When you think about traveling to Greece, what comes to mind? Certainly Athens and all of its ancient wonders like the Parthenon. And absolutely the Greek Islands – names like Santorini and Mykonos often take the very top spot on many Greek traveler’s bucket lists. But what about Meteora? I dare say that many travelers contemplating a trip to Greece – especially Americans – haven’t even heard of it. Well, I’m here to tell you that Meteora in the central part of Greece is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited, and deserves a top spot on any Greece travel itinerary. Let me show you everything that’s great about Meteora, and why you should take no less than a two day trip to Meteora Greece.
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So What is Meteora?
Meteora is the largest archeologic site (by area) in Greece, and a Unesco World Heritage site. It encompasses a series of giant rock formations rising majestically from the ground. And scattered across these impressive natural structures, sit 6 equally impressive man-made structures – the Meteora monasteries.
The Greek Orthodox monastic presence started at Meteora in the 8th century. Monks began living in caves found throughout the area. Starting in the 14th century, in an effort to find more isolation and live even closer to God, they started building monasteries on top of the rock pillars.
They originally used ropes and baskets to transport themselves, the construction materials, and the necessities of daily living to the top.
With time, narrow staircases were carved into the rocky pillars, allowing for easier access.
At its heyday, Meteora had 24 different monasteries. Today only 6 remain, though you can see the ruins of others on many of Meteora’s “empty” peaks. The 6 remaining monasteries still function as active religious centers, but are open to visitors.
A Reluctant Tripper
But I will admit that I initially dragged my feet on taking a day trip from Athens to Meteora. I knew Meteora was going to be pretty cool, I just wasn’t sure if it was going to be worth the hassle. It’s not that easy to get to Meteora. It’s a minimum 4 hour train journey in one direction – much farther than the typical day trip destination.
If you go online and search day trip to Meteora Greece, you will find several tour companies that will help you visit Meteora in a single day. They will help you book your train ticket from Athens, pick you up at the train station after your 4-hour morning journey, hurriedly show you as much as they can through the afternoon, fit a meal in there somewhere, and get you back to the train station for an evening return to Athens.
And some will even provide transportation in a private van to Meteora and back.
I didn’t like the sound of either – too much travel time, not enough reward. And I generally prefer do-it-yourself travel anyway. But still….4 hours up, and 4 hours back? Fortunately for us, Mrs. TT had seen the pictures of Meteora, and was insistent that we go. So we went. Over two days instead of one. And I’m so glad we did!
Getting to Meteora
I did look for quicker alternatives for travel between Athens and Meteora. There are buses, but those take longer. I looked into renting a car for a couple days. But again, that wouldn’t have saved any time, and would’ve increased the hassle factor dramatically.
So it was the train for us.
The train situation in Greece isn’t great. Traveling by train for our day trips in Spain was super easy with lots of options including high-speed trains. And nothing compares to the train infrastructure in Japan, which certainly has to be the world’s best in my opinion. (The ferry system in Greece though is awesome – in fact, I have an entire blog post all about it).
In Greece, the train routes are limited and the stations seemed pretty meager. But the trains themselves are nice, and ours turned out to be a comfortable ride. There is a single direct route each morning between Athens’ main station and Kalabaka – the largest town adjacent to Meteora. It then returns each evening.
I bought our tickets several days ahead of time through the Hellenic Train iPhone app. It was easy to use and I was able to choose our seats. I immediately received a pdf copy of the ticket which was scanned once on board.
The train itself has comfortably cushioned seats, plenty of luggage storage, relatively clean bathrooms, and a food car offering drinks, snacks, and pre-made sandwiches.
(Note that there is no food for purchase at the train stations. So either bring food with you or plan to buy food on the train – my sandwich from the food car was actually pretty good)
And, certainly a bonus of this train trip was the chance to see what Greece’s mainland looks like (after having spent all of our time in Athens and on Greek islands).
