6 cities to experience the Orthodox Easter

Orthodox Easter

Roman Catholics already gorged on their chocolate Easter eggs, whereas Eastern Orthodoxy is getting ready to celebrate Easter this Sunday. Easter isn’t only the most important Christian festival, but it also marks the transition from winter to spring. We consider this to be an excellent opportunity for an Easter holiday in a city which commemorates the two events remarkably. Here’s a guide to the cities that celebrate the Orthodox Easter in a way that accounts for a unique travel experience.

St. Petersburg

As packs of snow begin to melt and the first blossoms emerge, St. Petersburg comes to life. However, the average temperature range is between 0 and 15 degrees Celsius. So, remember to pack your waterproof shoes, gloves, and polo necks. At this time of the year, Neva River is frozen, so no cruises are operating. But you can watch the ice from Lake Ladoga float down the city’s waterways.

Celebrating Easter in one of St. Petersburg’s majestic churches and cathedrals is a unique travel experience. The Saviour on the Spilled Blood in the historical center, in front of the Mikhailovsky Garden, is home to mosaics of rare beauty. In the same area is St. Issac, one of the world’s largest and most adorned cathedrals. On a clear day, climb to the top for breathtaking, panoramic views of the city.

A trip to Russia wouldn’t be complete without a ballet show. For performances in and around Easter, check out the Dance Open festival and the Mariinsky Theatre, part of the world-famous Bolshoi Theatre. If you cannot make it to St. Petersburg on time for Easter, don’t fret. You can come just on time for St. Petersburg’s prominent spring and summer festivals. Check out May’s Sergey Kuryokhin International Festival (SKIF) of world music, performance, and visual arts.

Athens

Easter is one of the few times of the year that Athens is quiet, as most locals escape to the countryside. Make the most of the traffic-free roads and the personalized service at bars and restaurants, and immerse yourself into the local culture by taking a walk through time. Start from Kerameikos archaeological site, continue to the ancient Agora, the Temple of Hephaestus, and stroll around the picturesque neighborhood of Plaka.  

On Good Friday, join one of the many silent and mournful processions commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus. The ceremony starts at several downtown churches (e.g. the Metropolis, Agia Irini, Kapnikarea, etc.). At around 9 PM they all meet at Syntagma Square. On Saturday, people attend the midnight mass, and the deafening sounds of the bells and fireworks mark the ascension of Jesus. The joy is shifted to the homes, where the 40-day-long Lent is broken with a feast.

On Easter Sunday, go to a family-run taverna in Koukaki, Plaka, Monastiraki, or Psyri. Restaurants will be serving the special Easter menu based on spit roast lamb. Also, don’t miss the opportunity to taste the traditional Easter sweet bread called tsoureki. You can find tsoureki in most bakeries. However, our favorite is from the over one hundred-year-old Asimakopouloi patisserie on Harilaou Trikoupi Street.

Sofia

Bulgaria is mostly known for its world class yet affordable ski resorts in Bansko, Borovets, and Pamporovo. However, the Orthodox Easter is an excellent occasion to indulge in the welcoming culture of the Balkans. Sofia is so hospitable and diverse that it is the only European city where the places of worship of four major religions are so close to each other. An Orthodox church, a mosque, a Catholic cathedral, and a synagogue form the so called Square of Religious Tolerance, right in the city center.

As the days are getting warmer and longer, fairs, open-air music performances, and picnics start taking place in the city’s parks. Borisova Gradina — known among the locals as Sofia’s lungs — is every generation’s favorite getaway. Other green areas worth checking out are Zaimov Park and the National Theatre’s Garden. To top it off, Vitosha Mountain is a short drive away, inviting urbanites to forest walks in the protected natural park.

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If you want to attend a typical Orthodox Easter service, go to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral from 11 PM on Good Saturday. People will bring their red eggs and bread to be blessed before they start cracking each others’ eggs. The person who comes out of the battle with a whole egg is said to be graced with a year of good luck. Some of the Bulgarian specialties you should try in the traditional mehanas are the banitsa cheese pie, tarator cold soup, and rakia (an alcoholic drink made of plums).

Addis Ababa

Ethiopia has one of the oldest Christian traditions, dating back to the fourth century. This explains the strong links between faith and culture. From Good Thursday to Fasika (Easter Sunday), Ethiopians engage in masses, ceremonies, and the preparation of special meals such as the bakela Lent dish.

Addis Ababa is a dynamic city with a unique personality, evident in its architecture, social life, languages, and customs. The staple of the Ethiopian culture is the traditional coffee ceremonies. Aromatic freshly roasted beans served from a jebena black clay pot into mini cups. Once you try Ethiopia’s signature dish, comprised of injera (a spongy round bread made of teff flour) topped with side dishes and hot sauces, you will probably stick to it for the rest of your trip.

For a flawless stay in Ethiopia, consider the following before setting off. The knowledge of basic Amharic will help you get by. To go through passport control at the airport, you must show your yellow fever card (consult with a travel clinic). Pack your hiking shoes, sunscreen, but also layers — Addis Ababa is at an altitude of more than 2,000 meters, and temperatures drop significantly at night.

Bucharest

Bucharest is a city where the old meets the new skillfully. Art Nouveau hotels, communist blocks, and French-inspired architecture from the 1920s showcase Bucharest’s rich past. The best way to explore the city — and see most of the public art dotted throughout town — is on foot.

Easter in Bucharest is about spirituality and self-discovery. If you want to witness an Easter service, there are many historic churches, which are also great sightseeing spots. Stavropoleos church, a stone’s throw away from the National Museum of Romanian History, is also a monastery. The church is most admired for the stone and wood carvings on the doors.  

Tradition may prevent believers from partying during Lent, but the vibrant nightlife of Lipscani is tempting. Local restaurants, themed clubs, hipster bars — all set the scenery for a fun night out in Bucharest. In the outskirts of the Old Town, the Macca-Villacrosse Passage is an arcade filled with cafés and bars. On Easter Sunday, find your quiet spot in the Herastrau Park, spread around the Herastrau lake. Even though swimming in the lake is strictly forbidden, you can try your fishing skills.

Limassol

The Holy Week preceding Easter, you will hear locals enthusiastically exchanging blessings of “Kalo Pacha!” In anticipation of a Happy Easter, Cypriots go to church, shop for presents, and bake. On Good Thursday, the preparation of flaounes (loaves filled with cheese and raisins), koulourakia (crunchy biscuits), and cheese pies preoccupy the households.   

Limassol has many spots of interest, including the marina and the Medieval Limassol Castle at the center of the historical city. Bike sharing stations allow for an eco-friendly and fun way to move around at your leisure. To explore the Limassol district further, take a scenic journey through nature to visit the outstanding Wine Villages of Limassol.

On Easter Sunday, the smell of outdoor barbeques fills the air and invites locals and visitors alike to an all-day feast. If you cannot be in Limassol during Easter, consider planning your trip around the upcoming spring festivals. The Street Life Festival and the Limassol Spring Festival in the National Forest Park occur in early May.

Are you a local in one of the cities mentioned in this article? Join our community of dedicated locals, and help travellers explore your city in a unique way.

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