The best festivals in South Africa (and the ones you’ve never heard of)

The diversity of the festivals in South Africa reflects the diversity of the country so rich with diversity in everything from language to arts and culture. You can find anything from a burn in the desert to cultural exhibitions in the city and a music festival to ring in the new year. This post has the South African festivals worth checking out (and a dozen you’ve probably never heard of)!

[updated January 2020]

Cultural and music festivals in South Africa (in calendar order)

Southern Africa has no shortage of festivals, big and small, celebrated all across the calendar year. Here are some of the hottest picks for festivals in Southern Africa, and some you may have never heard of. First, they’re grouped by music festivals and festivals closest to Cape Town and Johannesburg, then there are more details on each fest. Lastly, there are smaller festivals like literary and oyster fests.

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Cape Town Minstrel Carnival (Kaapse Klopse)

Where: Cape Town, South Africa
When: January 4, 2020

The Cape Town Minstrel Carnival (also known as Kaapse Klopse or the Tweede Nuwe Jaar Minstrel Parade) is an annual celebration of the new year in Cape Town. Thousands of people make up dozens of bands that parade through the streets, decked out in all colors, paint and glitter. You get to watch each group perform, one after the other in a parade.

The Tweede Nuwe Jaar Minstrel Parade has roots in colonial South Africa, when slaves had one day off a year – January 2. Hence, the revelry and tradition began. You can learn more about its history here. Like colorful Bo Kaap’s history in the country, joy and color come from a storied past.

Note that it’s typically held on January 2nd, but will be held on January 4, 2020 to respect the coinciding Islamic Jum’ah observation.

Up the Creek Festival

Where: Breede River near Swellendam, South Africa
When: February 6-9, 2020

Up the Creek is celebrating 40 years of its outdoor music festival in 2020 (the country’s second-longest). Festival-goers can float in the Breede River while catching the music. But you can stay dry with a few stages on land as well. To keep the crowds more intimate, tickets are limited to 3000, so if you want to go, you should get the tickets as soon as possible.

Ultra South Africa

Where: Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa
When: February 28-29, 2020

Ultra is the world’s premiere festival brand, held in 24 cities all over the world in 2020. It is South Africa and the continent’s biggest electronic music festival. It will be in Cape Town on February 28th and Johannesburg on the 29th.

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Klein Karoo National Arts Festival

Where: Oudtshoorn, Western Cape, South Africa
When: March 23-29, 2020

The Klein Karoo National Arts Festival (or Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees – KKNK) is a vibrant Afrikaans festival that was started as an alternative to the Grahamstown festival (which is mostly in English). 2019 was its 25th year. It has hundreds of shows over the week and features art, dance, music and theater.

Cape Town International Jazz Festival

Where: Cape Town, South Africa
When: March 27-28, 2020

The Cape Town International Jazz Festival boasts being the largest music event in sub-Saharan Africa. The two-day show annually fills five stages and sees 37,000 attendees. 2019 was its 20th year.

Splashy Fen

Where: The Drakensberg, South Africa
When: April 9-13, 2020

Splashy Fen is billed as South Africa’s friendliest festival. It will be held next April 9th through 13th, 2020. It is the country’s biggest and longest-running festival, celebrating music, arts and people, located in world heritage site the Drakensberg.


Where: Tankwa Karoo, South Africa
April 27 – May 3, 2020

Afrikaburn is Africa’s regional burn – a smaller version of the United States’ Burning Man. This community-based event is not a music festival, but rather a creation by its own attendees. It will next be held April 27th through May 3rd, 2020.

For more details, check out the How Dare She in-depth guide to Afrikaburn here.

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Afrikaburn best festivals in South Africa

Bushfire Festival

Where: Malkerns Valley, eSwatini
May 29-31, 2020

MTN Bushfire Festival in Swaziland isn’t in South Africa, but the tiny kingdom is just a 4-hour drive from Johannesburg, it counts. 2020 will be Bushfire‘s 14th year, bringing music and arts from all over the continent to the continent’s smallest country – Swaziland. It will be May 29th through 31st, 2020.

For more details, check out the How Dare She in-depth guide to Bushfire here.

