European Easter festivities are wildly diverse, inspired by a range of different beliefs and traditions, as well as some good old-fashioned human weirdness. Wondering where to spend Easter in Europe, or how different countries celebrate this holiday? I’ll give you a hint: the list starts off with a bang.
Read on for inspiration on the best Easter holiday destinations in Europe.
1. Athens/Chios, Greece
Always dreamed of two rival Greek Orthodox churches firing rockets at each other as part of a decades-long feud? That’s a weirdly specific dream you’ve got, but there’s good news: it’s only a 45-minute domestic flight away from Athens. This unique tradition, known as Rouketopolemos, is one of the most explosive ways to celebrate Easter in Europe, and is a must-see for thrillseekers and fireworks enthusiasts.
While the island of Chios (where the action takes place) is beautiful, you might have a more enjoyable time exploring the wonders of Athens first and heading to Vrontados – the village where it all takes place – specifically for the festivities. For touristic bonus points, try helping with the clean-up efforts afterwards.
When you’re in Athens, make sure you stop by a bakery to pick up some tsoureki (tasty Greek Easter bread). Also, if you’d rather not get caught up in a religious rocket battle, staying in Athens for Easter is a pretty great experience in itself. At midnight on Easter Saturday around Greece, church bells proclaim Christ’s resurrection and a lot of people cheer/let off fireworks to celebrate. Just not at each other, and not quite as ferociously as they do in Vrontados.
2. Málaga, Spain
Easter in Spain is a little bit different. Rather than a weekend affair, the nation famously devotes an entire Holy Week to this time period, known as Semana Santa. While each region approaches the celebrations differently, there are a few cities that stand out with their particularly noteworthy traditions – Málaga is one of them.
Taking place during the final week of Lent, the week immediately preceding Easter, Semana Santa is one of Málaga’s primary cultural and religious events. It’s been declared an official ‘Fiesta of International Tourist Interest of Spain’ as early as 1965, and visiting this unique spectacle is at the top of bucket lists everywhere when it comes to Easter holiday destinations in Europe.
Arguably the most striking imagery comes from the penitential robes worn by those who partake in solemn religious processions throughout this time period. The majority of these costumes feature a capirote, a pointed hood with a long and not-so-storied history; in the past, men and women who were arrested by the Inquisition were forced to wear these hoods as a mark of shame and humiliation. Over time, the hoods were kept as a way of showing religious penitence.
Over the course of the week, Málaga hosts 45 different processions, all of which feature a range of unique sculptures and religious imagery. The details and symbolism are too extensive to cover here, but even for those without a religious context, witnessing Semana Santa observations in Málaga is a unique and memorable experience due to its combination of moving solemnity alongside celebration and unrestrained emotion.
3. Sofia, Bulgaria
What’s the ultimate test of strength and skill? Armwrestling? Cagefighting? Connect Four? If any of these were your answers, it’s time to reconsider, grab an egg of your choice, and head to one of the best Easter holiday destinations in Europe: Bulgaria.
Here, locals celebrate Easter with a battle to see who has the toughest egg. Don’t worry, the battle is friendlier than the fireworks war on that Greek island earlier. This video showing two local football teams deciding who takes the Easter game kick-off should give you a pretty good idea. You just take turns with strategic egg-to-egg taps to break the other person’s while keeping yours intact, with the winner receiving good luck and fortune. It’s a combination of Jenga, boxing, and… eggs.
Other Balkan countries do this too, but we picked Bulgaria because Sofia is an amazing city to celebrate Easter in. The midnight mass is a real religious experience (appropriate, considering the holiday) and the old city architecture only makes it more impactful. Whether it comes down to religious observance, classic sightseeing, or a powerful fascination with eggs, not many places beat Sofia when it comes to celebrating Easter in Europe.
4. Florence, Italy
Easter in Europe is often elaborate, deeply rooted in historical practices, and – as you might have noticed – occasionally explosive. With that being said, Florence takes it to an entirely new level.
