If you’ve seen the “For Your Eyes Only” James Bond movie, then you’ve seen Meteora. Frequently overshadowed by Mount Athos, Meteora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the heart of mainland Greece.
Meteora: An Overview
Meteora refers to a collection of six active monasteries perched on clifftops in the heart of Greece. The monasteries are open to visitors, and each one has a museum of some sort that’s always interesting.
The cliffs make for excellent hiking and rock climbing, so if you’re into adventure sports, Meteora is an awesome place to go!
There are also ruins of monasteries that used to be there, and many well-marked hiking paths. The monasteries at Meteora are open to both men and women, and they do request respectful dress.
They’re set apart on the top of the cliffs, so the best plan is to give yourself two full days to fully explore all of the monasteries and the hiking between them.
Meteora: How to Get There
Reaching Meteora is both easy and difficult. Welcome to Greece!
There’s one daily direct train that leaves from Athens and goes to Kalambaka, Greece, which is the town at the foot of Meteora. So that’s the easy part – as long as you can find the train to Kalambaka, you’re good. You don’t have to worry about where to get off. Just get on in Athens and don’t get off until the train stops for good.
Now, the difficult part. It’s not an especially short journey. And it’s Greece. So it’s not an especially on-time kind of journey. What’s advertised as slightly less than a five-hour journey was advertised by an optimist. I believe it took me about six hours, and when I got to the hostel, the owners were surprised at how early the train arrived that day.
Bring snacks. Extra snacks. You’ll want them!
There are other options for train rides with connections, but I really recommend waking up in the morning to get the direct train. It’s Greece. As I was told about the busses by an awesome Greek girl I met, “Sometimes, in Greece, the bus simply does not come.”
There are also daily direct trains from Thessaloniki, if you’re coming from that direction.
There are busses you can take, but the train really is the easiest way. You could rent a car if you’ve got a strong stomach for Greek roads.
Where to Stay in Kalambaka
As a side note, thanks to Greek-alphabet translations, Kalamabaka is frequently also spelled Kalampaka. It’s the same place!
You’ll want to stay in either Kalambaka or Kastraki. I recommend Kalambaka – it’s bigger, has more restaurants, and is easy to walk to from the train. Kastraki is going to require the bus (reference bus comment above) or a taxi.
Kalambaka and Meteora get very hot in the summer, but swimming pools are not commonly found at the hotels or hostels (just a heads up!).
Meteora Central Hostel
I cannot recommend Meteora Central Hostel enough. I stayed in a LOT of hostels on my trip, and looking back, I think this was the nicest. It was clean – like crazy clean. Incredibly clean. Like sell-your-house kind of clean. The owners are SO nice. They take the time to sit down with each person and map out the area, explain and recommend where to go to the monasteries, and so much more.
The location is also fantastic – it’s near one of the first bus stops up to the monasteries, so even on busy days you’ll likely find a seat on the bus with no problem. It’s right on the main street, so there are bakeries and restaurants close by. You can also easily walk up or down from the monasteries from the trail that’s near the hostel.
If you’re itching for a “real” hotel and not a hostel (or Meteora Central’s double rooms are booked), then try the Hotel Kaikis. It’s super close to Meteora Central Hostel, so the same comments as above apply – it’s right near everything you’re going to want!
Getting Around Kalambaka/Meteora
If you’re an adventurous sort, you can rent a car (but rent it before you get to Kalambaka). I would not recommend it. Even though you’ll have an easier time getting to and from your hotel to the monasteries, parking is not plentiful at the top of the cliffs, and you’d better be great at parallel parking on cliffs.
The bus is how most people get around – the first one heads up to the monasteries at 9am. So if you’re in the mood for sunrise, you’ll have to rent a car or hike up! But the bus is 1.80 euro one-way, or 3.30 euro two-way.
Note that there isn’t a “day pass” option, and the monasteries are a bit far apart. So if you’re not in the mood to walk as much, you’ll probably be buying a few bus tickets. But if you like walking, it’s pretty easy to take the bus up and walk down. And the walk is amazing!
The Meteora Monasteries
There are six active monasteries that you can visit. Every day, at least one will be closed to visitors.
The entrance fee is 3 euro per person, per monastery. Two of the six inhabited monasteries are actually convents.
The Great Meteoron is the main monastery (and the first on the public bus route), and it’s worth going into. The views are incredible, and the architectural detail is fantastic.
I will say that there is a certain level of “sameness” after each monastery, so visiting the four – five open ones on any given day is going to be a lot.
All of the monasteries started with the “basket” elevator system, and have been later remodeled to have stairs for the tourists. This means… be prepared for a LOT of stairs!
The ruins almost all require hiking to get to, and some of the trails are closed, so be prepared.
There are a few Meteora Tours offered, and they have the convenience of providing transportation and a guide for history. The downfall is that they can be a bit expensive and somewhat limiting if you want to take your time.
Meteora Sunset Tour
One of the most popular options is the Meteora Sunset Tour. The tour will take you up to the monasteries (into one, and seeing all six), and you’ll get to watch the sunset from the top. This tour costs 25 euro (as long as you join the group tour – if you want a private tour it’s more). One of the key benefits of this is that it’s one of the only ways to get to see the sunset from the monasteries, especially if you don’t have a car.
The public busses stop running at about 4pm, so this is a perfect option if you don’t want to hike down in the dark. (And it’s steep and slick – I would not recommend hiking down in the dark unless you’re a very experienced hiker with a great headlamp.)
On this tour, you’ll go to a monastery and church, both of which are gorgeous from the outside. If you want to go inside, entrance fees aren’t included. It’s 3 euro for the monastery and 2 euro for the church.
The other time this tour is a perfect fit is if you’ve only got one full day to see the monasteries. You can join this tour after coming in on the train from Athens, so you can see things that evening, and then go back for more of the monasteries the next day.
Meteora Hiking Tour, Meteora Half-Day Tour
If you want things organized for you, either of these tour options could be a great fit. Note that it’s basically impossible to get lost between the monasteries, and these tours don’t include the entrance fees. If you’re crunched on time, this is a great option. If you’re not, it’s not difficult to arrange your own tour!
The other time you’d really want to consider a tour is if you’re wanting to hike to the ruins and hermitages. Those can be hard to find without someone who knows what and where they’re looking for, so the tour is totally worth it!
The train from Athens is 18.3 euro each way, and the train from Thessaloniki is 15.2 euro. Accommodations will be a range – I paid 17 euro per night for Meteora Central Hostel. Depending on the season and room type, you’ll likely pay 15 – 80 euro per night for a place to sleep.
The bus rides and monasteries will generally come to 10 – 18 euro per day, more if you take more busses. And definitely more if you take tours. (Most of those are about 25 euro, but don’t include monastery tickets.)
Food is incredibly reasonably priced – a nice dinner will be under 30 euro for an appetizer, main, wine, and sometimes dessert! The bakeries have great snacks for 1 – 3 euro. And there really are incredibly Gyros for 2 euro!
On the low end, your per-day Meteora cost will be about 35 euro, and the high end will probably be 100 – 125 euro.
If you have the chance, Meteora is absolutely worth the visit. Kalambaka is a captivating town. The monasteries are otherworldly. The scenery is breathtaking. You won’t be sorry you made the journey!
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