Carnival: Big Celebration in Rethymno’s Streets
The Rethymno Carnival is a celebration of family and traditional Cretan values, with joyous street parades, masquerades, games, music, dance, art, culture, and good food. It marks the days before Lenten, the strict Greek Orthodox fasting period before Easter, which lasts over 40 days.
Thousands of people join the festivities every year. The Carnival went on, with some interruptions (for example, when the city cancelled it in WWII or, more recently, in 2020 and 2021, because of COVID-19 restrictions) since 1914.
Initially, this celebration was a local get-together full of humoristic events and comical antics paying tribute to “His Excellency, The King of the Carnival.” There was a Treasure Hunt too, but nothing so spectacular as what happens today in the streets of Rethymno.
A lot has changed since 1914 when the city held its first Carnival. Now, Rethymno represents Greece as a part of the Federation of European Carnival Cities (FECC), which currently only has 24 active members.
While the Rethymno Carnival has some elements in common with others worldwide – the Grand Parade – it also has characteristics that make it unique. The Treasure Hunt, for example. So here’s a fun trivia fact for you: 1384 people participated in the 28th Treasure Hunt Game of Rethymno on February 12, 2017, officially inscribing the city in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The Grand Parade and Treasure Hunt show what a big celebration the Carnival is for the city. However, they are not the only worthwhile events.
The Rethymno Carnival has a different theme every year, and the organizers ensure that all the events will “match” it. And, since the celebrations last three weeks, they have enough time to entertain you.
Here’s what you can expect:
- The opening ceremony typically starts with a children’s party featuring the little ones’ music, dance, and entertainment. Then, the Carnival King and his royal suite arrive just before the town’s mayor declares the Carnival officially open in a short and vivid ceremony.
- Treasure hunt games for children and adults, usually accompanied by a performance of the dance teams of the Treasure Hunt.
- Performances by the Traditional Cretan Cadets and Old Greek Cadets. The Traditional Cretan Cadets are teachers and students of the Rethymno Music School.
- Other parades before the Grand Parade include children’s and night parades.
- There will be fireworks galore and the burning of a Carnival King effigy on the last night of the Carnival.
Venues – art galleries, cultural canters, museums, restaurants, cafes, and vendors of all kinds – also prepare events for the Carnival. You’ll never go hungry: don’t leave before sampling Carnival street food.
Between performances, musicians walk the streets playing the Cretan lyra, and the cheerful tunes will make the atmosphere even more enthralling, building anticipation for the next event.
It’s impossible to get bored during the Carnival season in Rethymno’s streets. There are parties everywhere, some lasting from dusk to dawn. You will find many tavernas along the way and on the beach, keeping partygoers winded up with live music or DJs spinning the trendiest and funniest beats of the moment.
All public events organized by the city are free. However, tavernas and food vendors charge for food and drinks.
If you want to see the Carnival, organize your trip ahead: it happens outside the tourist season. Direct flights to Crete may be hard to find. Accommodation is difficult to find, too, although many hotels in the area will open their doors only for the duration of the Carnival of Rethymno.