Add the Meteora monasteries to your bucket list, pronto!
Meteora in Greece is hands down the most jaw droppingly unreal and otherworldly destination I’ve ever visited. Hands. Down. Its name means “suspended in the air”, and once you have explored the area you will understand how that came about. Located in the central region of Greece, Meteora is home to 6 UNESO World Heritage Site monasteries and nunneries precariously perched atop massive rock pillars.
What’s truly amazing is that these 6 monasteries are still active sites of worship, and while car parks and stairways now replace baskets and ropes, visiting Meteora feels like taking a giant leap back in time. If you’re visiting Greece, Meteora is one destination that shouldn’t be skipped.
If you’re short on time, it is possible to spend 1 or 2 days in Meteora exploring the hanging monasteries and sunset viewpoints. Is it exhausting? Yes. Is it doable? Also yes. Can you visit Meteora without joining a tour? Heck yes. Read on for practical travel tips including the Meteora dress code and where to stay to help plan your trip to the hanging monasteries of Meteora!
What you need to know about visiting Meteora in Greece
All the practical information you need to organize your trip to Meteora and the hanging monasteries, including the best time of year to visit, the location of Meteora and how to get there, what to bring, how to get around and what to see in Meteora.
1. The best time to visit Meteora
The best time to visit is in late spring (March to May) or autumn (September to November) when the crowds are less hectic. However, Meteora is manageable in the summer months if you start early and visit the largest monasteries before the tour buses arrive.
2. How to get to Meteora
Where is Meteora in Greece? Meteora is located near the town of Kalabaka, bam smack in the middle of mainland Greece. Most visitors travel from major cities such as Thessaloniki to Meteora or from Athens to Meteora. Meteora is approximately 230 KM or a 3 hour drive away from Thessaloniki, or roughly 350 KM or a 4 hour drive away from Athens.
Because of the way we designed our Greece road trip itinerary we actually drove to Meteora after a night in Olympia and that was the easiest, most pleasant way for us to stick to our own schedule; the drive was fairly leisurely and took approximately 7 hours, but as you approach Meteora the roads become more narrow as you make your way through the mountains.
In general, driving around Greece is extremely easy (if I can do it, so can you) and cities are well-connected by brand new highways and plenty of rest stops. Just don’t be surprised if every other car zooms past you at 20 km/hour over the speed limit!
Looking for the best prices for rental cars around the world? Click here to book your rental car ahead of your trip. Bookings can be cancelled or amended if your plans change! We rented our car in Greece from Kosmos for approximately 50 Euros per day.
If you don’t plan on renting a car, there are public transportation options from Athens and Thessaloniki but I would recommend staying at least 1 night in Kastraki or Kalabaka (sometimes also spelled Kalambaka or Kalampaka). Click here for more information on how to get to Meteora from Athens by public transportation.
3. How to get around Meteora
Once you are in the area, you can self-drive a car (like we did) or rent a scooter from Kalabaka to visit the various monasteries, or alternatively there are plenty of day trip operators that can drive you around to see the monasteries of Meteora in a private car if you do not have access to your own transportation. If you do not plan on driving and would prefer to walk/trek between the sites, I would recommend giving yourself a full 2 days in Meteora.
You could choose to walk to get between the monasteries, but it is sweltering hot in the summer months and there is a lot of ground to cover between the different sites – do not underestimate the distance between the monasteries of Meteora, as well as the trek back into Kastraki or Kalabaka. I remember driving past some poor souls who were schlepping up the hilly roads in the heat and thinking, “I’m so glad that isn’t me right now”. I would recommend that you do a mixture of driving and hiking to make the most of your time in Meteora.
Each monastery has (limited) space for parking on the side of the road, and it only takes a few minutes to drive between the monasteries. There are also a few different gas stations in the area so make sure you compare prices as they vary a fair bit.
Looking to visit other incredible historical sites in Greece? Click here for my mainland Greece road trip itinerary!
4. What to bring and the Meteora dress code
Bring: Sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, water, a snack, a good camera that can capture photos in low light as the sunsets are spectacular. However, you should know that you cannot take photos within the interiors of the monasteries, and that you shouldn’t take photos of any of the monks or nuns without their explicit permission. Also bring cash as you will need to pay €3 to enter each monastery.
Wear: Good walking shoes. The Meteora monasteries have strict dress codes so women will need to wear a long skirt, dress or sarong. It’s not enough to keep your knees covered so no trousers or shorts. However, all the monasteries have wrap skirts and shawls at the entrances that you can borrow. Shoulders should also be covered but I noticed that they are far more strict about the long skirt. Men should wear a t-shirt or long sleeve shirt (no sleeveless shirts) and pants but I saw a few people who got away with wearing long shorts that hit just below the knee. Remember that the monasteries are places of worship, so be respectful and conduct yourself properly.
Where to stay in Meteora, Greece
We spent 2 nights at the family-run Pyrgos Adrachti hotel in Kastraki. The hotel is only 1 kilometer from St. Nikolaos should you wish to walk, or a 5 minute drive away from where the monasteries are located. If you make your way to Meteora by car, there are plenty of parking spaces at Pyrgos Adrachti but I would recommend hiring a small sedan as there are some tight corners and narrow pathways to navigate in order to get to this hotel.
The rooms are spacious and comfortable, and the owners are helpful – they are the ones who told us about the Psaropetra look out! The best thing about staying at the Pyrgos Adrachti is the view from the balcony – make sure you ask for a room with this view. Click here to book your stay at the Pyrgos Adrachti hotel or click here to see other highly rated hotels in Meteora and the surrounding areas!
