Bosnia and Herzegovina has long been known as a small country with big culture. It was, in many ways, the cultural backbone of the former Yugoslavia – producing a large number of the country’s music and film icons. The country hosts a fascinating mix of cutting-edge urban film and theatre fests and the traditional festivals that portray the deep-rooted history of traditions here. The trademark of BiH’s festivals, however, is the Sarajevo Film Festival.
The charm of the SFF is not that it’s a fancy affair or a glamorous gathering. It is not overrun by the paparazzi or tuxedo-only events. It has gained a worthy reputation as a truly artistic and laid-back venue to support regional filmmakers, aspiring actors, and directors. It does, though, also attract stars like Morgan Freeman, Mike Leigh, Bono, and Christine Vachon, Angelie Jolie, Brad Pitt … to name a few.
Whatever your taste, you’d be hard-pressed not to find something to your liking with Sarajevo’s calendar-packed repertoire of festivals.
Organized by Trebinje’s church authorities, this music and cultural event is dedicated to St. Sava, the protector of schools and literacy. (Preobraženska bb; 059 273 120).
Bijeljina, 1 Dec – 22 Jan
With over 40 years of tradition, this is one of the oldest festivals in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Folklore, sport, and cultural manifestations are organized in all villages in the Bijeljina municipality (Kralja Petra I Karađorđevića 9; 051 224 510).
Travnik, mid February
One-day event with carnival parade going through the city. Music and entertainment events take place on the city square (Maršala Tita 56; 030 222 876).
The Sarajevo Winter International Festival was first organized in 1984 for the Olympics. The festival includes cultural, art, and music performances held in the city’s museums, theaters, and galleries (Titova 9a; 033 207 945; [email protected]).
Trebinje, mid March
Organized by the Association of East Herzegovina Wine Makers, this is when all of Trebinje’s winemakers get together and present their wines (Repubike Srpske 37; 059 226 430).
Mostar, early April
The Mostar International Trade Fair is the biggest and most important fair in Herzegovina. This is a place for all companies from the region to come and present their products and services (Radoč bb; 036 350 194; [email protected]).
Sarajevo, mid June
The Kid’s Festival is the biggest youth fest in Southeast Europe. It started in 2004 and every year over 40,000 children enjoy workshops, movie showings, and art performances.(Halilbašića 52; 033 232 644; [email protected]).
Jablanica, early May
The battle of Neretva, or “the battle for the wounded,” was one of the most famous battles won by Tito’s Partisans in the Second World War. This is when Tito ordered the Jablanica Bridge to be taken down to fool the enemy. The bridge is still there, and the manifestation happens on the big plateau in front of the Jabalanica Memorial Museum (Bitka za ranjenike bb; 036 752 705).
Sarajevo, early May
International “Sarajevo Poetry Days” has been organized since 1962, and even during the 1992-1995 conflict it didn’t stop. It hosted all outstanding authors from former Yugoslavia, as well as authors from Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Egypt, France, Greece, Netherlands, Iran, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Canada, Congo, Luxemburg, Hungary, Germany, Palestine, Poland, Romania, USA, Switzerland, Turkey, Great Britain…
Međugorje, late June
Every year Međugorje marks the anniversary of the Virgin Mary apparition, which was first seen by two teenage girls on 24 June 1981. In following days, there were several more apparitions and witnesses. Even though not officially recognized by the Pope, the site is widely visited by millions of pilgrims. The greatest numbers come for the anniversary of the apparitions.
Ajvatovica is the biggest pilgrimage site and cultural/religious event for Bosnian Muslims. The legend says that Grandpa Ajvaz (hence the name) prayed for water for 40 days during the drought. Finally, the rock split in two and the water came out of it. Every year in June, Muslims go to the holy site in huge processions of horseback riders. Ilahije and kaside – Muslim religious songs – are sung along the way and there are several stops for collective praying (Vezirska 2, Travnik; 030 518 359).
