Meteora Monasteries is one of the best day trips from Athens, Greece. In 1989 Meteora became a UNESCO World Heritage site since and should be on your Greece Itinerary. Meteora is an amazing sandstone/rock formation in Kalabaka, Greece. Atop these towering large columns of rock house the largest collection of Eastern Orthodox monasteries, many on their own pillar. Originally there were 24 monasteries, the remaining six monasteries were built on these large pillars and are active. Besides being a UNESCO site, it is also one of the largest archeological sites in Greece. If you are looking to explore the magnificent monasteries and find the best view points, I recommend taking a tour to learn more about this unique Greek site. Did you know “meteora” means “suspended in air” in Greek, this describes how you see these monasteries. It seems like the monasteries are floating in the sky above the clouds.
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History of the Meteora Monasteries:
Originally monks started settling in the caves on the pillars dating back to the 11th century. Then slowly more monks came to the area for protection since the cliffs were hard to scale. The monks started using baskets and ropes to get supplies up and down, and then if there were enemies they just pulled the ropes up. Most of the monasteries were built during the 15th century with frescoes being added in the 16th century that were popular during the Byzantine period. You can see so many of these amazing paintings and frescoes.
Fortunately, to be able to see these great monasteries now there is a road that goes there.
Dress Appropriately for the Monasteries
When you go to the monasteries you do have to dress modestly for these places of worship. Your shoulders and knees must be covered for men and women, no shorts. Women are expected to wear a skirt. Luckily some of the monasteries sell a large scarf for a few dollars that can act as a skirt over your shorts (which many do). Notably, dogs were not allowed in the monasteries. The stairs to the top are steep and narrow, so it is not possible.
Opening Times and Admission Fee
Most of the monasteries are open from 10am. Some close at various hours ranging from 3pm to 5pm. Not all monasteries are open every day, so check the website for the current opening hour for the 6 locations.
The monasteries charge a small admission fee of three euros to get in (when we visited). Kids under 12 were free. Like anything you can check online for the current fee, but it is very reasonable. So if you go to 3, you spend under 10 euros, a reasonable cost since they must preserve these historic monasteries.
How to Get to Meteora
You can get to Meteora by car, bus, or train from Athens. We found the best way was to take the train from Athens, then take a local small bus tour that brings you to the top of the pillars, typically to see 3 of the monasteries. Again, not all monasteries are open every day so check the website to determine which ones are open.
- Train: The train takes approximately 3 hours each way and leaves early in the morning from Athens train station. Our train left at 7:57 am from the Central Rail Station in Athens and arrived in the town of Kalambaka around noon (where we met our local tour guide). It was mesmerizing to see the high pillars as we approached the town via the train. Seeing these monasteries almost floating high above.
- Tour: There are small bus tours that can drive you to see the monasteries, typically three given it takes time to see and enjoy them. The one we took had local guides that knew the area well. As part of the tour, they brought us to a local restaurant to eat after the tour, before we went back to the train station. It was also very hot in the summer so they had water for us, which was very helpful. Later we were able to walk through the town before boarding the train later in the day for our ride back to Athens.
We took our local small bus tour with Getyourguide with Meteora Trip, and truly enjoyed it. Having the local guide was great since they know the community, the legends and history of the area, and the monasteries. Around 4:45 pm we returned to town to eat at Panellinio. a local restaurant, to try the local food and then see the town before catching the 6:22pm trai back to Athens. The local Greek people were so nice in Kalabaka.
Our trip to Meteora included the train from Athens, the local small bus tour and the late lunch at the end. It was very easy, you get the train tickets emailed to you for the train. When we arrived, the bus and local guide were there waiting for us. It was seamless. At the end after eating we walked through the town and got to the station for our return trip. (What a marvelous day trip to Meteora.)
- Hiking Tours: Once you get to town, some travelers do take hikes up to the monasteries, which is great depending on how much time you have.
- Scooters / Rental Cars: Based on our trip, many do rent cars to get there from Athens, but notably, to visit the monasteries there is some limited parking. Many do hire scooters to get to the top to see the monasteries. Plus the scooters are easier to park.
Who lives at the Meteora Monasteries?
While you are visiting the monasteries, you may occasionally see a novice, nun or monk (monks wear long brown cloaks). Currently, 2 monasteries house nuns, while the others are for the monks. This is a religious place, and they are very private. One monk ran quickly by us, you couldn’t even ask a question or ask to take a picture. Later we met one of the younger nuns. She did talk to us in one of the older monasteries, but she was explaining they are there for God’s work, not for themselves and don’t typically give their names or want pictures taken of themselves. We had asked first to make sure, so you do have to mind their privacy, but it was great talking with her to know her thoughts and how they live. She was in the chapel with her bible and talked a little about it.
