Listed here is a selection of events wacky, weird, or wonderful enough (or all three) to go out of your way for. It would be impossible to list all of the local or regional festivals -- besides, this guide doesn't attempt to list all of Turkey's tourist destinations. But once arrived, keep your ear to the ground for colorful happenings such as the traditional mesir festival in Manisa, the International Pamukkale Song Competition, the Hittite Festival in Çorum, the Rose Festival in Isparta, the Golden Pistachio Festival in Gaziantep, and the Javelin games in Konya. For more information on these localized festivities, contact the tourism office in the corresponding region.
Islam follows the lunar calendar, which is shorter than the Gregorian calendar by 11 days. The result is that Muslim religious holidays fall on different dates each year. The dates for religious holidays listed here are accurate for 2010 and 2011.
For an exhaustive list of events beyond those listed here, check http://events.frommers.com, where you'll find a searchable, up-to-the-minute roster of what's happening in cities all over the world.
Camel Wrestling Festival, Selçuk. Did you know that as the temperature drops, a camel's aggression level rises? This event, scheduled erratically in January or February, provides a natural, if not inhumane, tension release as much for the poor beasts as for the testosterone-heavy locals nervously betting against the odds. The camels' mouths are bound to prevent biting, and 14 rope bearers stand by in case the scene starts to get out of hand. The last one to remain standing or in the ring wins. Sometime in January or February; dates vary.
Ankara International Film Days, Ankara. Having completed 20 years of screenings, the Ankara Film Festival showcases features, shorts and documentary films from around the world (tel. 0312/468-7745; www.filmfestankara.org.tr). Two weeks in mid-March.
Festival of Victory, Çanakkale. This festival celebrates the Turks' successful defense of the Dardanelles against invading British warships during World War I. Performances by the traditional Ottoman army mehter band, with its imposing cacophony of cymbals, horns, and percussion, can only suggest the terror instilled by the approaching Ottoman army. March 18.
International Istanbul Film Festival, Istanbul. This festival lasts 2 weeks, from the last Saturday of March to mid-April, offering movie buffs the rare opportunity to view Turkish movies with English subtitles. For schedules and tickets log on to www.iksv.org (tel. 0212/334-0700). Early April.
Eastern Orthodox Easter Sunday. If Istanbul was the birthplace of Eastern Orthodox Christianity (simply known as Christianity, in the day), then the Greek Patriarchate of Istanbul represents the bull's-eye for observance of the holiest day in Christendom, Eastern style. Mass is celebrated annually, led by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, with prayers and candlelight. April 4, 2010, April 24, 2011. (tel. 0212/531-9670; www.ecupatriarchate.org).
Presidential Cycling Tour, Istanbul. Kusadasi, Bodrum, Marmaris, Fethiye, Finike, Antalya, Alanya. Turkey's Presidential Cycling Tour is an 8-day, 1,212km (753 miles) marathon race broken into eight stages. The race kicks off in Istanbul's Sultanahmet Square, then hopscotches by air to Izmir, where the race continues down the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts all the way down to Alanya. (tel. 0312/310-9613; www.presidentialtourofturkey.com). Second week in April.
Tulip Festival, Istanbul. The tulip, widely accepted as having been imported from Holland and cultivated by an appreciative Turkish 17th-century society, is celebrated annually in Istanbul.
National Sovereignty and Children's Day, Istanbul and Ankara. This day celebrates the anniversary of the first Grand National Assembly, which met in Ankara in 1920 and was later decreed by Atatürk as Children's Day. The day is marked by parades and processions by schoolchildren. Banks and public offices are closed. April 23.
Anzac Day, Çanakkale. A trip to the Gallipoli Peninsula has become a sort of pilgrimage for Australians and New Zealanders indoctrinated into the folklore of the failed Allied invasion of the Dardanelle Straits. Memorial ceremonies begin at dawn and are staggered throughout the morning. Keep in mind that Çanakkale is bursting at the seams with Down-Unders who, although solemn and respectful by day, let loose in the bars at night. April 24 and 25.
International Music Festival, Ankara. Home of the country's first conservatory, symphonic orchestra, opera, ballet, and theater, Ankara shows the world its importance as a major cultural center each year during this international event. There are orchestral performances, chamber music, and Turkish contemporary artists playing traditional and folk music from all over the world. For schedules and tickets, contact the Sevda-Cenap & Music Foundation, Tunali Hilmi Sok. 114/26 (tel. 0312/427-0855; www.andmuzikvakfi.com or www.ankarafestival.com). Late April to mid-May.
