A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO VISITING THE MONASTERIES OF METEORA GREECE

crossing5oceans.com | Published April 17th, 2021 | Last Updated May 4th, 2021

The sun setting over the mountainous landscape of the Meteora monasteries

All Images © 2021 - Kelly Girouard - Please Contact for Permission to Use


Table of Contents

IN THIS GUIDE:

1. Getting There

2. When to Visit

3. Dress Code and Conduct


WHAT TO SEE, COST, OPENING HOURS AND ACCESSIBILITY:

1. Varlaam Monastery

2. Grand Meteoron

3. Roussanou

4. Agia Triada

5. St. Stephens


Meteora's monasteries may not top everyone’s travel list when heading to Greece, perhaps because it's located about a four-hour drive north of Athens, but this lesser-known destination should be included on any travellers bucket list.


Meteora means ‘suspended in air,’ and that’s exactly what these monasteries have accomplished. Situated at the top of vertical columns of rock formed 60 million years ago, the brick-faced sides of the buildings blend seamlessly into the pillars they are perched upon. It's quite a sight driving into Kalabaka and witnessing them towering above the village below.


Large pillars of rock surrounded by mountains and trees

Columns of Rock Formed 60 Million Years Ago then Further Shaped by Weathering and Earthquakes


There are six monasteries open to the public today, and I was fortunate enough to visit five of them; Varlaam, Grand Meteoron, Roussanou, Agia Triada and St. Stephen's. Use the information below to start planning your own unforgettable Meteora experience now!


Getting There

To reach Meteora from Athens the drive is approximately four hours, and to reach Meteora from Thessaloniki it's approximately three hours. If you choose to take public transportation, this is an excellent article (please ignore the double text link that appears on mobile devices, website developers are working to fix it. The first part of the link still works) that provides information on getting to Meteora by train, bus and car.

If you decided on public transportation, how will you get around once you arrive? A few options involve hiring a taxi, going on foot or using the tour busses that run regularly in the area. If you choose to walk the site, it would require a decent level of physical fitness, and you should have at least two full days to take it all in.

A word about renting a car in Greece; you need to be a defensive driver. Other motorists can be aggressive, especially on motorways and mountain passes. Don't let this deter you; be sure to be safe, be focused and move to the far right lane if you drive slower than other vehicles. If you're unsure about renting a car, you may like the article “Are you Prepared to Drive in a Foreign Country?” to determine if a car rental is right for you.


A curved road running through the mountainous landscape of Meteora

The Winding Roads that Lead to the Monasteries of Meteora


When to Visit Meteora

Shoulder season is a great time to visit this region to avoid the crowds and the heat that accompany the summer months. Shoulder season for Greece is April to about mid-June and mid-September until the end of October.

It's advisable to book a room overnight so you can experience the beauty of Meteora at sunrise and sunset; this, in turn, will also mean experiencing this beautiful landscape in near silence once the crammed tour busses have left the area.


Sunset peaking through the mountains of Meteora

Be Sure to Stay Overnight to Catch the Sun Setting Over the Monasteries


Dress Code and Conduct

The monasteries are a place of worship, and the buildings you're entering are still inhabited by nuns and monks to this day. Conduct and dress code are especially important regulations that must be followed to be respectful of those residing at Meteora; visitors will see the rules well sign-posted to ensure they are adhered to.


During my visit, clothing was available to borrow at the entrances of the monasteries but it would be best to check and see if that's an option before arriving. Ladies will need to cover their knees; it’s not enough to wear long shorts. You'll be required to wear a sarong, a long dress or skirt. Your shoulders should be covered as well. Men should be wearing pants and be mindful that shirts cannot be sleeveless.


Since it was quite hot during my stay, I had on a lightweight maxi dress, walking sandals and then used the sarong in my daypack to put over my shoulders when entering.


Varlaam Monastery

Varlaam was named after a monk who built a chapel here in the 14th century. After he died, the site remained abandoned for almost 200 years. The monastery that stands today took 22 years to complete.


Opening Hours:

April 1st to October 31st 2021: 9am - 4pm. Closed on Friday

November 1st to March 31st: 9am - 3pm. Closed on Thursday and Friday

Steps to Climb to the Entry: 150

Admission Cost: €3

Close-up view of Varlaam Monastery showing the architecture blending into the rock

The Incredible Architecture of Varlaam Blending Seamlessly with its Rock Foundation


The building materials for the construction of Varlaam were hoisted to the top using ropes and pulleys, which is quite the feat considering Varlaam sits 1224 feet above sea level. Before the pathway to reach Varlaam was carved into the rock in 1922, this same rope and pulley system would take the monks to the top, in a trip that took a half hour. It was a terrifying experience as the ropes often frayed and broke over time which meant a number of monks lost their lives during the construction of the monasteries.