The famous “Scoppio del Carro” (“Explosion of the Cart”) makes this Tuscan city one of the best Easter holiday destinations in Europe. The tradition dates back all the way to the First Crusade (1096-1099), during the Siege of Jerusalem. A Florentine warrior was said to have been the first man who scaled the walls of the city, and was given three flints from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as a reward for his bravery. Once these flints were taken back to Florence, the tradition of lighting a holy fire (carried by a torch-wielding procession) around Easter began.
Things escalated from there.
Over the centuries, the Explosion of the Cart became what it is today: a huge event in which a 30-foot-tall cart is jam-packed with fireworks, dragged along by a team of flower crown-wearing white oxen, and escorted by a host of soldiers, musicians, and revellers in 15th-century period costume.
Meanwhile, inside the beautiful local cathedral, a mechanical dove (the ‘colombina’) is attached to a wire connected to the cart. During Easter Mass, the cardinal of Florence proceeds to light the fuse, launching the dove at the cart, and beginning an elaborate 20-minute fireworks display.
There’s plenty more to describe, but at this point you should have a pretty good impression of why this is one of the best Easter holiday destinations in Europe. It’s every bit as fun as it was back in the 1400s.
One unique way to celebrate Easter in Europe is getting wet and wild in Poland. Presumably keeping in mind Easter’s historical roots as a fertility festival, the local tradition of ‘Wet Monday’ features a bit of informal flirting in which young bachelors splash eligible women with water as part of their attempt at courtship. If you’re not into getting soaked, or not that into the person trying to soak you, you can bribe them with an egg. Humans are wonderful.
Known in Polish as ‘Śmigus-dyngus’, the tradition historically also includes gentle spankings, but let’s stick to the splashing for the purposes of this post. Theoretically, the women are meant to wait until the following day before exacting their revenge on their tormentors, and soaking them in turn. Take one guess as to whether that works or not. In practice, it’s more of a free-for-all water fight, full of immediate aquatic vengeance. The romantic connotations are often ignored, and people of all ages get in on the fun.
While the traditional versions are still upheld in some rural areas, Śmigus-dyngus celebrations are also still quite popular in modern cities. The famous market squares of cities like Krakow and Warsaw have been known to become splashing battlegrounds, making it a pretty unique time of the year to visit.
6. Bessières, France
Every year, a mysterious and secretive organisation gathers in the French countryside for their Easter ritual. This ancient brotherhood performs their duties with delicate care and reverence, sacrificing their sweat and toil to create… a really, really big omelette.
Seriously, it’s pretty huge. It’s made with 15,000 eggs by up to 40 cooks, all wearing their traditional cultist garments (fancy chef hats). Thousands of people come to watch the omelette being made, and to help gobble up what must essentially seem like a dystopian nightmare for a chicken.
According to egg lore, the tradition dates back to the time of Napoleon, when the emperor and his army decided to spend the night near the town of Bessières. Napoleon allegedly enjoyed an omelette prepared by the local innkeeper so much that he ordered the townspeople to gather all the eggs in the village in order to make a huge omelette for his army. Classic Napoleon.
Basically, if you’re into weird and wonderful traditions, this small French town is one of Europe’s best Easter holiday destinations. The closest big city is Toulouse, which is only 35 minutes away by car or bus and serves as a lovely base for checking out this egg-cellent Easter festival.
7. Stockholm, Sweden
The Scandinavian Easter tradition is a bit different compared to other nations, with the holiday resembling something similar to Halloween. Kids in Sweden dress up as ‘easter witches’ and travel from house to house, collecting sweets and candy. Basically, no matter what belief systems or traditions people have, children will always find a way to dress up in costumes and get free candy.
One nice twist on the classic ‘trick or treat’ scenario (which has always seemed like a pretty unfair trade-off) is that the kids will often present their neighbours with homemade paintings or drawings in exchange for treats. Similarly, the Swedes have one of the most sober and rational variations on the Easter Bunny: the mighty Easter Rooster.
There’s also an interesting and colourful decoration, unique to Sweden – ubiquitous birch twig arrangements that can be spotted on the streets and in people’s homes. These originally served as reminders of Christ’s sacrifice and pain (it is a religious holiday after all), but due to an increasingly secular society are now seen by many purely as Easter decorations, often adorned with colourful feathers and displayed around the house in vases.
