Festivals are a huge part of Turkish culture, from centuries-old wrestling competitions to contemporary music festivals and everything in between. If you want a Turkish adventure jam-packed with cultural experiences, then consider planning your trip to coincide with one of these popular events.
Deciding whether or not to travel during Ramazan (Ramadan) will depend on what kind of adventure you’re after. If you love immersing yourself in local culture (and don’t mind a little inconvenience) you might just find travelling during this holy month a fascinating and enriching experience. While the days are dedicated to fasting and contemplation, the evenings are full of colourful festivities and, of course, feasting! Plus, there are usually fewer tourists to compete with, so it’ll be easier to connect with locals and dodge queues at the top attractions.
2. Anniversary of the Anzac campaign
Every year, thousands of people head to the Gallipoli peninsula to pay their respects to fallen Australian, New Zealand and Turkish soldiers who died during the bloody Gallipoli campaign of World War I. This moving ceremony held at dawn is an iconic event that continues to grow in popularity each year, so if you're hoping to head to Gallipoli in April for Anzac Day, then plan ahead as accommodation and tourist activities can get booked up.
3. Efes Pilsen One Love Festival
This annual two-day music festival held in Istanbul features an eclectic lineup of rock, pop, folk and electronica music. Join masses of partygoers to boogie in the sunshine and soak up the summer vibes.
4. Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship
Want to see wrestlers get doused in olive oil and grapple with each other? Then this is the festival for you! The Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship is one of the world's oldest continuously running sports competitions. It’s held over several days, usually in late June, and is a great opportunity to see Turkey's national sport celebrated with gusto and fanfare. Apart from bouts of intense wrestling, you’ll also be entertained by traditional Romani bands, belly dancing performances and delicious Turkish food.
5. Istanbul Tulip Festival
Just when you thought Istanbul couldn’t get any prettier, the annual tulip festival proves you wrong. The tulip became a symbol of nobility in the Ottoman Empire, and it was the Turks that introduced it to Europe in the 16th century. Every year since 2015, the local authorities plant millions of tulips in the city's parks and streets. The flowers blossom in late March, creating a dazzling display of colour for about a month. Some of the best places to take a stroll and witness the flower power include Emirgan Park, Gülhane Park Sultanahmet Square.
Hidirellez is an annual holiday that takes place in early May to celebrate the arrival of spring and plant seeds of hope for abundant harvests. The origins of the festival date back thousands of years, and while the essence of the festival is shared throughout the country, each region has their own traditions. Expect to listen to toe-tapping folk music, see the hair-raising fire-jumping ritual and watch dancers twirl around in elaborate costumes. Traditional foods eaten at Hidirellez include seasonal vegetable and lamb dishes.
7. Cappadocia Balloon Festival
With underground cities, cliff-carved churches and a landscape of towering fairy chimneys, Cappadocia is one of Europe’s most enchanting regions. To add to the magic, the town of Ürgüp hosts an annual balloon festival where you can see hundreds of hot air balloons – in all shapes, sizes and colours – dotted through the sky. It’s a truly terrific sight. There are also plenty of other events to enjoy on the ground including music concerts and DJ performances.
8. Mesir Paste Festival
The Mesir Paste Festival is a centuries-old tradition that takes place in spring to commemorate the recovery of Hafsa Sultan (wife of Selim I) who, legend has it, was cured of a disease with mesir paste. This sweet, medicinal paste is made with 41 herbs and spices including black cumin, anise, dried orange blossom and cardamom. Three tonnes of mesir paste are wrapped in little papers and scattered among the crowds standing below the Sultan Mosque. Catching one is believed to answer your prayers and bring good luck. The festival also features traditional music and theatre performances.
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