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Traveling over the Easter holiday gives you a chance to see a place—quite literally—in its Sunday best. TPG Contributor Jessica Spiegel of Italy Explained shares five cities where traditional Easter celebrations are typically geared toward locals rather than tourists, with pomp and circumstance that can make your holiday vacation extra special.
When you put “Italy” and “Easter” in the same sentence, the natural inclination is to make a beeline for the Vatican. That’s understandable, until you hear that Florence sets off fireworks from a 500-year-old cart using a small rocket shaped like a dove.
Florence’s “Scoppio del Carro” celebration—which translates as “Explosion of the Cart”—has its origins in the 11th century, and has been held in its current form since the 15th century. Early on the morning of Easter Sunday, the aforementioned firecracker-laden cart is drawn through the streets by a team of white oxen and an entourage of flag throwers and musicians in medieval garb, then deposited in front of the doors of the Duomo. At a certain point in the ceremony, a small rocket in the shape of a dove is fired along a wire from inside the cathedral to the cart, setting off the whole fireworks shebang.
As you can imagine, the whole spectacle draws quite a crowd of onlookers, both locals and visitors. To get the best view of the proceedings, you’ll need to arrive in the piazza pretty early—but rest assured, the fireworks display (and resulting multi-colored smoke) can be seen from quite a distance.
The St. Regis Florence shares some history with the dome of Florence’s cathedral—both were designed by Renaissance master Brunelleschi. This 80-room luxury hotel is on the Arno River, a short walk from the Duomo and other major sights in the city. The Easter offer includes a daily breakfast buffet, free WiFi, an Arno River view upgrade (if available), Easter lunch for two, and a “Champagne Ritual.” Rooms at this SPG Category 7 property begin at €300/$314.37 USD or 30,000 points.
Walking distance from the Duomo, the Westin Excelsior Florence overlooks the Arno River. Housed in a converted Renaissance palace, the 170-room hotel has a rooftop terrace with a restaurant and bar, and if you splurge on a suite, you’ll have access to the hotel’s St. Regis Butler Service. Easter packages are offered—including free breakfast, free WiFi, Easter lunch for two, and based on availability, an Arno River view room. Rooms at this SPG Category 6 hotel begin at €285/$298.67 USD or 20,000 points per night.
For more on what to do in Florence, see our previous posts like Florence Eating and Shopping Guide and Il Latini and La Giostra Reviews and Destination of the Week: Florence
Rio de Janeiro
Brazil has the highest population of Catholics of any country in the world. It isn’t surprising, then, that Holy Week is a big deal in a major city like Rio de Janeiro.
Holy Week—or Semana Santa, as it’s known in Brazil—is the week leading up to Easter Sunday, starting on Palm Sunday. In Rio, where the presiding eye of the Christ the Redeemer statue watches over everything, some of the highlights of Semana Santa include services at the Catedral Metropolitana, which is followed by a religious procession that parades a piece of the Holy Cross through the city. Another procession begins at the Church of Our Lady of Copacabana, with people in the parade wearing the costumes of Roman soldiers. After the festivities, choose from multitudes of chocolate eggs you’ll find in confectioneries throughout Rio.
The JW Marriott Hotel Rio de Janeiro is right on Copacabana beach, and the rooftop pool offers views of both central Rio and the impressive Christ the Redeemer statue. There are more than 220 rooms, and the Easter package includes a 20% discount on rooms plus daily breakfast for two. Rooms at the Category 8 property begin at $270 or 40,000 points per night.
The newly renovated Sheraton Rio Hotel & Resort is not only right on the beach near Ipanema, it also has its own recreation area with outdoor pools, a spa, and lush landscaping. The hotel’s “Happy Easter” two-night package includes buffet breafkast, Kids Recreation access for two children ages 4-12, one lunch per adult per stay, and access to Sheraton Fitness. Rooms begin at $234 or 12,000 points per night.
For more on what to do in Rio de Janeiro, see our previous posts like My Travel Tips and Thoughts on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Destination Of The Week: Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Amsterdam is famous for a few things, perhaps the most innocent of which are tulips. The Dutch city has been central to the world of tulip-growing and bulb-exporting for hundreds of years, and Easter just happens to coincide with the perfect time to see them in all their colorful glory.
In addition to visiting the Amsterdam Tulip Museum and watching a flower auction in Aalsmeer, an Easter trip to Castle Keukenhof and its fantastic gardens will give you the chance to see acres of tulips in bloom, special Easter Parades, and visits from the Easter Bunny, who distributes eggs to visitors from Good Friday through Easter Monday.
