Rethymnon Carnival: Crete’s Rio De Janeiro
The Rethymnon Carnival brings together 20,000 people and has everyone singing, dancing and partying all day long. This is a Greek festival to be at…
Rethymnon Carnival in Crete: A Century of Fun
Around the world, carnival is associated with grand and colorful parades and masquerade parties, complete with costumes, tons of confetti, a drunken good time and lots of eating. It is kind of like the storm before the calm of abiding by pre-Easter fasting traditions.
Carnival: What Is It?
For those not familiar, these Western Christian celebrations mark the three-week-long period, commencing 60 days before Easter Sunday. The faithful also prepare for Lent and stop eating meat.
Some of the most famous carnivals take place in New Orleans, Venice and the carnival capital of the world Rio de Janiero. While no carnival on the planet can compete with the scale of two million people attending Rio Carnival daily, Crete has its answer to colorful carnival fun: Rethymnon.
Greece’s Diverse Carnival Traditions
In Greece, the party was going on way before Christianity. Feasts and fun times were organized in the name of Dionysus, the god of wine, theater arts and fertility.
Today, a bit of both Christian elements, ancient Greek elements and historic influences have merged at the most popular carnival celebrations in the country.
As a guest at Rethymnon Carnival, I found out Cretans really love to party and they do it with passion, creativity and outright joy.
Here’s how it went and why you should go…
Back in Rethymnon: Thanks, Rimondi Fountain!
Rethymnon is a gorgeous little port city that has maintained its beautiful Venetian and Byzantine architecture. As a result, Rethymnon’s old town is a romantic landscape of eras bygone.
I had visited briefly for the first time last year and drank water from the landmark Rimondi Fountain. So, as the legend goes, I found myself back in Rethymnon.
Along with Stef, we had the children in tow, seven-year-old Katia and eleven-year-old Ilena. I had never experienced Carnival in Greece and was excited to see what this famous Greek carnival meant for locals and through the eyes of the girls.
Children’s Parade: Rethymnon Carnival in Crete
The day before the Rethymnon Carnival we all got dressed up to parade down the Rethymnon Childrens’ Carnival Parade.We simply just joined in on a slow-moving, very chill kind of march. Fun, dance music blared through speakers as parents pushed baby strollers, balanced a toddlers on their backs or chased the older kids down the line.
It then culminated in a kiddies’ concert at a nearby school. There was free entertainment and lots of sweet giveaways – a party paradise for little ones in costume. I was exhausted after!
Rethymnon Carnival Parade: Sunday
We arrived in Rethymnon Old Town early so we would have time before to walk around before the parade started at 1 p.m.
The pedestrian lanes were already packed with people in costume. Everyone was in costume or at least donning a mask or funny headpiece. Some folks were grabbing a coffee, eating lunch or rushing to their line in the parade. We got a sneak peak of all the costumes the paraders would be wearing. Many of the colorful floats from previous years were parked throughout the town which added to the whole atmosphere.
The Rethymnon Carnival Begins
We found a good spot on the parade line. While Stef took these great photos, the girls and I spent the next hours having fun on the sidelines.
Thirty plus teams participated in the Rethymnon Carnival Parade. Each team organized a theme, costumes and floats. The floats, called armas, all varied in size and complexity.
In many ways, I agreed with the message of their theme. As an American expat, I must admit it was sad for me to think of the state of my homeland today and the negative perceptions people have. But, I won’t get all political here.
Other floats, were total fun and the kids absolutely loved them. In fact, after five hours of standing there, we thought they would be hungry or tired but they didn’t want to budge an inch. They were mesmerized by it all and loved dancing on the sidelines with team members who passed by. When it finished, they didn’t want it to end and kept babbling about coming next year!
The Burning of the Rethymnon Carnival King
The Rethymnon Carnival Parade ended around 6 p.m. and that was when we followed the huge crowd to the beach front to watch the Burning of the Carnival King. I didn’t know what to expect actually. I can tell you no kings were harmed!
The Burning is a tradition during which the first float is set on fire, a symbolic way to say goodbye to the celebration and move on to the pre-Easter traditions like Clean Monday, Great Lent and eventually Easter Week.
