UNESCO World Heritage Site #35: Meteora (Greece)

Seeing Meteora, that was the main reason I chose to go to Greece. Yes, I wanted to see the Acropolis and some islands and connect with the beginnings of democracy and philosophy. But really, I wanted to feast my eyes on the beautiful monasteries built atop rocks that seem to be suspended in the air. So even though it was a crazy long day, it was the best thing I did the whole month.

Roussanou Monastery in Meteora
Roussanou Monastery

My Visit

My day started the night before, with a crazy bought of insomnia. I got zero minutes of sleep even though I was looking forward to this tour the most. Just great.

On the train from Athens to Meteora
Train Selfie! Can you tell I hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before?

Three things saved my ass here:

  • I got some sleep on the five-hour train ride there
  • Sheer adrenaline from how freaking excited I was
  • One of my prescriptions boosts energy levels to combat a underactive thyroid. Normally I only take a half because it pumps me up TOO much. This was a day for a whole.
The trains in Greece are all decorated with street art
The trains in Greece are all decorated with street art – definitely helps you stay awake just looking at them.

The day consisted of driving through the landscape, touring monasteries, and stopping to take pictures.

Roussanou Monastery and St. Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery in Meteora
View of Roussanou Monastery and St. Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery

I’ve seen so many beautiful Byzantine churches and art in the last two months, so I’m a little embarassed to say that the gorgeous paintings didn’t move me as much as I expected. I’ve been completely spoiled in this department, especially by the churches in Troodos and Nicosia.

Inside St. Stephens Monastery in Meteora
Inside St. Stephens

So while the church artwork is amazing, I was so much more excited about the architecture and outdoor surroundings that I decided to dedicate the bulk of my time to wandering the monasteries’ grounds. I did sneak a pic of my favorite mural:

A mural inside St. Stephens Monastery in Meteora
A mural inside St. Stephens

There were a few visitors there, even in late October. Meteora gets 3k+ visitors per day, so if you want to feel alone, bring headphones and sunglasses. That works for me every time.

View of Kalabaka from the Great Meteoron Monastery
View of Kalabaka from the Great Meteoron Monastery

We stopped at the Great Meteoron Monastery first. After climbing the 300 steps, I paused in the church before spending some time walking around/fighting the crowd of selfie takers for a share of the view. This was the peak of crowds during my time there.

Stephanie Craig in front of Varlam Monastery
Taken from the grounds of St. Stephens with a view of Varlam Monastery

I stopped briefly in the museum before heading back to our group’s meeting place. Afterwards, we did a photography stop, where we could see five of the six monasteries.

Sightseeing at Meteora
Sightseeing at Meteor

Our tour guide pointed out all the monasteries and which ones were homes for monks and which were nuns.

View of 4 of the 6 remaining monasteries in Meteora
View of four of the six remaining monasteries in Meteora

We also saw two rocks that were CGIed into an episode of Game of Thrones.

These two Meteora rocks were in Game of Thrones
These two Meteora rocks were in Game of Thrones

Afterwards, we stopped to photograph the monastery that was used in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only, which the tour guide credited as putting Meteora on the tourism map. It’s such a beautiful place, it’s no wonder why Hollywood keeps using the rocks.

Holy Trinity Monastery in Meteora, the scene for the James Bond movie "For Your Eyes Only"
Holy Trinity Monastery, the scene for the James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only”

Then we headed to St. Stephens, which is one of the monasteries run by nuns. This was closer to the end of the day, and the crowds had thinned out.

St. Stephens Monastery in Meteora
St. Stephens

There weren’t many steps, maybe only twenty or so. This was nice, but also felt less special, somehow. Like you didn’t have to earn it.

The grounds of the Great Meteoron Monastery in Metoera
The grounds of the Great Meteoron Monastery

Afterwards, the tour company dropped me back off at the train station.

A yellow door at the Kalabaka train station
A yellow door at the Kalabaka train station

I was very sad to get back on the train to leave. My train was at 5:30pm, and I wished so badly I could stay for sunset. Unfortunately, I had to get back on the train. If you have the opportunity to do an overnight, definitely take it.

The train station at Kalabaka. Heading back to Athens.
The train station at Kalabaka. Heading back to Athens.

The Site

The monasteries were built on top of giant sandstone pillar rocks. For such an awe-inspiring place, the UNESCO website is shockingly brief.

The caves where hermetic monks lived before the Meteora monasteries were built
The caves where hermetic monks lived before the monasteries were built

From UNESCO’s description:

In a region of almost inaccessible sandstone peaks, monks settled on these ‘columns of the sky’ from the 11th century onwards. Twenty-four of these monasteries were built, despite incredible difficulties, at the time of the great revival of the eremetic ideal in the 15th century. Their 16th-century frescoes mark a key stage in the development of post-Byzantine painting.

