Top 15 Festivals in Bulgaria That Are Absolutely Worth Seeing
When we’re not shooting landscape photography, we love exploring Bulgaria’s rich cultural traditions and events. This charming, ancient country grows in popularity with each passing year, as more and more people head down to its mysterious lands in hope of new adventure. For those of you who are looking for a unique Balkan experience (or a new photography project), we’ve handpicked the 15 best festivals in Bulgaria that are absolutely worth seeing…
1/ Rose Festival
Bulgaria is one of the world’s leading rose oil producers so it makes sense that rose harvest in a big deal around here. That’s also the reason behind one of the country’s most famous festivals.
The Rose Festival was first held in Bulgaria in 1903, and since it has become an important event that draws a lot of international attention. Every year, thousands of visitors (including foreign) make their way to the town of Kazanlak hoping to join in on the colorful events and festivities. The festival program includes the selecting and crowning of a Rose Queen as well as daily events, demonstrating the ritual of gathering and distilling of roses.
When: Every first weekend of June
2/ Kukeri Festival Pernik
The Kukeri of Bulgaria are one of the oldest and most fascinating Bulgarian traditions. Once a year, people from all across the country dress up as different kinds of ‘’monsters’’ and then participate in ritualistic games and parades. The folkloric rituals consist primarily of men and women and the colorful, handmade costumes and masks are very creative and unique.
The dances happen throughout several villages or towns and are meant to banish evil spirits, bringing health, happiness, and a good harvest. This somewhat unusual tradition is said to date back to the Thracians who were well known for their pagan rituals and practices. The largest Kukeri event is the Surva Carnival, also referred to as the ‘’International Festival of the Masquerade Games’’. It takes place once a year in the town of Pernik, not too far from Sofia.
● When: 25th - 27th January
● Where: Pernik
Speaking of winter festivals in Bulgaria, Jordanovden is one of the most famous Eastern Orthodox celebrations of the country. It usually happens on January 6th and it takes place the beautiful mountain town of Kalofer. The festival is meant to celebrate the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan river.
According to the local custom, a priest throws a cross into a river or lake and all participating men jump after it, in a rather intense competition. Whoever manages to retrieve the cross will be happy and healthy throughout the entire year.
Another important ritual is the traditional river dance called ‘’horo’’ in the icy waters of Bqla reka (white river).
● When: January 6th
● Where: Kalofer
4/ Nestinarstvo - Ritual of Firewalking
The practice of fire dancing is one of the oldest Bulgarian folk traditions. It’s thought that the pagan ritual was initially created by Thracians who lived near the White Sea. Nowadays, the tradition still carries on in several mountain villages in the Strandzha region in Bulgaria (the village of Bulgari being most popular).
A few nestinari (firewalkers) perform the ritual after sunset when the center of the village of Bulgari is covered in burning embers. The walk on the burning coal is something truly spectacular! Everything from the dance, the melody and sounds are completely unique. Since 2009, the ritual has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage legacy of non-material culture.
● When: June 3rd
● Where: Bulgari village
5/ International Jazz Festival Bansko
The International Jazz Festival in Bansko is an annual event that began back in 1998. Since then it has become one of the biggest musical events in Bulgaria. Some former guest performers include the big formations of Vili Kazasyan, Georgi Borisov, Angel Zaberski, Big Band Blagoevgrad as well as several orchestras from Germany and Austria.
The evening concerts take place on the large open-air stage in the Nikola Vaptsarov Square in downtown Bansko. Throughout the entire week, the sound of jazz also takes over many of the smaller stages in the resort’s local bars and restaurants.
● When: 8th - 13th August
● Where: Bansko
6/ Pirin Sings Folklore Festival
The Festival of ‘’Pirin Sings’’ is held at the beginning of August in the Predela pass near Razlog (between the mountains of Rila and Pirin). The event is amongst the most significant cultural festivals in all of Bulgaria. The festival happens every five years with the last edition being in 2016. The event managed to attract over 2500 participants along with another 30,000 spectators! The next is set for 2020 and is anticipated to be even greater!
The festival’s mission is to show the beauty and diversity of folk music from the region of Pirin. “Pirin Sings” gathers fans of authentic Bulgarian folklore from all corners of the world as well as native residents. The event’s program includes competitions between singers and a special jury announces the winners at the end. Talented singers of all ages, all dressed in colorful traditional costumes, perform their art on several open-air stages.
● When: August 2nd
● Where: Razlog (Predela pass)
7/ Zheravna Festival of the National Costume
The Festival of the National Costume is the largest event of its kind to be held in the Zheravna architectural reserve. Anyone who wishes to attend the festival must be dressed in a national costume during the entire event. It’s a really interesting thing to witness because each region back then had its own unique design for their costumes. You’re also not allowed to bring in any modern items with you which makes the experience even more authentic.
The colorful festival is a great chance to travel back in time and see how Bulgaria looked like during the National Revival Period. The Zheravna architectural reserve is one of the county’s best-preserved towns from that era and is literally like a living museum!
