In terms of events and festivals, Kazakhstan is definitely the most culturally active country in Central Asia. ‘Buzzing’ is still far too big a word, but something does happen on a regular basis. The 3 most active cities are Almaty, Karaganda and Nur-sultan.
The problem with events across Central Asia is two-fold. First off, it’s difficult to find out when and where something will happen. On the day itself, things usually don’t happen according to plan. Don’t bank on a schedule.
If you’d like more tips to time your trip, check out when to visit Kazakhstan.
If you are worried about the effect of Ramadan on your trip, read more on what Ramadan in Central Asia actually entails.
Kurban Ait or Kurban Bayram: Date changes. Called Eid Al-Adha in the Arabic world, on this Muslim holiday it is traditional to go to mosque, sacrifice a sheep and give meat to the poor.
Russian Orthodox Easter: Date changes. An Orthodox celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. Eggs are hamstered by babooshkas days in advance to bake the special ‘kulich’ dish, and the midnight mass has a special atmosphere.
These holidays all serve to bring glory to the rulers of Kazakhstan and to instill patriotism into the hearts of the people of this new country. There’s plenty of them.
Constitution Day: 28th of January. Nation-building in the blistering Nur-Sultan cold.
National Unity Day: 1st of May. Parades and street festivals showcasing the cultures of the different nations co-existing peacefully in Kazakhstan.
Victory Day: 9th of May. A celebration of the Soviet victory in World War 2 involving military parades in every major city. An important show of loyalty to the Russian regime.
Astana Day: 6th of July. Big concert in Astana celebrating the birthday of first president Nazarbayev.
Almaty Apple festival: September. Celebrating Almaty’s most famous produce in all manners on the Old Square.
Republic Day: 25th of October. More nation-building, presidential photo-ops and concerts.
Day of the First President: 1st of December. A new addition to the growing personality-cult around Nazerbayev. Parades, concerts.
Independence Day: 16th of December. Independence from the Soviet Union is celebrated with (you guessed it) concerts, parades, and fireworks.
Folk and music festivals
Nauruz: 21-22 March. Celebrated across Central Asia, the whole region welcomes springtime with song, dance and food. Kokpar games and aitys (Kazakh battle rap) competitions happen across Kazakhstan. Free food and concerts in the main cities.
Zhezkik: August, Ulytau. Great festival for ethno music in a unique steppe location, but even worse with communication than most other events.
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 in the mountains, the evening concerts and the relaxed vibe. Paid entrance.
There are a few more music festivals worth mentioning: The Spirit of Tengri is / was a great 2-day festival focusing on cross-over folk from across the Turkic universe. Future dates and location uncertain.
Summer also sees a few festivals for bikers and dance music enthusiasts. Kapchagay Lake is often the venue of choice for these.
More movie / theatre / dance / … festivals exist, but their rapid appearance and disappearance makes it hard for us to say anything in particular. Keep your finger on the pulse while you are in the country.