Istanbul offers a great mix of cultures and a large amount of creative talent.
It’s of little surprise, then, that the city is host to a plethora of annual arts, historical, religious and sporting events and festivals which draw crowds from across Turkey and the world. Many of these events take place between autumn and spring, when the weather is warmer.
Before you come to Istanbul, be sure to check out what’s happening by taking a peek at our Events section.
March - April
International Istanbul Film Festival:
This festival is an annual event lasting for 2 weeks, from the last Saturday of March to mid-April. The Festival offers movie buffs a rare opportunity to view Turkish movies with English subtitles. For schedules and tickets, contact the Istanbul Foundation for Culture & Arts.
The tulip, although widely associated with Holland, is an important symbol in Turkish & Ottoman history. It was a major theme in the tiles of the mosques, royal clothing and even in literature. This flower also gave its name to a period of Ottoman Empire in history (the Tulip Era) when the Ottoman Empire was at its wealthiest but also most extravagant.
As a way of celebrating the importance of the tulip in the Ottoman Empire’s history, Istanbul parks are filled with tulips of every colour for a period of about 10-15 days. Art exhibitions, photo contests and various events in Sultanahmet and Taksim Square also accompany this festival.
National Sovereignty and Children's Day: (April 23)
This day celebrates the anniversary of the first Grand National Assembly, which met in Ankara in 1920. Later it was declared as Children's Day by Atatürk. It is mostly a local event rather than a touristic one. Banks and public offices are closed.
Conquest of Istanbul: (May 29)
This festival commemorates the conquest of the capital of the Byzantium Empire in 1453 by Fatih Sultan Mehmet (Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror) with local celebrations. Laser shows can be seen along the Golden Horn.
International Istanbul Theatre Festival:
The International Theater Festival of Istanbul is an annual event and it lasts for 2 weeks, from mid May to Early June. The festival hosts exceptional theatre and dance groups from both the national and international stage.
For schedules, tickets and more information, contact the Istanbul Foundation for Culture & Arts.
Formula 1 Grand Prix:
Istanbul hosts one of the races of this worldwide auto-racing event. The dates of the Formula 1 for 2011 are 6-8th May.
International Istanbul Music Festival
This world-class festival features big names in classical and opera music as well as and ballet. Past artists have included Itzhak Perlman, La Scala Philharmonic, Idil Biret, and Burhan Öçal. It usually takes place from mid-June to mid-July. For schedules and tickets, contact the Istanbul Foundation for Culture & Arts.
Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Tournaments:
The historical 'Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling' is known to be the oldest wrestling festival in the world, since the first contests in 1357. Vast amounts of olive oil are used by the wrestlers to make the wrestling more competitive and challenging.
The contest takes place in the city of Edirne, which was the second capital of Ottoman Empire. The event turns into a festival with its colourful market, fair, folk dances and Janissary Band performance.
English Information is provided on the official page of Kirkpinar.
International Jazz Festival:
Performances are held at spectacular venues in Istanbul including some touristic places like Istanbul Modern and Hagia Irene Museum. Street performances and Jazz Boats carry the enthusiasm of the festival out onto the streets of Istanbul.
For more information, contact the Istanbul Foundation for Culture & Arts.
Rock’n Coke Festival:
Rock’n Coke is an Istanbul Rock Camp & Festival for 2 or 3 days sponsored by Coca-Cola. Some well known groups which have featured in the past include Linkin Park, The Prodigy, Franz Ferdinand, The Smashing Pumpkins, Muse, Offspring, The Cure and Korn.
The festival usually takes place in mid July and it is traditionally held at the Hezarfen Airport in Istanbul. For schedules and tickets, contact the Pozitif Concert Organization.
Victory Day: (August 30)
Victory Day is a national holiday which commemorates the victory over the invading Greek armies during the War of Independence in 1922. Some main roads close during this day, as parades run through the main streets.
International Istanbul Biennial:
The Istanbul Biennial is one of the biggest art events in Istanbul and is organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture & Arts. Check the website for tickets and information.
Artists are selected from different countries, whose innovative exhibitions are displayed around town in extraordinary venues such as 500-year-old warehouses, old churches and synagogues, and even ferries.
The 2009 Biennial hosted more than 100,000 visitors, making it the largest contemporary art event of Turkey.
Ramadan Bayram (Ramazan Bayrami)
This Bayram is celebrated right after the end of Ramadan month.
It is also called as Seker Bayrami, which means Candy Bayram in Turkish as presents and sweets are given to children. The Ramadan Bayram will take place in 2011 from August 30th to September 1st, with a half day holiday on August 29th.
October - November
Republic Day (October 29)
This national holiday celebrates the declaration of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Parades, public speeches, and fireworks and laser shows displays are just a few of the organized events. The firework and laser show on the Bosphorus Bridge is spectacular and it is definitely worth watching from Ortaköy, Beylerbeyi or any spot close to the bridge.
Anniversary of Atatürk's Death: (November 10)
This day commemorates the death of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of Republic of Turkey. At exactly 9:05 am, life in Turkey comes to a one-minute halt, when people pay their respects to Atatürk, with car horns beeping for a few seconds. Conferences, speeches, and exhibitions about Atatürk are planned all day.
Sacrifice Bayram (Kurban Bayrami)
The Kurban (Sacrifice) Bayrami commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismael as a display of his faithfulness to Allah, with 4 days of feasting. A goat or sheep, always older than one year old, is killed, and much of the meat is given to the poor. The Sacrifice Bayram also coincides with the completion of the Hajj. In cities like Istanbul, charitable organizations will sacrifice animals at the request of families, package the meat, then give it to local charities, or ship it to poor people around the world.
Just as Christmas is celebrated in western countries, the Bayram is also an occasion for getting together with loved ones. Visiting elder family members and friends is at the centre of the Bayram and it is considered as almost a duty for Turks.
Kurban Bayram will take place in 2011 from November 5th to November 9th.
Bosphorus by Mista Riggs
Topkapi Palace © Aydin Sertbas
Istanbul Market ©Andrew Sawvel...
"I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake" - Robert Louis Stevenson