With centuries-old traditions and celebrations you might not have heard of before, plus decorative street processions and festivals, visiting Europe at Easter is a great way to soak up different cultures and customs.
Easter in Florence is celebrated with the Scoppio del Carro, also known as the Explosion of the Cart. Easter Sunday starts with morning mass is in the 600 year old Duomo, followed by a parade where two white oxen pull a cart laden with fireworks up to the Baptistery. The Archbishop of Florence then lights the “Colombina” – a dove shaped rocket, that sets off the rest of the fireworks leading to the Explosion Of The Cart. This 500 year old tradition ends with canisters releasing green, red, white and purple smoke into the air which represents the colours of Italy and Florence. It’s certainly an explosive way to celebrate Easter!
Easter (known as Pâques) and Holy Week are also a big deal in Paris and it’s particularly worth visiting Nôtre Dame de Paris Cathedral. This week of celebrations starts with the Blessing of the Palms on Palm Sunday where the cathedral bells will ring just as they would have in the 1700s. Five days of mass then follow, up until the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.
Naturally to end the week there are large celebrations on Easter Sunday across all of Paris – if you want to attend mass we’d recommend arriving early as Nôtre Dame is very popular. If you can’t find space here, try the iconic Sacré Coeur (main image above) with translations of readings and hymns in English and other languages on mass sheets. Another celebration at the Sacré Coeur is the Mass of the Resurrection on Saturday night where you can enjoy a bonfire on the Basilica steps whilst admiring beautiful night-time views over the city.
Kids will also love the Secours Populaire Easter Egg Hunt at the base of the Eiffel Tower on Easter Sunday (10am-5pm). An impressive 20,000 eggs will be hidden for children (and their parents) to find, with more activities like hunting and fishing for eggs and dance workshops to try.
During Semana Santa (Holy Week) thousands head into the streets of Seville to watch daily processions of brass bands and parade floats (pasos), carrying candlelit sculptures of the Passion and the Virgin Mary. Some 50,000 people in traditional robes follow the floats throughout the city as they leave the Cathedral. This is the most important Catholic holiday in Spain, and it’s commemorated with a full week of colour, art and flamboyant processions.
Lourdes is the second most-visited city in France next to Paris and one of the most-visited religious destinations in the world. Join in torch lit Easter processions to the Sanctuary Of Our Lady Of Lourdes – a cave marked by a marble statue of the Virgin Mary. The pilgrimage ends at concealed marble baths which are said to contain healing spring waters. Younger children can also enjoy an Easter egg hunt at the top of Pic du Jer which overlooks the town.
On the evening of Good Friday you can follow a procession, led by the Pope, from the Colosseum to the Roman Forum. Here you’ll follow a huge cross lit with burning torches and the Pope will depict the Stations Of The Cross. It’s also well worth attending one of the masses at St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican which are held by the Pope. On Easter Sunday don’t forget to try a traditional Cornetti which is a big breakfast of eggs, hams and salami. This is usually finished with a Torta di Pasqua (Easter cheese bread) – yum!
Finally, the southern Portuguese province of Algarve is home to Easter celebrations every bit as extravagant as their Spanish counterparts – and are well worth catching if you’re in the area. The main event is the Festa da Mãe Soberana in Loulé where a procession leads a statue of the Patron Saint down from its sanctuary to the Church of São Francisco. This 500 year old festival ends in fireworks and celebrations with music played throughout.
Another thrilling event is the Flower Torches Festival where the streets around the church at São Brás de Alportel are lined with flowers and people join together to parade through the town with colourful handmade flower torches.