The biggest festivals in Central Asia are listed here; a more complete overview is in the country pages linked below. Islamic holidays are not mentioned below because they change every year. The biggest one is Eid-al Adha, Kurbon Eid or Kurban Bayram (Feast of Sacrifice). Ramadan is not observed by general society in Central Asia.
A word of warning: festivals in Central Asia are, on the whole, very badly organised. I have never attended a festival where all events actually happened, let alone on time, or in the place they were advertised. Then again, all events except one listed below are free.
November – February
It’s the time for winter sports, like skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating, but also eagle hunting and buzkashi.
Nauryz/Navrus/Nooruz/… (21st of March) is the biggest festival of the year, celebrated in all Central Asian republics, Kurdish Turkey and Iran. Expect big feasts, dancing and concerts on squares and buzkashki games. Weather-wise, late March is the best time to visit Uzbekistan and Southern Tajikistan, as well as Turkmenistan’s Karakum, which then experiences a short blossom.
April – May – June
Bishkek Jazz Festival (April). 3 days of jazz music across Bishkek, with musicians from Central Asia, US and Europe.
Turkmenistan’s Horse Day. (Last Sunday of April). Celebrates the famous Ahal Tekke horses from Turkmenistan. Horse races abound around the country’s hippodromes.
Late April – early May is when the hillsides of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan blossom, most notably the tulips of Aksu-Zhabagly. It is also the time of the bird migration to Siberia over Central Asia, best viewed on the lakes of Kazakhstan.
Silk & Spices in Bukhara, (end of May – early June). A multi-day festival celebrating Uzbek handicrafts, fashion, food, music and dance. Mostly a shopping festival, though. The famous Asrlar Sadosi festival in Uzbekistan has not been organised for a while now.
The Spirit of Tengri (June, Almaty). 2 nights on the Abay square of high-quality local and international contemporary ethnic music.
July – August
Summer festivals (Kyrgyzstan): In some places, shepherds, in conjunction with the local CBT group, organise events during summer for tourists and locals alike, all offering a mix of horse games, eagle hunting and traditional song and dance. The most important are the horse games festival in Kyzyl-Oi (end of July), the eagle hunting festival in Bokonbayevo (end of August) and the shepherds festival in Karkara valley, near Char Kuduk (end of August). Contact CBT to find out exact dates and planning.
World Nomad Games (Kyrgyzstan). Similar to the other summer festivals, but much bigger, with more games, a much higher budget and many international participants. First edition in 2014 and is organised biennially.
The Roof of the World Festival (Khorog, end of July) is the cultural highlight of the Pamir region, with musicians from all across the region, as well as films, debates, handicrafts, food and fashion.
Sabantui (July, different locations). It’s the main Tatar (and Bashkir) holiday celebrated on a small scale in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Traditional song, dance, food and games.
Four E (August, Almaty) 3-day New Age festival with a lot of yoga, “quantum” workshops, and modern folk music. Worth visiting for the beautiful location (different each year) in the mountains, the evening concerts and the relaxed vibe. Paid entrance.
At Chabysh festival (August) featuring a long distance horse race, buzkashi and other horse games, concerts, poetry contest, handicrafts exhibition, yurt village and more. Part of the festival is held in Murghab, Tajikistan, the other part in Kyrgyzstan at Peak Lenin base camp.
Kyrgyz Independence Day (31st of August). The liveliest of the region’s independence days, with a very big ulak tartysh game.
July and August is the time for mountaineering and high-altitude trekking.
September – October
Kyrgyzstan’s World Nomad Games offers a slew of sport competitions from the country’s traditional heritage. Organized in even years.
This is the best time to visit for foodies, as the bazaars are overflowing with superb quality produce. It’s less hot in the lowlands but still good for trekking at lower altitudes.