The towering sandstone peaks of Meteora seem almost impossible to summit, yet monks have been living on top of these 'columns of the sky' from as far back as the 11th century.
Located close to the largest mountain range in Greece, the Pindos Mountains, the town of Kalabaka provides the gateway to these mysterious monuments.
Meteora is believed to be the second most important monastic community in Greece (after Mount Athos). It is an overwhelmingly holy, naturally beautiful, and historically captivating place to visit.
The beguiling monasteries of Meteora are not only on the UNESCO World Heritage List, but the whole Meteora-Antichassia region is a Natura 2000 Ecological Zone. The forested mountainous landscapes are absolutely beautiful; the polar opposite of the golden-sand beaches and blue-and-white-houses that we so commonly associate with Greece.
Taking a trip to Meteora is an eco-friendly adventure with challenging hiking trails, e-bike tours, and amazing local food from the Greek mainland. It’s also a fascinating insight into religion in Greece, and the monasteries hold some exquisite examples of Byzantine art.
Meteora’s history is a long and fascinating one. The land itself was formed over 60 million years ago by a series of earthquakes, creating fault lines that pushed up huge columns of sandstone from the seabed.
The site wasn’t inhabited until the 9th century, when hermit monks settled in the naturally forming caves along the rock faces. It was only later, when many monks were seeking refuge from invading Turks, that impressive monasteries were built at the very top of these impenetrable stone columns. Clever systems also made it impossible for intruders to loot and pillage the churches.
There were once around two dozen monasteries spread across the Meteora region. Today only six remain active, but others can still be seen in various states of disrepair.
The six main monasteries are open to visitors on certain times and days, so it takes some planning to fit them all into a day. It’s best to stay in Meteora for a night or two to take your time seeing everything - as well as making sure to see a truly unforgettable sunset.
It’s also important to remember that these are still religious sites that are home to monks and nuns, so dress codes and behaviour must be respectful.
The first stop on your list is the small but atmospheric Monastery of St. Nicholas of Anapafsas.
Though it won’t take long to explore, it’s a great place for photos before the crowds arrive later in the day - but note that the ornate chapel doesn’t allow photography.
Next is the 14th-century Monastery of Great Meteoron, both the largest and oldest monastery in Meteora.
Take time to explore inside as you’ll be treated to views of Meteora alongside gilded frescoes of saints and a museum on Meteora’s history - it’s great for getting some context on the sights.
Just next to Great Meteoron is the Monastery of Varlaam. It’s the second-largest monastery and feels like wandering around a grand palace.
The 16th-century monastery is wonderfully preserved, and you’re likely to encounter many monks wandering the pathways and gardens. It’s also thought to house the holy relic ‘the finger of St. John’.
The Monastery of Rousanou lies at the heart of Meteora and is the one you will likely have seen in guidebooks and magazines. Its position on a cliff edge overlooking the valley makes it one of the most photographed spots in Meteora.
It’s now an active convent after being rebuilt after damage from bombings in WW2.
Next, head to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity. There’s a panoramic viewpoint roughly halfway between the Rousanou and Holy Trinity monasteries that is guaranteed to take your breath away.
It’s the most isolated and hardest to reach of the Meteora monasteries, visitors must climb 140 stairs up a rocky outcrop to visit Holy Trinity. It’s also known for its starring role in the 1981 James Bond movie ‘For Your Eyes Only’.
From here a steep path leads back down to Kalabaka, handy if you are hiking around Meteora on foot.
The last of the big six is the Monastery of St. Stephen. With well-kept gardens and around two dozen resident nuns, this is one of the most peaceful spots that is easy to visit at any time of day.
It’s also the most accessible as there are no stairs to get into the monastery - good for when you’re a little weary from exploring.
The monasteries themselves have a modest entrance fee of €3 per adult, this price applies to anyone older than 12 (free for children). It’s best to have change in Euros for each monastery as change for larger notes might not be available.
The opening hours of the Meteora Monasteries are seasonal, and generally, each monastery is closed on a different day of the week - another reason to spend more than one day visiting Meteora.
There are generally scarfs available to borrow for free at the entrances to the monasteries, but it’s best to be mindful of how you dress to avoid refused entry.
The Meteora monasteries have strict dress codes, so women will need to wear a long skirt, dress or sarong. Men can't wear anything sleeveless and long trousers are preferred - longer shorts are usually permitted in summer though.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that it’s illegal to fly drones over religious sites in Greece without a permit, even somewhere as tempting as Meteora.
The monasteries are connected by a network of hiking trails, linking them with the town of Kalabaka. The Meteora Hiking Tour is one of the most popular options, a 5 km circuit that takes in the Tower of Pantokrator at Doupiani, the Monastery of Ypapanti, the Statue of Papathimios Vlachavas and finally, the Monastery of Varlaam.