● When: 18th - 20th August
● Where: Zheravna
8/ Rozhen Folklore Festival
The first edition of the National Folklore Festival of Rozhen was held in 1898, making it one of the oldest festivals in Bulgaria. Back then the border between Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire ran through Rozhen Peak, so people from neighboring villages on both sides of the border would often gather together.
After Bulgaria was liberated from Ottoman rule in 1912, the fair was no longer a political movement, however, it still remained as a symbol of freedom. Nowadays the festival occurs every four years in August and is a nationwide event celebrating folklore and tradition. It also happens to be the largest folk song festival in the country. For two evenings in August, you can have the chance to see some of the most prominent Rhodopean singers perform famous folk songs from the region. A symbol of the festival is the distinctive orchestra called Sto Kaba Gaydi (One Hundred Bagpipes).
● When: The dates for 2020 are yet to be confirmed.
● Where: Rozhen
9/ International Bagpipe Contest in Gela
Gela a beautiful, tiny village in the southern part of the country, near the city of Smolyan. There’s a local legend that says that Gela is Orpheus’s birthplace and that he was stepping down to seek Eurydice in the nearby Devil’s Throat cave.
The International Bagpipe Contest in Gela has been happening for over 14 years. Due to the increased interest in the festival, the event has gradually outgrown the borders of Bulgaria drawing in contestants from Japan, Hungary, Holland, France, and Great Britain. Every year, talented bagpipers from Bulgaria and afar, perform in front of a panel of judges in a competition for material and cash awards as well as an honorary diploma. Around 13 000 people gather at the green meadows of Gela for the event and witnessing the power of authentic Rhodopes folklore is a truly memorable experience!
● When: 5th - 6th August
● Where: Gela
10/ The Love Swing Dance Festival
This incredibly fun festival takes place in the city of Plovdiv and currently, it has two editions - one in the autumn of 2018 and one that is set in the fall of 2019.
In a 4-day event program, the participants of the festival have a chance to receive daily dance lessons from some of the world’s best teachers in the dance genre. There will also be international competitions for different categories and ages as well as evening shows with a festive program and live music.
● When: 3rd - 6th October
● Where: Plovdiv
11/ Cherry Festival in Kyustendil
Cherry season in Bulgaria has long been associated with the arrival of spring as well as the harvest of the delicious fruit! The locals love preserving in glass jars as a natural juice as well as making tasty homemade jam.
The festival lasts two days, and it’s a great opportunity to get to know the incredible cherry varieties that grow in Bulgaria and especially in the Kyustendil region. You’ll have a chance to both taste and purchase products made from cherries, created with love by the local’s themselves.
● When: 27th - 28th June
● Where: Kyustendil
12/ Opera Open
Plovdiv has been on the top of every traveler’s list, especially since becoming the European Capital of Culture for 2019. Opera Open is an annual, worldwide recognized festival with great prestige and one of the highlights of Plovdiv’s 2019 program. What makes it really special is that it takes place in one of the world’s best preserved Ancient Theatres.
The 2000-year-old venue used to host between 5000 and 7000 spectators and it once entertained the Roman citizens of ancient Philippopolis. Those passionate about travel photography will certainly enjoy capturing this incredible experience! The festival features world-famous opera performers and conductors from Europe, the USA, and Asia, as well as established Bulgarian singers and musicians with international influence.
● When: 8th June - 30th August
● Where: The Ancient Theatre in Plovdiv
13/ Beglika Fest
The Beglika Fest is much as a music festival as it is a wonderful retreat into nature. Every August, people head down to the banks of the Beglika Reservoir in search of good music, some downtime in nature and some new connections with people.
The festival offers its visitors all kinds of live events with bands, jam sessions, tribute performances, and even theatre workshops for those who’d like to get creative.
● When: 23rd - 27th August
● Where: Beglika Reservoir
14/ Wrong Fest
The Wrong Festival takes place every July, just 20 km from the capital Sofia.
The event is often referred to as a cultural extravaganza, with a series of carefully planned shows featuring globally renowned bands and artists. The music genres primarily include rock, metal, punk and alternative music. Best thing about the festival? Other than the great music, fans get the chance to bring a tent and camp out the 2-day duration of the festival. It’s a great chance to meet some locals as well as foreign visitors.
● When: 13th -14th July
● Where: Voinegovtsi village
15/ Wake Up Open Air Festival
Wake Up Open Air Festival is a very popular music festival in Bulgaria which takes place in the hills of Kuklen, not far from the town of Plovdiv. It takes just 20 minutes to get there from the city and it’s also a great chance to enjoy the beauty of Rhodope mountains. Kuklen Monastery is also nearby so you can combine the event with a day trip of the region.
The festival itself is actually pretty interesting as it differs from most mainstream music events. Other than the concerts there are also many types of dance performances, yoga lessons, spiritual lectures, and even fire walking.
● When: 2nd - 7th July
● Where: Kuklen Monastery