Croatia offers an increasingly crammed festival calendar, with rock and DJ events, annual beach parties, niche art gatherings and folksy fairs taking place up and down the Adriatic throughout the summer. The bulk of the “serious” cultural festivals take place in Zagreb in spring and autumn, although Dubrovnik, Split and Rijeka offer a lot in the way of heavyweight drama and music, and almost every region of the country offers a film festival of one sort or another. In addition, the Croatian year is peppered with religious holidays, featuring church processions and celebratory feasting.
Croatia’s film festivals represent high-quality culture at its most accessible, attracting enthusiastic audiences and a healthy diet of drinking and DJs after the screenings themselves. Motovun (July/Aug) and Zagreb (Oct) are the big two, although specialist events such as Zagrebdox (Feb) and Animafest (June) offer an equally intriguing blend of high-art seriousness and post-show partying.
Zagreb is very much the centre of Croatia’s highbrow culture for most of the year, with spring and early autumn being the busiest times. Among the most prestigious festivals are the Biennale of New Music, a festival of cutting-edge contemporary classical work held in April in odd-numbered years; the Contemporary Dance Week in May/June; Eurokaz European Theatre Festival in late June; and the Festival of World Theatre in September.
Croatian culture heads for the coast in summer. Almost every Adriatic town organizes a cultural programme, usually featuring outdoor concerts of pop, classical music or folk. Most important of the heavyweight events is the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, six weeks of classical music and drama beginning in early July, much of which is performed in the squares and courtyards of the old town. The Dubrovnik Festival’s only real rival in the high-culture stakes is the Split Summer, which offers a varied diet of top-notch music and theatre. Historical buildings also form the backdrop for a number of other classical music events, including the Osor Music Evenings on the island of Cres; St Donat’s Church in Zadar; and the Varaždin Festival of Baroque Music, which uses many of the city’s fine churches.
Rock and DJ festivals
Recent years have seen Croatia muscle its way into the European party calendar in a major way. From late June to early September big-name DJs perform every weekend at the dance clubs along the Adriatic coast. The events organized by the Garden organization in Tisno throughout July and August have quickly established themselves as some of the Mediterranean’s coolest DJ festivals, although visitor numbers are limited and tickets should be bought well in advance. The Seasplash, Outlook and Dimensions festivals are fast turning Pula into the unofficial summer capital of reggae, dub and dubstep. In addition, the beach bars of Zrće on the island of Pag are famous for generating a summer-long atmosphere of hedonistic excess.
Croatia was always a hotbed of punk, new wave and alternative music, and this is still reflected in the range of rock events on offer. Terraneo near Šibenik (Aug) is the leading alt-rock event in this part of Europe; In-music in Zagreb (June) is the other main rock and indie event, though the city has a year-round schedule of gigs. Live music events elsewhere are pretty sporadic.
The country’s main folk festival is the Inter-national Folklore Festival, held over a weekend in July and traditionally the best place to see songs and dances from all over the country. The tradition of the Dalmatian klapa (male-voice choir) is preserved in numerous festivals up and down the coast, the biggest being the one held in Omiš in July. The remaining big folk events are all in Slavonia and have a more regional character, although the Brodsko Kolo Festival in Slavonski Brod (mid-June), Vinkovci Autumn (late Sept) and Đakovo Folk Festival (end Sept) are all worthwhile shindigs. Guests in Adriatic hotels will be treated to folklore shows, often over dinner, throughout the summer season. Local songs and dances are performed outside the church in Čilipi, near Dubrovnik, every Sunday morning.
Traditional events and religious festivals
The most important event in the early part of the year is the pre-Lenten carnival (karneval; often known as fašnik in inland Croatia, pust on the Adriatic), which actually begins before Christmas but does not reach a climax until Shrove Tuesday or the weekend immediately preceding it, when there are processions and masked revelry in towns all over Croatia. A lot of places organize parades with floats, the participants donning disguises which frequently satirize local politicians or comment on the events of the past year. Rijeka, Samobor and Velika Gorica (just south of Zagreb) host the biggest events. In smaller places carnival practices are still linked to pre-Christian fertility rites: in the villages near Rijeka groups of men (called zvončari or “ringers”) don sheepskins and ring bells to drive away evil spirits, while in many areas a doll known as pust (or poklad in Lastovo) is ritually burned in order to cleanse the coming agricultural year of bad luck.
The next big event is Easter week, characterized by solemn processions in many towns, especially Hvar and Korčula. Most important of the summertime religious holidays is the Assumption (Aug 15), when churches throughout the country hold special services, and large pilgrimages are made to Marian shrines such as Marija Bistrica near Zagreb, Krasno near Senj, Sinj in the Dalmatian hinterland and Trsat near Rijeka. The Birth of the Virgin (Sept 8) is only slightly less important in the Catholic calendar, and is celebrated in similar fashion.