Mostar, mid July
This is the first blues festival in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This three-day music event includes performances from both local and international blues artists (Pavarotti Music Center, Maršala Tita 179; 061 137 046).
Mostar, late July
Old Bridge Dives is Mostar’s calling card. Every year, divers from all around the world jump off the 26-meter Old Bridge. Jumping from the Old Bridge was Mostar’s tradition long before it was organized as an official event. The dives are broadcasted over countless TV stations. Various music performances accompany the event (A. Buća 19, 036 500 600).
Banja Luka, late July
The official slogan here is “good vibrations for new generations.” This is one of the best festivals in the region. For four nights, demo bands from the former Yugoslavia battle it out for prizes … including the possibility of signing with a label. Entrance is free and all performances are held in the Kastel (Patre 5; 066 981 654).
Bihać, late July
This is the biggest rafting trip in the country. It starts in Kulen Vakuf and passes through Bihać, Ostrožac, Cazin, Bosanska Krupa, and Novi Grad. It ends in Croatia in the city of Hrvatska Kostajnica. The trip takes seven days and there is a party every night.
Sarajevo Film Festival is the city’s – and country’s – biggest and most popular cultural manifestation. It began as a humble project during the war. Since, it has grown into a mainstay of the European film festival circuit. Actors such as Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey have made appearances. (Zelenih beretki 12; 033 221 516; [email protected]).
Sarajevo, 1 – 31 July
The municipality of the Old Town and the Sarajevo Art Agency organizes this month-long festival. There are open-air performances on the main stage near City Hall (Vijećnica). There are numerous art, music, and cultural events every day. Everything is free (Dalmatinska 2/1; 033 207 921).
Goražde, 1 – 10 August
This fest began 17 years ago, when a group of enthusiasts from Goražde made connections with a few French artists. Since then, the festival hasgrown in popularity. Today, it is one of the biggest open-air festivals in eastern Bosnia with music performances, workshops, and art exhibitions (Zaima Imamovića 2, 038 221 344).
Gradačac, 15 – 19 September
One of the biggest argicultural gatehrings in Bosnia and Herzegovina, this fair began 1969. After a five-year hiatus during the war, it is again the place to share agricultural techniques. It attracts industry professionals from the entire region (035 817 368).
Banja Luka, early September
This short-movie festival was first held in 2007. The movies are screened at the Kastel and in the National Theater. The festival promotes young filmmakers and provides an opportunity for film debates, workshops, and exchanging experiences (065 780 824).
Bihać, early September
EKOBIS is an international ecology fair organized by the Commerce Chamber of Una-Sana Canton and Tourism Association. It promotes eco-friendly companies and products and create a climate for development (Trg Maršala Tita bb; 037 227 762).
Sarajevo, mid September
PitchWise debuted in 2005. It is organized by the CURE Foundation to promote female art. There are art shows and exhibitions, workshops, and concerts highlighting women’s artistic achievements (Ante Fijaminga 14b; 033 713 610; [email protected]).
Zenica, early October
ZEPS is probably the biggest fair in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is an international gathering and at least half of the exhibitors are foreign. Its 25 years of tradition and over 8,000 exhibitors make ZEPS the most important fair in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Kučkovići 2; 032 247 774).
Vareš/Kraljeva Sutjeska, 25 October
Queen Catherine was the last Bosnian queen. She fled to Rome after the Turks took over the country. She died in Rome on 25th of October and in her honor a mass is held in the church in Kraljeva Sutjeska. Folkloric dancing usually follows the mass.
Sarajevo, late October
This is the longest-running festival in the region and one of the best theater fests in the region. International artists participate every year (Maršala Tita 54/1; 033 200 392; [email protected]).
Međugorje, 25-31 December
During the Christmas and New Year’s season, the number of pilgrims in Medjugorje drastically increases. Masses are held in a handful of languages. The program is usually accompanied by an international choir and is broadcast on the local radio station.