Meteora in Greece is an amazing mountainous area with magnificent rock formations, and several ancient monasteries built on top. Here’s what makes Meteora in Greece so special!
What is Meteora Greece known for?
Meteora is a unique area in Greece, and quite possibly the world. The wider area is full of impressive, massive rock formations. These rocks were formed millions of years ago. Over time, they were further shaped by the wind, rain and other natural phenomena.
So what, you may say. There are many stunning rock formations all around the world.
This is true, but what makes Meteora so special is that, on top of the weathered rocks, monks have built several monasteries. The monasteries look like they are suspended in the air – which is where their Greek name, Meteora, comes from.
According to some sources, at least 30 Eastern Orthodox monasteries were built all around Meteora over the centuries. Six of them are still functioning today, and you can visit them all.
Unsurprisingly, Meteora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thousands of people visit every year to enjoy the unique landscape, and to see one of the most important monastic communities of the Orthodox Church.
Where is Meteora in Greece?
Meteora is in the region called Thessaly, in Northern Greece. The closest town to Meteora is Kalambaka, a 10-minute drive from the monasteries. It’s a small town with plenty of hotels and apartments, several good tavernas, a few interesting museums, and everything else a visitor would need.
Kalambaka is not super close to most other famous places in Greece. As an example, it is located 353 kms (220 miles) from Athens, 234 kms (145 miles) from Thessaloniki and 231 kms (143 miles) from Ancient Delphi.
Understandably, many visitors wonder if travelling to Meteora is worth the time and the effort. In my opinion, it absolutely does! It’s a magical destination, and it should definitely be part of your itinerary in Greece.
How to visit Meteora and the Holy Monasteries
There are three ways to explore Meteora: by rental car, on an organized tour, or even on foot.
Note that, while it is possible to hike around the area of Meteora, the monasteries are quite spread out. Hiring a car, or taking a tour, will save you time if you want to visit a few of them.
Driving to Meteora
If you are happy to drive in Greece, you can get to Meteora by rental car. This is a great way to see the monasteries independently, as you will be able to drive from one monastery to the next at your own pace.
It takes about 4.5 hours to drive to Meteora from Athens. The drive from Thessaloniki is shorter, about 3 hours. To get an indication of car rental prices, and book your own rental car, you can have a look at Discover Cars.
Driving around the Meteora region is very pleasant, and you can appreciate the wonderful views from many different spots. You can also stay for sunset, or even go after dark, and look at the starry sky!
Visiting Meteora on an organized tour
Many people choose to take some sort of organized tour to Meteora. This takes away the hassle of driving, and the local guides will tell you a few interesting stories about the region and the Holy Monasteries of Meteora.
There are tours departing from Athens and Thessaloniki, and also tours departing from the town of Kalambaka itself. Most tours departing from Athens include a train ride to Kalambaka, followed by a small group tour around Meteora in a van.
Due to severe floods in September 2023, there is no direct train service from Athens to Kalambaka and back. Instead, there is a combination of train and bus service, which takes about 5 hours in total to reach Meteora. If you have time, it’s much better to spend the night in Kalambaka and have more time in the area.
Depending on the tour and time of year, you would typically get to visit 2 or 3 of the monasteries. Here are some of the best Meteora tour options:
- Day trip to Meteora from Athens – You will leave Athens on the 8:25 train and return at 21:57, which gives you approximately 3.5 hours at Meteora
- 2-day trip to Meteora from Athens – You will get to spend the night in Kalambaka and have more time in this amazing region of Greece
- 2-day trip from Athens to Meteora and Delphi – You will visit Meteora as well as Ancient Delphi and see all the highlights of both areas
- Day trip to Meteora from Thessaloniki – An organized full-day bus tour from Thessaloniki
- Half-day trip from Kalambaka – You can make your way to Kalambaka at your own time, and then take this morning tour in a van.
Hiking around the Meteora Monasteries
Another way to visit the monasteries is by hiking, or a combination of hiking and using the public buses in the area. There are some fantastic hiking paths, and you will get to see the monasteries from some unusual spots.
Local buses run from Kalambaka to the monasteries three times a day. The bus takes 20-30 minutes to get from the town to the monasteries and vice versa, and tickets cost 1,80 euro.
You can get off at any monastery you want, and walk / hike back to some of the others. When you’ve finished your sightseeing, you can take a return bus to the town. You can check the updated timetables and more information here, or ask at your hotel.
You can easily hike on your own, but there are numerous guided hikes of the area as well. The total length of the hiking paths is about 40 kms, so if you like hiking make sure you spend more than 2 nights in Meteora.
