Meteora, the rock formations and the monasteries built on top floating in the air is a popular destination for tourists and travelers to Greece. And with very good reason! A visit to Meteora is a must-do on anyone’s Greece itinerary. But can also get very crowded. Here is my guide on how to visit Meteora, without the crowds. Or at least, less crowds.
I recently traveled to Greece, by train, and had 3.5 weeks to explore the country. Of course, I included Meteora on my trip. I rented a car and drove over 2.000 km (1.250 miles) through the country. Although I was invited by VisitMeteora, all my experiences and opinions are my own.
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Visit Meteora Greece
If you read anything about mainland Greece or watch anything on any social media outlet or tv, you’ll see Greece’s capital Athens. And a close 2nd is Meteora. Meteora is out of the world, magical, and surreal, and I recommend anyone to visit it.
However, with its popularity also come the crowds. And if you know anything about me, I hate crowds. But I’m all for sustainable tourism. And sustainable tourism also means: giving back to the local community. Support them and support local businesses.
This post is all about what you can see and do in Meteora, but also how to do it in a supportive and sustainable way. And how to avoid the crowds! Win-win if you ask me.
I think Meteora deserves it. But let’s dive in, shall we?
What is Meteora actually?
Meteora, Meteora? What is Meteora?
Meteora is the name of a tourist destination in Greece. It is not a place or town. It is the cultural landscape of different rock formations and currently, there are 6 active Greek Orthodox Monasteries built on top of the rocks. Together, they form the Meteora Monasteries.
The area is free to visit and is open 24/7. The roads and infrastructure are excellent. If you wish to visit one (or all) of the 6 monasteries, you’ll need to check their opening hours and pay a fee to support the monastic community.
How to get to Meteora, Greece
Meteora is located in the regional unit of Trikala, in Thessaly, in central Greece. If you use Google Maps, you can use the name Meteora, but it will direct you to one of the viewpoints.
The best is to use Kalabaka or Kastraki as the nearest towns to navigate to. From Athens Airport, it is a 4h15m drive (or 375 km/234 miles).
Trains leave Athens Train Station (Larissa Metro stop) and take currently 4h and 40 minutes to reach Kalabaka/Kalambaka train station. You can visit Meteora on a day trip from Athens by yourself, or book a tour (incl, return tickets by train AND a guided tour of Meteora). Check out the options for a guided tour day trip from Athens here.
Where to stay in Meteora, Greece
Although a day trip from Athens is doable, I don’t think it does justice to the area. I highly recommend you stay overnight. At least for 1 night, but if you can spare the extra time, 2 or even 3 nights, really gives you time to explore Meteora and take in all the views, visit the Monasteries, and take your time.
The best places to stay are in Kalabaka, the bigger town with a train station, car rental companies, and loads of hotels. Or the smaller, Kastraki. Kastraki really is a village but has plenty of restaurants, shops and hotels and sits right at the base of Meteora. Almost every hotel in Kastraki has views of the Meteora rocks and or monasteries.
I stayed for 3 nights at the Meteoritis Hotel in Kastraki. You can literally walk from there to the Meteora Monasteries (an intense walk, but possible). It offers mostly twin and double rooms, with balconies and views of the Meteora rocks. The breakfast was really good and they have plenty of parking space if you come with your own car. Check out their rates and availability here.
If you rather stay in Kalabaka, then The Storyteller Boutique House is a good option. Clean rooms with a lot of wooden furniture, views of the Meteora rocks, and rooftop terraces. It is right in the center of Kalabaka, near restaurants and shops. Check out their room options and rates here.
These are just 2 options, but Meteora has a plethora of different accommodations. From hotels to guesthouses, apartments, and campsites. Check out all the options for Kalabaka here, or look for accommodation in Kastraki here.
Visiting Meteora, without the crowds (or a least fewer crowds)
With day-trippers arriving from Athens, or other destinations in Greece, by noon, the whole of Meteora is swarming with busses, coaches, cars, and people.
There are 6 monasteries you can visit on top of the rocks, and as you can imagine, space is limited. It can feel very quickly, very crowded when visiting the monasteries. And also on the roads and to enjoy the views of Meteora.
But how can you see Meteora without the overload of crowds? I’m not saying you’ll be the only person there if you follow my tips, but it can help a lot! You feel less rushed and crowded and can really take in the atmosphere of Meteora. Let’s see what we can do to avoid the crowds!
1. Visit Meteora in the shoulder season so in spring or fall
The summer months of late June, July, and August are peak seasons anywhere in Europe. Greece is flooded by holidaymakers from all over the world, and many add in a trip to Meteora.
If it is at all possible, avoid the high summer months to visit Meteora in Greece. It is better to travel to Meteora in Spring (April, May and early June) or Fall/Autumn (September and October). Besides fewer people, the temperatures are milder.
I visited in mid-May and actually went on a tour while it rained. It turned out, the rain and the clouds not only scared other tourists away, it also added to the Meteora mystic!
2. Visiting Meteora with a tour
One of the best decisions I made during my time in Meteora, was to join a tour! VisitMeteora is a local tour company and a lot of tours run through them. They are a locally based and employed tour company that has run tours for many years now. They are knowledgeable, reliable, and offer great insights in the region.
There is nothing wrong with venturing off on your own. Go ahead. But I (also) recommend booking a tour. Not only do you get inside information from knowledgeable guides, but they also take you to hidden treasures in Meteora and know the best times to arrive and monitor crowd control.
