Taking a tour from Athens to Meteora is an astonishing journey through time. People have been occupying the peaks of this group of massive sandstone needles for at least 50,000 years. A 23,000-year-old stone wall across the mouth of a cave, built by humans during an ice age, is the oldest known man-made construction in the world.
From about the 11th century, Eastern Orthodox hermits occupied caves high up on the face of some of the cliffs. But it was in the 14th century when whole groups of monks and nuns, hoping to protect themselves and their Byzantine treasures from raiding Ottoman Turks, built elaborate and virtually inaccessible monasteries on Meteora's pinnacles. At one time, there were 24 monasteries, only accessible by elaborate arrangements of winches and nets. Today, there are six operating monasteries left, and you can reach them by climbing between 150 and 300 steps that were carved into the vertical rock faces in the 19th century. Meteora is an UNESCO listed World Heritage site
A number of tours make visiting these remarkable places a bit easier. Some include train or coach travel from Athens, but some of the best are organized by locals and require you to book your own transportation from Athens to Kalambaka, the nearest village to Meteora. Don't be surprised if a certain amount of typical Greek disorganization and confusion prevails at key points along the way; getting to Meteora can be something of an adventure in itself, but they always get you there in the end.
And by the way, don't be surprised to find the town spelled Kalabaka, Kalapaka or Kalampaka—or all versions, even in the same paragraph. It's just one of those peculiarities of transliterating the Greek alphabet into the Roman alphabet. To turn "p" into "b", Greeks will sometimes add an "m" in front of it. It causes havoc for English speakers trying to read train schedules or look up things on the internet.
Whichever you tour you choose, wear good shoes, bring water, and dress modestly for the experience of a lifetime. Here are some of the best tours to Meteora we've found.
Visit Meteora Tours is a relatively new, award-winning destination management organization of travel specialists in the region. They offer a wide variety of reasonably priced tour experiences, including visits to the monasteries, rock climbing, and hiking expeditions in and around Meteora. You need to organize your own train travel for many of their tours, but they'll advise you on schedules, prices, and how to book your trains (not always easy from outside Greece).
The prices for many of these tours are very reasonable:
- Full day, private tour for up to four adults, including a customizable itinerary, costs only €180 - per car, not per person.
- Train to Train tours - A local guide, driving a luxury mini van, collects you at Kalambaka station, takes you on a three-hour tour of all six monasteries - including visits inside two of them - and delivers you back to the station in time for the Athens or Thessaloniki train, all for €35 per person, with no minimum number of travelers.
- Meteora Hiking Tour - A four and a half-hour guided hike on hidden local paths through the forests at the base of the rock formations. The tour includes a visit to a restored and hidden monastery now open only to hikers as well as visits to one or two of the areas greatest monasteries on paths once used by the monks in the middle ages. Although this tour is open to children and families, the organizers suggest it requires a reasonable level of both physical fitness and, gulp, mental health. The cost is €35 for between two and 12 hikers.
This tour company also organizes multi-day visits, taking in several of the different local tours on offer—food and wine tours, truffle hunting, cave hiking, mountain biking tours.
If you have deep pockets, and are short on time, they'll even organize a private helicopter tour from Athens.
Prestige Greece provide private, luxury limos to celebrities, sports figures, and corporate executives. They can also organize private two-day limo or luxury mini-van jaunts to Delphi and Meteora. The itineraries are much like the itineraries described above—travel to Delphi, then stay overnight in either Delphi or Kalambaka, make a visit to the monasteries, and head back to Athens.
But the similarities end there. Where you stop for lunch, drinks, evening entertainment, and a spot of shopping is up to you. So are your accommodations and the particular vehicle that conveys you there. In addition to your English-speaking chauffeur, a professional guide can be organized to meet you at each location. And, if that is a bit restrictive, the company can put together a completely personalized, private tour to meet all your requirements.
Naturally, this kind of personal attention comes at a price. Everything Prestige-Greece does is bespoke - including the pricing. You can email them with your requirements or phone them on +30 210 3254 151 to talk about it. They'll come back to you with a quote and some well-informed suggestions of their own.
If you'd prefer to avoid the hassle and stress of organizing train travel, you can leave the driving to CHAT Tours, one of Greece's leading coach tour operators. They operate two- and three-day tours to Athens and Delphi with stops at other points of interest along the way.
Tours on luxury, air-conditioned coaches depart from the company's base in a central Athens hotel, The two-day tours run from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the second day. The three-day tours leave Athens at 8:45 a.m. on the first day and return at 7 p.m. on the third day.
The two-day tour (Trip 8A), which includes either "tourist class" or "first class" accommodation in Kalambaka, begins with a drive to Delphi and a visit to the archaeological site but not Delphi's wonderful museum. Then it's on to Kalambaka to explore the village and have dinner. The second day includes visits to the rock monasteries of Meteora and the drive back to Athens with a photo stop at Thermopylae, scene of the famous battle between the Spartans and Persians featured in the film 300. In 2018, this tour, on a half-board basis, starts at €185 per person.
The three-day version of this trip (Trip 8), includes more time in Delphi, including a chance to visit the museum, an overnight stay in the town and a free morning there. Though Delphi is a magnet for tourists, it still has some good souvenir shopping, notably for Greek-made gold jewelry, pottery and reproductions of classic pieces. On the afternoon of day two, the coach travels to Kalambaka for a visit to the town and and overnight stay, and day three, as above, includes Meteora and a possible photo stop at Thermopylae on the way back to Athens. In 2018, this tour is offered on a half-board basis starting at €342 per person.
Both tours are accompanied by entertaining, well-informed, English-speaking, professional guides. These tours can be booked online on the CHAT Tours website or organized the old-fashioned way, through your own travel agent.
The online tour and experience booker Viator organizes day trips coordinating train travel from Athens with local, Meteora drivers and suppliers.
This tour, costing £80.44 per person in 2018, includes round-trip rail travel from Larissa Station, Athens's main station. It's a full-day tour, but keep in mind you will be spending about five hours on the train each way, to Kalambaka station and back. It's a very dramatic journey across central Greece, but you probably will want to bring something to read.
The tour includes a scenic drive to see (but not visit) all six monastic retreats, with photo stops and a chance to learn more about their histories from a local guide. You can also choose to climb up to one or two of the monasteries. In all, you spend about 3.5 hours in Meteora.
Local transportation is in a luxury, air-conditioned minivan with free Wi-Fi. Entrance fees to the monasteries (€3 each), meals, drinks and tips are not included.
How to Book:
- Booking is online through the Viator website.
- When you book, they send a confirmation email that includes a pdf document of your tickets that you should print out.
- There are contact numbers for the actual travel supplier with the confirmation email.
- It's a good idea to check with the travel supplier to make sure you have an actual seat reservation for the train journey, which is different from simply having a ticket to board. Some travelers have complained about having to stand for long parts of the train trip.
- You are essentially on your own until you reach Kalambaka, so make sure to contact the trip organizer to make sure you know how to get from your hotel or the airport to Larissa Station and how you will be met at Kalambaka.
Viator also offer a two-day package that includes many of the same features but gives more time to explore the town of Kalambaka and includes a stay in a 3- or 4-star hotel, breakfast and dinner and a longer, 4-hour tour of the monasteries. The two-day package also includes Kalambaka hotel pick-up and drop-off for the morning monasteries tour. If you have the time, it's worth the overnight stay to have a stress-free tour the next morning. In 2018, the price is about £140.