READ  Bushfire in Swaziland – photo gallery and guide to Bushfire festival

Basha Uhuru festival 2018 sho madjozi

Grahamstown National Arts Festival

Where: Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa
When: June 25 – July 5, 2020

The annual Grahamstown National Arts Festival is the biggest and best-known arts festival in South Africa. The 11-day festival is spread over 90 venues in Grahamstown. It features a main program and a fringe program of equal weight, designed to celebrate all styles and genres. Because it is so large and includes everything from art to music, theater and dance, film, lectures and workshops, it is important visitors plan ahead.

You can find anything from a burn in the desert to cultural exhibitions in the city and a music festival to ring in the new year.Click To Tweet

Basha Uhuru Freedom Festival

Where: Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa
When: June 27-28, 2019 (2020 dates TBA)

The Basha Uhuru Freedom Festival is a 3-day urban music, arts, design and film festival held in downtown Johannesburg. It will be held at Constitution Hill and is aimed at elevating South African creativity, especially from the Johannesburg area.

For more details, check out the How Dare She in-depth guide to the Basha Uhuru Freedom Festival.

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Basha Uhuru Freedom Festival 2018 guide best festivals in South Africa

Soweto International Jazz Festival

Where: Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa
When: June 1416, 2019 (2020 dates TBA)

The Soweto International Jazz Festival is a four-day event held at the Soweto Theatre mid-June to celebrate what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday. It is a music and arts festival dedicated to the Johannesburg region and will also feature a market of local vendors.

Each day features its own theme: Celebration of Our Future, Power of Women, International Night and Inspiration. It is a multi-genre, international line-up, including Grammy winners.  Tickets start at 450 Rand for one day and 950 Rand for all four days.

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Oppikoppi (canceled for 2019, TBA for 2020)

Where: Northam, South Africa
When: 2019 was canceled, will return 2020; August 8-10, 2018

Note: Oppikoppi was canceled for 2019 and is set to return in 2020 after taking a “gap year,” though no dates have been announced.

Oppikoppi 2018 was held Thursday, August 9th through Saturday, August 11th, 2018. This music festival started with mostly rock and 2000 attendees in 1995 and has grown to showcase 160+ international sets to 20,000 attendees in 2016. It’s been ranked in the top 5 festivals to visit in the world. Following the 2018 event, there was significant bad press about thefts and other issues.

Rocking the Daisies

Where: Cape Town, South Africa
When: October 2-4, 2020

This music and arts festival is held annually in Cape Town. Rocking the Daisies will be held October 2-4, 2020, celebrating the South African festival’s 15th anniversary. This festival is about giving you the warm fuzzies – it features music and entertainment, but you can also expect activities like yoga, magic and virtual reality.

Rocking the Daisies deal!! If you are thinking of going, check out this Rocking the Daisies package with Once Travel to explore South Africa and go to the festival. Mention How Dare She for a discount when booking!

Afropunk Johannesburg

Where: Johannesburg, South Africa
When: December 30-31, 2020

Afropunk is an international community and movement and they put on Afropunk Festivals in 5 cities across the globe. In 2017, Johannesburg was added to that list. Afropunk festivals celebrate music, style and global black culture and creativity.

Read more about what it means for Afropunk to come to Johannesburg and check out photos from the festival in 2017.