Another trail leads from Kastraki village, starting from the Church of St Nicholas it winds towards the cave of St George the Mandilas. Stroll through the lush forests of Meteora passing ruined monasteries on the way to the ‘seventh monastery’ Ypapanti (carved into the rock face, it’s not open to visitors but it’s great for photos), before finishing up at two major sights - Great Meteoron and Varlaam.
Another option is to hike to the Hermitages of Badova to discover the long history of monks seeking solitude in this area.
Most trails follow a gentle incline of between 200-500 metres so are accessible to all levels of walker. However the trails can be exposed and there is little drinking water available, so it’s important to pack accordingly.
Meteora Trails lists the different routes in detail, so you can easily plan your way around the sights yourself, or join an organised hiking tour.
Meteora is considerably cooler than Greece’s Islands, making it a great alternative in the summer months. But it is still the peak tourist season, so any dreams of wandering through empty monasteries and enjoying a sunset view by yourself are likely to be shattered.
The passages leading up to the monasteries are narrow, and the smaller monasteries can easily become crowded, so visiting in the shoulder seasons between March to May and September to November is a good idea to have a little more space and time to explore. The weather is generally quite good at this time of year, and prices start to dip towards winter.
Winter can be a difficult time to travel to Meteora as many of the monasteries have reduced opening times and are closed between November 1 to March 31st for a few days of the week (rather than the usual one-day closure per week).
Winter temperatures can also drop below freezing due to the surrounding mountains, and it can be harder to find places to stay and eat as many businesses close for the offseason. However, for those that can plan around these obstacles, the rewards are having these amazing views almost entirely to yourself.
There are plenty of options when it comes to taking a day trip to Meteora from Athens or Thessaloniki.
Although staying overnight is definitely preferable, an organised tour is the best way to make the most of a short amount of time and saves you having to plan the details of where to visit and when.
If you’re already in Kalabaka, it can still be a good idea to take a guided tour to learn a little more about the history and significance of the area.
This Morning Small Group Tour of Meteora visits all six monasteries, and takes you inside three of them with a local guide. The 4 hour tour includes pick-up at your hotel in Kalabaka or Kastraki and air-conditioned transport, prices start from €43 per person.
Another interesting way of seeing the sights is by taking an e-bike tour of Meteora. The electric bikes take the strain out of the hilly terrain, and offer the chance to enter inside three of the six monasteries - prices start from €45 per person.
There is also an e-bike sunset tour which takes in the Caves of Bandovas and other sights you could easily miss by car, finishing at one of the surreal viewpoints as the sun goes down over the horizon - prices start from €39 per person.
Getting to Meteora from Athens is relatively easy by public transport, organised tour, or by hiring a car. Take the regional train or bus from Athens directly to the town of Kalabaka (Kalambaka Station). Both run once a day and take around five hours.
From Thessaloniki, trains to Kalabaka connect via Palaiofarsalos. They take around 4 hours and cost less than 20 Euros. The KTEL bus takes a little longer at around 4 hours 40 minutes and costs around the same price depending on the season.
If hiring a car or using public transport, we definitely recommend staying at least one night in Meteora to be able to see everything. If you are short on time and only have one day to explore Meteora, consider taking an organised tour to make the most of the trip.
There are two options when it comes to choosing where to stay when visiting Meteora. There’s the larger town of Kalabaka which has the train station, many accommodation options and good restaurants, or the quieter neighbouring village of Kastraki.
The sustainable Hotel Doupiani House offers fantastic views of the rock structures of Meteora. It’s located in the quiet village of Kastraki and offers free parking making it a great option if you’ve hired a car.
If you prefer to be more centrally located in Kalabaka, the 4-star Hotel Kosta Famissi is another good option. Spacious en-suites are air conditioned and have private balconies - many of which overlook Meteora.
If you can’t decide between Katraki and Kalabaka, Dellas Boutique Hotel sits between the two with beautiful stone walls and a large garden. It's the perfect place to spend a relaxing night or two after a busy day's hiking.
For breakfast, head to Octo Coffee & Breakfast on the main street of Kalabaka, for lunch there’s the always-busy Taverna Gardenia, and for dinner Meteoron Panorama offers authentic Greek dishes alongside outstanding views.
Although a little pricier than nearby restaurants, the Meteoron Panorama serves black pig and beef from their very own farm - and there are also locally-sourced vegetarian and vegan options.
If you have more time, stop in the capital of Thessaly, Trikala. Around an hour south of Meteora by car, Trikala is a pretty and historic town best known for its beautiful stone arch bridges: the Stone Bridge of Pyli, Palaiokarya Stone Bridge, and the Bridge of Sarakina.
Mount Olympus is also just a 2-hour drive east of Kalabaka, and makes a great stop on the way back to Thessaloniki.
For an interesting piece of human history, travel 5km south of Kalabaka to the Cave of Theopetra and museum. It’s one of the most important prehistoric sites in Greece, as it contains the oldest known man-made structure in the world. The wall that lies inside is believed to be 23,000 years old, and there are also human footprints, tools and other relics inside.