In Greece, the three weeks before Lent, which leads to Greek Orthodox Easter, form the carnival season known locally as Apokries (9 February to 1 March in 2020). The carnival is related to Christianity but has its roots in ancient festivals honouring Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility. In modern days, most Athenians love to participate in the fun atmosphere of Apokries, making February and March a great time to visit the city.
Parties and parades
Athenians have a good excuse to go out more than usual during this period, and the city’s nightlife is revived after the quiet weeks following Christmas and New Year. Bars and clubs throw theme parties and dressed-up revellers of all ages are a common sight in the streets and on public transport.
The festivities peak on the last weekend, particularly Sunday when numerous outdoor celebrations, masquerades and parades take place. The most remarkable and biggest crowd-pullers are the parade in Moschato, a neighbourhood on the coast near Piraeus, and the packed streets of Plaka, the old quarter where hordes of locals engage in plastic-bat wars amid confetti.
On the second Thursday of Apokries (aka Tsiknopempti), everyone is supposed to eat meat. Thick smoke envelopes the city from the early hours, as many shopkeepers set up their own spontaneous mini-barbecues on the pavements. Dinner in a restaurant or a grill house on Tsiknopempti requires booking many days in advance; Telemachos in chic Kolonaki neighbourhood is a suitable choice for this occasion.
Clean Monday (officially the first day of Lent) follows the closing carnival weekend; it’s also a public holiday. Athenians stock up on ouzo and every conceivable kind of seafood and head to the countryside or the coast to have picnics and fly kites. The pine-shaded Filopappou Hill, with views to the Saronic Gulf, is the place to go for those opting to stay in the city.
Trips from Athens
Every part of Greece has distinct local customs and celebrations but to experience the Greek carnival par excellence, travel to Patra in the Peloponnese during the third weekend. The city fully embraces the festivities and the huge parade on Sunday brings to mind images from Brazil. Just make sure you book a hotel well in advance, unless you’re up for a sleepless three-day party (which is feasible).
Arguably the most spectacular and action-packed Clean Monday celebrations take place in the picturesque town of Galaxidi, on the Gulf of Corinth in central Greece. Locals and hundreds of visitors participate in huge coloured-flour-smudging in the streets until late in the evening, when everyone is covered in flour. Pure fun.
Article first published in January 2019, and last updated in December 2019