While the islands get the lion’s share of attention, Greece’s mainland attractions include some geological wonders too. The most famous is Meteora, in the Pindos Mountains of Thessaly, a region denoted by monolithic sandstone pinnacles topped by medieval monasteries.
These massive formations are like something out of Middle Earth and are reason enough to visit. But here you'll also find caves, whitewater rafting, rock-climbing, plus scenic hikes and cycling—even through vineyards. The small town of Kalambaka, at the foot of the mountains, makes a great base for exploring and has dozens of hotels, restaurants, and bars to satisfy any taste.
Crafting Your Itinerary
Most visitors to this region focus on the voluptuous pinnacles topped by monasteries. These were constructed starting in the 14th century by monks looking for absolute solitude, and they are impressive. However, there’s so much more to see here. Allow a minimum of two days (ideally three or four) to fully experience all Meteora has to offer. (If you want to add other classic Grecian sites to your itinerary, let this guide inspire you.)
Only six of the original 24 monasteries still function, but they do welcome guests. You won't need to visit more than two or three, so if you're on a limited schedule (even only a weekend), you won't miss anything. You can also access them easily by driving to them via the road snaking up to the viewpoints.
For travelers on athletic excursions, there are steep yet short hiking trails that weave through the canyons and ascend at the base of the pinnacles up to the "heavenly" structures (the word meteora literally means “suspended in the sky”). Serious hikers with a couple days to spare can stitch together a seven-mile-long trail, taking in several monasteries along the way. Alternately you can cycle around the area.
More active adventures include rock climbing, and several climbing routes have been established in Meteora. Local operators run organized outings, including rock-climbing for beginners, as well as hiking and bicycling excursions. Kick the fun up a notch with an adrenalin-charged rafting trip on the Ionas River—a great activity for families. Add on a visit to Theopetra Cave, the most important archaeological site in the region.
Foodies can embark on a truffle-hunting excursion arranged by local museums in Meteora (see Top Sights & Experiences, below). You'll be looking for the Tuber magnatum, which is found in the area's oak forests and is a highlight on regional menus. Have a local chef prepare a truffle pasta from your bounty and pair it with a great wine. Luckily, Meteora's microclimate has blessed the area with rich soil and there are several local vineyards, like Theopatra Estate, open for tours.
Meteora fits easily into a larger Greece itinerary; this 7-day tour combines the region with Delphi, Olympia, and more.
Whether you're being driven by your guide or roadtripping from Athens, you'll exit the city on highway E75 northbound (try to avoid rush-hour). Take the E65 towards Lamis and Domokos, then follow the signs for Karditsa, then Trikala, and finally Kalambaka (the gateway town for Meteora). Allow at least four hours for the 225-mile journey. If you're driving yourself, GPS is essential, as many road signs are in Greek, not English.
The easiest way to get between Athens and Meteora is by train (5 hours) from Larissa Station (on the red Metro line). Four trains depart daily for Kalambaka, either direct or with a change at Paleofarsalos. Book your tickets in advance—the trains sell out quickly during weekends and holidays.
The Monasteries of Meteora
The six Greek Orthodox monasteries open to the public differ slightly from one another. Some are simple wood-and-brick structures with austere furnishings; others feature Byzantine frescoes and have exhibition rooms. None offer their own tours, so consider hiring a local guide. A good guide will provide insight, context and helpful recommendations that enhance your visit. They'll also help you gain a better understanding of the cultural heritage and spiritual significance of Meteora. Our experts can arrange your guided excursions.
As all the monasteries are built atop the cliffs, get ready to climb lots of steps. Be aware that the monasteries enforce a dress code: long pants for men, long skirts for women, and no sleeveless shirts. Monasteries provide skirts and trousers at the entrance.
Moni Agias Triados
Immediately northeast of Kalambaka, this "Monastery of the Holy Trinity" dates from the 13th century and features exquisite frescoes in its 17th-century circular chapel. Reached by a half-mile-long trail from Kalambaka, then up 140 stairs, it's famously featured in the closing scenes of the James Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only. Go for the stunning vistas.
Moni Agias Varvaras Rousanou
Named for the hermit that first settled here, this 16th-century monastery today houses a small nunnery. It’s reached by a short wooden bridge and its chapel, featuring stained glass, boasts important frescoes.
Moni Agiou Nikolaos Anapafsas
Dating to the 14th century, St. Nicholas’ Monastery, perched atop a narrow pinnacle 800 yards north of the village of Kastraki, is built vertically. It, too, has important frescoes in its chapel.