All Saints’ Day (Nov 1) is one of the most important Catholic feasts of the autumn, when families visit graveyards to pay their respects to the departed. By the evening, many big-city cemeteries are transformed into a sea of candles. St Martin’s Day (Nov 11) is traditionally the day when the year’s wine is first tasted, and is often used as an excuse for revelry in wine-producing areas. In accordance with a widespread central European tradition, St Martin’s Day is also marked by the slaughter and roasting of a goose. A slaughter of a more widespread kind takes place at the end of November, when many rural families (especially in Slavonia and the Dalmatian hinterland) set aside a weekend in order to carry out the annual pig slaughter (svinokolja or kolinja), and begin preparation of the sausages and hams which will be consumed over the next year.
On St Nicholas’s Day (Dec 6) children leave out stockings and are rewarded with small presents. They are also threatened by visits from the monster Krampus, a kind of St Nicholas in reverse, who takes away bad children in his bag. Christmas itself is much the same as anywhere else in Europe, with presents laid out under the family Christmas tree. The main family meal is eaten on Christmas Eve (Badnja večer), and traditionally consists of fish (often carp), after which everyone attends midnight mass.
Snow Queen Trophy w snowqueentrophy.com. World Cup downhill skiing on Mount Sljeme, with a big-screen broadcast on the main square. First and second weekends in Jan; Zagreb.
Feast of St Blaise (Sveti Vlaho) w tzdubrovnik.hr. Processions and pageantry in honour of Dubrovnik’s patron saint. Feb 3; Dubrovnik.
Carnival (Karneval; fašnik; pust). Processions, fancy dress and festivities in Rijeka (w http://www.tz-rijeka.hr), Velika Gorica (w tzvg.hr) and Samobor (w tz-samobor.hr). Weekend preceding Shrove Tues.
Zagrebdox w zagrebdox.net. A feast of documentary films from around the globe, with a packed week of screenings. Late Feb/early March; Zagreb.
RAF (Review of Amateur Films) w revijaamaterskogfilma.hr. Celebration of amateur, student and no-budget film-making, showing work in all styles and of all lengths. Zagreb.
Easter Religious processions on the islands of Hvar, Korčula and in many other parts of Croatia. April or late March.
Music Biennale (Glazbeno biennale) w mbz.hr. Ten days of contemporary classical music featuring new work by major international composers. Every odd-numbered year; Zagreb.
Test! w test.hr. Festival of Student Theatre, with a healthy dose of experimental performance. Zagreb.
Days of Croatian Film (Dani hrvatskog filma) w dhf.sczg.hr. Major review of Croatian films made during the previous twelve months, including features, shorts and documentaries. If you are on the lookout for new talent, this is the place to find it. Zagreb.
Feast of St Domnius (Sveti Dujam) Church processions, craft fairs and feasting. May 7; Split.
Subversive Film Festival w subversivefestival.com. A wide range of films and lectures on contemporary political topics, followed by the usual after-party drinking. Zagreb.
Roč Accordion Festival (Ž armoniku v Roč) w tz-buzet.hr. Accordion bands from Croatia and beyond. Second weekend in May; Roč.
Festival of One-Minute Films (Revija jednominutnih filmova) w crominute.hr. Exactly what it says in the title, with plenty of eccentric, experimental work. Late May; Požega.
Jewish Film Festival (Festival Židovskog Filma) w jff-zagreb.hr. A week of feature films, documentaries and post-screening concerts addressing wider issues of race and tolerance. Co-founded by Holocaust survivor and Oscar-winning producer Branko Lustig. Late May; Zagreb.
Festival of the European Short Story (Festival Evropske kratke priče) w europeanshortstory.org. Engaging and accessible lit-fest attracting major international participants (and big-screen English-language translations). A two-centre festival based in Zagreb and at least one Adriatic city. Late May/early June.
Contemporary Dance Week (Tjedan suvremenog plesa) w danceweekfestival.com. Croatia’s premier dance event, with a strong contemporary edge. Late May/early June; Zagreb.
Cest is d’Best w cestisdbest.com. Live bands and street entertainment on stages throughout the city centre. Early June; Zagreb.
Mediterranean Film Festival (Festival mediteranskog filma Split) w fmfs.hr. New features from the Mediterranean region, screened on Split’s Bačvice beach, with an accompanying after-show DJ programme. Early June; Split.
Strossmartre (Ljeto na Štrosu) w ljetonastrosu.com. Summer-long sequence of gigs, puppet shows and open-air art in Zagreb’s Gornji grad. June to early Sept; Zagreb.