Varlaam Looks Quite Different from other Vantage Points Around Meteora

Bridge, Rock Pathways and Exterior Facade of Varlaam


Grand Meteoron

As its name implies, Grand Meteoron is the largest of the remaining monasteries today; it is the oldest as well. This monastery was constructed on top of the largest rock whose name is “Platis lithos,” meaning “wide rock,” and is approximately 2000 feet above sea level.


Opening Hours:

April 1st to October 31st 2021: 9am - 3pm. Closed on Tuesday

November 1st to March 31st: 9am - 2pm. Closed on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

Steps to Climb to the Entry: 270

Admission Cost: €3

People walking up the rock pathway to get to the entrance of Great Meteoron

Climbing the Rock Pathway Leading to Great Meteoron Monastery

Supplies....and Humans....Carried by Bucket Transport. Yikes!

A man and woman looking out over the mountains from the Great Meteoron lookout

Views from the Lookout


There are three chapels located at this monastery and a wealth of treasures in the library. Some of these priceless items include ancient texts of Homer, Aristotle and Sophocles, legal documents, as well as Byzantine-era manuscripts, and books.


Gold mosaic tiles on the walls from Byzantium

Gold Mosaic Tile from Byzantium on the Museum Wall of Grand Meteoron

The interior Details of the Monastery

The Interior Corridor, Ossuary and Wine Room


Roussanou

Roussanou was founded in the middle of the16th century and, as of 2015, had 13 nuns in residence. It's at a lower elevation than the other monasteries but still does require some stair climbing and a bridge crossing to reach the entry.


Opening Hours:

April 1st to October 31st 2021: 9am - 5pm. Closed on Wednesday

November 1st to March 31st: 9am - 2pm. Closed on Wednesday

Steps to Climb to the Entry: 195

Admission Cost: €3

Roussanou Monastery sitting on a column of rock with mountains and Kastraki in the background

Roussanou Monastery Perched Above the Village of Kalabaka

Close-up and Far Off Views of Roussanou Sitting on its Rock Pillar


The monastery of Roussanou consists of 3 stories. The top and second level have an exhibition room and reception halls, while the ground level houses the Church of the Transfiguration of Christ with several cells.

Agia Triada

Holy Trinity, which is the translation of Agia Triada, sits atop a slender rock column and is only accessible by 140 steep steps. Thanks to its position and the fact that few tour busses stop here, it makes Agia Triada one of the most peaceful monasteries in the area. The valley's incredible views and the surrounding landscape are breathtaking and worth the climb on their own.


Opening Hours:

April 1st to October 31st 2021: 9am - 5pm. Closed on Thursday

November 1st to March 31st: 10am - 4pm. Closed on Thursday

Steps to Climb to the Entry: 140

Admission Cost: €3

A winding stone walkway with Agia Triada monastery on a rock pillar in the distance

The Open Pathway that Leads to the Monastery of Agia Triada

Interior Details and Church

A pathway carved into the side of a stone mountain of rock with a village in the distance

The Pathway to Agia Triada that was Carved into the Rock was Completed in 1925


Hermit monks may have lived here beginning in the 14th century, but the present monastery was built between 1458 and 1476. Until the 20th century, monks, pilgrims and supplies reached the monastery using only rope-ladders and baskets; then, in 1925, access to the top was made easier by the addition of rock-hewn stairs.

Within the courtyard of Agia Triada, you'll find farming tools and the old winch system used for hauling up baskets. In the church, you will find impressive frescoes and manuscripts that have been well preserved over the centuries.


St. Stephen's

The earliest construction of St. Stephen's monastery dates back to the12th Century but became almost entirely absent of monks by 1960. In 1961 the monastery became a convent when nuns began to settle at St. Stephen's; there are currently 27 nuns in residence.


This monastery is the most accessible of the six, which also makes it the most popular so try to visit St. Stephen's first to avoid the crowds. There's a parking lot with a small bridge leading to the entrance making it barrier-free.


Opening Hours:

April 1st to October 31st 2021: 9am - 1:30pm & 3:30pm - 5:30pm

November 1st to March 31st: 9:30am - 1pm & 3pm - 5pm

Closed on Monday year round

Steps to Climb to the Entry: No steps - just a short decline across a bridge to the entry. The photo below shows the location of the parking lot on the left side

Admission Cost: €3


St. Stephen's monastery perched on top of a rock with Kastraki village below

St. Stephen's Monastery with the Village of Kalabaka below

The Interior Stone Courtyard and Gardens


There are two cathedrals inside St. Stephen's, the earliest one built in the 16th century and the later built in the 18th century. Similar to other monasteries in Meteora, St. Stephen's has an impressive collection of painted frescos, manuscripts and relics.


Woman in red dress standing on a mountain in Meteora Greece

One of the Many Postcard Viewpoints of Meteora's Landscape


Meteora is worth the drive from Athens or wherever you are in Greece. It's one of those magical landscapes that will take your breath away with just a glance. While it may be out of the way, sometimes that’s what travel is all about; it’s places like these that make us reflect on the incredible experiences we've had, and the unusual places we have travelled to.

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