Just about anywhere you go outside the city, you’ll see fields bursting with colorful flowers—tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and many more. Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District may be colorful in one sense, but it’s got nothing on all those flowers.
Famous as the site of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “bed-in” for peace, the Amsterdam Hilton sits beside one of the city’s famous canals, walking distance from many popular museums and attractions. On-site you’ll find a fitness center with steam room and whirlpool, as well as a canal-side bar based on designs by Ralph Lauren and an Italian restaurant, Roberto’s, with heated terraces that will open April 1. Rooms at this category 8 property start at €209/$219 USD or 70,000 points per night.
Perched on the Amstel River, the historic InterContinental Amstel Amsterdam hotel opened in 1867 and is now home to a Michelin-starred restaurant and a heated indoor pool. There are 79 rooms in the hotel, and though there were originally only 14 bathrooms—all in the basement—every room is now (of course) en suite. There is presently no award availability during Easter weekend, but room rates begin at €340/$356.50 USD.
The Hotel Pulitzer is actually made up of 25 separate canal houses, all built in the 17th and 18th centuries, and renovated to serve as a luxury hotel with 230 unique rooms. Located in the historic city center, the hotel complex includes two in-house restaurants, a bar, and a wine salon. Rooms begin at €299/$313.60 USD. For more detail on the hotel, read our Hotel Pulitzer review.
For more on what to do in Amsterdam, see our previous posts like Destination of the Week: Amsterdam
Since 2002, Russian Orthodox Easter in Moscow has marked the start of the Moscow Easter Festival. The brainchild of the director of St. Petersburg’s Mariinksy Theater, this music festival (in 2015, from April 12-May 9) includes performances of orchestras, vocal choirs, and more.
A quick glance at the festival’s website will offer some familiar-sounding musical options on the program—symphonic, choir, and chamber music—but then there’s something called “Bells Week,” when the “best Russian practitioners” of the art of bell-ringing put their skills to beautiful use. Church bells ring throughout the city in a musical chain reaction, giving anyone within hearing distance a front-row seat to an age-old musical tradition. In 2014, more than 30 churches in Moscow and St. Petersburg took part, including the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral.
The Moscow Marriott Royal Aurora Hotel is a few minutes from St. Basil’s Cathedral and offers more than 230 rooms, all with available butler service. One of the in-house restaurants features a renowned Sunday brunch, and you’ll also find a full-service spa, fitness center, and pool. Rooms at this Category 8 property begin at 7,705 RUB/$125 USD or 40,000 points per night.
The St. Regis Moscow Nikolskaya has views of the Kremlin and Red Square and is on the historic Nikolskaya Street. Formed from the renovations of a complex of ornate buildings (one of which was once the residence of a count), the hotel’s early 20th-century facade was preserved intact. Inside you’ll find a spa, indoor pool, Italian restaurant, and cognac lounge, as well as the St. Regis Butler Service. Rooms begin at 10,000 RUB/$162 USD or 14,666 SPG points.
The local treats, crafts and generally festive atmosphere of the Easter Markets of Vienna may feel similar to the famous Austrian Christmas markets, but have one distinct advantage—warmer weather.
The most beloved Easter Market in Vienna is set in the square opposite the lavish Schönbrunn Palace, with more than 50 stalls’ worth of delicious treats, handmade crafts, and all manner of Easter decorations. There’s musical entertainment, as well as activities for the kids—including a chance to make bunny shapes out of pliable and sweet marzipan paste.
The market in Am Hof Square, on the other hand, is entirely focused on traditional Easter handicrafts. And rising high above Freyung Square, Europe’s largest tower of painted Easter eggs is constructed using some 40,000 eggs.
The Park Hyatt Vienna overlooks Am Hof Square—the site of the handicrafts market—in a 100-year-old building that once housed a bank. The 143-room hotel is set in an historic district listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has an on-site spa, an indoor swimming pool (located in what used to be the bank’s vaults), a fitness center, a restaurant, and a cigar bar. Rooms begin at €460/$482 USD or 25,000 points per night.
Le Méridien Vienna is in Vienna’s city center, with easy access to many of the main sights, and it’s not far from the road that leads to the Schönbrunn Palace outside of the city limits. There are nearly 300 rooms in the hotel, with an on-site restaurant, a bar with daily DJs, and the sophisticated Le Moët Champagne Bar. There isn’t a specific Easter package, but the “Spring Fling” package at the hotel offers discounted room rates starting at €165/$173 USD. Rooms generally begin at €185/$194 USD or 10,000 points.
For more on what to do in Vienna, see our previous posts like Destination of the Week: Vienna
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With great transfer partners like United and Hyatt, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game.