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The ultimate guide to South Africa's most unique festivals

From golden oldies to shiny new hidden gems, we’ve brought together the ultimate guide to South Africa's festivals.
Nick Pawson
· June 6, 2024
The ultimate guide to South Africa's most unique festivals

Whether you're there for the food, art, or music– festivals offer a feast for the senses. And in South Africa, with our exceptional natural beauty, world-renowned food & wine scene and rich cultural heritage, you can expect some of the best festivals on the planet.

While many local festivals are practically household names, some of the newer events have nailed the festival formula and drummed up thousands of avid attendees in a relatively short space of time.

The Western Cape province tends to be the festival heartland, but there are some standout festivities in other parts of the country.

Read on for a guide to some of the best, truly South African festivals.

Art Festivals in South Africa

With such a diversity of cultures, you're in for a treat with any arts and culture festival in South Africa. To make the most of these festivals, make sure you book your accommodation in advance and check the event lineups to book your seats as soon as they become available. 

Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK)

KKNK Nationale Kunste Fees

The KKNK is an annual Afrikaans language arts festival in the Klein Karoo that includes both visual and performing arts. Based on the number of visitors, KKNK is now also the largest South African arts festival.

From humble beginnings in 1994, KKNK has come to play a central role in Afrikaans stage productions. Oudtshoorn, famous for its ostrich farms, is transformed into a vibrant hub during the Easter season.

When: Late March/ early April

Where: Oudtshoorn, Western Cape (on the R62 wine route)

The National Arts Festival

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South Africa’s longest-running and arguably most diverse arts festival celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2024. Located in the small university town of Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown), the festival takes place in late June/ early July every year.

It is notoriously cold that time of year in the Eastern Cape town, at least overnight and in the early mornings, so visitors are advised to pack accordingly. However, one can expect warm, dry and sunny days.

The cultural extravaganza explodes across 90 venues, featuring everything from theatre and dance to music, stand-up comedy and visual arts.

When: 20 – 30 June 2024

Where: Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown), Eastern Cape


AfrikaBurn Festival

Think Mad Max, but where the characters live in harmony. A regional spin-off from the large-scale desert event in the US – Burning Man – Afrikaburn is a temporary community built on principles of self-expression and inclusion.

The festival focuses on “self-reliance”, and festival goers support each other for seven days through a volunteer and gifting culture.

Expect wildly creative art and installations, outrageous costumes, performances, theme camps, music, mutant vehicles and more.

When: Late April/ early May

Where: Tankwa Karoo, between the Northern Cape and Western Cape provinces

Cape Town CarnivalCape Town Carnival South Africa

The Cape Town Carnival is a vibrant annual celebration that transforms the streets of Cape Town into a dazzling display of creativity, culture, and unity. Held every March, this spectacular event showcases elaborate floats, stunning costumes, and energetic performances from local communities.

The carnival parade runs along the Fan Walk in Green Point towards the city. It's a true reflection of Cape Town's diverse heritage, bringing people together through music, dance, and artistic expression. The carnival not only entertains but also promotes social cohesion and community pride, making it a beloved event for locals and visitors alike.

When: Mid-March

Where: Green Point Fan Walk, Cape Town

McGregor Poetry Festival

McGregor Poetry Festival

The McGregor Poetry Festival is an intimate and enchanting event held in the village of McGregor, Western Cape. Launched in 2013, the festival celebrates the art of poetry through readings, workshops, and performances. It has quickly become a beloved gathering for poets and poetry enthusiasts, fostering a vibrant literary community.

When: 6 – 8 September 2024

Where: McGregor, Western Cape

Hilton Arts Festival

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The Hilton Arts Festival, hosted at Hilton College in KwaZulu-Natal, is a premier event celebrating the arts. It features a diverse array of performances, exhibitions, and workshops, attracting artists and audiences from across the country. Since its launch in 1993, the festival has grown into a major cultural event, known for its high-quality productions and beautiful setting.

When: 2 – 4 August 2024

Location: Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal

Aardklop National Arts Festival

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The Potchefstroom Aardklop National Arts Festival is a vibrant cultural celebration held annually in Potchefstroom, North West. Since its founding in 1998, Aardklop has become a cornerstone for Afrikaans arts, featuring theatre, music, dance, and visual arts. The festival transforms Potchefstroom into a lively hub of artistic expression, drawing visitors from near and far.

When: 24 – 29 September 2024

Where: Potchefstroom, North West

Music Festivals in South Africa

South Africa’s complex and rich history has given rise to expressions of unique cultural identity through music and the performing arts. Below are some of the better- and lesser-known music festivals.

Rocking the Daisies

As the name suggests, this local rock music festival is held in an area that comes alive with wild daisies in spring.

Founded in 2005, Rocking the Daisies has become one of the biggest music and lifestyle events in South Africa. Usually headlined by a big international band or artist, it is now a cross-genre music festival featuring over 100 live music acts, while also offering comedy, art and wellness experiences.

When: 3 – 6 October 2024

Where: Cloof Wine Estate, Western Cape

Splashy Fen

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Splashy Fen is South Africa's longest-running music festival, held in the picturesque Drakensberg mountains near Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal. Established in 1990, the festival offers a mix of music genres, arts, and crafts. Its family-friendly atmosphere and beautiful natural setting make it a favourite for festival-goers looking for a laid-back yet vibrant experience.

When: Easter Weekend (March or April)

Where: Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal

    Joy of Jazz

    Standard Bank Joy of Jazz Festival South AfricaJoy of Jazz has become a premier jazz event on the African continent. To celebrate this iconic Johannesburg festival's 25th milestone in 2024, organisers have announced one of the most star-studded line-ups to date.

    The event will feature more than 50 world-class performers from more than 10 countries. The line-up includes Grammy winner Chris BottiChucho Valdés (seven-time Grammy winner) along with a host of other international and local artists.

    When: 27 – 28 September 2024

    Where: Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg

    Food, Drink & Nature Festivals in South Africa

    South Africa put itself on the map with wine-making and natural beauty many years ago, but it has also become a popular foodie destination. Food, drink and nature celebrations are also major highlights on the festival calendar.

    Knysna Oyster Festival

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    Described as ‘the gem of the Garden Route’, Knysna is famous for its lagoon, Afromontane forests, and oysters. While nobody farms oysters at scale in Knysna anymore, and most are brought in from Saldhana Bay and Port Elizabeth, the legacy lives on.

    1983 marked the year of the first Oyster Festival and was a way to draw tourists to the coastal town during the quiet winter months. It has evolved into one of the best outdoor family and community events in South Africa, with food taking centre stage.

    The week kicks off with the famous Forest Marathon and visitors can enjoy wine tastings, eating competitions and cooking demos along with arts & crafts markets and live music.

    When: 21 – 30 June 2024

    Where: Knysna, Western Cape (on the N2)

    Hermanus Whale Festival

    Hermanus Whale festivalHermanus, a coastal town southeast of Cape Town, is South Africa's most famous whale-watching destination. The months ending in 'r' are said to be the best whale-watching months, with the end of September being the peak of whale activity in the region.

    The festival has grown from humble beginnings 32 years ago to now attracting 75 000 - 130 000 visitors over a three-day period. The main focus of the weekend is to create awareness and celebrate the annual return of the Southern Right whales to the Cape coast, and this is largely done through eco-marine themed exhibitions.

    Other events and highlights include a popular street festival, car shows, live music and vibrant markets selling excellent food and work from local artisans. It's a family affair with plenty of children's entertainment on offer too.

    When: 27 – 29 September 2024

    Where: Hermanus, Western Cape

    Franschhoek Bastille Festival

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    Franschhoek, literally translated as 'French corner', is a quaint Western Cape town with centuries-old wine vineyards and Cape Dutch architecture. Museums and monuments honour the area's French Huguenot settlers, and every year, the Franschhoek Wine Valley invites foodies and wine lovers to celebrate Bastille Day – a major event of the French Revolution.

    The valley’s annual Bastille Festival doffs berets to French culture with culinary delights and world-class wines.

    Food experiences and wine tastings abound, complemented by live entertainment. Visitors often adorn traditional French outfits, with dashes of red, white and blue filling the bustling streets.

    When: 13 – 14 July 2024

    Where: Franschhoek, Western Cape

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