Conclusion: Rethymnon Carnival in Crete
The Rethymnon Carnival is the third largest carnival in Greece, after Patras and Xanthi. Some say it’s the second largest. In any case, it’s a very organized event that Rethymnians prepare for months.
I didn’t find it overwhelming despite the fact 20,000 people were there. It was easy to walk around despite the crowds. We didn’t lose the kids once! What I really liked was that it was for the whole community – from babies to elderly folks – everyone fit in and everyone was thrilled to be there.
I found it wonderful for the children, and I think they had the time of their lives. They left loving Rethymnon. In the end, they made sure they drunk water from the Rimondi Fountain so they too, can return. Okay, I took a big sip too. 😉
Facts and Tips About Rethymnon Carnival in Crete
- The Rethymnon Carnival is more than 100 years old. It started in 1914.
- Events are free of charge to attend.
- If you are driving to the big parade, be sure to arrive at the city parking by the harbor as early as 11 a.m. to find a space. Otherwise, overflow parking is available within city limits and buses can transport you in.
- It has grown to be the largest Carnival parade in Crete, Greece’s largest island.
- The Rethymnon Carnival is also one of the largest in Greece.
- Rethymnon is also known for other significant cultural events including its annual Renaissance Festival.
- The city of Rethymnon holds events for the month leading up to the Rethymnon Carnival. For details check the city’s website: www.rethymno.gr
How to Get to Crete
There are more than a dozen daily flights from Athens to the Heraklion International Airport in Crete via Aegean or Olympic.
International travelers arrive by air, usually with a change in Athens. Between May and October, charter and low-cost airlines operate direct flights mainly from the U.K., Germany and Scandinavian countries.
Ferries connect between Heraklion port in Crete to Piraeus port in Athens. Travel time by ferry is about 9 to 10 hours, and the journey is typically an overnight trip. I recommend Minoan Lines. I journeyed on an overnight ferry from/to Athens. Check out my earlier post: Overnight Ferry to Crete with Minoan Lines.
Getting Around Crete
The easiest way to get from point A to point B on the island is by driving. If you’re looking for a reliable and professional company, I recommend Rental Center Crete. They have car hire services at the Heraklion airport, Chania airport and the port of Heraklion. Other rental services are available in Hersonissos, Gouves, Kokkini Hani, Georgioupolis, Agios Nikolaos, Rethymno and Bali.
If you’re not looking to drive or bother with public transport, another option is booking a great private tour of the island. I’d recommend Crete Cab Airport Transfers. Besides transfers, they offer a variety of interesting tours and excursions with an array of vehicle types to choose from.
Where to Stay in Rethymnon
I highly recommend the following stays near and in Rethymnon’s old town.
Pepi Studios is a lovely historic boutique hotel with every modern amenity in the heart of Rethymnon Old Town. Run by a fantastic local family. Full review coming soon. Until then, check out their website: www.pepistudios.gr.
Avli is another beautiful boutique hotel that gracefully stays true to the various historic architectural influences in Rethymnon. My hotel review is coming up soon. Until then, visit www.avli.gr. Avli also has one of the best fine dining restaurants in the old town. Check out my dining review: Avli in Rethymnon: Cretan Dining Defined.
Amazing Villas in Crete are well, just that, amazing villas! Located in Asteri village, a ten-minute drive from the old town, these spacious, traditional homes offer great amenities, a private pool and views of lush olive groves, mountains and the sea. Full villa stay review coming up soon. Until then, visit www.amazingvillasincrete.com
What to Do in Crete
For a rundown of what I experienced the first time around during my visit to Crete, check out my post: 10 Things I Learned in Crete in 7 Days
Some of the best beaches in Greece are in Crete, check out: Photo Tour: Beaches of Crete to get inspired.
*Travel Greece, Travel Europe thanks the City of Rethymnon for making this unique experience possible.
Pin For Later
Have you ever attended a fantastic Carnival around the world, or in Greece? I’d love to hear about it. Comment in the comment box below!
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