Getting Around Meteora
I decided to rent a car in Meteora. You can get around by bus or taxi. But the bus schedule to the monasteries is limited (as you can see by clicking here). And it can be difficult to get a taxi back to town unless prearranged – there is no Uber to easily summon in this part of Greece.
I would have loved to have rented a scooter. This would have been a great way to get around during a two day trip in Meteora. Frequent readers know that riding a scooter in Europe is an ongoing quest. And some day it will happen.
Instead, I rented a car from Hobbyshop Meteora in Kalabaka. They were fantastic, as their 4.9 star overall Google review attests. I arranged everything via email with the owner Sophia. She picked us up at the train staton, taking us from there to her office in central Kalabaka. She spoke great English, showed me our ideal two-day itinerary on a map, and met us at the train station the following day for an easy return.
And it only cost 50 Euro for the 1.5 day rental.
(If you would rather have a tour company transport you around Meteora, then there are several options like this one)
Our Lodging in Meteora
Two different towns sit at the base of the Meteora’s massive rock formations. The larger of the two is Kalabaka – home of the train station and Hobbyshop. Just a few kilometers up the road is the smaller Kastraki. It’s closer to the monasteries and this is where we spent our one night in Meteora.
Many of the hotels and lodging options in the area offer striking views of Meteora rocks. In fact, it’s hard not to see the rocks from every vantage point in the area. We stayed at Hotel Kastraki (click for the Booking.com link). Our balcony featured this view….
Also, Hotel Kastraki had perhaps the greatest breakfast buffet that I’ve ever woken up to. It featured serving table after serving table of fresh options – both traditional Greek and not. And it’s included in the very reasonable room price. It was the perfect way to fuel up before a day of climbing stairs. Lots and lots of stairs….
The Six Monasteries
While on our two day trip to Meteora, we visited 5 of the 6 monasteries. 2 on our first afternoon, 2 the following morning, and 1 on our second afternoon. We could have easily visited all 6 during our two days there, but we chose to see some other local sites instead (see below).
Here’s a quick look at each monastery…
The Monastery of Great Meteoron
Great Meteoron is the oldest of the six, the largest of the six, and as you would then expect, offers the most to see inside.
The Monastery of Varlaam
Varlaam was our favorite. Not only is it stunning to look at from every angle, but the interior courtyards and spaces were the most beautiful. And it had the best museum. Plus notice its terraced gardens on the right of the picture. Sadly, we didn’t have access to these. I’m sure the monks love them though.
The Monastery of Roussanou
Roussanou is now a nunnery. This it the only one we didn’t visit. (The parking area was quite crowded and we thought we’d try to return, but never had the chance).
The Monastery of Holy Trinity
Holy Trinity is the Meteora monastery featured in a James Bond film…..For Your Eyes Only. Of course, Meteora screams Bond location.
The Monastery of St. Stephen
St. Stephen is also now a nunnery. It’s also the easiest to reach since there is very little climbing required – the parking area is adjacent to the entrance.
The Monastery of St. Nikolaos
St Nikolaos is the smallest of the six monasteries, and was the least crowded with visitors. It was also one of my favorites. My perception was that it retained a lot of its original character, while some of the others had undergone more renovations over the years.
Tips For Visiting The Monasteries
Each monastery has its own visitors hours, and not every monastery is open to visitors every day. You can click here to see a list of the visitors hours for all 6 monasteries. Each monastery charges a 3 Euro admission fee.
A dress code must be observed before entering each monastery. For men, pants are preferred. But on the second day (a hot one), I switched to shorts at the knee, after observing that modest shorts seemed to be allowed. Women must cover bare shoulders and wear a long skirt. Skirts are provided at the entrances to wear over pants.
Be prepared to do a lot of climbing. Two monasteries require a 300 stair ascent (Great Meteoron and Holy Trinity), and three others average about 140 stairs.
We visited in early October on a Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday, Meteora was extra packed with people. Tour buses everywhere. Parking difficult (but not impossible – we just parked further up the road and walked). Crowded narrow stairways in places. When I mentioned it to our hotel manager, she said that Sundays are usually very busy. Lots of Greek tourists choose come visit the monasteries on the holiest day of the week. Saturday was much calmer. I am guessing though, that on most days during peak summer tourist season, the monasteries could be similarly crowded.
