Turkey is a country full of traditional and new festivals and events. Turkish festivals are a good opportunity for tourists to get to know the culture and customs of the country that is located between the two continents of Asia and Europe. This is our guide to the most popular festivals in Turkey.
Turkey hosts many colorful festivals and events throughout the year, from art and music to sports and entertainment. These Turkish festivals are held all over the country. Since there are many different festivals in Turkey, tourists may have difficulty in choosing them. This article reviews the top festivals in Turkey and tries to cover all the different tastes.
Turkish Festivals in January
Camel Wrestling Festival
Camel wrestling in the Turkish city of Ephesus is equivalent to the bullfighting festival in Spain and cockfighting in India. Admittedly, camel wrestling is not as attractive as wrestling when it is done by men, but it is a fun festival in its own right and can entertain families for hours.
Camel wrestling is not as common in Turkey as it used to be, and now it is only limited to the Aegean Sea region and its western and southwestern coasts. Ephesus, one of Turkey’s most famous archaeological attractions, hosts the Camel Wrestling Festival every January.
Basically, in this festival, a pair of male camels, known as wild bulls, get a chance to compete with a beautiful female camel. They don’t really fight, but when they follow each other and come towards the audience, they make for some interesting scenes.
Turkish Festivals in February
Istanbul Independent Film Festival
This film festival is held every year for ten days, from February 15th to 25th, and on the occasion of that, many films are shown in different cinemas all over Istanbul. This is one of the most popular film festivals in Turkey.
Turkish Festivals in March
Mesir Macunu Festival
This wonderful festival is considered a folklore event. Mesir Macunu festival refers to honoring the treatment of Hafsa Sultan, the mother of Sultan Suleiman the Great. She survives an illness by using a kind of candy known as Mesir Macunu. The Sultan then orders that this sweet be distributed to the public for everyone’s health.
During this festival between March 21 and 24, a cook prepares this magical sweet from 41 herbs. A group of 14 women divides this sweet into small packages and after blessing it by the clerics, they pour it on people’s heads from the top of the minaret and domes of the Sultan Mosque.
Turkish Festivals in April
Istanbul Film Festival
The Istanbul Film Festival, which is different from the Istanbul Independent Film Festival, brings movie lovers to the theaters from April 5th to 16th. During this festival, international and domestic films compete with each other. In addition to watching movies, fans can also participate in film activities and educational workshops throughout the city. This is one of the most popular festivals in Turkey.
Istanbul Tennis Tournament
The Istanbul Tennis Tournament is the biggest international tennis tournament in Turkey, which takes place in April every year. Many stars of the tennis world participate in these tournaments and this festival is becoming more popular every year.
National Independence Day & Children’s Day
April 23 every year in Turkey is Children’s Day and many people put wreaths on the necks of statues of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey. The biggest ceremony is held at Atatürk’s mausoleum in Ankara.
Since Atatürk dedicated the Republic of Turkey to children, school children on this day go to the Turkish Parliament and symbolically rule the country. They elect someone as president and they give a speech on national television.
Children’s festivals are held all over the country on this day. On this day, Turkish National Radio and Television invite children aged 8 to 14 from different parts of the world to this country. These children spend a week with Turkish families and participate in children’s festivals on April 23.
Orthodox Easter in April
Christians in Istanbul are often from the orthodox branch of Christianity, and Easter is an important day in their religious calendar; Therefore, the Easter Sunday religious ceremony is going on all over Istanbul, especially the residence of the Archbishop of Istanbul in the Fener district making it one of the most significant festivals in Turkey.
Turkish Festivals in May
The first day of May in Turkey and all over the world is International Labor Day. Taqsim Square has always been the scene of massive demonstrations on this day, and the first of May has an important symbolic meaning; Because on May 1, 1977, 37 demonstrators were shot dead by unknown people. After this incident, demonstrations in Taqsim Square were banned.
Despite this ban, thousands of demonstrators try to come to this square every year and clash with police forces. It is recommended to avoid being in Taqsim square between 9 am and 6 pm on this day.
Open Doors Architecture Festival
If you are visiting Istanbul in May, you should definitely take advantage of the Open Doors Architecture Festival which is held every year promising to be one of the most magnificent festivals in Turkey.
Istanbul is full of famous architectural attractions, but most of them are hidden behind closed doors and not accessible to the general public. However, during the Open Doors Festival, some of these always closed doors are opened to the public and people can go inside the historically important buildings with amazing architecture.
The Ortakoy Mosque on the Bosphorus is one of these amazing buildings that opens its doors to the public during this Turkish festival. This mosque was built between 1854 and 1856 and is a wonderful example of Ottoman architecture.
Commemoration of Atatürk & Youth and Sports Day
The Republic of Turkey Founder’s Day is a holiday and tourists should expect to see many sporting events. In addition to paying tribute to Atatürk, various parades and sports competitions are held throughout the country on this day.
The month of Ramadan does not have a fixed time; hence this religious event cannot be listed under a particular month. This Eid is celebrated as a three-day festival in Turkey and heralds the end of Ramadan. Turkish people visit family members on this day. The cities become quieter during these three days, although museums and tourist centers are expected to be closed only on the first day of this event. Offices and many restaurants and shops are also closed during these days.
