Greece is famous for its capital Athens and an endless list of gorgeous islands like Santorini or Milos. When you visit Greece, there is however one place in the continent that you shouldn’t miss: The Meteora Monasteries.
Situated in the prefecture of Thessaly, Meteora, 375 km north of Athens, is a place of unique geology beauty, and of the most important religious complexes in Greece. As you approach Kalambaka (the nearest town), you will discover a stunning complex of giant sandstone rock pillars, with ancient famous monasteries on top of them.
The history of the monasteries started in the 9th century AD, with a group of monks looking for solitude that came to Meteora to live in caves on top of the rock pillars. By the 14th century, there were two dozen monasteries across Meteora! Today only six have survived and remain active
Meteora is so beautiful that it inspired the backdrop for Game of Thrones (Tyrion hanging at the edge of the cliff, at the highest point of Castle Vale… with Meteora as a background 😊). The Meteora Holy Trinity Monastery was as well used in the James Bond movie, “For Your Eyes Only” …
That unique area is part of the UNESCO World Heritage and is more than worth spending 2 full days / 3 nights for any enthusiast travel addict and/or photographer. My post aims to provide an overview of the best places to see, including obviously the 6 monasteries and other spots.
There are many viewpoints among the main road or the different hikes in the era. As they are quite easy to spot, before jumping to the monasteries themselves, I’ll just name here my top three (many others are mentioned in some section below), starting with the famous observatory viewpoint
This is a great place for morning twilight and sunrise …
As the light is permanently changing, and because the viewpoints are close to each other you can move around to get different lights from many viewpoints at the same time (in the morning, the sunset time is however much busier). That viewpoints offer fantastic shooting opportunities for single or multiple monasteries
A few hundred meters northwest of the observatory, Viewpoint Meteora is another very popular spot (for good reasons)
This spot is great in the morning and is the best sunset photography location in my view
It is however very busy there for sunset, but you should stay a bit longer for twilight; it gets quitter and magical 🤩
A third great viewpoint nearby…
Continuing toward Varlaam, a third viewpoint has as well stunning views, especially early morning
Again, keep moving around the road/spots as the day comes to let the light do its magic
The view from there on Roussanou just below is as well a great one
But let’s now move to the monasteries themselves. They can all be visited (with one day of closure per week that is different per monastery and fluctuating opening hours 😢 so check on the web when going there)
Let’s start with the biggest and oldest of all: The Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron (“… of the Transfiguration of the Savior to be complete in its title 😊).
That Monastery was founded in the 14th century by Saint Athanasios the Meteorite. “Meteoro” means the” monastery which remains suspended in the air”, because of the gigantic rock on top of which it is built.
Saint Athanasios is recognized as the first founder of the monastery and is credited with a turning point for organized monasticism in the region of Meteora.
The monastery is really beautiful during the morning golden hours (and quiet as well)
The view from the rocks at the end of the nearby Varlaam monastery is as well great
You should, of course, come back after opening to climb the many stairs and visit that jewel
Do not get however misled by my images however, it takes a lot of patience (and persuasion) to have 20 seconds empty with no tourists and take a decent picture 😢
Some of the paintings are stunning but not easy to capture (and not allowed 🥲)
Move your head up to admire the ceiling as well …
The monastery of the Holy Trinity, made in 1488 by a monk called Dometios (from even older buildings) is arguably one of the most famous and photogenic.
The Holy Trinity Monastery became a popular tourist destination since it was displayed in the James Bond movie “For your eyes” in 1981
Reaching the monastery (like most others) is a steps and exercise opportunity, as visitors must cross a pedestrian path downhill until the foot of the cliff and then climb back up the carved steps 😅.
The lift crossing is only for the workers and reverent bishops, sorry 😂
The view from the parking area is great as well during morning twilight…
From there, the panorama over the rocks, Varlaan and Meteoron is as well gorgeous with the twilight glow
There is a very nice perspective as well from the main roads’ crossings a couple of hundred meters north
Again, beautiful during morning twilight…
And at sunset ….
