If we want to settle in a town other than our hometowns in India, Meteora is our first choice! Taller mountains, floating monasteries, good food, great coffee, beer, fantastic hiking trails, indescribably beautiful reddish-pink sunset and perfect mountains to watch them in a small town makes Meteora a paradise.
Here is your complete guide to visiting Meteora monasteries of Greece for those who love hiking and chasing the best sunset in the world
- How to reach?
- Where to stay?
- Why you should visit Meteora?
- How many days to spend here?
- Know before you go
- Meteora and the movies
- Hermitages & history
- Best viewpoints
- Why do I want to settle in Meteora
How do you get to Meteora Greece?
Reaching Meteora isn’t hard. Due to the lack of an airport (which is good for the mountains), few travellers skip this destination
How do you get from Athens to Meteora?
The best and cheapest way is to take the train from Athens. Plus, Athens train stations got locker rooms to keep your luggage. So we dumped our trolley and carried only our backpack to Meteora. The landscape throughout the route may not be exotic but beautiful. However, 3 to 4 trains leave for Kalambaka from Athens most days, so check the schedule and plan accordingly.
When it began to rain and we had to wait for 45 minutes at Kalambaka railway station.
You can choose between AC first-class or regular class. The second class coaches that we took were clean. The 4.5hr train journey was comfortable with an in-house cafe serving basic bread and plenty of coffee along with not so clean toilets. Less than a 700m walk from the railway station to the town square to catch the public buses to Kastraki and other areas. These buses run at specific timings. So while you wait, “not too busy, not at all sober” town of Kalambaka offers you plenty of streetside cafes for – coffee/beer/ saganaki. For those who are ready to spend after a decent haggling, yellow taxis and bike rentals are always available.
Private Taxi from Athens to Meteora.
It is the most expensive way to get to Meteora is by Athens, but you can visit Delphi on the way (if you like seeing historical ruins as a history buff).
Where to Stay in Meteora
Monasteries are located at the hilltop. The red tiles roofed town of Kalambaka is at the foothill with the backdrop of those rocky mountains. The main town is divided into two main areas – Kastraki and Kalambaka. Kastraki is away from the city centre and located at a higher elevation. You find more BnBs here than the hotels. Kalambaka is the neighbourhood closest to the railway station, bike rent, and plenty of cafes/ hotels/hostels.
Hotels in Meteora, Greece.
Where did we stay – BnB hosted by John Tsikelis. The host, John, is passionate about guiding his guests around Meteora and helps you plan your day well when you approach him. Strangely, It is not a house or guest house but a typical hotel listed in Air BnB.
Why you should visit Meteora, Greece?
I declare this “the best sunset in the world” I have ever seen.
This isn’t the least visited town in Greece, but less touristy compared to Santorini and Mykonos. It takes you away from that usual Mediterranean vacation by the turquoise seaside to the breathtaking views of the mountainside. When it rains before sunset, the sky itself becomes a rainbow. That is the time when the carnival of colours happens on nature’s canvas. The cave architecture astounds you; the landscape impresses you. Consider yourself lucky to witness one of the most colourful sunsets in the world behind the hanging monasteries.
Can you hike in Meteora?
Yes and that is what you should do. Each time you climb a step, the tranquillity filters through you. The snowcapped mountains block the horizon and makes you live in present. Every pause you take when you climb down opens up to a different view of the red-tiled roof town at the foothill.
When you are on the winding road riding, fog uncovers the floating monasteries.
This magical moment stays in your mind forever. If you are religious, you got monasteries for your spirituality. If you are here for fresh air and planning to get healthier by hiking, the monastery trails are made for people like you. The food is way different from the coasts of Greece. More meat, lots of cheese and sprinkles of purest olive oil are sure to make you gain weight. Less touristy, more local, religious yet hipster, tucked in mountains yet reachable, excellent coffee, delicious beer – A perfect quiet small town of high spirited people is a real gem for travellers.
How long do you need to see Meteora?