8. Copenhagen, Denmark
Continuing the theme of Scandinavian creativity, Denmark has its very own Easter tradition that involves kids using their brains and artistic skills: the gækkebrev. A gækkebrev (record yourself saying this ten times fast and we’ll put you on our Instagram) is an anonymous letter featuring a rhyming riddle or brainteaser. Usually in the form of a snowflake, the sender signs off with one dot for every letter in their name.
The twist? If you guess who sent it to you, the sender has to give you a chocolate egg. If you fail to identify the sender, you owe them a chocolate egg. Fortunately for most kids, lots of parents and adult relatives are obliging enough to pretend they don’t know who could possibly have sent them this letter.
For any particularly enterprising non-Danish children reading this, make sure that the postal fees to Denmark cost less than a chocolate egg. Also, for adults, Danish beer makers Tuborg release their special Easter beer around this time, for anyone who finds themselves defeated by a five-year-old’s Easter riddle and needs to wash away their sorrows.
9. Berlin, Germany
If there was an award for ‘Cutest Easter in Europe’, Germany might win it. On top of the usual egg painting and hunting fun, there is a confirmed tradition of making a cake shaped like a lamb. Our Official German Source™ (thanks Fran) informs us that it’s very important that the cake has a cute little bell attached to it.
The lamb imagery is rooted in this being the end of the religious fasting period, and the start of being able to eat meat again as a result. While historically a real lamb was killed and eaten, modern sensibilities and lifestyles now make slaughtering a lamb in your backyard a bit of a taboo if you live in an apartment complex in Berlin. The lamb-shaped cake is a nice animal-friendly and neighbour-friendly alternative.
Certain dark corners of the internet also claim that it’s an Easter tradition in Germany to eat specific green foods – though every single German person I asked about this has denied it with a puzzled look on their face. Either someone on the internet has been telling lies, or there’s a culinary conspiracy to uncover here.
10. Rome, Italy
It’s hard to argue against Rome being among the best Easter holiday destinations in Europe, especially if you happen to be Catholic. On Good Friday, the Pope delivers a mass at 5 PM, which is one of the religious calendar’s most significant events. There’s also plenty of cultural and religious history to explore in Rome and the Vatican, including legendary landmarks like St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, the Colosseum, the Borghese Gallery, and more.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do and enjoy some Colomba di Pasqua – a local treat that’s basically the Eastertime equivalent of panettone. Baked into the (approximate) shape of a dove, it’s covered with almonds on top and typically has raisins on the inside. While many swear that it’s delicious, it’s also been described as ”an enemy” by a prominent Italian Tiqeteer with a distaste for raisins.
11. Bucharest, Romania
Painting eggs is a pretty popular Easter activity across most of Europe, but some countries take it to an entirely new level. Romania in particular has refined egg-painting into a legitimate form of art, with dazzling designs and patterns that look like something you’d pay to admire in a museum.
This centuries-old local tradition emerged out of rural Romanian village life, with many villages having their own designated painter. Like most Easter traditions, there’s a lot of symbolism involved – including what colours the eggs are painted with. Usually there are only three or four different colours used, each symbolizing themes like love, eternity, health, and more.
The motifs also vary depending on the artist (and region), but often include stunning geometrical patterns, natural imagery, and delicate linework. The Bucovina region is most famous for its eggs (there are even museums devoted to the history and art of this tradition), but you’ll be able to find examples in gift shops around the country.
12. London, England
Honestly, they’re not even part of Europe anymore, are they? There was a whole referendum about it and everything. Regardless, the UK begrudgingly deserves a mention on this list because they do have the single-greatest Easter attraction in the world: Shrek’s Adventure in London. Easter in the UK wouldn’t be the same without it.
Note that Easter in Europe is celebrated in a number of different ways – not just per country or per city, but on an individual level. This list is meant purely as a catalogue of the entertaining and interesting ways that some people celebrate Easter in Europe.
Not everyone in Sofia will be happy to engage in a ferocious egg battle with you, and not every resident of Rome will await the Pope’s mass with bated breath. Similarly, it’s strongly suggested not to start splashing random Polish people with water during your Easter holiday celebrations.
With that being said, if you’re wanting to experience some of these traditions for yourself, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to make that dream a reality by going to one of these places for your next Easter break!