Castles in the sky …
Greece is often visited for unforgettable summers, thanks to its idyllic islands and crystal-clear waters; but there is also another side to this phenomenal country. The rich Greek history vastly covers multiple centuries with archaeological evidence across the entire country.
Located in Central Greece, nearby the town of Kalambaka is where you can find the astonishing site of Meteora. Meteora is also a UNESCO heritage listed site, being the second largest complex of Eastern Orthodox monasticism. The geological phenomenon that is Meteora can reach heights of 400 meters, with 6 summits being adorned by active monasteries. There is suspected to have been 24 monasteries seated amongst the peaks, however after centuries, only 6 remain. These incredible monasteries, dating back to the 14th and 16th centuries, were built by monks in the area, which took them years to transport the construction material alone. It is definitely a sight to be seen!
Situated in the heart of the Greek mainland, Meteora can be reached from most major cities in Greece including, Athens, Thessaloniki and Volos.
From Athens there are four options to reach the heritage listed site:
The most flexible option to explore Meteora, would have to be hiring a car and driving oneself to Kalambaka. The journey time sits a little faster than public transport, estimated to be around 4.5 hours.
Tip: Make sure you have GPS or a Smartphone with a Mapping app. If you don’t have internet data on your travels, make sure you download Maps.me, a great offline map and navigation application.
Another option to reach Meteora is by bus. Buses depart five times daily from Athens Liossion Bus Station and connect with Trikala, 20 kilometres southeast of Kalambaka. From Trikala there is another bus to complete the journey to Kalambaka. Tickets cost close to €50 and can only be purchased at the bus station. Check KTEL for up-to-date tickets prices and schedules.
Taking the train is the easiest public transport option to Meteora. Trains depart from Athens Larissa Station to Kalambaka, the town situated at the base of Meteora. There are five services daily connecting the site to the capital, however only one service is direct; with the other four requiring a change at Paleofarsalos station. The average journey time is between five and six hours, so bring some entertainment for the journey. Tickets can be purchased online or at the train station and cost between €20 and €30.
Tip: If you’re travelling in peak-season, purchase your tickets in advance, as they tend to sell out.
Once you arrive in Kalambaka, you can take the public bus to the monasteries. I didn’t come across any public transport during my visit, rather only saw taxi’s and private tour buses. But I have been told that there are public buses that run to the main monasteries from Kalambaka.
4. Tour Company
I booked myself on a day tour from Athens with Visit Meteora. The tour covered the cost of public transport from Athens and then a group-guided tour around Meteora. I was booked on the direct train service from Larissa station and although the service arrived on time, we arrived to Kalambaka almost an hour late.
Tip: Make sure you ask the station staff what platform the train departs from. There were no live departure boards and no announcements at the station during my visit, so I came very close to missing my train.
Upon arrival to Kalambaka station I was greeted by the Visit Meteora tour guide and escorted to the company’s minivan, along with other travellers, for my adventure around Meteora. After grabbing a quick Gyros, our guide drove us up to the Monasteries that sit above the magnificent Meteora rocks. Along the drive we learnt about the history of the region, discussing the geological aspects as well as the religious significance of the site.
We visited three monasteries during our visit, Great Meteoron, Varlaam and St. Stephen’s. Each monastery is unique in its own right, with some overlapping characteristics. Entrance into each monastery costs €3 per person and they all enforce a strict conservative dress code.
Tip: If the dress code completely slips your mind, as it did mine, don’t panic; you can borrow a shawl/scarf or skirt at the entrance to each monastery, free of charge.
Besides visiting the actively operating monasteries, we also stopped off for some panoramic photo opportunities of the region. We were very pressed for time on our visit, due to our delayed arrival as well as the last train to Athens departing at 5:30pm. And unfortunately, this was obvious, with monastery visits being quick and photo stops being rushed.
I feel as though, the one-day tour from Athens should not be available. A day trip anywhere is never enough, but especially after having spent 12 hours on a train and only getting 2.5 hours at the destination, I feel like I barely even had a glimpse into Meteora. Obviously, I know what I signed up for when booking the tour, but after having completed it myself, I would not recommend it one bit (which is rare). Don’t get me wrong, I 100% recommend visiting Meteora, but one day is definitely not enough.
If you’re thinking about visiting Meteora, look at booking accommodation in Kalambaka or book at least a two-day tour. Take some extra time to explore each monastery and maybe even do some hiking around the region. Meteora has so much to offer.