Stay here as long as you admire the sunset and tranquillity! Meteora in Greece is the only town that made me think of settling there other than my home town. As a tourist with a limited number of days on vacation, I recommend two to three days. We could visit only three monasteries by bike+hike and stroll in Kalambaka a bit during our two-day stay. If you are planning to walk from Kalambaka to the monasteries, keep four to five days.
Is Meteora a day trip from Athens?
Nope! The joy of Meteora lies in wandering in the mountains. A rushed day trip too Meteora is for those who want to tick the off their list and not for experience seeker.
Things to Know Before a Meteora Tour for a Magical Trip
The aerial views of these monasteries will be terrific. But there is no hot air balloon or a helicopter ride to preserve the archaeological area. It may be a saddening thing for tourists, but preserving this UNESCO world heritage is crucial than our time bound pleasure.
Flying drones without permission from the institution are prohibited.
Best time to visit Meteora Greece.
March to May when the weather is pleasant and the crowd is lesser is the best time. September to November is also great, but it is the tourist season.
From the boiling summer of 40C to the harsh winter with 6′ deep snowfall, Meteora weather goes to extremes. Meteora mountains may literally look like floating in the rainy season’s cloud.
If you are unsure of driving in Meteora, take a short, organised tour once to know the terrain. You will be more confident to drive around the next day.
Who lives on Meteora Mountain of Greece?
The monasteries belong to the Eastern Orthodox Christian community and are maintained by the same.
There used to be 20+ monasteries in the 14th century; currently, there are six active monasteries. Three are inhabited by nuns, and the other three by monks.
You can click pictures inside monasteries, but do not click pictures of monks and nuns without their permission.
Is hiking in Meteora Greece Tough?
None of the monasteries is handicap friendly.
You don’t need a guide if you are hiking. The trails have signboards throughout, plus it is safer to explore the remote spots by yourself.
Carry water and snacks while hiking. There are no cafes after the winding roads to the monastery start after Kastraki. Few of the monastery’s parking areas got small shops selling coffee and packed snacks.
If it rains an hour before the sunset during summer-You are about to get luckier indeed. That drizzle before the sunset makes it more beautiful.
How long does it take to hike Meteora of Greece?
If you are planning to explore all the monasteries by hiking, start walking early in the morning. Summer afternoons are terrible to hike.
Carry the printed map, they are super easy to read and help you most.
Can you go inside Meteora monasteries in Greece?
Each monastery’s timing varies. Collect the map from your host or at the tourist information centre at Kalambaka. This map has all the information required, including the entrance fees.
Pace and plan yourself based on the opening hours of the monasteries. The practical way to plan your visit is based on their geographical location, but it doesn’t work here. We kept the Rousanou Monastery at last because it is the closest one to Kastraki. By the time we reached down, the monastery was closed to the visitors.
Though it is illegal to camp on the hilltop, we found a couple staying in the caravan away from the main road, inside the forest. Make sure you don’t get caught or don’t use alcohol to maintain the serenity of the place. The entire hilltop is considered to be holy.
Renting Vehicles in Meteora
Renting a bike is better than hiring a car. Our BnB host John said there would be bad traffic jams at the parking lots of monasteries, especially at the sunset viewpoint. Either walk or bicycle ( if you are up for uphill cycling) or drive a bike to avoid getting stuck in traffic. We hired our scooter from Hobby Shop Papatzimopoulos in Kalambaka.
You need to submit a copy of your DL to get a bike and show the originals when renting. I forgot to carry my DL. Fortunately, I keep a soft copy of my documents in my email. In Greece, just speak to them nicely and request when you don’t have a document. You may get lucky like us to rent the bike with the softcopy of a DL.
What should I wear to Meteora MONASTERIES?
Don’t make the same mistake as we did – Don’t pack your shorts and skirts. Instead, wear full-length pants and shirts with sleeves. To know more about ways to avoid getting embarrassed because of your outfits at the monasteries, READ OUR POST” WHAT TO WEAR IN GREECE.”
Meteora in the movies
Meteora Greece, James Bond.
