The best things to do at the Meteora Monastries in Greece include touring around a picturesque landscape with unique rock formations and visiting the ancient monasteries built on top of detached rock pillars. The Meteora monasteries in Greece are among the most beautiful destinations in Europe. Both the uniquely shaped rocks in the landscape and the medieval, hanging monasteries of Meteora provide an unforgettable experience. Meteora belongs on every road trip itinerary for Greece. Read all about the best things to do in Meteora, practical tips for visiting the Meteora monasteries and a description of the six hanging monasteries in this blog.
How to get to Meteora in Greece?
Meteora is centrally located in it north of Greece. How to get to Meteora? Thessaloniki is nearby and it takes less than three hours driving to get there. The Greek capital Athens is just over four hours of driving.
As far as we are concerned, that makes Meteora a tough day trip with six to eight hours from Thessaloniki or Athens, but it can be done and a lot of day tours are offered from both destinations. If you have enough time, we recommend that you plan at least one night in Meteora. But if you don’t have that much extra time in your travel schedule, you should definitely take a day trip to this bucket list destination and just squeeze it all in one day.
The history of Meteora
The history of Meteora goes back millions of years, when the special landscape of rocks, pillars and mountains was created by wind and water erosion. From the ninth century, the unique rock pillars were climbed by hermits who sought solitude here for religious reasons and lived in niches in the rocks.
Tip: near Kastraki you can still find the hermit houses in rock crevices, a unique thing to see in Meteora. You can find the exact spot on our Meteora Hiking Map.
In the eleventh century, monks who had been expelled from other regions, found their new homes in this rocky area. From the fourteenth century, they built their iconic hanging monasteries on mountaintops and rock pillars. In 1336 the largest monastery, the Grand Meteora, was founded. It is still the largest and highest-located monastery in Meteora and the area is even named after the monastery.
Over the centuries, the monasteries were expanded and new ones were added. In the end, there were as many as 24 monasteries. All were almost completely cut off from the world. Only with rope ladders and nets could the hanging monasteries be reached at their lofty heights. The monasteries eventually fell into disrepair and both time and wars caused a lot of damage. In the end, six monasteries were preserved in good condition and have been well restored in recent years. In 1988, Meteora was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, after which it grew into the tourist attraction it is today.
Monasteries of Meteora Map
The best things to do in Meteora
#1 Enjoy the best viewpoints of Meteora (with sunset spot)
Before our visit we searched extensively for the most beautiful viewpoints of Meteora, but we now know that there is actually no best beautiful viewpoint. If you drive or walk through the area, you will always end up on the main road between the monasteries. From almost every bend and corner you have the most perfect and picturesque views of Meteora. Along the road are a number of parking bays where you can make a stop to enjoy the beautiful view and take pictures.
The three best viewpoints which stand out because of their size and parking spaces:
- The viewpoint next to the Vaarlam Monastery (Google Maps location)
- The viewpoint above the Roussanou Monastery (Google Maps location)
- The viewpoint between the Roussanou and the exit to the Monastery of the Trinity (Google Maps location)
One of the most popular things to do in Meteora is to head to one of the viewpoints around sunset. We definitely recommend you to do so, as you will have a magical experience. Bring a drink and enjoy the slowly setting sun turning the beautiful landscape into an even more beautiful one with soft and golden and orange colors. The best – and usually most busy – place to enjoy the Meteora sunset is the viewpoint between the Roussanou and the exit to the Monastery of the Trinity. It is the only viewpoint offering you views of five out of six monasteries. Our second choice would be the Roussanou viewpoint.
#2 Hiking in Meteora
Hiking in Meteora is the perfect way to experience this scenic destination in Greece in an authentic way. The hanging monasteries, perched on towering rock pillars, were once a lonely and inhospitable place that was difficult to access. Today, a wide paved road runs between the monasteries and huge tourist buses transport their cargo from one monastery to the next. As far as we are concerned, that certainly detracts from the magic of this special UNESCO World Heritage Site. But we also found out that hiking in Meteora can take you back to a more authentic experience.
Read more: our Meteora hiking guide.
There are several great hikes and hiking trails in Meteora. Our favorite is the hike to the Ypapanti Monastery, because this is the most off the beaten track trail in Meteora and you can therefore experience a more authentic Meteora on this hike. We created this Meteora Hiking Map with both the trails and the exact location of the monasteries:
#3 Visiting the 6 Meteora Monasteries (+ a Secret Monastery)
#1 Grand Meteora (Great Meteoron)
Grand Meteora is the largest monastery and also the one this area is named after. If you can or want to visit only one monastery, we recommend that you go for this one.