Ephesus Festival of Culture and Art, Selçuk and Ephesus. The best part about this local festival is the use of the Great Theatre at Ephesus as a venue for some of the concerts and theatrical presentations. First week of May.
Youth & Sports Day. Atatürk arrived in Samsun on this day in 1919, which signifies the beginning of the Independence War. Students nationwide participate in athletic games, gymnastic events, and parades. May 19.
Fatih Festivities, Istanbul. This festival commemorates the conquest of Byzantium in 1453 by Sultan Fatih Mehmet with local celebrations. May 29.
Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival. Live performances in the spectacular (now open-air) Theatre of Aspendos, the best-preserved theater of antiquity. For information, call the Antalya State Opera and Ballet (tel. 0242/244-4717; www.antdob.gov.tr). June through July.
International Istanbul Music Festival. This world-class festival features big names in classical, opera, and ballet. Past artists have included La Scala Philharmonic, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Tokyo String Quartet, Itzhak Perlman, Idil Biret, and Burhan Öçal. For schedules and tickets, contact the Istanbul Foundation for Culture & the Arts (tel. 0212/334-0700; www.iksv.org). Mid-June to mid-July.
International Izmir Festival. Not to be outdone by either Istanbul's numerous international festivals or the popular draw of Antalya's Aspendos Theatre venue, Izmir has proudly sponsored its own artistic extravaganza for 24 years (25, in 2011). A sampling of past feature productions include Sophocles's Electra, performed at the Celsus Library at Ephesus; the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performance at Ephesus's Great Theatre; and the Izmir State Classical Turkish Music Chorus singing at the Alaçati open-air theater in Çesme. Tickets can be purchased at a number of box offices in Izmir, Bodrum, and Çesme; for information go to www.iksev.org. Mid-June to mid-July.
Antalya Sand Sculpture Exhibition. Several dozen sand-sculpture artists convene from more than 14 countries to create temporary fantasies of oriental lore in sand. The exhibition takes place at a beach to be determined annually. For information, log on to www.larasandland.com. Early summer through September.
Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Tournaments, Edirne (Sarayiçi) and in villages around the country. This revered national sport involves the fittest of Turkish youth and astonishing amounts of olive oil to prevent the opponent from getting a good grip. The event is usually accompanied by a colorful market and fair (www.kirkpinar.com). Late June or early July.
International Mountain Biking Stage Race and Festival, Cappadocia. The municipalities of Göreme and Ürgüp celebrate the marriage of bicycles and monastic pathways by inviting bikers from around the world to this annual festival. The setting offers unbeatable peaks and valleys formed of ancient volcanic tufa, and various levels of difficulty. End of June.
International Jazz Festival, Istanbul. Performances are held at various locations around the city. For schedules, dates, and tickets, contact the Istanbul Foundation for Culture & the Arts (tel. 0212/334-0700; www.iksv.org).
Cabotage Day. This maritime festival is celebrated in Turkey by commemorating the establishment of Turkey's sea borders. Major ports with marinas usually celebrate with yacht races and swimming competitions. For more information, contact the Tourist Information Office of the town you will be visiting. July 1.
Grape Harvest Festival, Bozcaada. With ancient roots in grape growing and wine making, the idyllic island of Bozcaada -- Tenedos in mythology -- celebrates its vinicultural good fortune with an annual grape festival. The island swells from 2,500 to 15,000 for 2 days of merry-making. July 26 and 27.
Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Ephesus. A special Mass conducted by the archbishop of Izmir celebrates the Assumption at the house of Mary. August 15.
Zafer Bayrami (Victory Day). This national holiday commemorates the decisive victory over the invading Greek armies during the War of Independence in 1922. Parades run through the main streets, and if you go soon, you may still brush elbows with some surviving vets. August 30.
International Ballet Festival, Bodrum. "Easy on the eyes" is an understatement when referring to the open-air dance performances staged under the warm glow of the night-lit castle of St. Peter. The annual festival, organized by the Turkish State Opera and Ballet (www.dobgm.gov.tr) hosts troupes from around the globe. Tickets can be purchased at the Bodrum Castle and at stands along the wharf up to 5 days in advance (box office: tel. 0252/313-4266). Last 2 weeks in August.