Full access to each monastery is not allowed. I presume the monks and nuns live their private lives in the blocked-off areas. Generally a visit to each monastery includes access to its highly decorated chapel (photos not allowed), some of the outdoor spaces, and miscellaneous rooms unique to each monastery. A few have small museums.
As you would imagine, all the monasteries offer spectacular views of the surrounding landscape and down to the towns below.
Sunset In Meteora
You cannot visit Meteora without experiencing the sun set at Meteora. In my opinion, this is the most important reason why only taking a one day trip to Meteora would be a shame.
Watching the sun set from Sunset Rock at Meteora Greece is the single greatest place that I’ve ever watched the sun set….
There are two places to watch the sunset. They are not hard to find along the main road that connects the monasteries. Both are packed with people and with cars. One is called Sunset Rock. The other is called Sunrise Rock.
We opted for Sunset Rock which is the first viewpoint when driving up from Kastraki. And despite all the people, I was able to position myself on the edge in a great spot, getting some great shots, and just soaking in all the beauty. You can see three of the monasteries from here too, which adds to the overall splendor.
The Hermit Caves of Badovas
When Sophia at Hobbyshop showed me our prospective itinerary, she suggested that at some point, we take a break from visiting monasteries and visit these caves. Before the monasteries were built, the monks and religious hermits in this part of Greece lived in the area’s caves. Even after the monasteries were built, many monks preferred the solitude of the caves.
Badovas is an isolated area situated between several of Meteora’s large rock formations, adjacent to the town of Kastraki. Sophia had drawn directions on the map she gave us. There aren’t any signs marking the spot. However, the ruins of several cave dwellings sit adjacent to the road, and I correctly guessed it was the right place.
We first explored the road-side cave dwellings, and could clearly see many more caves in the distant rock face.
We hiked along a dirt road that took us into Badovas, surrounded by the towering rock walls on either side. After dealing with busloads of tourists at the main monasteries that Sunday morning, we were the only two people around. The solitude was almost spooky.
As we approached the rock face we’d previously seen in the distance, we could make out 20…30…maybe even 50 caves dotting it’s surface. These could only be reached by ladder or ropes, and the remains of ancient ladders dangled from many.
We stumbled across what I later learned was the 19th-century Panagia Church.
And we admired the now-abandoned Hermitage of Agios Antonios – constructed centuries ago in one of Badovas’ larger caves.
A quick word about food. Regular readers, know that I’ll always make a dining recommendation if I get the chance. When we first arrived in Kastraki, once we had checked into our hotel, we were ready to eat! The hotel manager recommended a taverna down the street, but it didn’t have the greatest Google reviews. I generally will listen to the locals, but this time I decided to try another nearby spot with a much higher rating on Google called Boufidis Greek Tavern.
As we walked up the road, the smell of barbecued meat intensified with each step. Turns out the speciality at Boufidis is souvlaki, and it was one of the best meals of our entire Greece trip. So good in fact, we returned the next day for the exact some thing. And we probably would have gone back the next day too, had we stayed longer.
If do-it-yourself travel is not your thing. And you really do only have time for a one day trip to Meteora. And you don’t mind putting up with 8-9 hours of travel for 6 hours in Meteora. Then check out these single day tours from Athens
Or if you want help. But you have enough time to take a two day trip to Meteora, here a few tour options
As you can see, Meteora Greece deserves to be high on anyone’s Greece travel bucket list, along with Athens and the Greek Islands. But, a one day trip to Meteora with only an afternoon spent seeing the sights is not nearly enough. Spending a night, just to witness the sunset, is enough reason alone to carve out time for at least a two day trip to Meteora. Plus there really are lots of other things to do besides visiting the monasteries. Don’t miss out!
If you would like to read more about our experiences in Greece, then check out the other posts in my Greece series: