Meteora is a very distinctive rock formation found in central Greece. In this guide, I explain how to plan your trip there and what to see.
A quick guide to Meteora
Best time to visit: during Spring or Fall
How long: a couple of days is enough to visit the area and relax for a while
Why it is worth visiting: it’s a unique place. There’s no other places like it in the world
Quick tip: each monastery has a different closing day. If you are interested in a particular one, check its opening days.
Where to stay: if you choose to stay one night in Meteora I recommend this hotel
Nothing is more strange and wonderful than this fantastic region, unlike anything I have ever seen. In . . . all the mountainous regions I have been to, there is nothing that compares to these extraordinary pillars.Robert Curzon, English traveler, 1849
Curzon’s words summarize quite well the feelings you’ll get when observing these incredible rock formations for the first time in Thessaly, Greece.
Welcoming the tourists, there is an imposing stone “forest” composed of more than twenty huge rocky pillars towering into the sky, hundreds of meters high. But the most incredible thing is the monasteries built on top of these rocks.
This is Meteora, a unique and extraordinary combination of rock formations and human labor. The name “Meteora” – from a Greek word meaning “things that stand on high” – refers to this group of isolated rocky pillars and the more than 30 monasteries built on them. The average height of these rocks is 300 meters, but some exceed 550 meters.
Geology of Meteora: how were these rocks formed?
The region of Meteora was once covered by a shallow sea. Over time, the sea receded and the area was exposed to the elements. The sandstone that makes up the pillars was formed from sediments that were deposited on the sea floor.
As the years passed, the forces of wind and water worked to erode the sandstone, slowly shaping it into the towering pillars that we see today. The pillars have been further sculpted by the elements over time, creating the unique and striking landscape that we see in Meteora.
In addition to the natural forces of erosion, the monasteries that have been built on top of the pillars have also contributed to their formation. The monks who built the monasteries carved steps and pathways into the pillars, making it possible for people to reach the top and access the monasteries. This has helped to shape the landscape of Meteora and has made it possible for people to explore the area.
Meteora: top things to see
The monasteries of Meteora were built by monks from the 11th century onwards. These monks were seeking solitude and a place to practice their religious beliefs, and they saw the towering pillars of Meteora as the perfect location.
Building the monasteries was no easy task. The pillars are very tall and steep, and there was no easy way to reach the top. The monks had to use a series of ladders and ropes to access the top of the pillars, and then they had to carve out steps and pathways to make it possible to move around and access the monasteries.
Once they had reached the top of the pillars, the monks began building the monasteries. They used a combination of natural materials, such as stone and wood, and they carefully crafted each monastery by hand. The result was a series of beautiful and unique structures that are now a major attraction in the region.
Despite the challenges, the monks persevered and were able to build several monasteries in Meteora. Today, only six of these monasteries (two of which house nuns) are still in use, but they continue to be a major draw for visitors to the area. The monasteries are a testament to the determination and skill of the monks who built them, and they remain an important part of the history and culture of Meteora.
It was only in 1925 that steps were dug into the rock making these monasteries more accessible.
Holy Trinity Monastery was built in 1475 and renovated several times in 1684, 1689, 1692, 1741.
The first hermits to climb Meteora were a certain Barnabas, between 950 and 965 E.V., and Andronicus of Crete, in 1020. Other monks from all parts of the Byzantine world joined him so the number of rock-top monasteries reached 33. In the 16th and 17th centuries the communities reached the height of their importance, but from then on their decline began.
St. Stephen’s Monastery is now occupied by nuns.
Today, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, the Meteora monasteries represent an invaluable cultural heritage. In recent times, the Greek government has been taking care to preserve Meteora’s cultural heritage, and partly due to the fact that they have appeared in several films, Meteora is increasingly visited by tourists.
How to get to Meteora
There are several ways to get to Meteora but none of them are very fast. Here are a few options to consider:
- By car: Meteora is located in central Greece, and it is easily accessible by car from nearby cities and towns. The region is well-served by highways and roads, and there are several car rental agencies in the area if you need to rent a vehicle.
- By bus: If you are traveling by bus, there are several options for getting to Meteora. One of them is to take a bus to Trikala and change there for Kalambaka.
- By train: The nearest train station to Meteora is located in the town of Kalambaka, which is at the base of the pillars. There are regular trains from Athens and other major cities in Greece, and from Kalambaka you can take a local bus or taxi to reach Meteora.
- By plane: The nearest airport to Meteora is located in the city of Ioannina, which is about an hour’s drive from the region. From Ioannina, you can rent a car or take a bus to reach Meteora.
If you want to visit Meteora, I recommend staying in Kastraki, a pretty village at the foot of Meteora. You can find some good deals on Booking.com. If you prefer Agoda here you will find some discounts.
How to get around Meteora
Once you arrive in Meteora, there are several options for getting around the region and exploring the monasteries and other attractions. Here are a few suggestions:
- By car: if you have a car, this is the best option for exploring the area. The region has good roads and is easy to navigate, and having your own vehicle gives you more freedom.
- By bus: only from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm, which stops at the various monasteries and then returns to the city
- By taxi: taxis are widely available in the area, and they can be a convenient way to get around. You can either hail a taxi on the street, or you can call a local taxi company to arrange a pick-up.
- On foot: Meteora is a great destination for hikers and there are several trails that offer beautiful views of the region. If you enjoy hiking, this is a great way to explore the area and see the sights. Keep in mind that it can be quite hot in summer
- With a Tour: finally, you can consider booking a guided tour like this one. It’s not very expensive and you will learn a lot more than on a self-guided tour
One important thing to keep in mind if you want to visit the monasteries are the opening hours; some are open only in the morning. These are the closing days instead:
- Moni Agiou Stefanou: Monday
- Moni Megalou Meteorou: Tuesday
- Moni Varlaam: Wednesday
- Moni Agias Varvaras Rousanou: Wednesday
- Moni Agias Triados: Thursday
- Moni Agiou Nikolaou Anapafsa: Friday
When I was there, admission to each monastery was about 2€.
In conclusion, visiting Meteora in Greece is an unforgettable experience. The monasteries offer a glimpse into the history and culture of the area, and they are a must-see for anyone visiting Greece. Whether you’re interested in history, culture, or simply enjoying the natural beauty of the area, there is plenty to see and do in Meteora for everyone.