If you are chasing James’s bond filming locations, Meteora owns one. The 1981 Bond movie “For your eyes only” starring Roger Moore was filmed here. In the film, they call it an abandoned St. Cyril’s monastery. In reality, it is an active one- Holy Trinity Monastery. The hiking trail starts from Kalambaka. If you have hired a bike, you can begin the hike closer to the sunset viewpoint.
Tyrion in a Sky Cell
We both are Game of Thrones freaks. Just like most people hated the last season, we hated it too. It never struck our mind to check if that hilltop dungeon Lysa Arryn imprisoned Tyrion Lannister existed in reality. The place looked so dramatic that we were sure it to be just a VFX. Indeed it is VFX because The Eastern Orthodox church didn’t approve the filming in Meteora. So our beloved Tyrion Lannister was imprisoned in the steep hilltop dungeon, whose VFX was the direct replica of the Meteora monastery.
The last TV thing related to Meteora is that slide show on Amazon Firestick after pausing a video for a long time. If not the movies, many tourists can relate to this.
Meteora may look like the planet Pandora from the movie Avatar. It is inspired by Zhangjiajie National Park in China.
Monasteries, Hermitages & history
The cave dwellings of Hermits
Who lives on Meteora Mountain Greece?
The literal translation of the word Meteora means –” Hanging in the air” Between the 11th to 15th centuries, Meteora evolved as a centre for Orthodox Christians, saints and monks. The Byzantine time is where it reached a peak. Other than the hilltop monasteries, hermitages are a unique thing to see in Meteora. When you drive further North from Kastraki, you see rocks with caves with colourful fabrics hanging in the distance. Those are the hermitages dedicated to the monks. The fabrics are pilgrims’ offerings to the hermits who lived there centuries ago. One of the hermitages we visited was the Hermitages of Padova. This cave-dwelling was the place where monks lived, isolating themselves from the world. It even maybe to protect them from Turkish invaders and barbarians.
How did monks climb up to the hermitages and monasteries ?
The obvious questions we all get are how they climb such heights to their cave dwellings up in the rocks? There used to be a pulley with rope and net attached to the caves. Each time the monk wanted to get down or go back, the net was dropped down to carry them up or drop them down. The pulleys were rotated manually every single time! You can see similar setups in the monasteries too!
Why is every house’s roof red?
The roof of every monastery is tiled with red or pinkish-red colour tiles. So the local government authority has restricted all the citizens to use only red tiles for the entire town of Kalambaka.
Difficulty levels – Was it hard to hike?
Out of the three monasteries we visited, the Holy Trinity Monastery hike was more challenging than the other three monasteries we visited two. But the 300+ steep steps are worth every effort. The difficulty level is a bit more than “easy” for those who hike regularly. However, with a water bottle and a good/healthy breakfast, the hike was easy. Don’t rush; give pauses. Sit wherever you want and continue. There is a hiking trail to Holy Trinity Monastery that begins right from Kalambaka. If you start from there, the number of steps may be more than 1000.
Exploring the monasteries – which is the best one?
I have no answer to this! I can’t pick any to be better than the other. After visiting three out of six monasteries, I find each one unique in its own way, sharing certain standard features. Every monastery has a courtyard before the main complex. Their lush green garden is filled with colourful flowers. The Fresco paintings on their walls depict the stories of the saint to whom the monastery is named. Every sanctum is maintained well either by nuns or monks neatly. At times, with fewer tourists, it is almost pin-drop silence. Every monastery’s roof and wall are of the same material and colour. Whether big or small, each one of them provides a great view of the town Kalambaka below. Every monastery’s staircase leads to heaven – either spiritually or scenically.
- The Great Meteoron Holy Monastery
- Holy Trinity Monastery
- Monastery of St. Stephen
- Varlaam monastery
- Rousanou Monastery
- St. Nicholas monastery
The Great Meteoron Holy Monastery
The largest, tallest and oldest of all the monasteries of Meteora is this one. After climbing the first half of the steps, you get this incredible view of another monastery – Varlaam. The next half (approx 150) of the staircase takes you to the courtyard filled with flowers. The arched collonades take you to a museum where ancient scriptures related to the monastery is kept. The best and unique part of the monastery is its skull gallery.
