Most Greek backpacking itineraries follow a similar path. They start with a couple of days in Athens before spending a week or two hopping around the major Greek Islands such as Ios or Santorini. Most backpackers in Greece don’t make it the northern part of the country and that is a real shame.
One of the highlights of Northern Greece is Meteora, a group of monasteries built on top of rock formations between the 14th to 16th centuries. The majestic beauty of Meteora has meant that tourism has exploded here over recent years, particularly with older tour bus groups. This makes it harder to visit Meteora on a budget, however, it is certainly not impossible if you follow some of these tips.
1. Don’t visit Meteora as a day trip from Athens
I didn’t even realise this was an option until I was in Meteora but apparently some people attempt to visit Meteora’s monasteries as a day trip from the Greek capital. Not only does this make no sense financially as you’ll have to pay for an expensive return ticket but it’ll also mean that you’ll spend the majority of your day sitting inside a train rather than exploring Meteora as Athens is over 5 hours away.
A more manageable day trip to Meteora is from Thessaloniki which is located about 2.5 hours away. However, I still think such a trip would be rushed, cost more and mean that you don’t get a chance to do a longer hike in the area.
2. Stay in Trikala rather than Kalampaka
Meteora is located in the town of Kalampaka which is a charming and historical town to explore. However, the tourism boom in Meteora is unfortunately reflected in the prices in Kalampaka. A more budget-friendly option when you visit Meteora is to stay in Trikala, which is located 15km away from Meteora.
Trikala has a number of budget food options including delicious bakeries and fantastic gyros where you can gorge yourself on delicious meat and tzatziki filled goodness for only a few euros. Trikala, unlike Kalampaka also has a hostel named Hostel Meteora which offers both dorms and private rooms at significantly cheaper prices to Kalampaka.
Trikala itself is a lovely city to wander around in and, if you’re not rushed on time, you can easily spend a day or so exploring the Turkish Quarter or enjoying the lively cafe and nightlife scene.
There are hourly buses from Trikala to Kalampaka, making it easy to travel between the cities when you visit Meteora.
3. Hike to the monasteries
In both Kalampaka and Trikala, you will find a number of tour operators offering bus tours to the Meteora monasteries. These are heavily tailored towards older tour groups and to save money, I definitely suggest you follow the lead of the monks and hike to the monasteries from Kalampaka when you visit Meteora.
From the town of Kalampaka, there is a trail that leads to the Varlaam Monastery which is the second largest in Meteora. From Kalampaka, follow the road to the town of Kastraki before joining the dirt trail that will lead you to Varlaam. The walk will take between 1-1.5 hours however you will be met with spectacular scenery and only a handful of other people on the trail.
From Varlaam, take the path to the largest monastery called the Great Meteoron Monastery before following the road all the way around Meteora towards Agia Trias. You can detour to other monasteries or simply stop at the many viewpoints along the way and take in the spectacular views.
Most of the viewpoints are deserted for the majority of the day except for the occasional tour bus stop which usually only lasts for a couple of minutes while everybody gets their picture.
From Agia Trias, there is another dirt path that leads you back to the town of Kalampaka.
4. Pack some lunch!
This will unlikely come as a surprise to the experienced traveller however food options are very limited near the monasteries and expensive. Make sure you stock up on food in Trikala or Kalampaka before visiting Meteora’s monasteries. A great budget option is to head to one of the local bakeries and pick up some spanakopita – a delicious feta and spinach pastry, similar to burek.
You don’t need to bring a lot of water however as you can fill up your bottle from the water fountains in the monasteries.
5. Visit one or two monasteries
In my experience, when you visit Meteora, the highlight is the hiking and the natural splendour of seeing the monasteries built on top of the rock formations rather than the monasteries themselves.
That being said, I do think it’s worth visiting one or two monasteries, however, as they each change a 3 euro entrance fee, I wouldn’t recommend entering each one unless you have a deep fascination for the monasteries themselves.
The most popular monastery to visit is the Great Meteoran Monastery which is the oldest monastery and also has a small museum, wine cellars and a room full of bones of deceased residents of the monastery to explore. Its popularity however also makes it the most crowded monastery in Meteora. If you prefer to visit a monastery with fewer tourists then I suggest checking out the Holy Trinity Monastery.
Meteora is one of the highlights of Northern Greece and still relatively unknown on the typical Greek backpacking route. Make sure you visit Meteora to see one of the most spectacular sites in all of Europe!
Have you been to Meteora? Do you have any advice to visit Meteora on a budget? Add a comment below!