One of our favorite places in all of Greece is Meteora, in Thessaly. The geological formation is in itself magnificent. Fortunately and once again thanks to the Greeks, the monasteries are equally beautiful. These isolated architectural masterpieces date back to the 14th century and offer unforgettable views. Interiors are equally impressive: medieval frescoes line walls and ceilings. Take note that Meteora is a sacred site, revered in Greece second only to Mount Athos in Khalkidhiki. So plan well where to stay in Meteora and enjoy your visit!
Where to Stay in Meteora: Best Hotels and Locations
- 1 Where to Stay in Meteora: Best Hotels and Locations
- 2 Monasteries of Meteora
- 3 How to Visit the Monasteries
- 4 How to Get to Meteora
Kalambaka (Kalabaka or Kalampaka)
The charming town of Kalambaka is the main gateway to Meteora. Unfortunately, Kalambaka was savagely damaged and looted During World War II. What we see today is all modern, including infrastructure for tourists. A roundabout where the tourist info office is marks the center of town. To the west of the Tourist office, you will find Trikalon, the town’s main drag lined with taverns, shops, and cafés. Walk to the east on Patriarchou Dimitriou Street for a couple of blocks to reach the Digital Projection Center of Meteora. They project 3D films of the area.
Places to Visit in Kalambaka
Walk north towards the rocks until you reach the byzantine Holy Temple of Dormition of the Virgin Mary. If you think the outside of the 14th century church is cool wait until you see the exceptional mural inside. Keep walking next to the pillars to get to the ascent trail of the Holy Trinity Monastery. Continue towards the rock to access the Ermitage, a couple of cells high up on the pillar. Do not worry; you decide for how long and how fast to walk. To the south of the town, you will find the Natural History Museum of Meteora and Mushroom Museum.
Hotels in Kalambaka
Most hotels in Kalambaka are small family-owned. There are also a couple of big chain hotels. Obviously, the whole point of staying in Kalambaka is the views. To be surrounded by nature, stay in Alsos House, close to the rocks. The views from this quiet traditional Greek hotel are spectacular. The Divani Meteora is a big hotel part of the Divani Greek chain. It’s located in the heart of downtown and has a spa with an outdoor and indoor pool. On the other hand, the Dellas Boutique Hotel is on the road to Kastraki. It’s a great place to stay if you want to be away from the fuss, yet pretty close to the center.
If Kalambaka is a town, Kastraki is just a village. While the rock formations are north of Kalambaka, in Kastraki they are in the middle of the village. The tiny village is completely authentic with houses made of stone and clay roofs, a church, a museum, and a couple of restaurants. Kastraki is closer to the monasteries. What’s more, there are a couple of interesting hermit cells next to the village. All you have to do is walk around admiring the views. Though there are many hotels and restaurants in Kastraki, most close during low season.
Hotels in Kastraki
The best hotels in Kastraki are right next to the rocks. Most are relatively small family-owned hotels and guesthouses. The Pyrgos Adrachti Hotel is like a tower overlooking the rocks. Consequently, the views are incredible. The lovely Hotel Meteoritis is downtown and offers rooms with balconies overlooking the area. Located on the road that leads to the monasteries, Hotel Kastraki excels in privacy and service. Of course, the views are superb too.
Other Hotels near Meteora
To stay in the middle of nature and with the best views possible, book a room in a hotel outside of Kastraki. The Hotel Doupiani House is within walking distance to the village and has tastefully decorated rooms with big balconies overlooking the rocks. The Grand Meteora Hotel, as its name says, is big. There are no houses around, so the views are great. Finally, stay at the Meteora Hotel at Kastraki in summer. This luxury hotel with all modern-day conveniences has a huge outdoor pool with unobstructed views of the rocks. It is one of the best hotels near Meteora.
Our Opinion on Where to Stay in Meteora
You can’t go wrong with any of the abovementioned options. Kalambaka and Kastraki are both nice quaint towns. On the other hand, staying a bit off urban areas allows for a deeper connection to nature. If visiting during high season, stay in Kastraki. The village is lively, and you can walk to the monastery of St Nicholas. If visiting off-season stay in Kalambaka since nothing is going on in Kastraki. From Kalambaka, you can hike to a couple of monasteries too. Those of you with a bit more time should stay outside of Kastraki in any of the large hotels and explore the entire area.
Monasteries of Meteora
Monastery of Great Meteoron
The Monastery of Great Meteoron, also known as the Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of Jesus, is the oldest and grandest of them all. The only monastery most sacred than this one is Mount Athos. Not only that, but the 50,000 square meter monastery stands on the biggest rock in Meteora. Athanasios, the Meteorite, came up with the idea of monastery life up on the rocks and founded the monastery in the middle of the 14th century. To reach the monastery, you have to go up 300 stairs carved into the rock, including an incredible tunnel. What awaits you is incredible museum distributed throughout the monastery. Yes, the views are breathtaking.
Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas
The first monastery you will encounter on your way from Meteora town is the Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapafsas, founded at the end of the 14th century. The first thing you will see when you get there is the Church of St. Anthony. Pop in and check the incredible 14th century frescoes that cover the walls. As you will notice, since the rock formation is small, the monastery was built on three levels. On the second floor, you will find the Church of St. Nicholas. The frescoes inside the church are the most famous ones, attributed to the best Cretan iconography painter, Theophanes Strelitzas. The former Table, now a reception hall, occupies the top level.