Animafest w animafest.hr. Among the animation world’s most important and longest-running festivals, screening a week’s worth of arty and edgy films. Early June; Zagreb.
Dan-D (“D-Day”). A long weekend devoted to contemporary design, with local creatives displaying their wares and DJ events in the evening. Mid-June; Zagreb.
Summer Nights (Riječke ljetne noći) w rijeckeljetnenoci.com. Classical music and drama in a variety of indoor and outdoor venues. Mid-June to late July; Rijeka.
Eurokaz Theatre Festival w eurokaz.hr. Challenging avant-garde drama with an impressive roster of international guests. Late June/early July; Zagreb.
Valamar Jazz Festival w valamarjazz.com. Top international names performing in atmospheric indoor and outdoor venues. Late June; Poreč.
In-music w inmusicfestival.com. Three-day rock-and-pop fest on the shores of Lake Jarun, featuring major international bands and DJs. Attracting a daily average of 30,000 people, it’s big enough to feel like a major event but small enough to preserve a laid-back vibe. Late June; Zagreb.
International Children’s Festival (Međunarodnji dječji festival) w mdf-sibenik.com. Puppet shows, street entertainers and musicals, with a young audience in mind. Late June/early July; Šibenik.
Hideout w hideoutfestival.com. Festival of cutting-edge DJ music takes over Zrće beach for a long weekend. Late June; Novalja, Pag island.
Fantastic Film Festival w fantastic-zagreb.com. Week-long event devoted to fantasy, horror and sci-fi genres, with open-air screenings and DJ events. Late June/early July; Zagreb.
Kastav Cultural Summer (Kastafsko kulturno leto) w kkl.hr. Concerts in the streets and squares of Kastav, near Rijeka. July/Aug.
St Donat’s Musical Evenings
(Glazbene večeri u sv. Donatu) w donat-festival.com. Classical soloists and ensembles performing in an early medieval church. Early July to early Aug; Zadar.
Đakovo Embroidery (Đakovački vezovi) w tz-djakovo.hr. Folklore groups from all over Croatia celebrate traditional costumes, music and dance. Early July; Đakovo.
Garden Festival w thegardenfestival.eu. Eight-day DJ-driven extravaganza with a capacity of 3000 and a beach-party feel. Early July; Tisno.
Omiš Klapa Festival w fdk.hr. Traditional choirs (klape) from all over the country, with prizes for the best performances. Omiš.
Dubrovnik Summer Festival (Dubrovačke ljetne igre) w dubrovnik-festival.hr. Prestigious classical music and theatre event that makes full use of Dubrovnik’s historic buildings and atmospheric open spaces. Early July to late Aug; Dubrovnik.
Electric Elephant w electricelephant.co.uk. Five-day fest for connoisseurs of quality dance music old and new, based at the Garden summer HQ. Mid-July; Tisno.
Vanka Regule (“Outside the rules”) w vankaregule.com. Sports- and activity-based festival with an imaginative range of everybody-can-join-in competitions, followed by outdoor gigs. Mid-July; Sutivan, Brač.
Hartera w hartera.com. Weekend rock-fest in an adapted old factory complex. Mid-July.
Split Summer (Splitsko ljeto) w splitsko-ljeto.hr. Opera, orchestral music and a host of other high-cultural delights, with many performances taking place in Split’s ancient piazzas and squares. Mid-July to mid-Aug; Split.
International Folklore Festival (Međunarodna smotra folklora) w msf.hr. Highly enjoyable display of ethnic music and dance from all over Croatia, plus a range of international guests. Mid- to late July; Zagreb.
Seasplash w seasplash-festival.com. Reggae fest in the Punta Christo fortress, just north of Pula. Late July.
Ethno Ambient Live w ethnoambient.net. Two-day world music festival with a mix of Croatian and international stars, in ancient Salona’s amphitheatre. Split.
Soundwave w soundwavecroatia.com. Another long weekend of DJ-orchestrated bliss at the Garden’s Tisno site; late July.
Osor Music Evenings (Osorske glazbene večeri) w osorskeveceri.org. International chamber music. Late July to late Aug; Osor, Cres.
Night of Diocletian (Noć Dioklecijana). Locals dress up as ancient Romans for a night of city-centre swords-and-sandals partying, symbolically welcoming third-century Emperor Diocletian back into town. Late July; Split.
Pula Film Festival w pulafilmfestival.hr. The country’s annual crop of feature films, screened in the Roman amphitheatre. Pula.