Hanging out in Meteora
Hanging out in Meteora

This website has a better description of the landscape and the history of the monasteries.

Entering the Great Meteoron Monastery
Entering the Great Meteoron Monastery

Getting There

Getting from Athens to Meteora and back in one day is not the most sensical thing. Because I travel with my dog, I think it’s really important to stay in places longer and I never take overnight trips where she has to be alone. Since the choice was do an overnight trip to Meteora or squeeze it into one day, I had to squeeze it in. For me, that was the only logical choice, but most people will not do Meteora as a day trip.

The Great Meteoron Monastery
The Great Meteoron Monastery

I took the train from Athens to Kalabaka (the official town name of Meteora), where the tour company picked up me and the other members of my group. The train was five hours there and six hours back. Other options would be to rent a car, which would take about the same amount of time.

Stephanie Craig at Meteora
Meteora Selfie

Getting In

I went with a tour company that took us to two of the monasteries and showed us the other four. We had time to explore the ones we visited, and we also did two photography stops in between. I don’t promote individual tour companies, but I loved our tour guide. I went on 5 organized tours in Greece, and this chick was the best guide.

On the tour bus in Meteora
On the tour bus

When we got to the monasteries, the entry fee was €3 at each one.

The Dress Code for St. Stephens Monastery in Meteora
The Dress Code

They have a strict dress code. If you travel a lot, you’re probably familiar with rules for going into mosques and churches. This went even further. If you’re a chick, you can’t wear pants. PANTS. They have wraps you can borrow to put over your pants if you forget. As a curvy chick though, I carefully curate my travel wardrobe to keep from feeling frumpy. I would not have felt comfortable in the wraps-I would have felt like a cow. I’m happy I knew the rules ahead of time to wear a dress.

At St. Stephen's Monastery visiting Meteora in Kalabaka
At St. Stephen’s Monastery

Things to Do While You’re There

  • Tour as many of the monasteries as you have time for
  • Take photos
  • See pretty rocks
  • Take a hiking tour or go rock climbing
The grounds of St. Stephens Monastery in Meteora
The grounds of St. Stephens

Tips

  • If you end up doing a day tour from Athens, take food and drinks. There weren’t any stops where you could get anything, and the day was packed. I had to ask if I could stop and buy lunch somewhere, and luckily I ended up with leftovers to eat for dinner.
  • Wear appropriate clothing (see Getting In above for dress code)
The double-headed eagle symbol of the connection of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Byzantine Empire
The double-headed eagle symbol of the connection of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Byzantine Empire
  • If you’re taking a tour or going with a cab/renting a car, don’t worry too much about steps. The Great Meteoron has 300, and there weren’t many at St. Stephens (maybe 20?). I can’t vouch for the others. Of course, those who want to make this a very active day have lots of opportunities.
The church at the Great Meteoron Monastery
The church at the Great Meteoron Monastery in Meteora
  • I saw people walking from the train to the monasteries on their own. That’s quite a hike. Do your research ahead of time if you’re skipping transportation and walking up to the top.
The grounds at the Great Meteoron Monastery
The grounds at the Great Meteoron Monastery
  • Have cash to get into the monasteries.
  • If you’re not using a tour, make sure you know the monastery schedule and hours.
One of the icons inside St. Stephens Monastery in Meteora
One of the icons inside St. Stephens

Further Reading

Varlaam Monastery
Varlaam Monastery
  • Liz has some amazing photos with unique perspectives on the monasteries. I’m glad I didn’t see this before I went, because I would have hated to think I had copied any of the pic angles. She comes up with some really different ones than other bloggers.
  • The Boho Chica has a cool video and retells some local legends.
A mural at the Great Meteoron Monastery in Meteora
A mural at the Great Meteoron Monastery
  • Chrissy, an Athenian, writes up her tour. I’ve shared her writings about Greece before; it’s great to get a Greek perspective on these amazing places!
  • Audrey shares her experiences, including hiking to one of the abandoned monasteries (how cool!)
View from St. Stephens Monastery in Meteora
View from St. Stephens

Final Thoughts

Sometimes places aren’t as good in real life as the picture you have in your head or the postcard your friend sent you. This is not one of those places. I was in awe nearly constantly. If you ever get the chance to go, don’t miss it!

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9 Comments

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  4. It’s one of those places which are too pretty for words!!!! Seeing those monasteries suspended in the air is really something else.

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  7. Your pictures are amazing! The markings on the rocks are so cool!

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