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

[updated August 2019]

South Africa is a country rich with diversity in everything from language to arts and culture. This also goes for festivals in South Africa – 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. These are the South African festivals worth checking out (and a dozen you’ve probably never heard of)!

Cultural and music festivals in South Africa

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.

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

Rocking the Daisies

Where: Cape Town, South Africa
When: October 4th through 6th, 2019

This music and arts festival is held annually in Cape Town. Rocking the Daisies will be held October 4th through 6th, 2019. 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 30th and 31st, 2019

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.

Ultra South Africa

Where: Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa
When: March 1st and 2nd, 2019 (2020 dates TBA)

Ultra is the world’s premiere festival brand, held in 24 cities all over the world in 2019. It is South Africa and the continent’s biggest electronic music festival. It will be in Cape Town on March 1st and Johannesburg on the 2nd.

READ  One day in Cape Town

Klein Karoo National Arts Festival

Where: Oudtshoorn, Western Cape, South Africa
When: March 24th through March 29th, 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 27th and 28th, 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 9th through 13th, 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.

Afrikaburn

Where: Tankwa Karoo, South Africa
When:
April 27th through May 3rd, 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.

READ  Afrikaburn – Photo gallery and guide to South Africa's regional burn

Afrikaburn best festivals in South Africa

Bushfire Festival

Where: Malkerns Valley, eSwatini
When:
May 24th through 26th, 2019 (2020 dates TBA)

MTN Bushfire Festival in Swaziland isn’t in South Africa, but the tiny kingdom is just a 4-hour drive from Johannesburg, it counts. 2019 will be Bushfire‘s 13th year, bringing music and arts from all over the continent to the continent’s smallest country – Swaziland. It was May 24th through 26th, 2019.

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 27th through July 7th, 2019 (2020 dates TBA)

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 26th through June 39th, 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.

READ  Basha Uhuru Freedom Festival 2018 guide
Basha Uhuru Freedom Festival 2018 guide best festivals in South Africa

Soweto International Jazz Festival

Where: Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa
When: June 14th through June 16th, 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.

Oppikoppi (canceled for 2019)

Where: Northam, South Africa
When: 2019 is canceled, will return 2020; August 8th through August 10th, 2018

Note: Oppikoppi has been canceled for 2019 and is set to return in 2020 after taking a “gap year.”

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.

Other festivals in South Africa worth checking out

  • At the Clarens Craft Beer Festival, you can taste over 70 beers and ciders from 20+ craft breweries (February 22-23, 2019).
  • For literary festivals, consider the Knysna Literary Festival (March 8-10, 2019) or the Franschhoek Literary Festival (May 17-19, 2019).
  • 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 (Friday, June 21st, 2019).
  • The Kirkwood Wildlife Festival (Sundays River Valley, Eastern Cape) will be June 28-30, 2019. 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.
  • Oktoberfest at the German International School (September 13-15, 2018) 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 27-29, 2019). 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 in October 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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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)

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 Town

The Place on the Bay

La Grenadine

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Festivals in South Africa range from a desert burn to urban city fests to a New Year\'s celebration. Here are 24+ South African festivals worth checking out!#southafrica #mzansi #festivals

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.

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