Easter Traditions to Travel For This Spring

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

There are few better ways to experience a city or a country than through its eccentricities, cultural phenomena and customs. So while Easter celebrations may be ubiquitous throughout the Christian world, it’s those little nuances of a culture that have taken, what is an otherwise typical religious celebration, and transformed it into a unique cultural event worth travelling for. From Easter egg rolling in the UK and little-known balloon-led festivities in quaint Greek towns to massive explosions in the centre of Florence, these are some of the best European city breaks to take this Easter.

Egg Rolling and Hot Cross Buns in the UK

Symbolism abounds in the UK’s Easter celebrations. Across the country, kitchens are a plume of sugary, scented steam rising from freshly baked hot cross buns, eaten traditionally on Good Friday, the cross branded across their tops, a representation of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. But after the crucifixion, legend tells us the stone sealing his tomb was rolled away, revealing that he had risen from the dead. And in some small British towns, an egg-rolling tradition is thought to symbolise this part of the Easter mythos. The scene plays out a little like a reverse Sisyphus, with people taking to the slopes of Avenham Park in towns like Preston every Easter Monday to race eggs down the grassy hill, as market stalls, bonnet-making classes and Maypole dancing add to the frivolity.

Stay in London, close to Green Park or Kensington Palace, for traditional egg and chocolate hunts, as well as a myriad of events with a cheerful Easter theme. Choose the Athenaeum for elegance elevated by park views or the Rosewood for its perfectly pretty afternoon teas. 

Greece and the night of the Balloons

Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations are legendary, with holy Thursday dedicated to baking Tsoureki and dying Easter eggs in traditional red. Epitafios processions on Good Friday colour villages and towns with beautiful flowers and candlelit parades and Easter Sunday is dedicated to church services, cracking open those red eggs and eating sublime Mayiritsa soup to mark the end of Lent. There are even firework fights between the rival parishes on Chios.

But in the little town of Leonidio in the Peloponnese, Easter takes a delightfully different turn. It begins with those familiar and solemn Epitafios processions slowly winding a candlelit route through town. On Saturday evening, people gather outside and at the end of mass, the bells ring out and candles are lit by the holy fire from the local church. This is then used to light handmade paper lanterns that fly off into the dusky midnight sky, forming distant embers and a poetic representation of eternal life.

If one stays in Athens during the Orthodox Easter festivities, then book a hotel with excellent views of the city and the Acropolis, such as the New Hotel

Prague for Markets

There’s never a bad time to see the atmospheric centre of Prague, but at Easter, the markets enliven the Old Town Square with colourful spring decor, bands strumming out live folk music, various food stalls, and Easter staples like hand-painted eggs and flowers.

As well as the Old Town Square, the other main Easter market is at Wenceslas Square, in the heart of the city. The two squares are 5 minutes walk from each other. Smaller markets are held at Republic Square (Náměstí Republiky), on Kampa Island, and at Havel's Market. While away a few hours browsing the stalls for handcrafted goods, taste hearty food and local drinks, and discover the delightful Czech Easter traditions.

Stay in the delightful Augustine Hotel in the hilly Malá Strana district for easy access to Charles Bridge and the various Easter Markets.

Scoppio del Carro, Florence

Perhaps the most evocative element of Florence’s Scoppio del Carro (or explosion of the cart) is the cart itself. As the impressive, rickety old thing is wheeled to Piazza del Duomo on Easter Sunday, the long shadow of Giotto’s Campanile shading the cobbles beneath, one cannot help but notice the sheer age of it and of the ritual that’s about to take place. Built in 1622 and standing at least two stories high, the wagon is pulled by a pair of oxen wearing colourful garlands and accompanied by drummers and flag throwers dressed in striking historical costumes.

A priest uses flints to light an Easter candle, which is used to light a box of coals, which in turn ignite the ceremonial dove-shaped rocket known as the Columbina, which flies down a cable from the nave of the cathedral. The Columbina sets the fireworks on the cart alight, causing a domino effect that launches a myriad of rockets and sparks flying into the air, resulting in a cacophony of whistles and bangs, and a tornado of glittering, coloured smoke that engulfs the piazza.

Escape the Easter crowds up in the hills close to Boboli Gardens for a stay in the exquisite Villa Cora and take advantage of the spa, outdoor pool and a world-class cocktail bar elevated by palazzo-style rooms, each with breathtaking views of Florence. 

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