History of the Meteora Monasteries
Let’s have a look at the history of these amazing monasteries!
It is likely that the first monks moved to the region of Meteora in the 11th / 12th century. They began to inhabit the rock formations, and started building their own communities.
Initially, they constructed their dwellings inside large caverns in the rocks. As time passed and their numbers increased, they decided to build churches and other buildings on top of the massive rocks. This was a dangerous task, as it involved constructing stairs, ladders and rope bridges up the steep rocks.
During those times, the easiest way to access the monasteries was by using hanging nets and baskets. The monks sat inside the net, and were pulled upwards, all the way to the monastery. They had to be really determined if they wanted to live there!
The first Holy Monastery, known as Great Meteoron, was established in 1356. Many more monasteries were built over time, and six of them, including Great Meteoron, are still functioning today. All the others have closed down, and some of the ruined monasteries still exist.
It is extremely difficult to imagine how the monks constructed the monasteries up on the massive rocks. For most people, living there would be impossible – which is what made the hermit monks move there in the first place. Their goal was to get away from the people and bring themselves closer to God.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that stairs were carved into the rocks, making access easier for everyone. If you are visiting Meteora monasteries today, you will need to climb up these steps, which could be challenging for some people.
The traditional basket method still exists. Today, they mostly use it to transport food and building materials.
The Holy Monasteries of Meteora
Today, there are six functioning monasteries in Meteora, and they are all open to visitors. Apart from the Monastery of Great Meteoron, you can also visit the monasteries of Varlaam, Roussanou, Holy Trinity, St. Stephen’s and St. Nicholas Anapafsas.
Each one has its own character, and if you have time you could visit them all. However, you will need to take into account the steps you will need to climb. If you have mobility issues, most of them will be challenging to get to.
Every monastery is closed on one day a week in summer, and one or two days in winter. Also, opening hours vary between the monasteries, and they are shorter in winter. Before you visit, make sure you check out the up-to-date information.
Here is a brief description of each monastery.
The Great Meteoron Monastery
Great Meteoron is the largest and oldest of all the monasteries in Meteora, and also the one built at the highest point. In Greek, it is known as Moni Megalou Meteorou.
In my opinion, this is one of the most impressive monasteries to visit. If you only have time for one monastery, make it either this one or Varlaam (see below).
You will need to climb about 300 stairs to get to the Great Meteoron. Allow a couple of hours to enjoy the interior, the frescoes, and the wonderful views. Sometimes you can see rock climbers going up and down the vertical rocks!
If you’ve been to this monastery in the past, you may remember that you could also visit an ossuary, which I thought was one of the highlights. Unfortunately, this is no longer accessible to visitors, but you can see a photo here.
Opening hours in summer are 9:00 to 15:00. The monastery remains closed on Tuesdays.
Varlaam Monastery is the only one which wasn’t captured by the Ottomans during the Ottoman occupation. Along with Great Meteoron, this is my favourite monastery, and there is so much to see here.
The 15th-century frescoes inside the Varlaam monastery are really superb. They were last restored only a couple of years ago, so the colours are extremely vivid, and you could spend a long time looking at them.
There is also an amazing on-site museum with gospels, books, clothes and other religious items, where you can learn more about what it means to be a Christian Orthodox monk. This is the only monastery where photography is allowed inside the museum.
Opening hours in summer are 9:00 to 16:00. The monastery remains closed on Fridays.
Roussanou Convent – St Barbara
Rousanou monastery is one of the best ones to visit if you like Christian Orthodox artwork, as the frescoes are superb. There is also a separate room with contemporary artwork, where photos are allowed.
Roussanou Convent, also known as St Barbara, is one of the most easily accessible monasteries, so it’s ideal if you don’t want to climb too many steps.
Opening hours in summer are 9:00 to 16:30. The convent remains closed on Wednesdays.
Holy Trinity Monastery
If you are feeling energetic, you can climb all the way up to Holy Trinity Monastery, or Agia Triada in Greek. To get here, you will need to walk on a long paved path, and then climb 140 rather steep stairs.
As it takes a long walk to get to this monastery, group tours rarely visit, so it is usually very peaceful and quiet, and offers amazing views of the valley below.
Opening hours in summer are 10:00 to 17:00. The monastery remains closed on Thursdays.
St. Stephen Monastery
For people who are not sure if they can manage the stairs, the most easily accessible monastery is St Stephen’s nunnery.
Here, you can also visit the sacristy, where you can see early manuscripts, rare books and religious icons.
