The music scene in Istanbul is a fantastic mix of genres including folk, jazz, hip-hip, and electronic genres, and one of the largest scenes of classical music in Europe and Asia. And while music festivals tend to be more popular in other cities, Istanbul has some truly spectacular festivals.
The music festival season (one of the best times to visit Istanbul) starts in March with the majority of festivals happening in May and June. If you like your rock festivals, you will have to wait until December for the Anadolu Rock Fest. But the big music festivals like the Istanbul Music Festival and Istanbul International Jazz Festival take place in the summer.
Some of the music festivals are so much more than just music though, some are a celebration of culture like Holifest, and some are a celebration of life like the Neon Festival. Whether you go to a music festival to support a cause or get lost in the music, the variety of music genres in Istanbul can satisfy anyone's tastes.
Istanbul is a huge city and it can be crazy driving, so make sure you know how to get yourself around the city, not just to the festivals. You are also going to need some safe and secure luggage storage in Istanbul, the city is far too crowded to be carrying it around. Knowing your luggage is stored safely will let you relax and enjoy the music.
The best music festivals in Istanbul in 2022
One of the most colorful spring music festivals in Istanbul is the Holifest which is a celebration of Indian culture. Taking place on May 14th at Life Park, you will be entertained by DJs and Hip-Hop artists like SEFO, Khontkar, Mavi Gri, and Dolu Kadehi Ters Tut. The festival kicks off at noon and goes late into the night.
You will also be treated to authentic Indian cuisine, dance performances, Indian henna workshops, traditional Indian clothing and jewelry. The open-air festival is the perfect celebration of spring and is not to be missed.
On May 15th at the Kemer Country Club, the Chill-Out Festival is just that, a chance to listen to some of the best lounge music the world has to offer. The joyous atmosphere is commonly described as "heaven on earth" and shows the evolution of the music scene in Turkey. Delicious foods, workshops, and a plethora of activities will be available to enjoy.
Various stages will host performances from Deer Jade, Hiis-i Elektro, Serkan Eles, Christian Loffler, Insanlar, and many others. Some of the performances are sold out already due to its popularity. This will be the 16th year for this festival and with the growing lounge music scene, it is sure to have many more.
International BOSPHORUS Folk Dance and Music Festival
A true celebration of different cultures from around the world this dance and music festival is not made up of big name stars, but hundreds of little stars that shine just as bright. It's a mix of folk music, orchestras, and choirs from different countries like Bulgaria, Indonesia, Greece, Kazakhstan, Iran, and, of course, Turkey.
Adult and children's groups showcase their talents and skills from May 17th to the 21st in the open-air Hippodrome in the Sultanahmet district. Once home to chariot races the venue now hosts this great cultural event of music, dance, gymnastics, and even traditional children's street games. Seating is limited so make sure you get your tickets fast.
The newest festival to pop up in Istanbul is the Z Fest, this is the first festival for the generation Z crowd. The first time festival will take place at Life Park on the 21st of May in the Sariyer district of Istanbul. If you like your rap music you will love this event, with artists such as Critical, Lil Murda, Sokrat ST, Saniser, Summer Cem, Yankees, Motive, and Tugrul Bektas.
Festival organizers are creating more anticipation about the performances, keeping the names of some of the performers a secret. The all-day rap-themed festival will start at 2 pm and run well past midnight. This first time event is sure to become an annual one for years to come.
Life Park is definitely the place to be for the month of May, with a music festival happening almost every weekend. The last one of the month is the Neon Festival on May 28th. At this music festival, you are invited to a world of not only music but a visual experience as well.
Two festival stages will be alive with trance, psytrance, and goatrance music and visual effects straight out of a science fiction movie. The Universal stage will see performers such as GusGus, Aslandj, and Ikaru. On the Fictional stage Gaudi, Ace Ventura, Electic, Undercover, and the music of Juno Reactor, of "The Matrix" movie fame, will take you on a musical journey.
For the best in electronic music don't miss out on this festival. See a great line up like Tinlicker, Einmusik, Gheist, Goom Gum, Rafael Cerato, Stephan Jolk and many others. From June 3rd to the 4th, Klein Phonix Park becomes a sound experience like no other.
On June 4th and 5th, one of the biggest youth music festivals in Istanbul will take place in Life Park. Hip-hop music, DJs, house music, and Turkish pop artists all come together for the weekend for one big party.
Live performances from Khontkar, Nova Norda, Smoke, SEFO, Mavi Gri, Anil Piyanci, and Emir Can Igrek are followed each night by an after hours DJ, just to keep the party going. Tickets are still available so don't miss out!
