Over the last few years Tunisia has become a real tourist hot-spot, with countless holiday operators now providing deal-after-deal in a bid to lure holidaymakers to the African destination. A lot of these people can’t help but basks in the delight of the country’s culture, with their many festivals being one of the optimum ways to achieve this.
Through the remainder of this text we’ll now take a look at the twenty most popular festivals that occur in Tunisia on an annual basis. Most are focussed around music – but there will also be some that raise your eyebrows and may just get you to tailor a trip around the specified dates.
Yasmine Hammamet Festival
As the name may have given away, this festival is held in the popular area of Hammamet in the peak of the summer, on 12 July to be precise. It is one of the most significant festivals in the country and while live music is one of its premier attractions, it’s also possible to see art exhibitions, poetry readings or even talks from famous Arab writers.
International Jazz Festival
Slightly earlier on in the year is the International Jazz Festival, with this being held between June 29 and 7 July. This time the lucky destination is Tabarka and it would be fair to say that the nature of this festival is much different to the previous one discussed. This time the main theme is jazz music and it was only last year that this festival returned, following a four year absence. Prior to that, it had been running since 1973 and has featured some of the most popular musicians such as Billy Paul, Nougaro and Ahmad Jamal. This is one festival which can attract Jazz enthusiasts from all over Tunisia and the news that it was to return last year was met with great satisfaction.
If you’re around between June 23 and June 25 it might be an idea to head over to the Falconry Festival in Haouaria. Just like the above Jazz festival, this is an event that widely appeals to tourists with many making a specialist trip to Tunisia every year in a bid to experience it. It usually attracts around two hundred different bird breeders, with the sparrow hawk and pilgrim falcon being the two birds of choice. The principle aim of this festival is to preserve falconry in the area, although in a bid to attract more visitors there are also music and sea excursions available.
Thoroughbred Horse Festival
Again, the name is in the game with this next festival. Thoroughbred is one of the most famous horse festivals in the country and if you’re around Meknassy between July 5 and July 8 it’s certainly worth a visit. This is an event which proves popular with a lot of tourists with many keen to see not only the traditional races, but also the military parades which are another feature of the festival. Only the best breeds are brought to this festival, and one can expect a lot of money to change hands between participants because of this.
International Festival of Carthage
As the name highlights, this is a festival held in Carthage and happens to attract people from around the world. This year, it will be held between 12 July and 23 August, and will be the 50th time it has occurred. Music is the main theme, although there are also places for theatre, ballet, opera and cinema. The setting for this prestigious festival is the local amphitheatre and the fact that it has attracted the likes of Shaggy and One Republic in the past highlights its soaring reputation.
International Festival of Hammamet
This festival is another long-lasting one, with this year’s event lasting for five weeks between 13 July and 22 August. It will be based in Hammamet and while it doesn’t attract the international superstars, it always features some of the most accomplished jazz and theatre performers in the business. They come from all areas of the world and again the venue makes the festival, with the International Culture Centre being a converted 1920s villa.
International Festival of Sousse
In some regards, the International Festival of Sousse differs from a lot of the other festivals that we’ve looked at so far. This is an event which has been designed to celebrate the diversity of culture around the world, and will take place in Sousse between 14 July and 18 August. Nevertheless, it still has similar content, with lots of local music acts taking the stage as well as a huge carnival which has all of those outlandish floats.
Ulysses Festival is slightly shorter than some of the more recent festivals that we’ve taken a look at, with this taking place between 17 July and 25 July. It’s held in Jerba and is unsurprisingly made to celebrate the life of Ulysses who had visited Tunisia. It’s primarily a dance festival and if you arrive in time, you’ll see the first display which is deigned to decipher Ulysses himself. This is a festival which is not just limited to Tunisians though, and you’ll also find acts originating from the likes of Greece, India and Italy amongst other nations.
International Festival of Testour (Malouf)
Anyone who is familiar with Tunisian culture will recognise this festival in an instant. It has been created to savour Arab music known as Malouf, which has become hugely popular since it reached the country at the back-end of the 15th Century. This year it will take place in Testour between 17 July and 31 July, and as well as the standard Malouf performances there will be workshops and exhibitions which aim to educate visitors on the origins and style of this form of music.