The hanging monasteries of Meteora
In this central region of almost inaccessible sandstone peaks in Greece, monks settled on these “columns of the sky”, and “Meteora” became the name the monks gave to the monolithic columns that seemingly pierced the clouds and sky. The name, “Meteora”, roughly translates into “suspended in air”. In its heyday, there were a total of 24 monasteries. Today, there are 6 still standing: St. Nikolaos Anapafsas, Great Meteoron, Roussanou, Holy Trinity, Varlaam and St. Stephen’s. They all vary in size and have different visiting hours that change depending on season. If the map below doesn’t load then click here for a map of the monasteries in Meteora.
They are also closed on different days of the week, so it’s important to check the schedule ahead of your visit. The largest and most popular monasteries (Great Meteoron and Varlaam) fill up quickly with busloads of tourists, so its best to start your day early.
Wondering which monastery to visit in Meteora? Here is the rough order in which I would recommend seeing the monasteries: Great Meteoron and Varlaam, Roussanou, Holy Trinity, St. Nikolaos and/or St. Stephen’s.
1. Start by visiting Great Meteoron monastery and Varlaam in the morning
Here’s where the walking and hiking part kicks in. Skip St. Nikolaos (the first monastery you will hit on your way up) and drive past the monastery by around 100 metres and park the car on the side of the road. This is where the trail begins to hike up to the Great Meteoron and Varlaam (look for a small, unmarked wooden bench). The hike to Great Meteoron will take approximately 45 minutes and is mostly shaded, but the path is uneven and uphill. About 3/4 of the way through you will reach a fork in the road – take the left path to head up to Great Meteoron.
The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron is the largest and oldest monastery remaining in Meteora, founded in the 14th century by Saint Athanasios the Meteorite. Within the monastery you’ll find a museum and main church, but take some time soaking in the breathtaking views across Kalabaka from its courtyard.
Tour the Great Meteoron and after you’re done there, walk a few steps over to Varlaam, the neighboring monastery. Founded in the 14th century, Vaarlam is the second-largest monastery in Meteora and was reputed to house the finger of St. John and the shoulder blade of St. Andrew. You can easily spend 30-40 minutes wandering around each monastery and exploring the chapels, courtyards, cellars and so on.
Once you have explored Varlaam, take the path on your left (as you’re exiting) to walk back down to where you parked your car. Bonus points for buying a popsicle outside Varlaam to cool yourself off.
2. Drive on to Roussanou and Holy Trinity
Next, drive over to Roussanou (also known as The Monastery of St. Barbara), a nunnery dating back to the 16th century. Today, it is still a working nunnery with more than a dozen nuns who reside there and tend to a church and reception halls. Compared to the other monasteries in Meteora, Roussanou is relatively easily accessible due to its lower elevation.
Holy Trinity dates back to the 14th century and is not easy to get to as it sits high up on a cliff, so pace yourself as it is only reachable by hiking up nearly 150 steps. Because of its location and inaccessibility, few tour buses stop here so it may be perfect for those looking for a more peaceful opportunity to explore the grounds. In the past, the Holy Trinity also relied upon pulleys and baskets for supplies, but a small funicular is now used to carry supplies to the main building.
Once you have visited these two monasteries, head back towards Kalabaka for lunch as St. Stephen’s is shut from 1:30-3:30 pm (1-3 pm in the winter months). On your way back, you can stop at The Monastery of St. Nikolaos as it shuts earlier than the other monasteries. St. Nikolaos dates back to the 14th century and features detailed frescoes painted in the early 1500s; today, it houses just one lone abbot.
3. Next, head over to St. Stephen’s
St. Stephen’s is the most accessible monastery as all you have to do is cross a bridge. If you have any mobility issues or are traveling with young children or elderly family then you may want to consider heading straight to St. Stephen’s. It suffered a lot of damage during WWII and was abandoned until the 1960s when it was restored as a nunnery – today, it is home to more than two dozen nuns.
As you drive from point-to-point, there are plenty of lookout areas that you can stop and take pictures at, just make sure you park safely and out of the way of other vehicles.
Ready to see this incredible place with your own eyes? Click here to book your stay at the Pyrgos Adrachti hotel or click here to see other highly rated hotels in Meteora and the surrounding areas!
My ultimate tip for visiting Meteora
End the day with a stunning sunset at Psaropetra sunset view point in Meteora. Most people swarm to watch the sunset in Meteora from another viewpoint next to Varlaam, so this one tends to be relatively uncrowded. Even when there are more visitors there is still room for everyone to spread out.
Psaropetra is just past the Roussanou nunnery parking lot. On a clear night you can expect the most mind blowing colours – see why this is probably the best sunset viewpoint in Meteora?
“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
Ready to book your trip to Meteora in Greece? I recommend staying at the family-run Pyrgos Adrachti hotel in Kastraki. The hotel is only 1 kilometer from St. Nikolaos should you wish to walk, or a 5 minute drive away from where the monasteries are located. Make sure you ask for a room with a view! Click here to book your stay at the Pyrgos Adrachti hotel or click here to see other highly rated hotels in Meteora and the surrounding areas!
I hope this guide helps you to visit Meteora more efficiently and make the most of your time in Greece. Have you visited Meteora? What are your tips to travelers visiting the area?
Planning a trip to Greece? Check out my other destination guides!
- If you are short on time (like we were) you should check out this mainland Greece road trip itinerary
- Wandering what to see in Athens? Here are 7 archaeological sites and museums not to miss
- Immerse yourself in the history and origins of the Olympic Games. Read on for what to do in Olympia, Greece
- Once considered to be the centre of the world, the ancient sanctuary of Delphi is a great day trip from Athens
- Planning a trip to Santorini? Here are the best things to do in Santorini and tips on where to stay
- No DSLR camera? No problem. These photos were all taken using my iPhone! Here are my best tips for taking photos with your smartphone
- Check out all of my Greece travel tips and guides here
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