Those that try to join their community, usually are there for a trial two years per our guide. They do get some local folks that volunteer. When we went to visit the nun’s location, a younger teenage girl was helping the older nun sell the tickets to enter the monastery or sell the scarves, etc.
The Six Remaining Meteora Monasteries at Meteora:
Of the six remaining active Meteora monasteries, two house nuns while the other 5 house monks. They are as follows:
- Monastery of Great Meteoron This is the largest and oldest of the Meteora Monasteries. Be warned, there are many stairs to get to the monastery. Remember at one time these monasteries had limited access, with no roads.. But as you enter, it is like a fortified village with various buildings. It was built in the 14th century. The Museum of the Meteora Monasteries and the amazing frescoes is also located here.
- Varlaam Monastery Varlaam is close to Great Meteoron and was built in the 16th century and is well preserved. Some may say it’s more like a palace with its great architecture. It houses a rectory, chapels with many icons, and houses the monks.
- Roussanou Monastery This is reportedly the most photographed and stands out well against the landscape. It was damaged during World War II, but was rebuilt and now is one of the 2 active convents.
- St. Nicholas Anapafsas Monastery St. Nicholas Is the lowest of the monasteries but has a very ornate chapel. Originally founded at the end of the 14th century, much of it was destroyed by fire in 1862, but was rebuilt.
- The Monastery of the Holy Trinity Holy Trinity is the hardest of the monasteries to reach, but there are spectacular views of the town below; it is perched high on its pillar. Notably, it was easy to see via the access road. It also is shown in the 1981 James Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only, (before it was a UNESCO designation).
- Monastery of St. Stephen St. Stephen lies across the valley from Holy Trinity.and is more accessible via a walking bridge, thus you don’t have to worry about the access stairs that some have. As you tour the cathedral and main chapel, you may see some damage that occurred during the Greek Civil War. This location is also now a convent.
How accessible are the Meteora Monasteries?
Similar to other historic buildings, there may be more limited access to some of the Meteora Monasteries. Both Great Meteoron and Holy Trinity have over 300 steps to access the properties. Varlaam, Roussanou, and St. Nicholas have over 140 steps each. In addition to the access, there are some paths that you have to walk uphill while visiting the monasteries, so bring good walking shoes and water.
Restaurants in Meteora Greece
There are numerous restaurants in town. Notably, be sure to eat before going to Meteora Monasteries, or bring a snack. We ate at Panellinio this was included in our tour to Meteora, but it was after the tour. After eating, we then walked around town to get some snacks for the train back to Athens. .
- We went to this great restaurant and enjoyed the ambience and great Greek traditional dishes. http://panelliniorestaurant.com/.
- Boufidis Greek Tavern – Well rated restaurant with traditional Greek food, including lamb and souvlaki. www.boufidisgreektavrn.com
- Batalogianni Zoi – This restaurant is also well-regarded and serves traditional Greek food and has a great back patio with great views of the Meteora rocks. .
Hotels and Accommodations near Meteora
Meteora is in Central Greece, not too far from Athens so many go for the day, but if you really want to see all 6 monasteries, see sunset views, or the nearby town, you may want to stay overnight. Based on our visit to the area, there are more limited options, but there are several hotels, hostels and Air BnBs with good ratings. To note a few:
- Divani Meteora Hotel – 4 stars on Google www.divanimeteorahotel.com
- Pyraos Adrachti – 3 stars on Google www.hotel-adrachti.gr
- Meteora Central Hostel – This boutique hostel can be booked on various sites including www.hostelworld.com
Vehicle rentals may help if you choose to drive to the monasteries after the train or see the surrounding area. Two that have good ratings are:
- Meteora Hobby Shop – This company rents Cars, Scooters, Motorcycles, Bikes and ATVs. www.meteora-bike-rentals.gr
- Meteora Wheels – This company rents cars, SUVs. and motorbikes.
The Meteora Monasteries are majestic and so wonderful to visit. As you approach the area, it is just stunning to see these amazing stone pillars with these monasteries almost floating in the sky high above that have been there for centuries. If you are on a 7 or 10 day trip to Greece, I would highly recommend that you take at least a day trip to Meteora, it is so stunning, unique and historic. If you have the time, some visitors stay overnight since the town does have hotels, hostels, etc. and you can see perhaps three monasteries per day or maybe take in an amazing sunset.
While planning your trip, remember there is some seasonality to their open hours, etc. Winter hours are more limited and each monastery has varying closing days and hours. With Meteora Monasteries becoming a UNESCO site in 1989, many have not seen this great wonder of the monasteries hanging in the sky; don’t miss it! Meteora has some of the best monasteries in Greece,
We loved our day trip to Meteora from Athens and one day will return to see more of the monasteries and area around it.
Fun Meteora Fact
Many ask if “Game of Thrones” was filmed at Meteora. While it wasn’t physically filmed there, it was digitally mastered into the series as the Eyrie Castle in the sky.