Other festivals in South Africa worth checking out

  • Thai Poosam Kavady festival is considered the most popular festival for South Africans of Indian descent, celebrated by the Tamil population in Durban. It is a huge draw to those hoping to perpetuate Hinduism in Mzansi and celebrated world-wide over 10 days in devotion to Lord Muruga (February 8, 2020).
  • At the Clarens Craft Beer Festival, you can taste over 70 beers and ciders from 20+ craft breweries (February 21-22, 2020).
  • For literary festivals, consider the Knysna Literary Festival (March 6-8, 2020) or the Franschhoek Literary Festival (May 15-17, 2020).
  • The South African Cheese Festival in Stellenbosch, of course, has your range of cheeses, but also has a winefest, beerfest, gin o’clock and CHEESE CARVING (April 25-27, 2020).
  • Prince Albert Olive Festival has been running in Karoo Town since 1993 (April)
  • Fête de la Musique started in France (translated to World Music Day) and is held in 700 cities across 120 countries, including South Africa in Newtown, Johannesburg (June 8, 2019).
  • The Robertson Wacky Wine Weekend ran annually in June for 16 years, but is no longer running.
  • The Kirkwood Wildlife Festival (Sundays River Valley, Eastern Cape) will be June 26-28, 2020. It sees more than 45,000 visitors and has the only game animal auction, plus agricultural exhibitions and entertainment.
  • The Knysna Oyster Festival is a 10-day festival in the coastal town each July (June 26 – July 5, 2020).
  • Arts Alive Festival in Johannesburg (September)
  • Oktoberfest at the German International School (September 12-14, 2019) Complete with steins of beer, sauerkraut and German music.
  • The Hermanus Whale Festival (Hermanus, Western Cape) is the only eco-marine festival in South Africa (September 24-27, 2020). It started with visitors coming to watch the whales end their travels to mate, but has grown into a full festival with music, entertainment and education. Here’s a guide to seeing the whales in Hermanus.
  • The Macufe African Cultural Festival is a 10-day festival showcasing local and international African artists, featuring jazz, gospel, kwaito, hip-hop, R&B, rock and classical music, plus arts and crafts. The festival is over 20 years old and attracts over 140,000 visitors from around the world (October 4-13, 2019).
  • The Rose Festival in Bloemfontein is an annual tradition started in 1976 (October 18-20, 2019).
  • In November, you can catch the annual Cherry Festival in Ficksburg. It’s the oldest crop festival in South Africa (November 21-23, 2019).
  • Whisky Live is Africa’s largest whisky festival, held in Johannesburg in November each year (November 6-8, 2019).
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Festivals in South Africa by area or type

And if you need to plan what to wear or where to stay for your whichever festivals you choose, head all the way to the end!

Music festivals in South Africa

Most interested in music festivals in South Africa? Here’s a music-focused list:

  • Afropunk
  • Ultra
  • Cape Town International Jazz Festival
  • Splashy Fen
  • Bushfire
  • Grahamstown
  • Basha Uhuru
  • Soweto International Jazz Festival
  • Rocking the Daisies
  • Fete de la Musique
  • Up the Creek

Festivals in Cape Town

If you are based in the West, these are the best festivals closer to and in Cape Town:

  • Cape Town Minstrel Carnival
  • Ultra
  • Cape Town Jazz Festival
  • Klein Karoo National Arts Festival
  • Afrikaburn
  • Rocking the Daisies
  • Up the Creek

Festivals in Johannesburg

If you are basing yourself in Jozi, these are the best festivals closer to and in Johannesburg:

  • Afropunk
  • Ultra
  • Splashy Fen
  • Bushfire
  • Basha Uhuru
  • Soweto International Jazz Festival
  • Oppikoppi
  • Macufe
  • Fete de la Musique
  • Oktoberfest

2019 South African festivals calendar

Plan your year – all of 2019’s South African festivals, listed here and more, are conveniently in this infographic by Travelstart.

2019 South African festivals infographic (Travelstart)

Festivals in Africa

Here’s a great list of music festivals all over Africa for inspiration to travel further on the continent.

Where to get the best festival outfits

Not all festivals call for fun and funky outfits, but the best do. If you don’t have outfits ready in your wardrobe or are traveling light, here are some places to add to your style.

Festival outfit shopping in Cape Town

I stayed at Once in Cape Town (see below) and most of these shops are in walking distance (if not cheap Uber distance).

Mardi Gras is a costume shop that offers rentals (with deposit), accessories to purchase and makeup and body paint (note: the body paint is pretty pricey here).

Second-hand shops: The second-hand shops in Cape Town offer both high-quality vintage (expensive) as well as gently used (more economical) options. They are no strangers to people getting ready for Afrikaburn, and my experience was that they had a lot of fun helping people create great outfits.

  • Meanwhile
  • Second Time Around
  • 2nd Take Long Street
  • Vintage and the city
  • Gracious Daisy Vintage (higher-end, vintage)

The mall: If you’re in need of anything from the mall, the two options you’ll want to check out are Golden Acre (more budget-friendly) and V&A Waterfront (everything you need, but more expensive).

Festival outfit shopping in Johannesburg

Dunusa markets: The first place you might want to look in Johannesburg are dunusas. Dunusa markets start at 2 Rand per item and you can find some gems while surrounded by swirling languages and cultures. You can get to three markets from Park Station – here are detailed instructions on how to find them, how to shop at them and what to be aware of.

Rentals: If you’re looking to rent some items, a few shops to look at are Scalliwags, Razzmatazz and Sinderella. But know that things get lost at events and sometimes don’t make it back (and crafting can be part of the fun).

