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When an email dropped into my inbox last week asking if I would like to check out Brisbane’s Paniyiri Greek Festival, my first thought was ‘what’s that?’. But after mentioning it to a couple of local friends and hearing their excited reaction, then doing a quick excited blitz through Google, I thought this is something I have to check out.
From being based in Brisbane for a few months and blogging my little heart out about how much I love this city, I was super excited to get an insight into a culture here that I knew nothing about. This festival happens every year and from the off, it looked like it was set to be an awesome weekend.
So what is the Paniyiri Greek Festival?
This vibrant weekend-long festival is not only the biggest but also the longest running Greek festival in Australia. The word ‘Paniyiri’ literally means ‘festival’ so it’s a huge celebration of Greek culture and a fantastic chance for you to immerse yourself into it too, and join in with all the ‘Opa’s! It’s full of food, dancing, singing, beer and tonnes more.
The Paniyiri festival takes place every year in South Brisbane’s Musgrave Park. It’s a beautiful spot right in the heart of the Greek community and with an epic city skyline backdrop. It’s also super easy to reach by bus or train with just a short walk at the end.
The history of this festival is actually a really humble one. It started back in 1976 with a group of Greek Australians wanting to share their culture and traditions with other Greek locals and anyone else who wanted to join in. Fast forward over 40 years and the festival has grown to something huge and greatly anticipated. What once started off as a group of friends sharing their memories of Greece has become a key event in Queensland’s calendar. For me, I love that the Paniyiri festival started from a small group of passionate people – it kind of makes me feel like anything is possible!
What goes on at the festival?
In one simple word-lots! As the festival is a weekend-long celebration they create a huge jam-packed schedule to fit in all things Greek. I actually think there’s enough to fill a week long festival but the clever organisers manage to navigate it all into an amazing 2 days. It’s everything you hope a festival would be – lively, vibrant, busy and full of food and drinks. You can check out the official programme here to see just how much there is to do.
You’ll find huge food stalls cooking up a feast of traditional food and drinks from all the different Greek Islands, ranging from the famous Yiros (i’d recommend the lamb), and mezze platters to the incredibly moreish honey puffs for a sweet treat. These food stalls encircle the park and the big state in the centre where traditional Hellenic dance performances are held all throughout the day by a number of dance schools around Brisbane. The performers range from young children right up to the professional adults and there’s plenty of opportunities to join in. I was about to join in with a dance but I literally out my drink down and by the time I looked up the stage was heaving!
Outside of the main park area, you have the chance to visit the local Greek Orthodox church, browse stalls selling trinkets and your own little bit of Greece and even see some TV stars at the Channel 7 stage. Food obviously plays a huge part in Greek culture so to celebrate this they hold live cooking classes in the beautiful, shiny and newly renovated Greek Club. I didn’t manage to catch any classes because I was too busy stuffing my face with goodness at the food stalls but it’s perfect for a budding young chef. Part of the renovations has seen the creation of an awesome bar on their Grand Balcony with great views over Musgrave Park with the city skyline behind.
What’s the best way to experience it all?
As this festival is a 2 day event, it allows you to pick and choose how much time you spend there. As I was lucky enough to be there before the opening and to see behind the scenes, I can honestly say there’s so much to do. I was there from 11 am through till 4 pm because the atmosphere is just so fun and there’s a constant flow of things going on to keep you entertained. You should plan to spend the whole day here to really relax and enjoy the festival.
Why should you visit?
Australia is a hugely multicultural country and that is something always worth celebrating. I visited a couple of Greek islands when I was younger on family holidays, but the reality is, those kinds of holidays didn’t show me a lot about what really makes Greece, well, Greek! The Paniyiri festival is run by loads of volunteers who want to show their culture and heritage so you know you’re getting an authentic insight.
Holding festivals such as Paniyiri is a great way to celebrates the movement of people that happens all over the world. It allows a number of cultures to be celebrated and as someone who loves to travel, this is great!