Like their own, mystical, small worlds, the famous Meteora monasteries rise towards the sky on high sandstone cliffs. You can still visit six of the original 24 monuments of this type and immerse yourself in the Greek past in a special way.
The Meteora monasteries are among the most visited sights in Greece. Due to their impressive architecture and the unusual location, it is almost surprising that – unlike the Acropolis in Athens – they are more of an insider tip on vacation beyond national borders. The once 24 monasteries tower on strangely shaped rocks and each mark their own little world. Six of the monasteries can still be visited by vacationers. Besides, monks and nuns still live there today.
The monasteries’ name goes back to the term “meteoros,” which means something like “floating high” in English. Why was such a special location chosen for the monasteries? It is assumed that the monks who once built them wanted to be closer to God physically at a considerable height. Due to their extraordinary location and surrounding nature, the monasteries, situated on sandstone cliffs up to 500 meters high, are popular with historically interested vacationers, photographers, and climbers.
History of the monasteries
The history of the Meteora monasteries is said to have begun in the 9th century. First, hermitages were set up in caves and rocks as special places of prayer and refuge for the early monks. The first monasteries were built on the rocky peaks as early as the 12th century – a monk named Athanasios was responsible, for example. This also established the actual monastic life in the area. He was responsible for the Metamorphosis Monastery opening, which from 1344 onwards became home to a total of 16 monks.
But how did the monks at that time even manage to get the building materials they needed onto the rocks? In some cases, the builders carried the tools and elements necessary with rope hoists and self-built elevators. Sometimes the monks, laden with all kinds of objects, pulled themselves up on the ropes. There should also have been rope ladders for climbing the ledges. It doesn’t matter how the monks managed it in the end: To this day, Greece owes this wonderful piece of history to them, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has an almost magical effect, especially in the fog.
Location and access
The Meteora monasteries in Greece are located in the Thessaly region, at the foot of the Pindos Mountains near Kalambaka and the village of Kastraki. In themselves, they are easily accessible due to their location in the heart of Greece. However, direct paths, such as staircases, have only led to monasteries since the early 20th century. Previously, they were considered virtually inaccessible due to the rough rocky scenery, reached only using winches.
The monasteries of Agia Triada, Metamorphosis, Roussanou, Agios Stefanos, Varlaam, and Nikolaos Anapavsas are still inhabited by nuns monks and can be visited by holidaymakers during opening hours. All other monasteries are not open to the public either because they may collapse any moment or because of their dangerous location. These include the following uninhabited monasteries:
- Agia Moni
- Agii Apostoli
- Agion Pnevma
- Agios Alyssis
- Agios Antonios
- Agios Dimitrios
- Agios Georgios Mandilas
- Agios Grigorios
- Agios Modhestos
- Doupiani (first monastery in the complex)
- Kimissis Theotokou
- Moni Ypsilotera
- Panagia Mykani
- Parthenos Kyriakou
There is also the Filakae Monakon monk prison. According to history, monks who violated monastic life’s strict rules once had to serve their sentences and repent here.
Publicly accessible monasteries in detail
The accessible monasteries are, of course, particularly interesting for your vacation in Greece – even if the others are at least impressive as a wonderful photo motif. Particularly practical: men can also visit nunneries, and women can visit monasteries.
Agia Triada Monastery
The monastery of Agia Triada – Holy Trinity – was probably built in the second half of the 15th century. It is considered one of the most famous Meteora monasteries. One of the reasons for this is that it was used as a backdrop for a well-known film in 1981: James Bond’s “In Fatal Mission” was partially shot there, despite the monks’ protests.
Since 1925 the monastery has been accessible via stairs; previously, there were only rope ladders and rope constructions that brought the residents up. The old elevator winch that will remind you of the original way of stepping on is still there. Not only is the breathtaking view from the rock on which the monastery of Agia Triada is enthroned, but also it is the interior. For example, you can look forward to an old gospel book with a silver book cover and frescoes and wall paintings in the monastery chapel. You can visit the monastery between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. except on Thursdays. When visiting, families with children should make sure that the inviting terrace is not secured everywhere.
Metamorphosis Monastery / Megalo Meteoron
It has many names. With around 60,000 square meters, it offers an enormous amount of space: The Metamorphosis or Megalo Meteoron monastery, sometimes just called the “great monastery,” is the largest of the Meteora monasteries. This building also serves as accommodation for monks, and it was only accessible via rope ladders and winches until the 20th century. It rises more than 600 meters above sea level and is the main attraction in the region for travel agents. Through the large parking lot right in front of the monastery complex’s door, as well as numerous refreshment stops and shopping opportunities, you can immediately see the influence of holidaymakers on the monastery.
There are also impressive frescoes from the middle of the 16th century, a dining room, the monks’ wine cellar, a hermit’s cave, various museum rooms, and an inner courtyard with plenty of plants. Although the monastery is very popular with travelers, the spacious grounds mean that visitors are well distributed. This gives you enough opportunities to marvel at the individual sights in peace. You can do this every day except Tuesdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Completely different from the imposing Metamorphosis Monastery is the small but fine Roussanou, which is still home to a few nuns today. Different information is available regarding its establishment. It must have been built sometime between the 13th and 16th centuries. Before the conversion into a women’s monastery, monks lived here. After a few robberies on the monastery, the administration decided to move the remaining objects to the Metamorphosis monastery. As a result, Roussanou was uninhabited for a long time, starting with 1940.
