I’m ashamed to say it, but prior to about two years ago, if you had said the word Meteora to me, I probably would have quoted a Linkin Park lyric back to you. I had even been to Greece in 2016, completely oblivious to the massive rock formations and the monasteries that sit atop of them. Located only a few hours north of Athens, Meteora (meaning ‘suspended in air’) should be on everyone’s to do list when travelling to Greece. I defy anyone to look up at these rocks and not be impressed – how ANYBODY could look up at those rocks and think ‘I’ll build my home up there’, and even more, that happened around 700 years ago!
I’ll give you a run down on some of the things you need to know about Meteora prior to your visit. This is one you probably need to plan a little bit…
Meteora sits 350km (217 miles) north of Athens. To get there, you really only have three main options – Train, Bus, or Car (yes, you can get a private transfer to and from Meteora, but this is Ugly Travel, so we won’t be talking about the fancy options here!).
The train is probably your best bet – where ever you are in Athens, you can catch a train or bus through to Larissa Station – the central train station in Athens and then catch a train to Kalampaka, the town at the foot of Meteora. The good news is that Athens to Kalampka is an easy journey, no getting on or off at different stops, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenery.
From Kalampaka, you will need transport to get to and from the monasteries. This part is up to you, so you can either hire a car or hire a tour guide/transfer. You can also purchase the whole trip – train ride and tour guide – together, or do this separately. There’s heaps of options on how best to do this, so have a look at your budget, how much time you have, and plan accordingly. When looking at tours and trips, I find Viator to be really helpful. Check them out here
The only bus I used in Greece was the hop on/hop off bus, but by all accounts it seems that catching a bus to Meteora is going to be a bit more difficult, with different stops in changes in between. Almost certainly cheaper, but with all the changes (at least three) and a walk of over 1km in between one of the stops, I don’t think it’s worth it. Remember, all of this is before you even get to Kalampaka, which is then another journey to get to the monasteries.
This is the option that I chose. While it took me some time getting used to driving on the other side of the road (not to mention the steering wheel being on the other side of the car), driving from Athens to Meteora is very straight forward and easy. We had GoogleMaps to guide us, so there was never an issue – it seemed like a fairly straight road (which was in good condition) for most of the way.
I enjoy the freedom that driving gives you – being able to stop here or there, to leave what time you want, and a big bonus is that once you get to Kalampaka you don’t need to mess around with trying to organise anything, you can head straight up to the monasteries.
One thing we didn’t account for, were the toll roads! I think all up, there were 6 or 7 tolls on the way there, meaning the return journey had 12-14 tolls which ended up costing an extra 40 Euros for the trip. While driving has it’s up sides, with the road tolls, petrol and the hiring of the car itself, I think driving turned out to be quite an expensive option, costing significantly more than the train and bus.
Kalampaka (or Kalambaka, or Kalabaka) is the quaint little town you’ll find at the bottom of the rock formations and monasteries of Meteora. If you’ve caught the train or bus from Athens, this is where you’ll be getting off, however, you will need a plan for how you’re going to get up to Meteora and see the monasteries.
If you’re staying overnight, Kalampaka is an excellent option as it’s so close to the monasteries, and has basic from $50 a night, running upwards or $200 for a more luxurious experience. If you’re looking on Booking.com, make sure you’re searching for Kalabaka, or click here.
Kalampaka has a decent amount of options restaurant wise, and again there are cheaper options, going up to the more luxurious ones. Kalampaka also has it’s share of supermarkets and convenience stores, so if you’re wanting to stock up and snack through the day, that’s also a good option. The locals are also really friendly, but that should come as no surprise as the Greeks are some of the most friendly and hospitable people on the planet.
Overall, Kalampaka doesn’t have that touristy vibe, it felt more like an authentic Greek town that had the added bonus of some of the most breathtaking scenery you will see anywhere in the world.
You’ve made it to Kalampaka, you’ve hired your guide or car, and are now making your way up the windy roads towards the top of the hills and cliffs towards the monasteries. But where should you go first?
There are only 6 monasteries left standing today – down from the 24 that had been built and stood at the end of the 16th century. These are:
- The Monastery of Great Meteoron – opens at 9am to 1pm, then 3pm to 6pm, except Tuesdays and Wednesdays
- The Monastery of Varlaam – opens at 9am to 1pm, then 3:30pm to 6pm, except on Fridays
- The Monastery of St. Barbara – opens at 9am to 1pm, then 3:30pm to 6pm, except on Wednesdays
- The Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas – opens at 9am to 6pm everyday
- The Monastery of St. Stephen – opens at 9am to 1pm, then 3pm to 5pm everyday
- The Monastery of the Holy Trinity – opens at 9am to 1pm, except Thursdays
Clearly, there’s a ton of history associated with Meteora and heaps of specific information about each monastery and what it offers. Lilly from My Toronto My World goes in to heaps of detail about the specific monasteries and history of the area. Check out Lilly’s post on Everything you need to know about Meteora to get the low down.
Bring cash, as each monastery costs 3 Euro. It is also important to dress appropriately, as the dress code requires that females wear a dress, skirt or sarong. However, all of the monasteries do have wrap skirts available to borrow upon entry. There are also gift shops and little souvenir and food/drink stalls outside some of the monasteries, which is helpful as it gets hooooooot walking up and down all of those steps.
It’s important to note, that while St. Stephen’s probably has the easiest entry to get in to the monastery, the remaining ones have lots of stairs, and many are windy and uneven. My fitness is not the greatest, but I managed to get up and down with not too much hassle, but if you do have any issues with walking, it would be best to research each monastery in detail to see which ones will work best for you
Is it worth it?
This one isn’t debatable – get to Meteora! It is 100% worth the time and effort getting here, and it should be on everyone’s to do list when heading to that part of the world.
Knowing what I do now, I probably would have booked a trip via the train, which would have made things a little bit cheaper and more relaxed for me. I also would have spent a little bit more time here – I feel that I didn’t get to enjoy Kalampka as much as I would have liked to, and I was only able to see two of the monasteries, so having a night here and having two days to explore would have been even better.