These human remains belong to the main monks and other occupants who lived there before. Though the hike of 300+ steps is a bit challenging, the views are rewarding. Most tourists wander off from the skull room. Make sure you move around to find that gazebo where those pink flowers grow with an excellent view of Varlaam monastery behind them. Expect a bit of a crowd here; everyone wants to see those skulls and bones, and nobody wants to miss out on the mightiest floating monastery.
Holy Trinity Monastery
The hike to this monastery is the toughest. It gained popularity after being featured in the Bond movie” For your eyes only” in 1981. After parking the bike, the first quarter of the hike was comfortable on a paved straight path. Then, slowly, the stairway to heaven starts with the view of Kalambaka on one side and the millions of years old rocks on the other. The narrow walkways are good enough for only two people to cross each other at a time. The walkway carved into a giant rock helps you to climb further with its shade.
If your bottom wear doesn’t cover your knees, they give you a fabric to drape around the waist. The doorway takes you to the flowery courtyard. You can spot that pulley, and the net with a rope used to pull monks up and down to your left. Don’t forget to observe the fresco inside the holy sanctum. When you exit on the other side of the sanctum, some steps take you up and down to the edge of its boulder. That opens to this crazy view of the town Kalambaka. The red-tiled roof houses look like tiny red ants from here.
Monastery of St. Stephen
The only monastery where there is a bridge to get to heaven instead of a stairway. The easiest access makes it every visitor’s first choice. The nuns living here put their handmade laces, and bookmarks for sale inside a souvenir shop. The central courtyard is surrounded by the collonaded rooms with that usual red-tiled sloped roof. The coniferous trees and the roses that grow here add up to the beauty of this place.
Best view Points
Here is the link to Google Maps for 9 best viewpoints
- Meteora Panoroma
- Front View of Valraam monastery from Great Meteora Monastery
- View of Valraam monastery from the parking area
- Rousseau Monastery view from above
- The best point for sunset
- View when you are lost on the way to Valchavas
- The 1981 James bond View
- Kalambaka view from the Holy trinity
- View of Saint Stefanos monastery
1. Meteora Panoroma
2. Front View of Valraam monastery from Great Meteora monastery deck
3. View of Valraam monastery from the parking area
4. Rousseau Monastery view from above
5. The best point for sunset
6. View when you are lost on the way to Valchavas
7. The 1981 James bond View
8. Kalambaka view from Holy trinity
9.View of Saint Stefanos monastery
What is special about Meteora Greece?
Growing up in India’s western ghats and inhaling one of the freshest air in India, our heart always beats for the mountain region when settling down in a place. The first day in Meteora felt like home for a similar reason. The Kalambaka town was lively (In peak season, it will be overcrowded). Kastraki was more peaceful. The compact, lively town, rocky mountains with monasteries like nowhere else, great food, nicer people ( Once you blend in with them, Greeks are friendly), good coffee, and holy places nearby – It reminded me of my hometown a lot. Since it is tucked away in the mountain and the holy monasteries are owned and maintained by the Eastern Orthodox Church community, their town will expand much in size but will be developed further.
I felt homely, lively, lovely – Magical Meteora would be where I want to settle down, if not my home town in India in the future.
Our host John said the road to Great Meteora monastery will be jam-packed during tourist season. But there is always enough space in the mountains to escape the crowd.
Soaked in the previous day’s sunset colours, we rode in the rain and hiked on the second day. The paper map and windy roads took us to the monasteries along with some beautiful spots. Later looking for coffee on the hilltop, we drove towards a nearby village Vlachava. Somewhere between the breathtaking views of floating monasteries and drizzles, we lost the route, and we ended up on a mud road that opened up to a view that was nowhere else seen. There was a couple who had camped there in their RV the previous night. They said they do it every year in Meteora.
There is no doubt, that views closer to the monasteries are the best, but these hidden and unexpected places made Meteora even more enchanting.
The drizzle became rain, the body began to shiver. The couple invited us inside their RV and made us a quick shot of espresso.
Have we inspired you to settle down in Meteora? Let us know in the comment section below.