Rab Fair (Rapska fjera) w tzg-rab.hr. Huge medieval pageant featuring parades, archery contests, fine victuals and hearty drinking. July 25, 26 & 27; Rab.
SuncéBeat w suncebeat.com. The Dalmatian offshoot of well-known UK DJ event the Southport Weekender, held at the Garden. Late July; Tisno.
Motovun Film Festival w motovunfilmfestival.com. High-art film festival that also functions as a five-day open-air party. Late July/early Aug; Motovun.
Supertoon Festival Hugely enjoyable animation fest with outdoor screenings of kids’ films, music videos and arty stuff. Late July/early Aug; Bol.
Stop Making Sense w stopmakingsense.eu. The cream of cutting-edge London club culture descends on Dalmatia for another long weekend of round-the-clock partying. Early Aug; Tisno.
Saljske užance w dugiotok.hr. Seafood feasts, donkey races, island madness. First weekend in Aug; Sali, Dugi otok.
Alka w alka.hr. A sort of medieval joust held in celebration of the 1715 victory over the Ottomans. Early Aug; Sinj.
Terraneo w terraneofestival.com. With international indie-rock and alternative DJs, this is the Adriatic’s premier hipster hop, with decent food and camping on site. Early Aug; Šibenik.
Zadar Dreams (Zadar Snova) w zadarsnova.hr. Festival of alternative drama and performance art. Early to mid-Aug; Zadar.
Neretva Boat Marathon (Maraton lađa) w maraton-ladja.hr. Teams in traditional rowing boats race through the Neretva delta towards the sea. Second Sat in Aug; Metković.
Tilting at the Ring (Trka na prstenac) w barban.hr. Competition in which horsemen attempt to spear a ring on the end of a lance. Third weekend in Aug; Barban, Istria.
Špancirfest w spancirfest.com. One of the few festivals to light up inland Croatia during the month of Aug, Špancirfest takes over the centre of Varaždin with a week of outdoor variety performances alongside pop, rock and folk concerts. Late Aug; Varaždin.
Vukovar Film Festival w vukovarfilmfestival.com. New features from southeastern European countries, screened on a barge in the River Danube. Late Aug; Vukovar.
Outlook w outlookfestival.com. A spectacular treat for fans of jungle/dub/dubstep and beyond, with sound systems and live music stages in and around the Punta Christo naval fort. Late Aug/early Sept; Pula.
PIF International Festival of Puppet Theatre (Međunarodni festival kazališta lutaka) w pif.hr. Puppet productions from all over Europe. Early Sept; Zagreb.
Dimensions w dimensionsfestival.com. Held the weekend after Outlook on the same site, here is more of the same, but with a more eclectic, experimental line-up. Early Sept; Pula.
Korkyra Baroque Festival (Korčulanski međunarodni barokni festival) w korkyrabaroque.com. Ten-day festival of early music, with many of the performances taking place in historic churches. Early to mid-Sept; Korcula Town.
Buzet Saturday (Buzetska Subotina) w tz-buzet.hr. Gastronomic and musical fiesta dedicated to the opening of the truffle-hunting season. Second weekend in Sept; Buzet.
Festival of World Theatre (Festival svijetskog kazališta) w zagrebtheatrefestival.hr. Seriously worthwhile drama festival attracting the big European names. Mid- to late Sept; Zagreb.
Split Film Festival w splitfilmfestival.hr. Shorts, documentaries and art-house films. Mid- to late Sept; Split.
Varaždin Baroque Evenings (Varaždinske barokne večeri) w vbv.hr. One of Europe’s most prestigious early music events, with performances in Varaždin cathedral and other city churches. Mid- to late Sept.
International Festival of Experimental Film and Video (Internacionalni festival eksperimentalnog filma i videa) w 25fps.hr. Moving pictures from the cutting edge. Late Sept; Zagreb.
Perforations (Perforacije) w perforacije.org. Top regional showcase for performance art and genre-bending theatre, from Croatia and southeastern Europe. Zagreb.
BIT (Blind in Theatre) w novizivot.hr. International festival for visually impaired theatre groups. Extraordinary and unique. Odd-numbered years only. Early Oct; Zagreb.
Zagreb Film Festival w zagrebfilmfestival.com. Outstanding documentaries and art movies from around the world. Generates a genuine festival atmosphere: free access to the late-night DJ parties is well worth the price of your cinema ticket. Mid-Oct.
St Martin’s Day (Martinje). Festivities in all wine-producing regions of the country, with the chance to taste and buy the season’s new produce. Nov 11 or nearest weekend.
Human Rights Film Festival w humanrightsfestival.org. Politically engaged documentaries from around the globe, plus the inevitable after-parties. Early to mid-Dec; Zagreb and Rijeka.