Just five hours north of Athens by train lies a real life Game of Thrones location, with 6 working monasteries built on top of impossibly shaped rocks. Welcome to Meteora, Greece.
While the landscape may seem familiar, having served as the motivation for the fictional city of Eyrie, very few people are actually aware that Meteora exists. This is because the resident monks are doing their very best to keep the site a secret. After all, their numbers have gone from 24 working monasteries to 6, as it’s nearly impossible to live a monk’s lifestyle while dealing with an influx of 3,000 to 4,000 visitors a day.
There’s no escaping it–the secret’s out. And interest in the area has been growing exponentially since UNESCO declared the rocks a World Heritage Site in 1988.
Once I saw a picture of this place, I knew I had to visit. The decision was an easy one given that I visited Athens in January, so an excursion to the Greek islands was out.
If you’re interested in seeing this amazing, once in a lifetime location yourself, read on for everything you need to know to plan your visit!
How to Get to Meteora
You can reach Meteora by car, bus or train. The cheapest and only non-stop option from Athens is the train, which you can purchase online here. I highly recommend booking in advance as the trains sell out quickly and have limited departures.
You can choose your seat online, they’re all basically the same, coach seating with space for your luggage overhead or in luggage racks at the entrance of the trolley.
There are bathrooms on board but they’re not always well stocked so bring your own toilet paper and soap if possible.
I left from Athens train station at 8:27am and arrived at Kalambaka (the town at the bottom of the rocks of Meteora) at approximately 1:40pm. Note that while the departure time is strict, arrival is usually delayed by at least a half hour.
Also, while the taxi into Athens train station only cost me 4 Euro, leaving I paid 20 Euro, with the driver citing an alleged hike of prices for taxis leaving from the train station. Given the influx of other passengers disembarking and waiting for a taxi and my desire to check into my AirBnB apartment at now 11pm at night, I submitted to this heinous wallet rape.
Where to stay in Meteora
There are two towns at the base of Meteora–Kalambaka and Kastraki. Both are easily accessible and immediately adjacent to each other, with Kastraki being slightly closer to the rocks. I stayed in the Grand Meteora Hotel in Kastraki for the view, and I was not disappointed! This was what I saw when I opened my window in the morning:
Everything about this hotel was comfortable. Seemingly endless hot water, a breakfast buffet that went on for days and the chance to snuggle up next to a fireplace in the main lobby. Not to mention, the staff was excellent and extremely accommodating. I swear I did not get paid to stay here lol, I just really enjoyed my time at this hotel.
How to Get Around in Meteora
Getting around here is easy. If you have a rental car, there’s really only one main road and a ton of signs so you can’t get lost, drive your heart out. If you’re on a budget, like me, there’s taxis for 5 to 7 Euro a trip depending on where you’re going, and you can plan it out such that you don’t have to take more than 2 taxis a day.
Where to Eat in the Area
Panellinio. Panellinio. Panellinio! I cannot say this enough, hands down the best food I had my entire time in Greece. The moussaka came straight from heaven and they served the most amazing, melt-in-your-mouth lamb I’ve ever tasted. I went back here twice, that’s how good this place was!
They have an open kitchen, so you can see the chefs working away, and I even had a chance to meet them. They are very friendly, no catering here. Everything is authentic and so delicious, just trust me and go, your taste buds will thank you.
About the Meteora Monasteries: Rules of Operation
There are 6 working monasteries in total, 2 of which have nuns. Of course, the one with nuns are the prettiest and best maintained, so don’t miss a stop at St. Stephen’s monastery.
You can’t see all 6 in one day because they alternate closing days, so if possible go for an overnight trip.
Women will need to wear skirts to enter, they’re provided at the entrance. The fee to go in is 3 Euro per person, not included in most tours and small change is highly encouraged.
The two biggest monasteries are Great Meteora and Varlaam, pictured below.
Tours of Meteora
There are currently two tour groups operating in Meteora–Visit Meteora and Meteora Thrones. Simply by means of having come across them first, I went with Visit Meteora and booked their winter special for two consecutive trips. Half price, as if you needed another reason to visit in the off season!!
I don’t have anything to compare them to, but my experience was pretty out of this world in both instances.
First, I signed up for the sunset tour at 2pm. Recall that I told you the train arrived late at 1:40PM–by the time I got to the hotel to check in it was 1:55pm and they showed up early! So off I went without freshening up, hence my less than stellar appearance in some of these photos.
That said, there were no more skilled people at taking pictures than these guys. They are EXPERTS and know the best spots with the best light and poses, and they will gladly take dozens of photographs of you upon request. If you’re looking for social media friendly shots, you will be amazed.
I took all these photos with an iPhone 6. While I wish I had a DSLR camera for the trip, my travel budget for the year did not allow that expense yet, and I was amazed at the results on my camera phone!
In addition to being great photographers, our guides were also storytellers and regaled us with tales of the tradition behind a scarf-seeking, rock climbing competition in the city. Apparently, if you can hike up the mountain with no equipment and grab a scarf, you’ll be rewarded with eternal love. Every year, locals line up for the challenging, taking scarves and leaving others behind for future daredevils to try their luck.
Hiking in Meteora
If you’re even moderately fit, I recommend hiking Meteora in the morning. You can do this yourself as the trails are well carved out, but I would highly recommend going through Visit Meteora for a familiarity with the mountains that going alone cannot offer you. Our guide grew up hiking these rocks; he knew them inside and out. He even showed us a spot where we could step inside a 600 year-old hollow tree!
Best Meteora Souvenirs
Don’t forget to support the monasteries and do a little shopping before you leave. There are many reasonably priced and unique items available, including handmade soap with Greek olive oil, hand-stitched satchels and tablecloths, and even costume jewelry so you can literally take home a rock from Meteora, all for under 10 Euro.
Do you have questions about Meteora? Did you find this helpful? Have you visited as well? I’d love to hear from you.
Till next time, safe travels!
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