International Festival of Bizerte
Held between 14 July and 17 August, this is another one of the long-lasting festivals that Tunisia boasts. We’re now on the 32nd version of the event and just like most of the others which have been browsed through, this is something which include music, dance and theatre. In fact, in comparison to previous years a much bigger emphasis is being placed on plays, with some established productions like “Bourguiba: the Last Prison” and “Tsunami” being held there in the past. It’s staged at the amphitheatre in Bizerte, which is something in itself which makes the festival even more special as it allows tourists to study one of the oldest cities in Tunisian history.
Plastic Arts Festival
Lasting for just over two weeks between 22 July and 6 August, the Plastic Arts Festival in Mahres is a little more low-key than some of the other events that have been discussed. This is held on one of the smallest fishing towns of the area and rather than concentrate on music and dance, it is instead a festival to showcase some of the finest Tunisian artists around. Even if nothing in any of the art galleries takes your fancy, there is always the nearby beach which houses countless statues.
International Festival of Dougga
If classical music is your thing, a trip to Dougga between 15 July and 6 August should not be spurned. The fact that it is again held in a Roman amphitheatre makes the effects of the performance even more impressive, with the acoustics of the venue being incomparable. There are also dance and theatrical events, with the festival usually attracting some of the top performers of the classical genre.
International Festival for Symphonic Music
This is perhaps one of the more interesting festivals to don the country, with the International Festival for Symphonic Music being held in El Jem between 14 July and 11 August. There are a total of seven shows of symphonic and orchestral music, with the likes of Egypt, Poland, Australia and of course Tunisia being some of the nations behind such work. The festival has now been going for almost three decades and while a lot of the other events may look to highlight the strengths of Tunisian culture, the basis of this festival is to bring in other civilizations and show how the country is open to outsiders.
Festival of Carthage-Byrsa (exhibition)
If you happen to be taking a trip out to Tunisia during the latter months of the summer, specifically between 15 July and 15 September, the Festival of Carthage-Byrsa in Carthage could be on the schedule. This is one of the more traditional events of the season and revolves around dancing, music and even horse riding. It is perfect for those who wish to study Tunisian culture in-detail and admire all of the famous dance and music styles.
La Marsa’s Nights
If we return to the peak of summer we’re greeted with La Marsa’s Nights. Staged between 13 July and 18 August, unsurprisingly in La Marsa, this is a festival which takes full advantage of the picturesque costal region. It’s again aimed to throw whatever Tunisian culture it can on you, with music, theatre and ballet being common themes throughout this event.
As strange as it may sound to some cultures, a lot of Tunisians regard the Summer Discounts period like a festival. Generally, this arrives shortly after the Eid holiday and in the case of the next event it will take place from 1 August to 15 September. It’s relation to Eid is because the general tradition is for family members to buy clothes and toys during this period. Therefore, this time proves the perfect opportunity to stock up on new clothing, with Tunis usually the preferred destination for most eager shoppers.
Sahara Festival in Douz
If you happen to be heading out to Tunisia for the winter, the Sahara Festival in Douz between 8 November and 11 November is one not to be missed. In fact, it’s probably THE festival of the year and having taken place since 1910 it would fair to say that it’s one of the most prominent events that is held in the country. The bulk of the festival takes place in the H’naiech stadium and boasts some of the most cultural features you’d find in such an event. For example, camel marathons are not uncommon, while it’s also possible to witness the practice of sloughi desert hunting dogs.
The Oasis Festival is another winter favourite, with this being held between 3 November and 6 November in Tozeur. In the past this event has attracted thousands of people, which is hardly surprising when you consider the fact it has history dating back to the late 1930s. It is designed to replicate the celebrations that were held by ancient nomadic people, and visitors can again watch camel races, storytelling and traditional dance events.
Sahara Tourism Day
Held on 12 November in Lessive, this is another famous event that dons the country ever year. The Minister of Tourism usually gets the event underway, and from then on it’s about celebrating everything there is to do with Sahara tourism. The peak of the event is probably the camel race, which has now been running since 2006. Naturally, visitors can also expect much more and conferences regarding camel breeding as well as various shows and exhibitions can be witnessed.
Festival of the Medina
Staged during Ramadan, the Festival of the Medina is again one of the top events of the Tunisian calendar. Most of the events, which include international movies and musical performances, are shown from the Tunis Municipal Theatre which also provides access to some nearby landmarks, like Kheireddine Palace. While this is a festival which has been primarily designed for Tunisians to let their hair down, it can also prove very interesting for tourists who are keen to find out more on Tunisian history through storytelling and Koran-readings.