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Meteora Monasteries: A brief guide

Meteora, quite literally meaning “suspended in the air”, is the type of place you stare at in utter disbelief. A group of medieval monks discovered these dramatic rock formations nestled away in the Thessaly mountains, and bizarrely chose to build on them. Today, there are six active monasteries to visit – all unique, breath-taking, and steeped in religious history.

The sweeping views from these precipices are unforgettable. Read on to find out more about this fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Monastery of Great Meteoron

Dating back to the mid-1300s, this is the oldest and largest monastery of them all. The monastery of Great Meteoron was built on the greatest rock in the area and includes three museums, as well as an art gallery and a library. The monastery features an ossuary with shelves full of the skulls of male monks who once resided here. Our tip is to visit the 10-hectare vineyard where there are four different types of wine produced by the monks. If you ask kindly, you will be able to taste the different varieties, and can even buy a bottle – or two.

Varlaam Monastery

We recommend visiting the Varlaam monastery second, as this is another of the biggest monasteries and where every corner turned is certain to dazzle. Varlaam features a museum full to the brim with intriguing artefacts from Meteoran history; it’s a great way to learn about how the monks first made it to this area of central Greece. There are a handful of attractive church paintings and manuscripts. You can easily spend a few hours viewing this monastery, which takes 150 steps to reach.

Roussanou Monastery

This monastery is one of the most beautiful of the six still active. We suggest you visit Roussanou third, especially if you are trying to fit in three monasteries per day. It is the best precipice on which to linger for awe-inspiring Greek sunsets.

The monastery was founded in the mid-1500s and is dedicated to St Barbara Roussanou, a Christian nun. Today, around 15 nuns reside here and welcome people from all over the world. Between tours, they make olive oil, paint and craft candles. Inside there are magnificent wall paintings inspired by the Cretan School style and there is also a beautiful garden which you can walk around. Thanks to its lower level, the plateau of the rock is quite accessible and affords unbeatable views.

Monastery of St Stephen

Early risers should consider visiting the Monastery of St Stephen at sunrise. Under a pink sky, sun rays bounce off the rocks and offer marvellous photo opportunities. You can see views over the Thessaly valley and the Pinios River from the plateau. St Stephen was founded by the monks as early as the 12th century but was severely damaged in the second world war. There are now two chapels. The later chapel was dedicated to Saint Charalambos in the 18th century.

With no steps to climb, this monastery is the most easily accessible. Therefore, we recommend arriving early to avoid the influx of crowds later in the day.

Monastery of the Holy Trinity

The monastery of the Holy Trinity is famous for having featured in the James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only (1981). Many locals participated in the production, and afterwards, the Meteora monasteries became one of the most recognised landmarks in Greece.

Though one of the trickier monasteries to reach because of the stairs to get up to it, it is one of the most photogenic and offers excellent views overlooking the other monasteries. It contains over one hundred original manuscripts and was founded in 1475. We suggest going here after visiting the Monastery of St Stephen.

St Nicholas Anapausas Monastery

Founded in the 14th century, St Nicholas Anapausas was the first active monastery here. Though a steep path makes it difficult to reach, the monastery rewards your efforts with a warm welcome. This is the first monastery you stumble upon when you get to Meteora, hence why it is assumed that it was used as a resting place for ancient pilgrims. When entering, you will be taken aback by the Post-Byzantine wall paintings, which are over 600 years old.


How long to visit Meteora for?

We would suggest spending at least two days in Meteora to visit the best monasteries. Most people stay in Kalambaka, which is the largest town at the base of the rock formations. However, something to keep in mind is that the monasteries have specific opening days and times, with most of them closing between 15.00 and 16.00. Therefore, three nights may be more sensible if you’re planning to visit all six monasteries. 

When to visit Meteora?

We recommend visiting the Meteora monasteries in the shoulder season, specifically April-May. At this time of year, the weather is comfortable, the spring flowers are in bloom and the foliage is bright green and mesmerising. Though cooler than other areas of Greece, the monasteries do get crowded in summer.

Where to eat in Meteora?

There are no formal, sit-down restaurants around the monasteries and so the best places to eat are tavernas in the nearby towns, Kalambaka or Kastraki. Here is where you will have your taste of Greek heritage, and where almost all restaurants are family-run and use fresh, traditional ingredients. While on tour with Cox & Kings, your expert guide will be able to recommend a selection of tavernas to suit your tastes.

Where to stay in Meteora?

We recommend the Divani Meteora Hotel. It is based just below the Meteora monasteries in Kalambaka and boasts various swimming pools and leisure facilities. The staff are attentive to all needs, and the design is stylish and clean-cut.

How to get around in Meteora?

Meteora is typically arrived at by car from the nearby town of Kalambaka. Navigating this rugged complex of outcrops involves a combination of hiking and driving. Reaching the more vertiginous monasteries requires a reasonable level of fitness.

Interested in exploring the Meteora monasteries yourself? To ensure you see all the highlights of Meteora, a tour guide is highly recommended.  On our Heart of Ancient Greece escorted tour, you spend two nights in Meteora, guided throughout by an expert in the area.

Alternatively, if you are interested in private travel, call one of our travel specialists directly, or complete our online enquiry form and one of our experts will get back to you.