Either you have some very excited friends who have visited Patras Carnival, or… you ended up looking up for it because flights to Rio De Janeiro were a bit out of budget.
Whichever scenario brought you here, I guarantee, you will NOT be disappointed, as our carnival is not in any way less fun or exciting compared to its more famous “cousin”, Rio Carnival.
Patras Carnival has a history of almost 200 (!) years and is considered one of the most famous Greek attractions. People from all over Greece and neighboring countries visit the city during the Carnival days and Patras is bursting with young, energetic revelers, who are spreading fun vibes all around.
Because it’s an event – or more accurately a series of events – for which you will not find much information online, let me give you a thorough local expert survival list, to make sure you will not omit anything important in your trip planning for Patras Carnival.
Choose your dates wisely
Carnival is a pretty long celebration. As it is widely known, we Greeks don’t miss a chance to prolong those!
And when I say long, I mean it starts every year on January the 17th and ends a day before Clean Monday. Clean Monday is a moveable feast, occurring on the 7th Monday before Easter. For instance, this year, 2020, it is on the 2nd of March.
Of course, you are more than welcome to spend almost a month in Patras, in order to attend the full program of Carnival, however, let’s go with the more probable scenario, of you visiting 4-5 days.
The tourist attraction of the Carnival is the big parades, happening throughout the city streets, where you can also take part. And these parades happen on the weekend, right before the end of the Carnival.
More specifically, here’s the timeline:
Parade of the Floats – Friday 28/2/2020
Walking (or Night) Parade – Saturday 29/2/2020
Grand Parade & Closing Ceremony – Sunday 1/3/2020
Awards & Clean Monday – 2/3/2020
So a perfect vacation stay would be from Friday, one day before the big parade, until Tuesday, one day after Clean Monday. During this time, you will also have the chance to attend additionally the Closing Ceremony, Parade of the Floats and the awards of the best Carnival groups.
Don’t be a last-minuter when it comes to accommodation
When I said that Carnival is one of the biggest attractions of Patras, I seriously meant it. That’s why it’s a logical consequence, that accommodation options in a small city, like Patras, are severely diminished even a month before the start of the festival.
We are going to explore your options for accommodation with an ascending order when it comes to the price.
First of all, if you have friends here, know that locals are really familiar with the concept of hosting hordes of visitors in their places. So don’t be ashamed and go ahead to ask them if they can spare a couch.
Which brings us to your second option, being Couchsurfing. If no friends are detected in Patras, why not make some? Send some requests on the famous app and if you are lucky enough, a local will accept hosting you.
There are not many Airbnbs available during this period in Patras, and the ones that are, are usually overpriced. Sometimes a hotel is more budget-friendly, so keep this in mind before booking.
A very important tip before choosing your apartment or hotel is to relocate the map on the platform, as most apartments that appear are really far from the actual center, even on the other side of the sea! So be very careful to book an apartment in walking distance from the center, unless you decide to bring a car and stay sober.
Byzantino, on the other hand, is an excellent choice if you want to be literally one step away from the festival!
Join a Carnival group
Carnival groups are masses of people dressed in the same suit that storm around the city during the two Parades, the “Night Parade” and the “Grand Parade”.
Joining such a group is definitely a must, otherwise, why would you come for the Carnival! This is also the big advantage of Patras’ Carnival compared to Rios’, where mostly samba schools join the parade. For these parades, you neither need to know how to samba nor wear a costume like Victoria’s Secret’s latest feathered runway creation (although if you can pull those off, you’re still more than welcome!).
On Carnival’s website, you can see a list with all the available groups, once they are announced. You don’t need to rush for this one, as Greek people never rush! The list is announced about a month before the carnival. You can choose your favorite suit among them and send your inquiry to join.
Keep in mind that the suit is hardly ever important for the youngest ones. The most complicated and impressive suits are those of the first groups in the line during the parade. These groups usually consist of older people, who enjoy Carnival as it was in the old times.
One the other hand, younger people care more about the night parties and wild entertainment. So they follow far behind during the parade, usually starting much later than the first groups and their suits are much less complex.
Groups are also organizing special parties for their members, before and after the parades, so it’s a great way to socialize with other people.
Depending on what you want to experience during your stay, choose your group accordingly!
Don’t miss the Parade of the Floats
Friday might be your arrival day in Patras, but you’re not allowed to miss this parade.
The floats are huge sculptures, made of polystyrene, which are paraded through the streets. They tend to have a particular artistic look, and a satirical dimension. Most of the times, they are inspired by contemporary politics, but also convey various other messages concerning nowadays.
The biggest and most magnificent float is the one of the Carnival King, for whom you will read about again later.
Following the Float of the Carnival King, the Float of the Carnival Queen is carrying a beautiful, young lady, sharing smiles with the attendees. Every year there is a call, during which ambitious Queens can apply for the position.
This parade is definitely going to supply you with a good deal of Instagram stories, so be ready.
In order to avoid surprises when you read the seventh title, the Queen of the Carnival is a real person, while the King is just a… float!