Opening hours in summer are 9:00 to 13:20 and 15:30 to 17:30. The convent remains closed on Mondays.
St. Nicholas Anapafsas Monastery
Saint Nicholas Anapafsas monastery is the one which is closest to Kalambaka town.
This monastery was built on a very small rock surface. As a result, it’s split on several floors, and it’s a very narrow building.
Opening hours in summer are 9:00 to 17:00. The monastery remains closed on Fridays.
Tips for visiting the Meteora Monasteries
Visiting the Meteora monasteries is a unique experience. However, you should note a few things before you visit, beyond the number of stairs.
Entrance fee to the monasteries
The entrance fee to each of the monasteries is 3 euro, and you can only pay in cash. Cards are not accepted.
Greek people (and their companions, whether Greek or not) can visit for free. Yes, I know it’s not fair, but there you go.
Dress code for Meteora monasteries
When you visit, please remember that these monasteries are places of worship. Make sure you dress respectfully, and cover your knees and shoulders.
Men should wear trousers that go below the knee, otherwise they will be refused entry. As for women, shorts, mini skirts and trousers are not allowed. Usually, long skirts and shawls are available to borrow from each of the monasteries, but you might prefer to bring your own.
Whether you are planning to hike or not, I recommend good, comfortable walking shoes. Hiking shoes or running shoes are among the best options.
Also, make sure you have a hat and sunglasses. Even if you are visiting on an overcast day, the weather can change quite rapidly and the sun can be quite strong.
Facilities around the area of Meteora
In terms of facilities, there’s nothing much around the monasteries, apart from a couple of canteens. The closest cafes and restaurants are in the village of Kastraki, which is located just above Kalambaka.
I suggest that you bring with you some water and some snacks, especially if you are going for a longer hike.
One of the things that some people find surprising are the toilets in Meteora. While there are toilets inside each monastery, they are all of the squatting type, like this one below. I’ve written an article about toilets and toilet paper in Greece that you might want to have a look at.
Note that there are no toilets outside the monasteries, apart from nature itself.
While the monasteries themselves are fascinating, take some time to admire the incredible landscapes and views. On a quiet day, when few other tourists are around, you will understand what made the hermit monks want to live here!
And, once you’ve seen the monasteries with your own eyes, take a minute to imagine how difficult getting to a monastery must have been once. Can you imagine climbing up rope ladders and literally hanging out in the air?
FAQs about Meteora
Here are a few more answers to questions about Meteora:
How do people get to Meteora?
Some people drive to Meteora on their own, in a rental car. Others prefer to take an organized tour from Athens, Thessaloniki or Kalambaka.
Where do you fly into to go to Meteora?
Most people fly into the airports of Athens or Thessaloniki, and then continue their trip to Meteora. There’s also a domestic airport in the town of Ioannina, about two hours away from Meteora, to which you can fly from Athens.
Is Meteora worth visiting?
Meteora is one of the most magical places in Greece, and is definitely worth visiting.
Is one day enough for Meteora?
A day is not really enough to fully appreciate Meteora and the Holy Monasteries. Try to spend at least one night, or even longer, so that you have enough time to visit the monasteries and hike around the region. Still, if you only have one day, go for it!
Is climbing Meteora difficult?
To reach most of the monasteries, you will need to climb up a few sets of stairs. The most easily accessible monastery is St. Stephen’s Nunnery. As for the vertical rock walls, they are not really suitable for beginner climbers.
Is it worth visiting Meteora on just a day trip from Athens?
If you take a one-day trip from Athens, you will have about 6 hours to explore Meteora. Is it enough? Nowhere near. Is it worth it? If you are not planning to return to Greece anytime soon, Ι think so!
However, if you can, spend at least one night in Kalambaka and absorb the surrounding mountain formation, unique views and beautiful sunsets. And if you are interested in Greek Orthodox religion, consider staying longer, so you can visit all of the six remaining monasteries.
Meteora in Greece – A special place
I hope that I have convinced you that Meteora is a must-see destination in Greece. Even if you only have a week in Greece, try to allocate a night here. I am sure that you will love it!
You might be also interested in these other articles about Greece:
- Best time to go to Athens
- How many days in Santorini do you really need?
- How to get from Athens to Thessaloniki by train
- Is Thessaloniki worth visiting?
Hi! I am Vanessa from Athens, and I love helping people discover more about my country. I consider Meteora to be one of the most magical places in Greece. The monasteries, the landscapes, the setting, everything about them is just incredible! The area of Meteora and the Holy Meteora Monasteries have been featured in movies too – have a look at this article on movies about Greece.