Monastery of Holy Trinity (Agia Triada)
You will have to make a bit of an effort to get to this one. In old times you had to use ropes to get to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity. In 1925, 140 steps were carved into the stone facilitating the access. Movie fanatics will recognize it from the 1981 James Bond Movie For Your Eyes Only. The monastery is considered the third oldest, built in 1438. However, the main church built in 1475 has frescoes completed in 1741. On the other hand, the paintings in the chapel of Saint John Babtis date from 1682. Arguably, this monastery offers the best views. To the east, the Monastery of St. Stephen up close. Then the valley of the Peneus, Kalambaka River, the Chaia Mountains, the Monastery of Varlaam, and the Great Meteoron.
Monastery of Rousanou
The Monastery of Rousanou is arguably the most visually impressive. Rousanou towers seamlessly above the most incredible rock formation. Thus, you get the impression that the monastery and the rock are one. The Monastery dates back to the early 16th century and sits over a former church. Though for centuries you had to use ropes to climb, thanks to donations, the monks carved stairs into the rock in the 1930s. Since the Monastery of Rousanou covers the entire rock, the views of the cliff are unforgettable. Once again, the monastery has three levels. The Church of the Transfiguration of the Saviour from 1530 is on the top floor. Go in and prepare to be dazzled by delicate frescoes from 1560.
Monastery of Varlaam
The Monastery of Varlaam (according to many Barlaam) is the second largest in Meteora. The monastery is named after the monk Varlaam. He built the first church on top of the hill in the 14th century. However, when the monk died, the place fell into oblivion. In 1542 two monks and brothers built the first church and revamped the monastery naming it after the original monk. The frescoes that cover the walls are amongst the oldest and most celebrated ones in Greece, done by Franco Catalano in 1548. The other church in the monastery is from 1627, with post-Byzantium paintings done in 1637. Once done admiring the buildings, take a look at the pulley system that hangs from the tower used by the monks to lift food.
Monastery of St. Stephen
We left the easiest for last. You don’t need to climb! To get to the Monastery of St. Stephen, all you have to do is cross a bridge. The monastery has two churches. The oldest one is from the 16th century and was heavily bombed during World War II. The other one is from 1798. However, St. Stephen has a special place in the heart of Greeks due to its importance during the so-called Macedonian Struggle. As you may recall, Serbs, Bulgarians, and Greeks fought over Ottoman Macedonia. The Greek Orthodox Church organized guerrilla efforts from the monastery. The museum within St. Stephen has an impressive collection, including relics from the 14th century.
How to Visit the Monasteries
It all depends on how much time you have. You can go on an organized tour, hire a private car with a driver, drive to the monasteries yourself, or walk (there are even walking tours). We don’t do organized tours unless necessary. Therefore, we walked to one monastery and then hired a cab with a driver to visit the rest. Since we stayed in Kalambaka, we were able to walk through Kastraki to the St Nicholas Monastery. It’s a pleasant short walk. The next day it was fairly cloudy with light showers. Our driver Giorgos took us safely to the Great Meteoron and the Holy Trinity Monasteries. We stopped at the right spots for pictures and chatted all through the journey. Thank you!
Tips for Visiting Meteora
- Each monastery has different opening hours, so check beforehand. Also, bear in mind that they all charge a small fee.
- Cover your knees and shoulders to enter the monasteries. You can borrow skirts or trousers in most monasteries.
- Saint Stephen and the Holy Trinity monasteries are just above Kalambaka. Hence, you can walk to both.
- To enjoy the best views of Meteora, stop at Psaropetra viewing point. Sunsets are gorgeous!
- If you want to organize a private tour, ask the locals at shops, restaurants, and taxi drivers on the street. Everybody is friendly and straightforward.
What to Do in Meteora (Other Than Visiting Monasteries)
We loved getting lost in Kalambaka and Kastraki and hiking to the surrounding hills. In Kalambaka, we walked between the rocks on its northern end. In Kastraki we walked near the hermit cells and climbed a hill just north of the village. We had delicious Greek food in front of Kalambaka’s City Hall while enjoying views of the rocks. We had coffee and cakes at the traditional Vavitsas Bakery. The charming ladies working there helped us organize our private tour to the monasteries. Naturally, we tried the local pudding called Spatoula.
Other Sites and Excursions
The 6 monasteries are undoubtedly the stars of the area. However, you have loads of interesting things to see and do on around Meteora. Take the local road that begins in Kastraki village. You will pass two large rocks to the east and reach the small chapel of Panaghia and the Hermit Caves of Saint Nicholas Badovas. To the north of Kastraki and St Nikolaos Monastery lies the late 14th century Ypapanti Monastery. Unlike the mentioned 6, it was built entirely inside a large rock cavity. The city of Trikala is just 20 km from Kalambaka. Go for the day and visit its ancient sanctuary, Byzantine fortress, authentic old town, mosque, and the museum inside a former Turkish bath.
How to Get to Meteora
Athens to Meteora
We took a 4-hour morning train from Athens to Meteora and enjoyed the whole journey. Trains are our favorite means of transport. Not only they pollute far less, but you can stretch your legs during the journey. Eitan says he can read on trains but not on buses. From Athens to Meteora there is one daily train early in the morning. Another option is to take any of the daily trains to Paleofarsalos. Five trains go from there to Kalambaka in an hour. Take metro line 2 to Athens train station Larissa. Meteora’s train station is the center of Kalambaka town.
If you short on time you can even take a one day organized tour from Athens.
Thessaloniki to Meteora
Though Thessaloniki is a bit closer, there are no direct trains. Instead, take a train to Paleofarsalos, where you have to change to a train to Kalambaka. Depending on your connection you can be there in 2,5 hours to 10 hours. So, be sure to plan your journey well. If you rather take a bus, go to Trikala and hop on a connecting bus to Kalambaka. The entire journey takes just over 3 hours. Thessaloniki’s Train Station is northwest of the city center. Buses leave from bus station Macedonia, further northwest.
If you short on time you can take a one day organized tour from Thessaloniki.