different.   

Virginia International Tattoo, USA

The Virginia International Tattoo is the biggest military tattoo event in the United States. Hosted in Norfolk, Virginia, home to the world’s largest Navy base and NATO’s only North American headquarters. Virginia’s tattoo celebrates international camaraderie through music and military pageantry, featuring over 1000 performers.   

Since 1997, the Virginia tattoo has impressed audiences with an electric mix of performances, including massed pipes, drums, and heart-stirring reenactments. Over 35,000 people flock to Norfolk each April to take in this incredible celebration of military contributions. Many events make up the tattoo, including a DrumLine Battle that is sure to excite. 

Basel Tattoo, Switzerland

The Swiss Armed Forces Tattoo, hosted in Basel, Switzerland is the second largest tattoo, behind the Royal Edinburg Military Tattoo. Starting in 2006, the Swiss Armed Forces Tattoo takes place every three years and features an impressive range of military bands and performances from around the world, including Australia, France and Germany. The show features military marching drills, a thrilling helicopter display and even a parade, helping bring the tattoo festivities to more spectators.  

Enjoyed by nearly 120,000 people, the Basel tattoo features military bands performing classical music, blending with rock and pop sounds to celebrate a musical history. You’ll hear the customary Scottish Highland sounds thanks to the drums and bagpipes and see various Royal Guards. 

Beating Retreat Ceremony, India

New Delhi’s Beating Retreat Ceremony shows the Indian military’s discipline and musical prowess. The ceremony occurs annually on January 29, ending India’s Republic Day celebration. Like the tattoo celebrations, India’s Beating Retreat Ceremony follows the 18th-century tradition of calling the guards in at the end of their patrol by military drummers.   

India’s Beating Retreat takes place against the backdrop of the Rashtrapati Bhavan and is performed by India’s Army, Navy and Air Force. The Celebration started in 1955 and is a staple of India’s Republic Day celebrations.   

Oslo Military Tattoo, Norway

The Olso Military Tattoo is a striking display of Military bands and drill contingents celebrating Norway’s military. It has happened every two years since 1994; the Oslo tattoo works to show Norway’s armed forces and music as a living cultural institution and tradition. This tattoo stands out for its emphasis on cooperation and solidarity among nations.   

The Olso Military Tattoo invites spectators to embrace the beauty of Norway while taking in the military bands, drill contingents and rhythmic performances from Norwegian and international military performers. The event features marches and an appearance of His Majesty the King’s Royal Guard. 

Pack your bags

Want to attend a Military Tattoo? Book an appointment with a CAA Travel Consultant to start your planning.

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