Today it is one of the favorite motifs of photo travelers who put the Meteora monasteries on their travel lists. You can also reach and visit the place via stairs. There are frescoes from the 16th century as well as the (former) monastic life. Souvenir shops, in which the nuns offer handmade objects for sale, complete the offer. When visiting, you should definitely enjoy the view from the inner courtyard into the distance! You can visit the monastery itself every day except Wednesdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Agios Stefanos Monastery
As one of the oldest Meteora monasteries, Agios Stefanos rises as an east-facing monastery. It is a bit “off the beaten track,” which is why holidaymakers visit it less. This is why you will find the haven of calm for Agia Triada, Metamorphosis, and Roussanou, which you can visit every day between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. and between 3.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. except Mondays.
Also, in this monastery lived only monks and from the middle of the 20th-century nuns. Agios Stefanos has remained a women’s monastery to this day. Imposing wall paintings and museums await you here, as well as mother-of-pearl decorated hymn books and a bishop’s throne. You can also buy handmade products from the nuns or enjoy the view in the distance. The well-kept monastery complex of Agios Stefanos was founded in 1312.
The Varlaam monastery was built in the 14th century. Its name goes back to the builder who built three churches, a water tank, and a cell in addition to the monastery. Between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., you can take a look at today’s monastery complex every day except on Fridays. There is, for example, a museum that displays precious robes and icons.
Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery
The Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery was founded at the end of the 14th century. Due to the small available space offered by the chosen rock, it was equipped with several floors. There is a bell tower with a viewing platform as well as paintings and frescoes. You can see the ruins of other Meteora monasteries around the monastery, for example, the Agias Monis or Prodromos. Visits are possible between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. every day except on Fridays.
Visit Meteora monasteries
There are many arguments in favor of visiting the Meteora monasteries. On the one hand, they offer photo motifs of a special kind – you can photograph them from a distance or take extensive panoramic shots of the site’s surroundings. This makes them an ideal backdrop for nature photographers. On the other hand, they are a real Mecca for culture vacationers interested in the country’s (religious) history. Natural and active vacationers come around here to the course: There are plenty of hiking trails through nature. Besides, the rocks on which the monasteries are enthroned are considered the most popular attraction for climbers all over Greece.
Attention: if you are afraid of heights, you should avoid a hike to the monasteries and visit the viewing platforms. Of course, you can still visit the monasteries, but you should arrive by car or bus and rather stay inside the walls.
Greece is very popular with holidaymakers – but it doesn’t always have to be the classic beach trip! If you want to visit the Meteora monasteries, there are, of course, somewhat different tips for planning your trip than for a beach holiday on the Greek beach.
In general, we recommend the months of March to May and golden September for a trip to the Meteora rocks and monasteries. These times are outside the high season when it can get very crowded and still offer you the chance of wonderful weather. If you are looking for something special, you can also visit the monasteries in December. Then there is the chance to see the monuments and rocks in the snow.
The right time to visit is either early in the morning or late in the afternoon to evening. There are two reasons for this: firstly, the monasteries are less crowded, and secondly, the sunrise or sunset results in wonderful pictures that you will not soon forget. The rocks are then bathed in different colors and mystically lit by the sun. A great sight, not only for lovers and dreamers!
The journey to Thessaly, where the monasteries are located, usually takes place by plane. A suitable arrival airport is Thessaloniki. From there, you are still a good three hours drive from the Meteora rocks. Alternatively, you can visit the rocks as part of a vacation in Athens. Plan at least a four-hour drive to the rocks and monasteries here.
Opening times of the monasteries
If you want to visit all or several monasteries, you should plan at least two days for the Meteora trip because every monastery is closed for one day during the week. It can get very crowded on the weekends, which is why we advise against going out on Saturdays and Sundays. You can find the opening times during the summer (April to October) in the monastery’s respective section. Get more info in advance online – for both current opening times and the different winter opening times between November and March.
Entry to one of the monasteries is three euros for adults and is free for children. Also, consider the dres’ code of the monasteries: women must wear long skirts, men long trousers. Besides, regardless of gender, one should cover the shoulders and arms. Have you not thought about it? But appropriate rental clothing is available on site.
Refreshments and specialties
Some places around the Meteora rocks invite you to stop for refreshments and Greek delicacies. The city of Kalambaka, in particular, is geared towards holidaymakers. You will find cafes, classic Greek taverns, and small snack bars for a quick refreshment. There is plenty of choice for hungry stomachs, especially around the main street. Try the pomace schnapps made in Meteora – they are provided with anise and will inevitably remind you of the Greek drink par excellence, ouzo.
Hotels and accommodations
During your trip to Meteora, you can stay overnight in Kalambaka or Kastraki. Only a few minutes separate you from the monasteries, with Kastraki being a little closer. However, in terms of accommodation, Kalambaka offers more options. Decide between cozy middle-class hotels, rustic guesthouses, and accommodations with high comfort. If you like it quiet, you should opt for a Greek hotel in the old town – the less hustle and bustle here than around the busy main street.
- Meteora cliffs closer to God: Yuren Ju | CC BY-NC 2.0 Generic
- Meteora roads: damian entwistle - Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0 Generic
- Agia Triada: Guillén Pérez - Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0 Generic
- Megalo Meteoron: Bernard Gagnon - Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 4.0 International
- Roussanou: Ava Babili - Flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Generic
- Agios Stefanos: John and Melanie (Illingworth) Kotsopoulos - Flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Generic
- Varlaam monastery: Dido3 - Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
- Nikolaos Anapafsas monastery: Bernard Gagnon - Wikimedia | CC BY 4.0 International
- Dangerous heights in Meteora: Zdvihak - Panoramio | CC BY 3.0 Unported
- Souvlaki: jcvelis - Pixabay
- Meteora, Greece: Pxhere