Moni Agiou Steganou
Perfect for anyone uninterested in tackling stairs, "St. Stephen’s Monastery" is reached via a short bridge. It’s the largest monastery, with structures spanning several hundred years, and today has an active nunnery. Have your guide point out the damage caused by Nazi shelling during WWII (they believed it was harboring rebels). It’s at the end of the road, one mile south of Moni Agias Triados; combining the two is a logical option.
Moni Megalou Meteorou
Moni Megalou Meteorou is the largest monastery and sits atop the tallest freestanding sandstone pinnacle. It owes its size to Serbian emperor Symeon Uros, who turned himself over to a monastic life and donated his wealth to his new home. Still active (but with fewer than half-a-dozen monks), it has a museum and a superb katholikon (church) with frescoes and a 12-sided dome.
A neighbor to Meteorou, the second largest monastery hosts a functioning community of more than a dozen monks. The old refectory is today a museum and you can still see an original rope basket used until the 1930s to haul up provisions.
The Hellenic Culture Museum, located in the center of Kalambaka, is dedicated to the history of education in Greece. The Natural History Museum of Meteora & Mushroom Museum, also in Kalambaka, Displays examples of local flora and fauna. Its quirkiest appeal is the more than 250 species of fungus, including truffles. It offers truffle hunts and cooking lessons.
Viewpoints and landmarks
Psaropetra Lookout is one of the best panoramic viewpoints in Meteora. This roadside lookout is one mile north of Kalambaka, on the access road to the monasteries. In Kalambaka stop by the Byzantine Church of Theotokos (Virgin Mary). This small church dates from the 7th century and features impressive 11th-century frescoes. Dress appropriately and you can attend Sunday mass. Finally, just off a trail from Kastraki, you'll find Adrachti. This tall natural column rises from the center of a basin surrounded by stone pinnacles.
When to Go
Meteora is one of Greece’s top draws. In summer, expect crowds and greater competition for hotel rooms and restaurant seats. Try to visit in late spring or autumn. You’ll have Meteora more to yourself and you can take advantage of lower shoulder-season rates and mostly pleasant temperatures (although it can be rainy, cold, and foggy).
It does get frigid during winter; however, the trade-off is that it's even less crowded and, with luck, you'll get views of snowcapped sandstone pinnacles. Avoid national holidays, which are the busiest time of all and many businesses are closed. For more on when to visit Greece, read this article.
Where to Stay
Since this is a popular touristic area, there are many lodging options ranging from family-owned guesthouses to five-star hotels. Most are found near the monasteries in red-tile-roofed Kastraki village; and in the larger, more modern, neighboring town of Kalambaka.
For stylish modern accommodations and fabulous views, you can’t beat the Meteora Hotel, in Kastraki. Its hillside swimming pool is the perfect tonic after a hot day exploring the sites. The equally upscale Divani Meteora Hotel also has a swimming pool, plus in-house spa with Jacuzzi, and a fine-dining restaurant.
For a reasonably priced family-run lodging, the 10-room San Giorgio’s Villas appeals for its intimate ambiance, delightfully furnished rooms, and a lovely garden on the north side of Kastraki.
Where to Eat
In Kalambaka, try the family-run Meteora Restaurant for moussaka as good as you’ll find in Greece. The menu ranges from Greek salad and stuffed bell peppers to lamb in red wine with herbs.
Gardenia Tavern, in Kastraki, is also renowned for its authentic Greek cuisine. The grilled lamb chops and pork kebab are signature dishes, but start out with the divine dolmadas (stuffed vine leaves).
Check out Restaurant Panellinio, in Kalambaka. Its setting on the town square is as charming as the restaurant’s aged interior. The menu includes excellent souvlakis (grilled skewers), plus daily specials such as roasted lamb on Thursdays.
Meteora Travel Tips
There are no restaurants at the monasteries or near the parking areas; all you’ll find are some food stalls selling snacks and soft drinks. Plan accordingly.
If you love hiking but don’t have the energy for an uphill clamber to the monasteries, take a taxi to the Agia Triada monastery, then walk downhill to Kalambaka on the trail. Allow 45 minutes to one hour.
Want to get that National Geographic-quality photo? You’re spoiled for great viewpoints, but the best is arguably Sunset Rock. Avoid it mid-day, if possible, and time your arrival for one hour before sunset.