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Alternative things to do in Kalambaka, Greece

by Roberto
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If you are drawn to this area of Greece, the undoubtedly you only have one thing on your mind, and that’s to visit the soaring rocks and magnificent monasteries of Meteora. But when your day on Meteora is done and you descend to Kalambaka, what else lies in wait.

Kalambaka, Greece packs some weight as a base with some hidden gems such as astonishing churches, monasteries of its own, and respectable accomodation and dining. It is also rather surprisingly a quite economical place to stay. Let me guide you through your base and the alternative things to do in Meteora and Kalambaka.

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Kalambaka as a base

Kalambaka is often known as Kalabaka or Kalampaka. It is a medium sized town it sits at the foot of the Meteora hills. Though it has a population of around 20,000, this often swells during the tourism season. It’s a lively place in the evenings and as a result there are lots of facilities to accommodate the passing traveller. The town also lies within 2km of the monasteries, so is ideal for those wishing to visit the monasteries by foot, car or guided tour.

Meteora is not the easiest of places to travel to in Greece, as the north is a series of mountains. So half the battle is getting there. But when you do, its worth all the effort.

Thessaloniki to Meteora & Kalambaka

The fastest involves driving from Thessaloniki, which is the closest international airport serving the area. The journey of 238 km will take in the about 2 hours 40 minutes by car, and travels around the majestic and shimmering Mount Olympus, home of the Greek gods of old. This is what I elected to do.

Public transport to Kalambaka is serviced by train. Trains run from the New Railway Station, somewhat outside the city. Bus 78 from the airport takes you here, and then a route runs to Kalambaka. Trains can take anywhere from 3 to 4 hours and often involve a change at Paleofarsalos. But the route through the countryside is a beautiful one.

Athens to Meteora & Kalambaka

Meteora and Kalambaka are also easily reached by train from Athens. Trains run from Syntagma station in Athens and this is a short trip using the cities metro system. From here trains to Kalambaka are frequent, taking around 4 hours, but also sometimes requiring a change at Paleofarsalos. Driving the 350 km from Athens takes around 4 hours as well, with rush hour traffic a big issue in the capital.

Where to stay in Kalambaka

There are quite a number of hotel options in Kalambaka. They generally represent good value for money. Even the upper end, the Divani Meteora Hotel, complete with pool and overwhelming views of Meteora, won’t break the bank.

I was travelling with a relative budget in mind, and many hotels had a good offering in this respect. I settled on Mythos Guesthouse, a centrally located traditional Greek offering. At €153 for 3 nights it very much fell in budget too. Its 7 rooms are quite aesthetically laid out and all come with balconies to view Meteora from. You can expect all the mod cons. The host, Spiros was the making of the place, a man of helpful advice and morning cheer. He was excellent company during breakfast and had a real good natured desire to help. His tips encouraged me to visit the Holy Trinity Monastery on foot first. I booked the Mythos Guesthouse on Booking.com.


Alternative things to do in Kalambaka & Kastraki

Kalambaka and the small village of Kastraki sit side by side at Meteoras foot and in themselves present quite a few options for visitors.

Visit the Meteora Monasteries

The most obvious of these of course is to visit Meteora, which I did by car and hiking tour over the course of my stay. The monasteries are arranged along a now circular route, atop the very spectacular Meteora rocks. For those with a disposition for excitement, rock climbing is amazing here. The finest of the monasteries are Varlaam Monastery, Roussanou Monastery and Grand Meteoron.

For the finer details on my visit, I suggest reading my blog on Visiting Meteora.

Tours from Kalambaka to Meterora

Of course if hiring a car or a long hike are not to your preference, Kalambaka offers a number of companies who provide a day trip Meteora tour. These usually aim to visit three monasteries in a full day tour and impart a lot of wisdom that simply isn’t available at the sites. They also provide the option of a sunset tour, as the sunset is out of this world up there. If you prefer your tours more long haul, tours from Athens and Thessaloniki are optional. Its best to book private tours in advance, and I recommend Get Your Guide for this.

