9 of the Best Festivals and Celebrations in Turkey in 2024
Turkey hosts some amazing celebrations throughout the year, many of them unique to the country, while others are regional or global. Whether it is related to music, religion, sport, or the coming of spring, experiencing one of these events for yourself will make your holiday in Turkey even more special.
Here are some of our favourite festivals in Turkey.
Nevruz (21 March)
The Persian New Year of Nevruz (also called Nowruz and Newruz), is a celebration of the coming of spring, and is considered a time for solidarity, peace, and reconciliation. It is celebrated in places including Iran, Azerbaijan, and Central Asia, and although in Turkey it is most closely associated with Kurdish areas in the southeast, right across the country there are family meals and public festivities, including activities such as fire jumping and folk-music performances.
Mesir Macunu Festival
The Mesir Macunu (Mesir Paste) Festival takes place in the city of Manisa, near Izmir, during the week of Nevruz. Mesir, a traditional sweet paste made with 41 herbs and spices, is said to have medicinal effects; the festival commemorates the recovery of Hafsa Sultan, mother of Suleiman the Magnificent, who was cured of a disease by the invention of the paste. During the festival, mesir paste is scattered in the hope of bestowing good health on everyone present. The event begins with prayers while the mesir paste is prepared — at least three tonnes of it is made. Pieces are wrapped in shiny paper and thrown from a minaret to people gathered below, who jostle to catch it. The festival also features cooking contests, music and theatre performances, and children's entertainment.
Istanbul Tulip Festival (March/April)
It's not only the Dutch who are big on tulips. In fact, the tulip is the national flower of Turkey, and it is believed that tulips were introduced to Western Europe from Turkey. The country also experienced something of its own tulip craze in the 18th century, during Ottoman times, and the flower became a symbol of nobility, as well as the flourishing of the arts and culture. For the past 15 years, Istanbul's authorities have planted millions of tulips on any available land, including in parks and along streets. This creates a riot of colour in late March or early April when the flowers bloom for about a month. To coincide with the spectacle, the International Istanbul Tulip Festival takes place in the lovely Emirgan Park, in the north of the city close to the Bosphorus, where you can walk through the tulip gardens and see some magnificent displays.
Eid al-Fitr 2024 (10-11 April)
One of the most important religious festivals in the world, Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month-long period of dawn-to-sunset fasting. People dress in their best clothes, attend prayer services, visit friends and family for feasts, visit the graves of loved ones, and give thanks as they break their fast. In Turkey, events such as Sufi music concerts and whirling dervish dance performances take place, while mosques are lit up at night. Eid al-Fitr is also referred to as Şeker Bayrami in Turkey, meaning Sugar Feast, and it is common for children to receive sweet treats, including Turkish delight and baklava (adults are not immune from consuming copious amounts of sugary items, either).
Hidirellez Spring Celebration (5-6 May)
This annual celebration welcomes in spring, and grants good fortune and health on those taking part. Hidirellez is a tradition that is thousands of years old, and brings together people from every background. It takes place in early May, and celebrates spring as a time for hope and new life after winter. Festivities take place across Turkey, and although each event has unique local characteristics — whether it is in a village or small town, or larger-scale festivities seen in cities like Istanbul and Edirne — there are many common traditions like feasting, dancing, and traditional folk music. Another element of Hidirellez is fire leaping — participants leap three times over a fire pit, while repeating certain incantations, in the hope of being free from disease during the year ahead. Many people will also bathe in a nearby water source, which is said to cleanse them of impurities.
Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival (5-7 July)
Originating in the 14th century, the Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival is one of the world's longest-running sporting events. The festival, which attracts thousands of spectators to Edirne in European Turkey each year, sees contestants battle it out for the Kirkpinar Golden Belt and the title of Chief Wrestler. Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling is a unique experience. It involves men, who are dressed in leather trousers called kispet and covered in olive oil, wrestling on grass, while drum and shawm bands play. Accompanying the festival are displays of folk dancing and exhibitions. The sport is open to men from all backgrounds, and wrestlers aim to work their way up from apprentices to become master wrestlers, who are also considered to have high moral standards and respect for traditions and customs.
Aspendos International Opera and Ballet Festival (June-July)
The Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival has perhaps the finest setting for any festival in Turkey. It takes place in one of the best-preserved ancient theatres in the world: the 2000-year-old Roman theatre in the ancient city of Aspendos, close to Antalya. The event, organised by the Turkish State Opera and Ballet, welcomes performers from Turkey and further afield, as well as audience members from around the world. Previous editions of the festival have seen classic works like "Madame Butterfly", "The Rite of Spring", "Carmen", and "Aida" on the stage, while the event also provides an opportunity to showcase newer productions — 2021 saw the premiere of the topical ballet "Pandemic", which deals with the longing to be with loved ones.
Cappadocia Balloon Festival (July)
With its distinctive geological features creating an enchanting landscape, Cappadocia is one of the most spectacular places in Turkey. The region, in the centre of the country, is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Göreme National Park, which attracts countless visitors for its fairy chimneys, cave dwellings, and subterranean churches. A popular way to take in the views is to go hot-air ballooning, and every year, the town of Ürgüp hosts a balloon festival, during which visitors can take in the magical sight of balloons of all colours and shapes (such as hearts and rockets) filling the sky over this unique landscape. Special balloon shows take place from dawn until night-time, during which balloons are lit up as part of a spectacular show. There are additional events such as concerts, DJ sets, and other entertainment.
Istanbul international music and arts festivals (various)
If you're planning a trip to Turkey's capital, there are plenty of opportunities to time your visit to coincide with a cultural festival. Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV) runs a diverse array of music and arts festivals throughout the year. These include the Istanbul International Jazz Festival (July), which welcomes jazz musicians from across the world, plus other well-known performers, to venues including jazz clubs, outdoor spaces, and concert halls — previous names to appear on the bill include Randy Crawford, Stan Getz, Sting, Lou Reed, and Astrud Gilberto. International Istanbul Dance and Music Festival, which takes place on 20-25-July, offers a huge programme of classical and traditional music, plus folk and modern dance, from performers from many countries, at venues across the city. April's International Istanbul Film Festival features screenings of Turkish and international films at cinemas throughout the city, plus a number of award ceremonies and related events.
Before travelling, be sure to check out our travel guide to Turkey.
Then read about what to do in Istanbul
Indulge in Turkey's best foods
Study up on customs and safety in Turkey
Be sure you know when to visit Turkey
Dream about what to expect on a Turkish gulet cruise
Find out what to take in along the Turquiose coast
Plan what to see in Marmaris
And see our tips for the best archaeological sites in Turkey
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Nick Elvin contributed to this post.