In my opinion, the most impressive places you can find in Greece are Meteora and the island of Santorini. While everybody knows about the romantic island of Santorini, how many of you did heard about Meteora and add it on the list for your next visit?
Meteora is the largest archaeological site of Greece – in terms of area – and the second sacred place of Greece after the Athos Mountain. It has its origins back to the 9th – 10th century, when the first monks arrived, searching for isolation from the outside world.
First time, they lived in caves, isolated from the rest of the world. A few centuries after, at the initiative of the monk Nilos, the monks started to gather together and celebrate the Sunday mass. Later on, in the 14th century, the first monastery the Great Meteoron has been founded by the monk Athanasios. Therefor, in the next two centuries the development was at its highest with 24 monasteries in the area. Today, only 6 survived and are open to the visitors.
How to get there
If you’re coming to visit Meteora most probably you’ll come from Athens or Thesaloniki. From both cities you can chose to come by direct train (from Athens: fast – around 5 hours, and cheap – around 30€ ), by rental car or private tours. I personally came from Athens, after first stopping in Delphi for the day, which is really impressive as I could find the perfect itinerary to do this.
First, from Athens to Delphi you have to take a public bus from Liossion bus station (not the Central Station!) around 7:30am, in order to reach the place around 10.30am. One way ticket is about 15€ and it takes you straight to Delphi in about two hours and a half.
After spending the day there, you need to take the bus back towards Athens at 18pm and stop in Livadia. The bus ticket costs 4.6€. From the city center you need to take a taxi to the train station, which is located about 6 kilometres outside the city. This will cost you around 10€ and will take around 10 minutes. As a last step, once you’ll arrive in the Livadia station, you need to take the train at 19:45 direction Thessaloniki and change in Palaeofarsalos for the train with direction Kalabaka, your final destination. The entire journey will take around two hours and a half and will cost around 25€.
And that’s it, this is the way to visit Delphi for the day leaving Athens in the morning and arrive as far as Meteora, in the North of the country!
One last precision, the city around the monasteries is called Kalabaka and most probably will be the place you’ll stay overnight. As an alternative, you can chose the village of Kastraki, which is closer to the monasteries, more quiet and remote.
Once there but better before, you need to check the schedule from the monasteries. Take into account the opening hours and the closing days, as are varying from a season to another, from summer to winter. Also, it can change with no further notice, so it’s better to give a call if you really want to see all the monasteries or some specific ones, in order to ensure you’ll be able to do so. Once you’re in Kalabaka or in Kastraki, you can also check this information at the tourist office.
One very important thing you should know before starting your visit is that exist a dress code for the monasteries. And this is not only for recommendation, it’s a must in order to secure your visit.
The man cannot go in shorts and in sleeveless t-shirt, while the woman should wear a skirt, (optional to cover their head) and wear no sleeveless t-shirt. For women, the rule with the skirt is mandatory in the nuns monastery – in the other ones you can enter with trousers too.
In case you don’t have anything to cover yourself, some of the monasteries are selling or renting you some scarfs – a bit pricey but better than nothing.
How to get around
Depends on how sportive you are, but you can definitely visit Meteora by foot – as I done. It will take the entire day to see all the six monasteries but yes, it is possible. Other alternatives are to rent a scooter (as with the bike would be hard, it is too hilly), rent a car or chose to join a group.
Now, check this picture below to understand how the monks used to go up and down a century ago, when no stairs were available. So, consider yourself lucky being able to visit all this places as they are today. In the past it was a real challenge.
Personally, I chose to do the tour by my own. I woke up early in the morning and I started to walk towards the village of Kastraki. I stopped there for a coffee, then I started the tour. In order to secure my visit to all the monasteries, I did chose to start with the monasteries of Agios Nicolaos, Roussanou, Varlaam and Megalo Meteoro, and finishing with Agia Trias and Agios Stefanos. The reason I done this is because Agios Stefanos is the only one open until later – 5:30pm – while the others are closing earlier, around 2-3pm.
Some of you will say it’s not normal to go to a sacred place and pay an entrance fee and I can somehow understand. However, the entrance to each monastery is 3€ only and you are helping and supporting them with this contribution. I did read this money are used to help the others or to charity, as the monks / nuns are not allowed to own money. Materials things are not good for the soul!
Food & drink
Something that would had been very useful to know before my visit are some things related to food and drinks. For example, each monastery has drinkable water so there is no need to carry with you big bottles for the day – especially during the summer when you assume you’ll need it. Also, there are no restaurants around the monasteries as I imagined. Only in front of some of them there are some food trucks with snacks, but no real food. As I didn’t knew none of this, I did carried with me two liters of water, and I did eat only a Snickers – around 3pm – until the evening. Thanks God I didn’t pass out.
I did spent only one night in Meteora and I chose to stay in Holy Rock Hostel. It is of the best hostels with the best host I ever met. The night is only 12€ and you can go straight to the hostel – as I done – or book in advance on hostelworld.
Every monastery is beautiful and unique, so it is hard to say which one is more beautiful or is deserves a visit in the detriment of the other. However, the most visited are Megalo Meteoro, Varlaam and Agios Stefanos according to the statistics. If you have time, just see them all. In the end, maybe you’ll never come back again to have a second chance!
Agios Nicolaos Anapafsas
It is open from 09-16 during the summer and closed on Friday. It has beautiful and cheap souvenirs.
This is a nuns monastery so be careful at the dress code. It’s open from 09-17 during the summer and closed on Wednesday. Also, it has the nicest souvenirs from all the monasteries. I did bought some beautiful handmade magnets, bracelets and icons from here. The view from here is splendid, as you can see three of the monasteries in front of you.
It is open from 09-16 during the summer and closed on Friday.
It is open from 09-15 during the summer and closed on Tuesday.
It is open from 09-17 during the summer and closed on Thursday. It is the most challenging to reach the top because it has many stairs. Inside is quite small but offers a nice view over the city of Kalabaka.
It is a nuns monastery so be careful at the dress code. It is open from 09-13 & 15:30-17:30 during the summer and closed on Monday. Also, is the only monastery where people with disabilities can visit as there are no stairs.
If your visit to Meteora includes an overnight stop, you shouldn’t miss the sunset from the top. There are several view points you can chose from, so don’t miss it this opportunity. If you’re alone, don’t hesitate to join a group. There are several agencies organizing this.
Apart from the museums you can see inside the monasteries, there are a few more in the city. I personally didn’t went to none of them, but I noticed them on the way: the Greek Culture museum and the Natural history museum. If you do visit them, let me know what I missed!
Well, that’s it! Now go and visit Meteora, this amazing UNESCO site since 1989. For more places to add on your bucket list, read some other articles here.