Wear your suit and grab a bottle of Mavrodafni (no matter what)
And when I say no matter what, I mean even if it’s raining cats and dogs.
It’s not unusual for the Carnival days to be rainy. Luckily, as the saying goes, we’re not made of sugar. We’re in fact so used to parades with rain, that if we’re honest, it doesn’t feel like Carnival without a bit of rain. (No? Just me?)
However, the point is that you need to get out of the house and join the parade even if all the Plagues of Egypt strike Patras the same day. (Okay, maybe that’s a bit too dramatic).
The next thing you need to do, while you’re on your way to the parade, is to find a store or a wandering seller that sells Mavrodafni.
Mavrodafni, or Mavrodaphne is a local wine made of black grapes, for which we in Patras are very proud of. It doesn’t matter if you buy it on the street or in a store, the bottle is secure either way.
There’s just one last thing you need to pay attention to in order not to make a terrible mistake and locals start looking at you with repulsion.
Don’t use a glass.
Mavrodafni is supposed to be consumed right away from the bottle and there will be no exceptions. So grab a bottle, hold it throughout the parade, get a second one if this one is finished and last but not least, don’t even consider to say that you didn’t like the wine. We get really emotional about this.
Experience the best of the nightlife
Once the parade is finished, you might want to get an hour or two of rest… or not! After that, it’s time to explore the nightlife, which is without a doubt… active!
First of all, the best parties are literally happening on the streets, outside bars and cafeterias. Bars all along the main street, turn their music really loud and people are gathering up right outside. You can stay, dance, drink something if you want and then move along to the next one.
When you get tired of moving from bar to bar, it is very important to choose the most suitable type of Carnival party for you.
The most famous and biggest clubs in Patras are “OMNIA downtown” and “Navona Club di Oggi”. They are a bit far away from each other, so if your friends are not supporters of walking while drunk, make sure you choose the nearest. Expect mainstream music and, unfortunately, a very big line. However, once you get in, you will be well-rewarded!
Next, as mentioned previously, there are hundreds of small bars with their own parties and if you’re a big group, chances are you will have much more fun in such a place. I’m just going to mention “Notos Jazz Bar” and “Bocas” as favorites, in case you are really lost.
Last but not least, in case you hear very loud music from an apartment and see people going in and out (that’s my way of describing a house party, in case you couldn’t tell), give it a try and ask if you can join. Everybody is in a great mood and usually will welcome you in. That’s the most authentic night outing.
Enjoy the Closing Ceremony and the Burning of the Carnival King
The closing ceremony has more fireworks than our taxes can afford, live music concerts with artists like Boney M and of course, the burning of the Carnival King. Do I need to say more?
Let’s take it one by one. During the Grand Parade, a huge float representing the Carnival King is paraded through the streets. At the end of the parade, the King is directed towards the port, where it is fired symbolically.
The fire is said to burn, along with the King, evil spirits, passions, and hatred among the people. The lighting of the fire is also related to the transition from winter to spring.
Right after, there is an epic firework display and an open-air concert. Everyone is simply there, enjoying the last Carnival day and having a good time, with the company of his or her Mavrodafni.
Have a relaxing day by the beach on Clean Monday
Clean Monday is the First Day of the Great Lent, during which, according to the Orthodox Church, we’re not allowed to eat meat, eggs, and dairy products. However, shellfish is permitted and of course, this being Greece, we’re taking advantage of this.
Clean Monday is traditionally celebrated with a small excursion, flying of kites, eating of shellfish and other traditional fasting specialties, such as “Lagana”, a special type of bread and “Halva”, a traditional sweet.
In order to fly your kite, you should choose a nice park, such as “Faros”, or simply the beach. You could also head to the mountain, Panachaiko, if you’d like to change setting a bit.
As far as it concerns lunch or dinner options, there are many great options in Patras. In Istioploikos, you can enjoy seafood right next to the waves, while in En Plo you can have a more authentic greek tavern experience.
However, in case you have the energy, I strongly suggest that you visit a village nearby Patras called Psathopyrgos. If you’re returning back to Athens, it is on your way and it offers an idyllic view to complement your fasting food.
Essential Things to Bring with You to Patras
If you’re planning a trip to Greece, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Greece packing list.
– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.
– A water bottle with a filter. We generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.
– Rehydration packets. If you’re going to be drinking a lot, these will save you from hangovers the next day. We suggest Pedialyte brand if buying online or you can pick them up at a pharmacy if needed.
– Travel safety items. While Patras is safe to travel, at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack.
It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.
More Greece Resources
First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, travel tips, and much more.
We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
I’m sure you’re aware that it’s a good idea to have travel insurance for traveling in Greece or anywhere in the world!
We have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.
While Patras is safe, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel like pickpockets or injury – especially during the crowded Carnival season, when pickpockets may take advantage of the crowds and drinking – so it’s better to play it safe.
Ioanna is a Greek Medicine Student and a Professional Karaoke Singer. When she’s not slaving over really big books, she’s at the airport 4 hours before take-off, so she can drink a cup of coffee across from her gate and worry about missing her flight from there.