Like the other monasteries, the Great Meteoron sits atop a rock pillar. From the parking lot, you first descend a bit and then climb up again to get to the entrance. As the largest monastery in the area, this complex consists of several buildings, terraces and courtyards. Unique to Grand Meteora is that you can still view the authentic kitchen here. The chapel is a lot bigger than we saw at other monasteries and is just as richly decorated. Almost all surfaces of the monastic chapels in Meteora are completely covered with colorful orthodox paintings.
Because the Grand Meteora has a higher location than its five counterparts, you also have the best view from here. You have a beautiful view of the neighboring Vaarlam, the rocks and the village of Kastraki.
Vaarlam is one of the larger and most worth-seeing monasteries of Meteora. From the parking lot, you walk a few stairs to the entrance, after which you can visit several buildings and terraces of the complex.
In the ‘cellar’ you can visit a small museum with information about the history, richly decorated books and monk’s robes with gold stitching. From a large platform, you have a beautiful view of the surroundings and neighboring monastery Roussanou. The church is lovely for its impressive and colorful Byzantine paintings. Continue your visit further to see a huge barrel in which water was once stored and now visitors throw coins for some good luck. In the room behind it, you can still see the old net used to once hoist up monks and their belongings.
#3 Roussanou (Agia Varvara)
The Roussanou Monastery is located in the heart of Meteora. The monastery has been inhabited by nuns since 1988, making it a counterpart to the mostly male monasteries in this area. Sixteen ladies still live in the monastery.
You can reach the monastery from both above and below. Both sides have a staircase and a parking space. The route from the parking lot below is a lot shorter and we would therefore recommend you to go from there. At the top you will find one of the best viewpoints of Meteora, but you can also get there via the main road and that saves you another climb.
The Agia Varvara women’s monastery is not particularly large. Many parts are not accessible, because they are used by the nuns. You therefore mainly visit the small chapel. This too is richly painted, although the paintings are more battered and less colorful than in other monasteries where it often seems as if they were created yesterday (or at least recently thoroughly restored).
#4 Saint Nicholas (Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas)
St. Nikolaos is one of the smallest monasteries and perhaps the most photographed. Because it is on a somewhat rock formation, you can see it very perfectly from many different monasteries and viewpoints. The limited size of the monastery is certainly also due to the location of the Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas.
Located on one of the narrower rock pillars, there was not much opportunity to expand the monastery complex. Unlike the other monasteries, it has mainly been expanded vertically and you even have to climb some stairs between the different floors in the monastery during your visit to fully enjoy this vertical monastery.
Upon entering, after the ticket register, you first arrive in the small chapel of the monastery, where you can admire those typical orthodox paintings and icons again. After that, you mainly climb the stairs through the monastery complex, until you reach a roof terrace with a spectacular view over the dramatic rocks and the village of Kastraki.
#5 Holy Trinity Monastery (Agias Triados)
The Agias Triados is one of the more difficult to reach monasteries in Meteora. From the parking lot – although you can’t really call this roadside parking a parking lot – you first descend a bit and then climb up quite a few steps. You can also make an impressive hike up from Kalampaka to the Holy Trinity monastery, which we can highly recommend.
The monastery is slightly smaller and less lavishly decorated than the other buildings in the area. Yet you can also enjoy the beautiful, typical Byzantine paintings here. The view is also beautiful and worth a visit alone. And did you know that the Trinity Monastery was once the film set for the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only?
#6 Saint Stephen (Agios Stefanos)
The Saint Stefanos Monastery is the most easterly of all the sights of Meteora, even beyond the Trinity Monastery. As one of the most easily accessible monasteries, a visit to Agios Stefanios is easy to make. It is the only monastery that you can visit without climbing stairs. From the parking lot, a footbridge leads to the rock pillar on which the buildings was once built.
The monastery is quite small, but certainly impresses because of the beautiful paintings in the church. At the very back of the monastery, you’ll see a balcony with a beautiful view of the area and the town of Kalampaka.
#7 The secret monastery Ypapanti
As the least accessible monastery of Meteora, Ypapanti is often not even counted among the ‘official’ monasteries. Usually the count ends at six, but there are more monasteries in the area and Ypapanti is one of them. It is an ancient monastery that is not built on the rocks, but against a rock wall. The beautiful location in the middle of the stunning landscape makes this monastery particularly picturesque. Unfortunately, the monastery itself is now closed to visitors. On older blogs, you’ll read that you can also visit the seventh monastery, but that is no longer correct.
Why then do we mention this monastery as one of the sights of Meteora, even though it is closed? Because of the beautiful hike to Ypapanti! There are several hiking trails to Ypapanti. One of the shortest trails leads from the parking lot of Vaarlam Monastery north to Ypapanti. You then walk back on the same trail.