Churches of Kalambaka

St Vissarions Church

On my ascent to the Holy Trinity Monastery I was distracted by the churches along the way. The first you come across on the path is St Vissarions Church which is a newer Byzantine churches in the region. But don’t let that distract you from it. As it is newer it allows you the opportunity to take photos of the art inside, the only church to do so in Kalambaka and Meteora. The walls and ceiling are completely hagiographied (painted to tell the story of the lives of saints) and it was a welcome introduction to the art style that awaited me on the days ahead.

St Vissarions Church Kalambaka

Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary

But the title of the church that simply must be visited goes to Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary. This church stands on the site of a Greek temple to Apollo, and a church was built here in the 4th Century. The current dates from the 9th to 11th century. A payment of €2 is required, and it is money well spent. I shelled out €5 more on a guide book. The frescoes inside date from either the 11th or 16th centuries. Alas no photos are allowed so I can’t share with you. It’s ambo in the centre of the church is of great interest too. The church predates all the Meteora monasteries, and is of great interest to any visitor to the area.

Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary Kalambaka
Bell tower of Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary

Visiting other monasteries in Meteora

One thing I was surprised to learn was that other monasteries existed besides the six monasteries of Meteora. I had heard that there were 24 at some stage but assumed all were in ruins or lost. Not the case. So I was even more surprised to learn that you could in fact find more monasteries within easy reach of Kalambaka and Kastraki. So with time on my hands I headed out to find what I could.

The Eremitage and Panagia Church

This area can be reached within easy walking distance of Kalambaka. The route turns off before Kastraki, and follows a dirt trail. En route you will pass some caves which are well worth a rummage around. They were previously inhabited. From here the vistas of Meteora are to die for. Continuing on the road, a parking lot marks the entrance to Monastery Aghia Trias Asketirion of St Nicholas, or the holy monastery of St Nicholas. However entry is prohibited here. But don’t let that deter you, as paths lead down to the left and up to the right.

Taking the path on the left first past the Panagia Church you come to a rock face and high above, the first of your monasteries. A beautiful tiny shrine sits on ground level. Looking up a monastery, whose name I never learned sits built into the mountain. Wooden stairs and balconies protrude from the cliff and they are precarious to say the least. It’s fascinating but its clearly still occupied and there are signs of it.

Eremitage, Kalambaka
Eremitage, Kalambaka
Eremitage, Kalambaka
Photos from unknown monastery in Kalambaka

Making my way back I followed a forest path up to another rock face, and yet another monastery built into the cliff side. This was known as the Eremitage. A rock path that I would never take hugs the cliff side leading up. Its again off bounds, but for a taster of how the life of solitude still exists in this region, it’s quite the eye opener.

Eremitage, Kalambaka
The Eremitage monastery – anyone got a ladder?

Ypapanti Old Monastery

Buoyed by the interesting experience of these monasteries, I set my sights on more. On the road to Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery, a trail leads uphill. It’s a narrow dusty road, infested with potholes. It worsens as it continues and at some point I deemed it too much for my rental car and continued on foot. This area can also be reached by hiking from Great Meteoron. The area is quite remote and swarming with bugs so bring some repellent.

The first monastery to come across was the Ypapanti Old Monastery, precariously overhanging a ledge. The monastery was established in 1367. It features mod cons like a lift and is currently occupied by nuns. It is off limits as well. For a stunning view of it, follow the path to the Thymios Vlachavas Statue on a nearby hill and appreciate it in all its glory.

Ypapanti Old Monastery
Ypapanti Old Monastery

The last monastery I was to come across is said to be open to visitors at certain times, is further along the track here. Whats it called? I’ve no idea, I could only find its Greek name. The monastery is more modern in style and can only be viewed through the gate. The bugs are at that their worst here too, and I felt like I was being eaten alive. I would suggest to pass on this one.

Visiting Monasteries – one of the top things to do in Kalambaka

There are more suggestions on ruins and monasteries to be found on the Visit Meteora Website.

Theopetra Cave

The Theopetra cave is a cave system soe 3km outside of Kalambaka. It is known for the remains found there. Some date as far back as 50000 years ago. Human life can be charted through the cave all the way through the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic as well as Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. I didn’t get to visit the caves, as honestly I never heard of them till I started writing this article.

