Earlier this month on 12th July, me and my family went up from Athens to visit this stunning attraction called Meteora. Many guided tours in mainland Greece tend to focus on ancient ruins. But this attraction has nothing to do with empires and wars during the ancient Greek times.
Meteora is a series of rock pillars with monasteries perched on top of them. The area used to be a river delta millions of years ago. At some point, an outlet was formed and resulted in the river draining completely from the delta. Erosion from earthquakes and rainfall over time resulted in the formation of these rock pillars.
During the 11th century, monks came and lived in caves found on the sides of the rock pillars. The monks believed that this was a holy place, and that where they were living was “between heaven and earth”. Eventually, monastic communities were formed, and they climbed to the top of these rock pillars to establish 41 Orthodox monasteries over the centuries.
As of today, only 6 of the monasteries remain as the rest were destroyed or deserted. During my trip in Meteora, I got to visit the Great Meteoron and St Stephan monasteries. This post will cover some of the important things you need to know when visiting Meteora.
The town Kalambaka (also spelled as Kalampaka) is located right next to the rock pillars of Meteora. Kalambaka can be reached by train or driving from Athens. It takes around 4-5 hours of travelling if coming from Athens.
Take note that Kalambaka town is not really an attraction itself. It mainly serves as a base for tourists to visit Meteora. The area near the train station, the only part of Kalambaka I have been to, mainly consists of hotels and convenience stores.
Whichever way you choose to come to Kalambaka, I highly recommend taking a guided tour to visit the monasteries. Most tourists here are on guided tours because getting to the monasteries is a long and windy uphill drive, which is rather difficult to cover on foot.
Coaches will take you near the monasteries. So all you need to do is climb the steps to reach the top of the rock pillar. For instance, there are around 250 steps to overcome in order to get to the Great Meteoron monastery. But that includes steps that are going downhill, so it is not too physically demanding. There are no steps to climb for the case of St Stephan monastery.
Visiting the monasteries
There is a dress code when visiting Meteora, but it does not seem to be strictly enforced. I saw many guys wearing shorts in the monasteries even though they were supposedly not allowed to enter if they were not wearing long pants. Girls will be given a garment to wear around their waist as a long skirt.
However, the rule that is strictly enforced is that tourists cannot take pictures in the churches, museums and of the monks or nuns.
The churches have elaborate and impressive paintings on the walls within. You also get to notice differences between the customs of Orthodox and Catholic churches such as a lack of statues of saints and having to stand in prayer throughout service.
Another important thing to note is that not every monastery is open every day. For instance, the Great Meteoron closes on Tuesdays while St Stephen monastery closes on Mondays. Most guided tours will only focus on visiting 2 monasteries in a day.
You will roughly see similar building interiors and layouts in each monastery, so there is no real need to visit all 6 monasteries. But try to visit the Great Meteoron monastery as it is the biggest and oldest monastery. Monasteries are not hilltop towns, so do not expect any nice shops and eateries.
The main difference between the monasteries is the views you get of the Meteora valley, which is the major draw of visiting this attraction for most people. It is a very scenic landscape worth the time travelling here to see. You could also consider sunset tours for an even more dramatic landscape or hiking tours that allow you to visit the hermit caves of Meteora.