We preferred the longer hike from this point on the map. With this hiking trail, you first walk downhill for about an hour. You’ll always be higher up in the mountains than the famous rock formations and monasteries of Meteora, over which you’ll have a beautiful view. On the way back you can choose to take the same trail back or hike a more northern trail, where you mainly walk through a forest. Although this hike involves quite some descending and ascending, this hiking trail to Ypapanti is very doable. The rise and fall are very gradual, so the trail is never very steep.
Visiting the Meteora monasteries: 10 practical tips
#1 Is Meteora worth it?
Yes, as one of the most beautiful destinations in Greece, Meteora is definitely worth it. Located in a spectacular landscape of rock formations and rock pillars, you will enjoy the beautiful views. The special monasteries have rich decorations, a unique view and unique architecture that seems to merge with the rocks. Meteora is a unique place that should be on every traveler’s bucket list.
#2 Where to stay in Meteora
As you can not stay in the Meteora rock area itself, you’ll have to find your stay in Kalambaka or Kastraki, the two villages that lie at the foot of the Meteora rocks. From both villages you have a lovely view of the rocks and the hanging monasteries. Kalambaka – also referred to as Kalampaka – is the larger of the two and therefore also has a long street filled with hotels, hostels, restaurants, terraces, bakeries and bars. Kastraki is a bit smaller and therefore feels a bit more authentic, but has less entertainment to offer.
The best hostels and hotels in Meteora:
- Meteora Heaven and Earth Kastraki for a luxury hotel with stylish and beautiful apartments. Each room has its own sitting area and kitchenette for self-catering.
- Divani Meteora Hotel with a central location in Kalambaka. The hotel offers an outdoor pool, indoor pool and sauna, and attractive hotel rooms with wooden floors and a veranda.
- Dellas Boutique Hotel located between Kastraki and Kalambaka. The attractive building of natural stone and the delicious breakfast ensure rave reviews from hotel guests.
- Hotel Doupiani House with a perfect location in Kastraki. The chic and authentically furnished rooms all have a great view of the Meteora rocks and the Saint Nikolaos Monastery.
- Grand Meteora Hotel for a lovely hotel in Kastraki with its own indoor swimming pool. The view of the Adrachti rock and the rest of the rock area is praised in its very positive reviews.
- Pyrgos Adrachti for one of the most popular and acclaimed properties in Kastraki. All balconies and windows of Pyrgos Adrachti have a beautiful view of the famous rocks of Meteora, surrounded by green pine forests.
- Meteora Central Hostel on the main street of Kalambaka. This budget-friendly option to stay in Meteora offers simple, clean dorms in a prime location.
#3 Three ways to visit Meteora: tour, car/scooter or hiking
The Meteora area consists of a large rock formation with rock pillars and the iconic monasteries on top of them. You can visit the area in three ways: on foot, with an organized tour or with a (rented) car or scooter.
By hiking you can enjoy the stunning nature and landscape of Meteora in the best possible way. You won’t be able to visit many different monasteries in one day and with the height differences in Meteora, hiking can also be quite tough on hotter days. On the other hand, this is the most budget-friendly way to visit the sights of Meteora. You also get a more authentic experience of Meteora which was once created for its solitude and remote locatoins.
An organized tour can be booked from both Meteora villages – Kastraki and Kalampaka – and even all the way from Thessaloniki and Athens as a daytrip. You will then visit several monasteries and viewpoints with a tour bus during one day without having to plan anything yourself. It is the most easy way to visit Meteora and although it is somewhat more touristy, it is the best way to visit the area if you’re short on time.
We recommend to visit Meteora with your own (rental) vehicle. We visited Meteora with our camper van, but most visitors don’t have their own vehicle with them. You can easily arrange your own transport, as a rental scooter or rental car in Greece is not hard to find. Electric bicycles are also offered in Kalambaka and Kastraki to explore the area. Meteora’s wide, tarred roads are of top quality, so you don’t have to be scared of driving yourself at all. You can park your vehicle for free at the parking lots of the monasteries and viewpoints, although there is not always enough parking space and you sometimes have to park along the roads, especially in high season. A scooter would therefore be our top choice because of the ease of parking.
#4 How many Meteora monasteries can you visit in a day?
You can visit (almost) all Meteora monasteries in one day, if you keep a good pace. We saw recommendations to plan in three or more days to visit the monasteries, but we think that is quite exaggerated.
If you take it easy, two days are more than enough to visit both the monasteries and the viewpoints of Meteora. Why one day is just not enough if you want to see all the monasteries? Because of the varying opening days (and opening hours), so there is always at least one monastery closed. If they would be all open in one day, you could also visit all six at a good pace. Plan in about half an hour to an hour per monastery, depending on the number of stairs you have to climb. For example, Sint Stefanos is quite small and accessible without stairs, so you don’t need much time for that.
