Over the last few years Croatia’s festival scene has exploded. Thanks to its blue waters, scenic coastline and unbeatable weather, the country now hosts some of Europe’s biggest summer festivals. But with over 20 to choose from, music festivals tend to dominate Croatia’s summer calendar.
Whilst crowds flock to the beats of Outlook Festival, Soundwave or Ultra Europe, there’s a variety of other historic and cultural events going on just short of the limelight. So here’s our pick of the best summer events in Croatia that aren’t music festivals.
Sinjska Alka, Sinj
Every first Sunday of August, the small town of Sinj near Split hosts a unique summer event. Known as Sinjska Alka, this historic tournament sees knights on horseback galloping along a main street with three-metre long lances. Their aim is to hit the centre of a suspended metal ring called the alka.
The contest celebrates the local troops that managed to thwart an Ottoman invasion in the 18th century. Participants must be from local families and the whole community helps maintain the tradition.
Now inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List, the tournament draws thousands of people every year. Medieval competitions such as this were once regularly held along the Croatian coast, but Sinjska Alka is now the only remaining example. So if you’re in the area and looking for an insight into Croatia’s history, this event is well-worth attending.
Full Moon Festival, Zadar
Celebrated in July, on the night of the full moon, Zadar’s Full Moon festival is a must-visit. This event begins at dusk and sees public lighting on the town’s waterfront shut down and the locals turn off their lights. Everyone then gathers on the candlelit Riva, or promenade, for a night of food, music and folklore.
Boats are transformed into floating markets, selling produce from all corners of the Dalmatian region including fish, cheese and fruit. Stalls line the promenade and, down on the beach, the dancing and singing continues until dawn.
Pula Film Festival
The oldest festival of its kind in Croatia, the Pula Film Festival has been running for over 60 years. Usually held in July or August, the festival is the country’s most visited cultural event. It has drawn the likes of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the past, and today sees over 70,000 visitors every year.
The program includes both Croatian and international films shown across a variety of locations. However the most stunning is an ancient Roman Amphitheatre known locally as the Arena, where film screenings take place under the stars.
Dubrovnik Summer Festival
First held in 1950, the Dubrovnik Summer Festival is a fantastic celebration of the arts. Its eclectic program includes more than 80 performances of theatre, music, opera and dance. They are held at various open-air locations in the Old Town, drawing both tourists and locals within the city’s medieval walls.
Dubrovnik’s beautiful architecture and Adriatic coastline provide a stunning backdrop for this event. And the city is buzzing throughout the festival, which runs from mid-July until the end of August. Be aware that ticket prices for this cultural extravaganza vary according to the event and seating.
International Folklore Festival, Zagreb
A celebration of folk culture, this festival takes place in the northwestern city of Zagreb over five days every July. Folk dancers and singers in traditional costume travel from across the country to perform to the music of their region. And you don’t just have to be a spectator. A series of free workshops have been designed to introduce you to Croatian folk culture.
The programme also features a colourful selection of international music, dance, exhibitions and fairs, with performers from the rest of Europe and even further afield. Some performances are held in the beautiful Ban Jelacic Square – an Austro-Hungarian styled square that dates back to the 17th century.
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