Phaselis Festival, Phaselis. The pine-shaded harbors of ancient Phaselis set the stage for concerts of Turkish jazz, folk, and classical artists in the ancient theater. (tel. 0242/821-5000; www.phaselisfestival.com). Early September.
Seker Bayrami (or Ramadan Barami). This is the 3-day celebration punctuating the end of Ramadan. Presents and sweets are given to the children (seker means sugar in Turkish), and the Turkish-delight industry makes a killing. September 9 to September 11, 2010; August 30 to September 1, 2011.
International Istanbul Biennial. The Istanbul Foundation for Culture & Arts (www.iksv.org) puts on this major visual arts event organized around a current political or philosophical theme. Artists are selected from over 45 countries, whose innovative exhibitions are displayed around town, in clever venues such as 500-year-old warehouses, deconsecrated churches and synagogues, and even commuter ferries. Mid-September to early November 2011.
Akbank Jazz Festival. This 2-week-long festival brings the blues simultaneously to Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. Now in its 17th season, the festival hosts world-renowned performers in the cities' most atmospheric venues (tel. 0212/252-3500; www.akbanksanat.com). Last 2 weeks in October.
Golden Orange Film Festival. For 44 years, Antalya has been the host of the Altin Portakal (Golden Orange) Film Festival, Turkey's version of the Oscars. But with the 2005 inauguration of the Eurasia Film Festival, the combined event has made international waves and attracted the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Sophie Marceau, and Miranda Richardson (tel. 0212/244-5251; www.altinportakal.org.tr). Mid-October to mid-November.
Cumhuriyet Bayrami (Republic Day). This event celebrates the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. Parades, public speeches, and fireworks displays are just a few of the organized events, but individual Turkish families do their own celebrating as well. October 29.
International Wine Festival. Cappadocia. Celebrating the fertile soil of Cappadocia and the region's reputation as one of Turkey's premiere wine-growing regions, a handful of wineries in the region organize the International Wine Festival in the early autumn. A Grape Harvest Festival precedes the event by 2 or 3 weeks. End of October.
Anniversary of Atatürk's Death. Turkey comes to a grinding halt at exactly 9:05am, when the population pays its respects to the father and founder of the Republic. Rather than a moment of silence, the streets and waterways echo with the blare of car horns and foghorns. Atatürk-related activities are planned for the day, such as conferences, speeches, and exhibitions, in addition to a memorial concert at the Atatürk Cultural Center. November 10.
Efes Pilsen Blues Festival. In its 20th year as of 2010, this touring blues extravaganza transports Turks to America's deep South -- at least in spirit -- by way of performers who, in recent years, have included John Lee Hooker, Bernard Allison, John Primer, Adophus Bell, Luther Johnson, and Jerry Ricks. Shows are scheduled for Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Bursa, Çanakkale, Kayseri, Denizli, and Konya, in addition to a number of other Turkish cities not covered as destinations in this guide. (tel. 0216/444-3337; www.efesblues.com). First week of November through second week December.
Kurban Bayrami. In the Koranic version of an old favorite, it was Abraham's son Ismael, not Isaac, who was spared the knife. Kurban Bayrami celebrates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, with 4 days of feasting and a death sentence to an alarming number of sheep, the likes of which one only sees around Thanksgiving. In fact, the 4-day festival of sacrifice is the culmination of the Hajj (holy pilgrimage), and much of the meat is given to the poor. November 16 to November 19, 2010; November 6 to November 9, 2011.
Contemporary Istanbul Art Festival. The Financial Times has predicted Istanbul as the next major emerging market in art, providing momentum to Istanbul as a new art destination. The festival, now in its fifth year (in 2010), hosts individual artists, international and Turkey-based galleries, and collectors for 4 days in late November or early December (tel. 0212/244-7171; www.contemporaryistanbul.com).
Festival of St. Nicholas, Demre. Santa Claus actually lived on the Mediterranean, as bishop of Myra in the 4th century. A festival and symposium are held at the Byzantine church that honors old St. Nick. Early December.
Mevlana Festival, Konya. Whirling Dervishes believe that spiritual union with God is achieved through the sema, a trance-inducing dancing rite. The mystical ballet is shared with the public during this December festival, providing a window into one of Turkey's most precious cultural treasures. Book your tickets early, either through a travel agent or by contacting the Mevlana Kültür Merkezi (tel. 0332/352-8111; www.mkm.gov.tr). The week leading up to December 17.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.