Istanbul Music Festival
June might be the most important month of the year for music in Istanbul as the 50th Istanbul Music Festival kicks off on June 6th and last throughout the entire month. The longest running music festival in Istanbul is recognized as one of the most culturally important events in supporting classical and contemporary music. And this year will be the biggest celebration yet.
The event has been put together by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV). They have organized 65 soloists, ensembles, as well as orchestras from not only Turkey, but around the world. Performances will take place in 12 venues throughout the city including free concerts in various parks and other various venues. There will also be workshops organized for kids and pre-concert talks.
See performances from the Tekfen Philharmonic Orchestra, Borusan Quartet, Paul Meyer, Fazil Say, Anna Vinnitskaya, and Honorary Award winner violinist Cihat Askin. Ticket prices will vary depending on venue and performance. But with all the free concerts as well, everyone will have a chance to enjoy the biggest musical festival in Istanbul.
Istanbul International Jazz Festival
For two weeks from June 25th to July 7th, the Istanbul International Jazz Festival brings jazz artists from around the world together in a series of great performances and venues. Tickets for events will vary in price depending on the venue and the artist performing. There will be special events as well like the Jazz Boat, Night Out Jazz Parties, and free Jazz in the Park concerts.
The Istanbul International Jazz Festival has become so much more than just a jazz festival. While jazz music is the highlight, several other music genres have been included making it a true music festival. Blues, souls, rock, pop, and world music are now part of the festival. The festival supports and concentrates mainly on the jazz scene in Turkey through the "Vitrin" showcase.
Featured artists this year include Grammy award winner Dianne Reeves, Melody Gardot, jazz and rock guitarist John McLaughlin, master of the clarinet Yom, Kalben, and Enrico Pieranunz. For those that are more into rock and world music, there are concerts from Kutiman, Boom Pam, and Turkish rock legend Teoman.
Another great outdoor music festival at Life Park happening on August 6th and 7th. The Soundscape Festival brings you the integration of electronic music and the sounds of nature in the largest forested area in Istanbul. This is only the second year for this festival but after the success of last year, even during the pandemic, this year promises to be even better.
In 2021 the lineup included music from Be Svendsen, Valeron, Monolink, Paax Tulum, and Eelke Kleijn. And while the lineup for this year is not complete it should be stellar with confirmed artists Jan Blomqvist and Sainte Vie. During the festival, you will have a chance to experience some great food, creative workshops, and organized activities as well as the music.There are some tickets still available but they are going fast.
Akbank Jazz Festival
The Turks love their jazz so much they actually have two major jazz festivals during the year, and the Akbank Jazz Festival is the biggest music festival in October. The longest running jazz festival in Istanbul (by one year) starts on the first of October and lasts for ten days. Organized by the prestigious Akbank Sanat Art Venue, the music festival attracts some of the most famous jazz artists from all over the world.
This festival has become one of the most prestigious jazz festivals in Europe and takes place in stunning venues located throughout the city like Hagia Irene Museum, Cemal Resit Rey Concert Hall, and the Caddebostan Cultural Center. There will be workshops, panels, and movies involving the culture of jazz and other music styles like electronic, hip-hop, and world music.
Held in October the exact dates have not been announced but as usual, there will be plenty of free concerts and the overall tickets prices are kept low to make the music accessible to everyone.
Planning to stay some more days in Istanbul?
While you might be going to Istanbul for a music festival you will want to take advantage of one of the most incredible and iconic cities in the world. Like any city, there are some absolute musts you should do and see, especially if you only have a few days to explore.
The Grand Bazaar is the best known spot for shopping but there are other places well worth checking out. But don't forget to check out Taksim Square or grab a ferry to the Asia side and hit Bagdat Caddesi for a change of pace. Stylish clothing, spice, and cool souvenir shops can be found throughout Istanbul.
When Frank Sinatra uttered the line "I want to wake up in the city that never sleeps" he was referring to New York City, but he should have been talking about Istanbul. The city streets are constantly alive with people and cars. Even at 5 o'clock in the morning the city is busy, which might be the best time to try some Turkish street food like Tantuni or Lahmacun.
While the pandemic has changed the music festival scene in Istanbul, it is making a comeback. But you don't have to wait for a festival to enjoy the great music Istanbul and Turkey have to offer, there are still plenty of concerts that will happen throughout the year. And if you really want to hit a festival but can't wait for a music one, Istanbul has plenty of other festivals.
Hit the International Film Festival, Tulip Festival (which is a free festival), Coffee Festival, Puppet Festival, or the International Gastronomy Festival. Istanbul is a city alive with festivals no matter the time of year you decide to go.