The Holy Monastery of Varlaam is the second biggest monastery of Meteora and is located very close to the largest one (Great Meteoron)
That monastery was founded in the mid-14th century by a monk named Varlaam, that climbed the cliff with a few other monks. And build the chapel dedicated to the “Three Hierarchs” After his death, the place almost turned into ruins before being re-activated in the 16th century.
Of course, you should get up as the Holy Monastery of Varlaam offers exceptional views …
… a beautiful garden and terrasse
There is as well a museum that exhibits many of the monastery’s valuable relics, art, and manuscripts.
The paintings are as well stunning…
The Holy Monastery of Roussanou was, as well, established in14th century. It is said that its name “Roussanou” comes from the first hermit-monk who settled on the rock at that time. The monastery seems to carve out from the cliff as the extension of the rock itself!
Roussanou has a lower elevation than the other monasteries (still some exercise to reach -either from the bottom or the top main road- 😢)
The monastery, initially founded by monks, was severely damaged during World War II and then became a convent in 1988 with today 15 sister nuns living in that gorgeous monument and nature
The view over the valley from there is beautiful as well
The entrance and the garden are beautiful…
The interior is gorgeous as well, but pictures are as well not welcome (not clear why as a photo without a flash never damaged anything 🧐) but I still managed to get a few for completeness of the post
Below Roussanou, on the main road, there is a point on the rocks and the valley
From there, you have as well a great perspective on Saint Nicholas monastery, especially early morning
The Holy Monastery of Saint Nicholas of Anapafsas (Agios Nikolaos) is like Roussanou not fully at the top of the cliff but is gorgeous
That monastery, founded at the end of the 14th century, is on the way to the other Meteora monasteries, which likely was the reason for the origin of its name, as it likely served to the pilgrims as a resting place when arriving in the region. Anapafsis means resting in Greek, so the monastery name translates into “Saint Nicholas the one who rests you”
However, as this is the most difficult set of steps to get up, it did not feel like a fair resting place name 😂
The view from the top is however stunning, so really worth the effort 😅…
The monastery of Agios Stefanos (Agiou Stefanou) is by far the most accessible monastery with just a small bridge to reach the entrance (it is therefore even busier than the others 😢).
The first hermit monks settled on the cliff during the 12th century. It was then rebuilt in the middle of the 15th century to its current elegant shape. The garden and surroundings are very nice.
And, like the other Monasteries, the interiors are hosting many wonders!
The above are the six Monasteries of Meteora. However, if you feel you did not have enough Monasteries visits, here is a hidden one 😊. The monastery of Ypapanti is an old, abandoned 14th-century monastery that was restored recently and is only accessible by hiking it.
For a change of perspective over Meteora Monasteries you can drive to the park viewpoint, opposite the Kalabaka city
There is a bit of unpaved road for a few miles but that place gives perspective to the gigantic cliffs ( You’ll need however a telelens/ zoom camera)
Kastraki is a small, peaceful 16th-century village nested at the bottom of the gigantic rocks of Meteora.
The village is in my view the best place to stay (over Kalabaka that is much bigger, with more facilities but less charm)
The center of the village is beautiful and offers many restaurants and pensions
From Kastraki village, you can do a small, nice hike in the forest toward Adrachti rock
The hike is not very well indicated and, when you arrive there, the perspective is quite limited so I mention it mainly for completeness as this is often listed as a landmark in the area (a bit oversold in my view)
Church of the Dormition
The Holy Church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary in the ancient part of Kalabaka city is really worth a visit
The Byzantine church was an early Christian church built around the 4th or 5th centuries. As there are many different historical periods incorporated into its architecture, it is considered a major monument. The interior and the old paintings are beautiful.
So here is my little takeaway in images of the amazing Meteora area. I hope this is helpful and will engage you to visit that amazing place! For more places around Greece, have a look at some of my posts about Santorini or Milos or the region of Athens (still to come 😢)