Limassol in southern Cyprus hosts an annual carnival that everyone within the vicinity looks forward to. It’s a huge folk festival that is totally unmissable for Limassol locals.
It’s actually one of the oldest and most popular festivities in all of Cyprus. Think of Rio Carnival in Brazil – you get the idea. It’s not on quite so large a scale, but you can expect all the colour, traditional music, local songs, Cypriot bazooka playing and dancing all come with it. Plus, the carnival itself includes a long line of colourful floats that tour the town.
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The big showstopper
The carnival parade is the highlight and ends a two week period of “carnival partying”. You will find these in all the major entertainment venues in Limassol, and this is where everyone dresses up in different costumes. The variety of these costumes is huge – there are all types, from animal costumes like bears, crocodiles to human types like babies, film characters, cowboys – anything you can think of seems to have a costume!
Many people make their own costumes using material bought from the material shops here, but there are lots of costume shops, what we would call fancy dress or joke shops, that sell huge quantities of costume sets, complete with accessories like necklaces for the women, hats for the men and many more. Prices aren’t that expensive – in the range of 50-60 euros for a complete outfit, and once you have it you can use it again for this annual event.
An event for all the family
Of course, the children love this time of year – they are allowed to dress up to go to school and teachers celebrate the carnival in lessons.. There are two big carnival parades, one for children and one for the adults.
The children’s parade is lovely to see because the young children look so cute sitting on the floats and singing away, and the older teenagers join in as well, dressed usually in theme costumes. The design and preparation for the children’s floats involves the children themselves when they are at school, and the teachers set aside a section of the lessons for them to prepare everything.
The adult carnival parade is always just before Green Monday, the first day of the Greek Orthodox Easter Lent. Green Monday is a bank holiday in Cyprus, so everyone is able to enjoy everything carnival time has to offer. The children’s parade is always celebrated the weekend before.
I’ve always loved the way Cypriots come together so much at carnival time and how they are so creative – even down to the hairstyles to go with the costumes! It’s a particularly good time for grandparents too – they love getting their grandchildren ready for the parties and the carnival parade – I remember this when my children were young.
The sun comes out for the carnival
The weather is great too at this time of year – February and March are lovely months because the sun is not hot like it is in summer, and the temperatures are just right – around 24° C.
It can rain, which has happened occasionally, but somehow it doesn’t dampen the carnival spirit, it just adds to the atmosphere. In the two weeks before the final carnival parades, clay and cement models of carnival animals and people, all painted in lovely strong, bright colours sit on the green areas of the roundabouts in Limassol. It adds to the excitement.
The carnival floats go along the roads through Limassol town, usually in the afternoon, and all the local Limassolians, Cypriots and others alike, line the route to watch the floats pass. If you go before the parade starts, you will see local stalls selling Cypriot street food and nuts and sweets like local pastries and cakes.
There is music too for entertainment, and there are plenty of pavement cafes where you can go and have a coffee inside or outside to enjoy the weather as well. You can also buy alchohol if you like. Usually, representatives from the government attend both parades – high up seating is erected especially for them. It’s probably the only time you won’t hear any VIP speeches!
King of the Sun
At the head of each carnival parade event is the King of the Sun model. This symbol has been used in carnival parades since carnival began in Limassol from the 1960s. It’s been remodelled and repainted in bright colours. It’s traditional for the crowd to throw bunting at all the floats as they pass and for businesses to throw shredded paper! Nowadays this is all collected up at the end of each carnival parade and recycled.
Once the adult carnival comes to an end, the carnival parties take place in the evening. You’ll find all Cypriots join together to have a good time. Everyone is welcome at these parties but there is an entrance fee of about 10 or 15 euros per person. It’s a good chance to have some great Cypriot food and drinks among friends. Many people begin their Lenten fast after these parties have ended, so it’s a last chance for them to eat “freely” before the traditional non-meat Easter period.
How to get involved
To be a spectator at the carnival parades, you just need to go down to Makarios Avenue in Limassol where the parade begins and find your vantage spot.
Many people also stand on the roundabouts in Limassol to see the floats go round. It’s a good idea to wear a carnival costume when you go, or you can just wear a mask or a carnival hat, it’s up to you. I
f you want to participate in the carnival parade, you can apply online to Limassol Municipality (the local authority) to register in the parade.
You will pay a small admin fee (about 20-30 euros) and you will give details in the application of how big a float you will need. You are allocated a number that represents your place in the parade. There is a prize for the best float and theme. All the procedures like the meeting place on the day of the parade are provided. The rest is open to your imagination!
I hope to see you there next year!