If you ever saw some gorgeous photos of a Greek monastery hanging on top of a spectacular cliff, you’ll immediately recognize what I’m talking about and that’s Meteora.
About 60 million years ago, tectonic movements raised the seabed into the plateau that is now known as Meteora. The water and the winds sculped the present rock formations. The word Meteora means ‘suspended in the air’ in Greek and it describes perfectly each monastery perched on top of a stone-pillar.
24 monasteries were built in Meteora and the site is part of the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1988. However, only six are still active. We’ll discover them soon.
How to get to Meteora
How to get to Meteora from Athens
Let me start by saying this it’s not a day trip. I mean, it can be but it’s a stretch and it would be a long and tiresome day.
Driving from Athens to Meteora takes about 4 hours as it is 360 km away.
A good option would also be by train. The ride from Athens (Larissa station) to Kalambaka (or Kalabaka) takes a little more than 4 hours. The train ticket costs around 30€. From Kalambaka, you will have to take a bus to take you to Meteora.
There are also buses from Athens to Kalambaka but the ride takes 5 hours and you still have to catch the local bus to Meteora.
Anyway, that’s 8 to 10 hours on the road and then there’s a lot of walking involved between the monasteries so I would recommend staying the night somewhere close.
If you’re still keen to make it to Meteora in one day and make the most of it, your best option is this tour from Athens by train. The 93€ price includes the train tickets from Athens but you’ll have to get on the train and get to Kalambaka on your own.
How to get from Thessaloniki to Meteora
This one is more accessible as a day trip. The distance from Thessaloniki to Meteora is 230 km so it takes about 2 and a half hours to drive there.
We drove from Thessaloniki and had plenty of time to see the open monasteries in Meteora and also admire the views. See the details on the visiting days and hours at the end of this post.
Quick tip: it’s not easy to find a gas station in Greece, fill your tank before you leave Thessaloniki area.
The organized tours by bus from Thessaloniki are more convenient than the ones by train. You can book a tour from Thessaloniki here.
The six monasteries and nunneries still functioning in Meteora are below. Find out a little bit about each of them, as well as useful information regarding visiting hours for each monastery in Meteora.
The monasteries are spectacular as they are set on high, almost unaccessible pillars. After all, the monks built them to live secluded and closer to God.
Moreover, visiting them allows you to discover beautiful frescoes, icons, and old manuscripts.
The old winches and baskets they used to lift supplies are also very interesting to see.
Quick tip: 5 of the 6 monasteries are accessible through stairs. It can be hard for someone not very fit to climb all those steps in a few hours. Hydrate and take it slowly, plan to visit 2 or 3 monasteries if you know you’re not an athlete.
Most of the organized tours will only take you to a couple of monasteries and introduce you to the others from a distance.
St. Stephen’s Nunnery
The convent goes back to the 12th century. It is the only monastery in Meteora that is accessible for people with disabilities, being connected with the road by a small stone bridge. Pay attention to the beautiful frescoes and the wood-carved artwork in the chapels of St.Stephen’s.
Holy Trinity Monastery
Agia Triada by its Greek name, the Holy Trinity Monastery in Meteora is the most difficult to access. You will have to walk down the pathway to the foot of the cliff and then climb more than 130 steps to reach the monastery.
The view from the top is absolutely amazing and well worth the effort.
The Holy Trinity in Meteora is also the filming location for the final scenes of a James Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only.
The Rousannou Monastery in Meteora was founded in 1529 and is dedicated to Saint Barbara. The complex occupies the entire cliff of a stone-pillar lost in a dense green forest.
To access the Rousannou Monastery, you have to climb the few stairs to a neighboring cliff and then pass on the bridge to the monastery.
Look for the wall paintings and the wood-artwork inside the monastery. Also, don’t forget to take a few moments to admire the views.
Great Meteoron Monastery
The Holy Monastery of the Metamorfosis, aka The Great Meteoron, is the largest and oldest monastery in Meteora. Saint Athanasios the Meteorite founded the Great Meteoron and also the monastic community in Meteora in the 14th century.
Until 1923, Megalo Meteoron was accessible by rope ladders and later by a pulley system. Provisions and men were pulled up the 600 meters high cliff in a net.
Now, the monastery is accessible by climbing a 146 irregular steps staircase.
Make sure to visit the museum in the old church of the Great Meteoron and pay special attention to the valuable icons here.
The monk Varlaam lived as a hermit in a cave and built the first chapel on the rock where the Holy Monastery of Varlaam now stands. It is the second-largest monastery in Meteora and can be accessed climbing the 195 steps.
The buildings and courtyards of Varlaam Monastery are beautiful. Also, admire the frescoes and the wood-carved artwork. Perhaps the most interesting is the museum, showing images of monastic life and the rope basket in use to bring up supplies and pilgrims. The basket and the tower of the winch are on display in the monastery’s museum.
St. Nikolas Monastery
The small Agios Nikolaos Monastery is easy to access from the road from Kastraki. 150 steps lead from the base to the entrance of the monastery. A famous painter from Crete painted the main chapel in the 16th century with Biblical scenes and moments of monastic life. They are some of the best frescoes in Meteora.
A couple of the deserted monasteries in Meteora are also visible from the terraces of St. Nikolas Monastery.
Is it possible to see al six monasteries in Meteora on a day trip?
I will say it is possible but it’s definitely not an easy goal to reach. Each monastery in Meteora has a different schedule and a day when it remains closed and that varies between then. Look at the summer hours below to see what you can come up with.
Meteora Monasteries hours and tickets
St. Stephen’s Nunnery is open every day except Mondays from 9:00 AM to 1:30 PM and in the afternoons from 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM.
Holy Trinity Monastery is closed on Thursdays and is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM on all other days.
Roussanou Monastery is open every day except Wednesdays from 10:00 AM to 43:00 PM.
Great Meteoron Monastery is open from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM every day except Tuesdays.
Varlaam Monastery is closed on Fridays and open every other day from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM.
Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery is closed on Fridays and open from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM on all other days.
The way I see it, to see every monastery in Meteora in only one day, it will have to be either Saturday or Sunday and you will have to start your day trip early.
Useful tips to visit Meteora
The entrance fee for each monastery in Meteora is 3€, and you have to dress appropriately. That means long pants for men and below-knees skirts for women and covered shoulders for all. Some of the monasteries will provide long skirts and scarves for women to wear.
Meteora is one of the most-visited sites in Greece, second only to the Acropolis of Athens. A lot of the 2 million visitors visiting Meteora every year will want to drive there. You can drive to all six active monasteries but there is simply not enough parking space for all visitors.
Consider joining a tour, walking between the monasteries, or getting there very early in the morning.
Sunset tours are also very popular in Meteora as it’s probably the most instagrammable place in Greece.
Toilets are only available inside the monasteries, you will have to climb to the top of the cliffs to access the facilities.
Drinks, snacks, and souvenirs are available in the parking lots of the larger monasteries in Meteora (St. Stephen’s Monastery, Great Meteoron, and Varlaam Monasteries).
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Have you been to Meteora? Which monasteries did you visit?