And the tours are very affordable. For example, their sunset tour, which will take more than 4 hours, includes pick-up and drop-off, transport, and a guide for €45. That is money well spent! And you avoid the crowd as you travel by minibus.
3. Visit the lesser-known viewpoints in Meteora
Of course, you can head to Meteora and visit the 6 active monasteries and stop at the viewpoints where most of the people are. But how to find the lesser-known, and also, lesser-visited viewpoints? Where nobody is standing in front of you?
Again I say, join a tour and they will take you there. But you can also drive around on your own, turn right when you think the road might not lead anywhere, and just explore!
4. Go in the late afternoon
Besides the daytrippers from Athens, also the coaches with school groups, and other tour companies of Greece have left by the time it turns 4 or 5 in the afternoon.
At this time, some monasteries are still open, but the roads are almost empty. The hordes and crowds have disappeared and you’ll find yourself with only a few other independent travelers.
I really liked the sunset afternoon tour I did with VisitMeteora. Of course, we were not the only ones exploring Meteora at this time, but it was definitely less crowded.
With fewer cars and motors roaring up and down the winding roads and fewer exciting school groups shouting, I could really take in the calm atmosphere of the mystic area of Meteora and take my time to appreciate the landscape.
5. Also visit the caves and abandoned monasteries in Meteora
Did you know that Meteora is covered in abandoned monasteries? Out of 24 that were once active, only 6 are now active and open for visitors.
And there are ancient caves where the hermits used to live before they organised themselves in a monastic community. A few can be easily spotted from the main roads, for others, you have to do a little more work and walking.
We visited a few of these abandoned caves and sealed-up monasteries. And even a scythe (or Skith – I cannot find the correct name for this). That is a sort of communal monastic living quarters where monks live together or alone but it is not a monastery.
It is amazing to see someone’s ‘house’, embedded in the rocks, with planters outside, and learn they have telephone, plumbing, and WiFi now.
6. Admire the monasteries from the outside after closing
In all honesty, I didn’t make it a goal to visit all 6 monasteries of Meteora. Some are smaller than others, and some are quite difficult to visit, while others are easily accessible.
I visited only 3 of the monasteries, but I came to the conclusion, that the best views of the monasteries are actually from the outside! Looking from a distance at the monasteries, or from down below or higher above, really gives you a great understanding of their position in the landscape of Meteora.
So if you’re like me, and don’t necessarily have to visit inside the monastery, then you can enjoy fewer crowds, outside the opening hours of the monasteries. Most monasteries are closed one day of the week and the roads and parking lots near them are abandoned after or before opening hours.
You can still hear their church bells ring, or the call to vespers, but you can’t visit. But you can take in the views of the monastery from outside.
7. Stay overnight in Kalabaka or Kastraki
As previously mentioned, I highly recommend staying overnight in the towns of Kalabaka or Kastraki. Not only is visiting outside the opening hours of the monasteries or in the late afternoon, easier if you stay nearby, but you can also take in the nature of Meteora. And support the local community by spending some money for dinner, drinks, souvenirs, or whatever you need.
If you have a hotel in the area, you can also split your day of exploring Meteora in two. Explore in the morning, and visit a monastery or two. Have lunch when the trains from Athens arrive and tour groups take over. Then retreat to your hotel, relax, and head out to explore Meteora some more in the afternoon or evening.
8. Visit in the early morning
Another great advantage of staying overnight in Meteora is that you can visit early morning. Some monasteries open at 9.00 am in the morning, so you can be one of the first ones there.
Or just enjoy the pure and fresh morning breeze at one of the viewpoints. The colors of Meteora look really different in the morning, compared to the late afternoon. So it is almost as if you’re visiting a different place.
Check out this half-day morning tour of Meteora.
9. Circle the Meteora road more than once – and in different directions
As I had my own rental car, it was easy for me to drive up and down the roads of Meteora on my own.
The previous day, I had already circled Meteora by bus. We drove mostly in one direction. As I drove around with my own car, headed to a dead end and decided to drive back, I realized that Meteora looks completely different if you drive from the opposite direction! Duh!
I loved the views from the car, either way. So I highly recommend touring the roads of Meteora more than once, preferably in both directions. Just because you can, you see different things and sometimes, the road is less crowded if you come from the other side.
One loop of the Meteora circuit is 15 km (10 miles) and will take you approximately 30 minutes, without stopping or traffic jams. So it is really not a problem to drive the route multiple times, in different directions.
10. Go hiking in Meteora
I might have saved the best for last! I went hiking in Meteora!
With a landscape like this, you just have to ditch the car and explore on foot! I joined a half-day hiking tour and it was amazing. Not only did we hardly see any other people during our hike, but we also saw Meteora from a whole different perspective.
I learned about the flora and fauna of the region, the geologic formation, I learned about rock climbing etiquette and the monasteries. All while enjoying nature, working up a sweat and enjoying myself!
We hiked only 8 km (5 miles) and the guide said we only covered 200 altitude meters, (but I think it was more- way more!) But all in all, I think the hike is doable if you’re used to hiking this distance. I took my hiking poles just to be extra confident, but you don’t really need them.
During the hike, there is also room to visit one monastery, so you’re not just walking in the woods.
Whatever you do: visit Meteora, with or without the crowds
And there you have it. 10 Tips that hopefully will help you, a little bit, to avoid the crowds that flock to Meteora.
Now, if you do visit in high season, it will be nearly impossible to avoid crowds and other people, but with my tips, you might make the best of your visit and see a lot more.
What is your number one top tip to avoid crowds at busy tourist attractions? Will you share it with me? Drop a comment in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you.