Festivals play an important cultural, historical, and religious role in Turkey. More than 1,000 festivals are held across the country every year, celebrating local traditions as well as national culture. From religious holidays like Eid al-Adha to music festivals like the Istanbul Jazz Festival, festivals provide opportunities for locals and tourists alike to experience Turkish food, music, dance, and community.
Major festivals often have historical or religious significance in Turkish culture. For example, the Nevruz festival celebrates the beginning of Spring and has roots dating back 3,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia. The colorful Tulip Festival in Istanbul highlights the country’s passion for tulips. Food-centric festivals like the annual Gastro Istanbul showcase Turkish cuisine and ingredients.
With festivals happening year-round in cities like Istanbul, Izmir, and Antalya, there are always cultural celebrations and events for visitors to experience. The diversity and number of festivals reveal Turkey’s rich cultural traditions, hospitality, and pride.
Major National Festivals
Turkey has four major national festivals that are celebrated across the country every year. These important holidays have origins in Turkish culture.
The Kurban Bayramı, also known as Eid al-Adha, is a sacrificial holiday commemorating Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael in an act of obedience to God. This four-day festival involves the ritual sacrifice of a ram or other livestock, with the meat divided into thirds to be shared with family, friends, and the poor.
Ramazan Bayramı, or Eid al-Fitr, is the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. It is a joyous three-day celebration featuring special sweets, visits with loved ones, new clothes, and gifts for children.
New Year’s Day on January 1st is a national public holiday in Turkey. People celebrate the arrival of the Gregorian calendar new year with parties, fireworks, and family gatherings.
National Sovereignty and Children’s Day on April 23rd honors the founding of the Grand National Assembly in 1920. It is dedicated to children, with schools holding performances and other special activities.
Turkey hosts numerous cultural festivals throughout the year that celebrate film, jazz, and music. Some of the major cultural festivals include:
Istanbul Film Festival
Held every April in Istanbul since 1982, this is Turkey’s leading film event screening over 200 films from different countries and genres. It aims to encourage the development of cinema in Turkey and promotes films with artistic aims and qualities.
Istanbul Jazz Festival
This is one of the world’s major jazz festivals held annually in Istanbul since 1994, lasting for an entire month from late June to late July. It hosts dozens of concerts featuring acclaimed international and local jazz musicians.
Istanbul Music Festival
Organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts every June since 1973, this multi-venue festival has grown into one of the most prestigious classical music events in the world. It showcases around 40 concerts over 3 weeks featuring top classical music performers.
Izmir hosts several international festivals throughout the year. Some of the major festivals in Izmir include:
Izmir International Festival
This is a month-long festival held annually in June and July that showcases performing arts, including theater, opera, ballet, and classical music concerts. The festival features international performers and takes place at venues across Izmir such as the Ahmed Adnan Saygun Arts Center.
Izmir European Jazz Festival
As the name suggests, this jazz festival held every March features musicians from Europe and around the world. Venues include the Ahmed Adnan Saygun Arts Center and parks around Izmir. The festival has been held since 1999.
International İzmir Short Film Festival
This annual short film festival launched in 1999 features independent films under 40 minutes from Turkey and around the world, screened at the Ahmed Adnan Saygun Arts Center. Awards are given in categories like fiction, documentary, animation and more. The next festival will be held in April 2023.
Turkey has many exciting regional festivals that highlight local culture, food, and traditions. Some of the top regional festivals include:
This festival is held each June in the Cappadocia region, known for its unique cave dwellings and rock formations. The festival features hot air balloon tours, local foods, traditional dances, handicrafts, and musical performances.
Taking place each May in the ancient city of Ephesus, this festival celebrates Roman and Greek history and culture. There are staged gladiator fights, Roman banquets, traditional dances, and reenactments of historic scenes.
Held annually in July, this festival highlights the natural beauty of Pamukkale’s white travertine terraces. It features folk dances, concerts, parades, and culinary offerings highlighting regional specialties.
During the festival period, you may want to consider visiting Turkey.