Greece is one of the best destinations in Europe for a summer getaway – blessed with beautiful islands, historical sites and delicious foods. As Athens is the country’s main entry point, you might be looking for exciting places to visit from the capital before hitting up the beaches of the Cyclades or Ionian islands. If this is the case, you can’t go past the epic monasteries of the north. Meteora can be reached on a day trip from Athens in about four hours and while that sounds long, it’s absolutely worth doing!
This UNESCO center is home to several monasteries perched atop towering natural pillars, providing breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The name Meteora is derived from the ancient Greek word meteoros – meaning “raised from the ground”, “suspended in the air” or “hanged from nowhere”. A monk from Mount Athos (Athanasios Koinovitis) built the first structure on a sandstone megalith in the 14th century and today there are no less than six different monasteries to be marveled at.
Accessing the various monasteries is achieved by walking up stairs carved into the stones. You can do this on your own (as part of a large day hike) or join a guided tour. The latter is a superb choice for anyone wanting to learn more about the rich history and religious significance of the holy places, as the guides will be able to share a series of fascinating stories and facts with you. For example, Meteora Thrones runs all sorts of incredible tours in the area and many of their packages include transportation from nearby cities.
Taking a day trip from Athens to Meteora is a breeze with Meteora Thrones. They offer a wide range of options depending on your preferences and style – from high speed trains to luxurious mini buses. Below we take a detailed look at each transportation option from Athens with this popular tour company, and provide a few alternatives such as car rentals and regular buses for the independent traveler. Each has its own advantages and is contingent on your time restraints, proposed itinerary and daily budget.
Hiring a Car to Get From Athens to Meteora
Not everyone likes to travel on a tour or on public transport when exploring a new country, because it can restrict overall freedom and flexibility. Luckily, in the city of Athens, there are plenty of car rental options available for you to set off on your own little road trip to Meteora. As long as you are 21 years of age or older, and have an international drivers license, you will be good to go. Simply pick up the vehicle the day before, plug Meteora into your GPS or Google Maps app and follow the well sign-posted roads!
It’s important to leave early in the morning to arrive before noon, since the drive there takes four to five hours. This will give you the entire afternoon to check out at least two or three monasteries, and stop for lunch and dinner along the way. Just be aware that driving is done on the right-hand side in Greece, and some of the roads can be narrow and winding. Therefore, you will need to be confident behind the wheel. Staying for sunset is a must-do in Meteora, so expect to be back at your hotel in Athens late in the evening.
The Bus Routes From Athens to Meteora
Taking the bus is definitely the most difficult way to get from Athens to Meteora. In fact, it’s such an arduous journey that we only recommend it if you are staying for a couple of nights. The bus leaves from Liosion Station and stops in the town of Trikala, 25 km away from Kalabaka (Meteora). Buses run every few hours from Liosion Station starting at 7:00 am. This leg alone takes roughly five hours. It’s then a further 30 minutes from Trikala to Kalabaka, with the last bus from Trikala to Athens at 18:00 pm.
Hence, at best, you would get a maximum of three hours at Meteora via the bus routes. And that is under the assumption there are no delays or traffic jams (certainly not a guarantee in Greece). On the plus side, the tickets are relatively cheap and the buses are quite comfortable – equipped with air conditioning and in some cases WiFi. Backpackers on a shoestring budget who aren’t pressed for time will find them convenient. For others though, catching the train is a much better public transport option.
How to Catch the Train from Athens to Meteora
Meteora via train is the most popular mode of transport from Athens. With Meteora Thrones, you can book their one-day train package which includes roundtrip tickets and a midday tour. You will have enough time to see all six monasteries – making for an unforgettable adventure. This small group tour can be delivered in a variety of languages and runs 365 days of the year. The journey begins at Athens Train Station at 07:52 am departing for Kalabaka, with stunning landscapes to admire along the way.
Arrival time at Kalabaka is at 12:05 pm. A mini bus will be waiting to pick you up and a highly educated guide then commences the tour. The experience lasts for five hours and takes you inside three holy sites. One of the benefits of booking with Meteora Thrones is their ability to introduce you to hidden gems of the region (such as the Hermit Caves of Badovas) that not many tourists know about. There will also be plenty of photo stops and tips for capturing the monasteries in their most glorious form!
Departure from Kalabaka is at 18:35 pm and arrival in Athens is at 22:46 pm. For those who want a luxurious ride, you can request first class tickets at an extra cost. The maximum group size of the tour is 35, but the mini buses are comfortable and you never feel squished for room. There is even WiFi on the mini bus for those who want to post on social media. The only thing you need to bring is some cash for the small monastery entrance fees and for meals and drinks, and to wear the appropriate clothing.
Book a Private Mini Bus Package to Meteora
Another fantastic option for visiting Meteora for the day from Athens is the private mini bus package with Meteora Thrones. Catering to small groups of between two and 18 people – this option is ideal for couples, friends or families who want to discover the monasteries in total privacy. It starts with a hotel pick-up in Athens at 8:00 am, before settling into a relaxing drive through the countryside of Greece. Upon arrival at Kalabaka at 12:00 pm, there is enough time to relax over a coffee while soaking up the views.
The following four hours of the tour involve spotting all six monasteries of Meteora, entering two or three of the most popular ones, learning details about the historical background of the area and taking creative panoramic photos at local secret spots. It also includes a traditional Greek lunch in either Kalabaka or Kastraki, and of course hotel drop-off in Athens. Traveling there and back in a luxurious mini bus is without doubt the most comfortable mode of transportation to cover the 354 km distance.
Why You Should Stay in Meteora Overnight
In a perfect world, you would have at least two days dedicated to Meteora as there are so many awesome things to do. For those who plan on basing themselves here for a couple of nights, you can easily arrange your own transport and accommodation – and then take advantage of some of the other unique experiences that Meteora Thrones offer. These include a majestic sunset tour of Meteora, an authentic hiking tour of Meteora and a climbing excursion for all the extreme adventure-junkies out there!