That being said, we don’t think you have to visit all monasteries to fully experience Meteora.
#5 Are the monasteries of Meteora easily accessible?
The Meteora Monasteries are today very easily accessible. Once the monasteries could only be reached with ladders or nets and you’ll still see that old system in place at some of the monasteries. But that is now what we have tourists do in modern times. Wide, tarred roads run through the Meteora area and even large touring cars can get around the area with ease.
The monasteries have a different access road from their parking lots and most require climbing stairs. The Monastery of Saint Stefanos is easiest to reach with a footbridge directly to the monastery building, so there are no stairs at all. The Varlaam Monastery does have some stairs, but a lot fewer than Rousanou and Sint Nikolaos. Those last two require a little more climbing. But the Trinity Monastery and Great Meteoro are considered the two most difficult to access monasteries with quite a lot of steps. The seventh ‘secret monastery’ Ypapanti can only be reached by hiking and is not accessible by car, so personally we would qualify that one as the most difficult to reach.
#6 Which Meteora Monastery is the best to visit?
Many guides recommend you to visit all monasteries to fully experience Meteora, but we think that you can also experience this destination perfectly with two monasteries. The monasteries are very similar in architectural style, atmosphere and beautifully painted chapels. It is especially their iconic location and rocky environment that make the Meteora area unique. You therefore best experience Meteora with a hike or drive around the area, where you’ll see the hanging monasteries balancing on their rock pillars.
If you can or want to visit only one monastery, we recommend you choose Grand Meteora. It is the largest and highest-located monastery and also the one after which this area is named. The authentic monastery kitchens are unique and the monastery chapel is larger than the other chapels.
Our second choice would be Vaarlam because this is also one of the larger monasteries in Meteora. You can still see the old net with which monks and their belongings were once hoisted up. The monastery complex has several buildings, including a small museum and the beautiful chapel.
As a third choice we would recommend the monastery of Saint Stephanos because it is so easy to get to. You don’t have to climb any stairs and you can easily walk in and out of the monastery via a footbridge. This is one of the monasteries that you can see well from the town of Kalambaka.
Finally, we recommend hiking in Meteora to enjoy the solitude nature of the stunning landscape. We loved the trail to the (closed) Ypapanti monastery and this hike was one of the highlights of our days in Meteora.
#7 What do the Meteora monasteries cost?
Every monastery has one entrance fee of €3, regardless of its size or interest. We think that is a very reasonable price. Even if a monastery is smaller or slightly less worth seeing, we considered € 3 was a reasonable rate.
Apart from that, you will also incur costs to get to Meteora. Of course, the amount depends entirely on how you travel. For example, we traveled around Greece with our camper van and therefore had no costs for accommodation and a rental vehicle or an organized tour. You can travel to Meteora by public transport and arrange a rental car or scooter or an organized tour in Kalambaka or Kastraki on the spot. That is cheaper than an organized day or even two-day tour from Thessaloniki or Athens. A budget tip for a cheap lunch: Kalambaka has a Lidl with a fresh bakery.
#8 The Meteora dresscode
The six monasteries of Meteora are still in use and therefore have their own dress code. When you visit a monastery, you’ll have to wear covering clothing. Both shoulders and knees must be covered. You are also not allowed to wear caps and hats. For women, there is an additional requirement that they have to wear a skirt or dress. If you are not wearing one, you can borrow a one from the monasteries.
#9 Check the changing opening hours
It is wise to check the opening hours of the various monasteries online in advance. The monasteries do not have the same opening hours and are also closed on different days of the week. Although it is great to never have a day in the week with all of Meteora being closed, this does require some planning and research. It is also good to know that there is different summer and winter schedule for both opening days and opening times. Some monasteries even close at 2 pm, which is definitely something to take into account in your plans.
#10 The best season to visit Meteora
Meteora is beautiful to visit all year round, but personally we would recommend spring and autumn recommend. In the summer Meteora can get very busy and very hot. The crowds are not pleasant in the relatively small area with a limited number of parking spaces per monastery. It certainly detracts from the magic of this place which, after all, is meant to be cut off from the outside world. Also, the many stairs are challenging enough without a blazing summer sun. In winter it can get very cold in Meteora, so spring and autumn are therefore our preferred time to visit Meteora. We find autumn the perfect time of the year because of the beautiful autumn colors that make the already impressive area even more beautiful.
Tip: if you visit Meteora between the end of November until early January, drive 30 minutes to the Christmas village of Trikala for a unique Christmas experience in Greece.