Turkish Festivals in June
Cappadox Music, Culture, and Food Festival was held for the first time in 2015 in the magical and amazing nature of the Cappadocia region. The festival offers visitors an unmissable experience of music, contemporary art, cuisine, and outdoor recreation. Cappadox is held every year with more than 140 events between June 14 and 19.
Oil Boat Festival
This 600-year-old festival is held in the city of Edirne, Turkey. Men from different cultures, religions, and ages participate in this competition and compete with each other regardless of language, religious and racial differences. Wrestlers, known as Pahlavans, compete with each other in one of the most exciting festivals in Turkey.
It is a fascinating event that takes on a mesmerizing atmosphere with the presence of 40 female drummers. At the end of the competition, the golden belt is wrapped in a ceremony in the city and the worshipers go to Salimiyah Mosque to pray.
Istanbul Music Festival
Istanbul Music Festival is the most important and prestigious music event in Turkey. Music lovers have the opportunity to attend pure concerts of local and international classical music artists in various places in Istanbul.
Kas Lycia Festival
The three-day festival of Kas Lycia is held in the city of Kas in the south of Turkey and on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Kas is a popular summer tourist destination, and this festival at the beginning of this busy season can be an exceptional opportunity for families interested in Turkish culture and history.
During this festival, you can witness local and international folk dances, opera performances, and art exhibitions in one of the most prestigious Turkish festivals, and go to beaches, water parks, and shopping centers to buy souvenirs.
Turkish Festivals in July
Istanbul Joy Festival
Every year, the Shadi Festival attracts thousands of Turkish people in the cities of Istanbul, Bodrum, and Cheshme to dance and rejoice. This festival is one of the best annual music events in Istanbul and has a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
Many musical performances are held in different concert halls in the city. Istanbul’s Shadi Festival has become a classic event in recent years and is a distinctive event with high-quality musical performances, open-mindedness, diverse services along with mobile food stalls, and a great atmosphere.
National Unity and Democracy Day
The failed coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016, has been officially declared as a holiday. On this day, various events are held throughout the country.
Istanbul Jazz Festival
Istanbul Jazz Festival dates back to 1993. This festival runs from the end of June to the middle of July and gathers thousands of enthusiasts together with different styles of music. Artists from all over the world attend this event.
Bosphorus Intercontinental Swimming Championships
This festival is undoubtedly the most important swimming competition in Turkey. Istanbul has been hosting this amazing event every year since 1989. Swimmers in this competition, which is organized by the National Olympic Committee of Turkey, must swim across the Bosphorus Strait.
Since this competition is the only intercontinental swimming competition, participants from all over the world come to Turkey to cover a 6.5 km route from Kanlija in the Asian part of Istanbul to the Kuroçşme Cemil Topuzlu Park in the European part of the city.
Bozcaada Jazz Festival
Bozcaada is a small island in the Aegean Sea and has a lot of beauty due to its pristine nature. On this island, you can experience many activities such as diving, walking, or riding a motorcycle on the beach. In addition, the food of this island is also excellent and all the small restaurants offer their food with fresh products and reasonable prices. Bozcaada Jazz Festival also gathers local and international artists every year in July. You should not miss the opportunity to participate in this festival.
Eid al-Adha is a religious festival in the lunar calendar that does not have a specific and fixed time to be held. This festival is held almost two months after the end of Ramadan and is the second most important religious festival in Turkey and Istanbul. Eid al-Adha Turkish festival is associated with 4 days off. During these days, offices, many shops, and businesses are closed.
Residents of Istanbul visit their families all over the country during Eid al-Adha. However, except for Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, which is only closed for a few days during these days, important tourist centers are still open during these days.
Turkish Festivals in August
Victory Day is an opportunity to commemorate the victory of the Turkish army over the Greek forces in the battle of 1922 and is considered to be one of the most significant festivals in Turkey. Military parades are held all over the country. Government offices are closed on August 30, but tourist centers continue to operate.
Turkish Festivals in September, October, and November
Istanbul Biennial is one of the most famous contemporary art events in the world. The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Art has been organizing the Istanbul Biennial since 1987. This biennial has a position equal to the biennial of Venice, Sao Paulo, and Sydney.
The last official holiday in Turkey’s annual calendar is October 29 on the occasion of Republic Day. The Republic of Turkey was founded on this day in 1923. On this day, all the neighborhoods of Istanbul are decorated with Turkish flags and you can watch fireworks on the Bosphorus during one of the most magnificent festivals in Turkey.
Istanbul International Marathon is the only race that takes place on two continents. This marathon starts from the Asian coast of Istanbul and continues to the European part of the city next to the Bosphorus.
Roman Festival in Konya
Sama dervish dance is a form of meditation that belongs to the school of Sufis. This custom is still in place in many countries of the world, including Turkey, and its roots go back to the order of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi. Every year during the week ending on December 17 in Konya, the day of Rumi’s death, thousands of people from all over the world gather at his magnificent tomb to honor his memory. December 17 in Konya is known as Rumi’s “wedding night” and his meeting with his god.
Turkish Festivals in December
Istanbul Short Film Festival
Istanbul International Short Film Festival is the oldest and most prestigious short film festival in Turkey. This festival is held every year in December and shows about 200 selected films from Turkey and around the world during one week turning it into one of the most significant short film festivals in Turkey.