Second-hand shops: There are plenty of charity and vintage shops in Johannesburg to choose from. Here are a few that are well-liked.

  • Bounty Hunters (be aware, there are cats)
  • Hospice Wits (similar to Goodwill in the US)
  • 27 Boxes
  • VintiQueen
  • Reminiscene
  • Wizards Vintage
  • Patou
  • Rags and lace (higher-end, vintage)

The mall: If you’re in need of anything from the mall or are looking for particular brands, the best option is the Sandton City mall.

Festival outfits Cape Town; best festivals in South Africa

Where to stay in South Africa

My preferred placed to stay for both Cape Town and Johannesburg is Once. Once in Cape Town is perfectly located walking distance from great thrift and costume shops and has both dorm and private options. I wasn’t the only one – when I got back to Cape Town and was checking in, I ran into a bunch of people from my Afrikaburn camp!

Click here to find the best rates and book before they’re full for these festivals.

Picking a place to stay in Johannesburg can be overwhelming, given the city’s reputation. Once in Joburg is a safe and perfectly located hotel/hostel for the event. It is a 10-minute walk from the event venue and located in the city’s up and coming Braamfontein district. They offer private rooms and dorms, both at great prices and with breakfast included.

Find the best price to book Once in Joburg here.

Festivals in South Africa accommodation Once in Joburg

Other options to stay in South Africa:

  • Airbnb: There are plenty of nice Johannesburg and Cape Town options on Airbnb, but it is worth your time to communicate with hosts first to understand the neighborhood you’re choosing. Save $40 on your first booking with this link.
  • Booking: There are a few hundred options on Booking; save $20 on your first booking with this link.

Where to stay in Cape Town

Like any big city, Cape Town has many different accommodation options for any budget and preferences. The best neighborhoods to stay in the city are:

  • Bree Street, Long Street and Kloof Street: buzzing part of the city with many bars and restaurants, great place to stay if you’re planning to go out a lot. Once in Cape Town is ideally located and offers private rooms and dorms.
  • Camps Bay: the fanciest area of Cape Town with the most expensive hotels at the beautiful beach; The Place on the Bay is right on the water and offers apartment-style accommodation.
  • V&A Waterfront: still quite fancy and expensive but nice and safe, with many restaurants and a big shopping mall; the Greenhouse Boutique Hotel is a nice, relatively budget-friendly option close to the waterfront.
  • Tamboerskloof: here you can find places to stay in a different price range, located further from the sea but closer to Table Mountain and Lion’s Head; 91 Loop is a budget option with dorms and La Grenadine is a more comfortable option.
Once in Cape TownThe Place on the BayLa Grenadine

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List of the festivals from the post Best Festivals in South Africa, with images of a whale, cherries and concert

The best festivals in South Africa (and the ones you\'ve never heard of)

Founder of How Dare She, Jessica is on a mission to visit every country in the world, and bring you along with through photos, video and stories. 6 continents and 104 countries in. She has a BA in journalism and Master's in innovation and change, but her real skill is plugging in a USB in 2 or less tries (most of the time). She believes daring isn't about being fearless, but choosing to opt in, in spite of fear. She dares to see, taste, experience and meet the world as she goes.

8 Comments on “The best festivals in South Africa (and the ones you’ve never heard of)

February 4, 2019 at 3:20 am

Could you please change the Hermanus Whale Festival Dates?

27 – 29 September 2019

February 4, 2019 at 6:11 pm

Thanks for the released dates Linda! Happy to have it updated. I hope to be back in the country soon, and maybe I’ll get to catch it this year!

Rolin Booysen
April 23, 2019 at 11:19 pm

Misty Waters Music Festival should definitely be on this list!

Pontsho Mayisela
May 24, 2019 at 9:36 am

Back To The City Festival
Has to be on the list.
The biggest hip hop festival in Africa

June 14, 2019 at 5:29 am

Oh that sounds awesome! I will be looking that up!

Gabriella Bailey
September 20, 2019 at 4:35 am

The Namaqualand Flower Festival and the No Danger Diaries Festival should be on here 🙂

March 3, 2020 at 7:35 am

Where is Misty Waters Music festival on this list?? It’s definitely the next big one on the festival scene!

March 3, 2020 at 7:36 am

Where is Misty Waters Music festival on this list?? The next big thing on the festival scene!


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