Museums of Kalambaka

Another attraction I gave a miss to in Meteora is its Natural History Museum and Mushroom Museum. I imagined the area best appreciated in the great outdoors. That said for anyone with an interest in mushrooms (besides eating them), it has a range of sculptures of mushrooms from different ecosystems and goes through the three stages of a mushrooms life. On top of that, there is a “dead zoo” with over 300 mammals and birds on display, and information on their habitats and endangerment. It is located at 20 Pindou, 42200, Kalambaka and admission is €5.

There is a Digital Projection Centre of Meteora’s History and Culture is found in Kalambaka on P. Dimitriou & Nikolaou Plastira Street. Open seven days a week, this 3-d theatre allows visitors to watch shows on the Mythology of Holy Meteora and take a tour through the rocks and monasteries. Its ideal for those who are averse to outdoor exercise.

The Hellenic Culture Museum of Kalambaka houses the private collection of Mr. Pavlos Balogiannis, a rare collection of books and maps. The books are on the ancients such as Homer and Aristotle and Greek Mythology. The museum offers an insight into Ancient Greek learning, and the evolution and history of the Greek education. Open seven days a week from 12 to 8 pm.

Sunset in Kalambaka

The sunset from Meteora should not be missed, but if for whatever reason (hunger, tiredness) you cannot make it, then Kalambaka will make up for the disappointment. The sky above the rocks gives them a new found beauty. I was treated to a wonderful display of orange and pink.

The sun setting behind the rocks

Meteora Rocks from a distance

Meteora can also be appreciated from afar, and the best place to do this is certainly the Mirador de Kalambaka. With the town in the foreground and the rocks to the rear, it’s a good place to venture to by day or night. The mirador is only a single kilometers stroll from the centre of Kalambaka too so those weary legs should be able to manage one final walk to see Meteora from another angle. The view over Kalambaka at night is rather excellent.

things to do in Kalambaka
View of Meteora from Mirador de Kalambaka

What to Eat in Kalambaka

Any holiday location is only ever as good as the food its restaurants serves, and thankfully Kalambaka delivers. It’s hard not to, when Greek cuisine is your speciality. None of the meals below cost me more than €8 and all restaurants offer a complimentary small dessert to finish, be it a scoop of ice cream or fruit. Dining out represents great value for money here. These are a few of the place I can recommend.

Restaurant Meteora

Restaurant Meteora is one of a number of restaurants located near the town hall square off Trikalon, the main street running through the town. Open since 1925, it is still family owned to this day. The menu is a traditional offering, and my first go to option on Greek menus is Moussaka. It really didn’t disappoint. Don’t tell my Italian friends but it’s better than Lasagna. The restaurant is a pleasant place to sit with a beer and watch life pass by also.

Restaurant Meteora
Moussaka – better than lasagne

Restaurant Platanos

A trip to Greece of course isn’t complete without some good gyros. After a trek up and down the town, I actaully found myself back where I started and my accomodation, Mythos Guesthouse. My hunt for gyros yielded nowhere that captured my attention. The adjoining restaurant, Platanos has existed since 1953, and serves up a mean gyros and rendered my walk pointless. Delicious.

restaurant Platanos Kalambaka
Gyros at Platanos


Panellenion is one of the more famed restaurants in the town, and in addition its location on the centre of Town Hall square is one of the best. If you haven’t had enough of traditional fare (I hadn’t) then it’s easily recommendable. I settled on Souvlaki and a beer, which is good hearty fare after a days hiking.

Panellenion Kalambak
Souvlaki at Panellenion

Taberna Oyerpi Pappas

This small Taberna is found in Kastraki. It’s the sort of place where locals sit and gossip, and actually the owner didn’t have a word of English. Perfect in other words. After some very basic communication I settled on a Greek Salad. The freshness of Greek salads will never fail to amaze my taste buds. The tavern is suitably located to return from Meteora for lunch as I did, and is also close to the aforementioned museum.

Taberna Oyerpi Pappas Kalambaka
Greek Salad- so much freshness on one plate

Day trips from Kalambaka

Three hours drive from Kalambaka on the route south to Athens is the popular Ancient Delphi, the famed religious site of the Ancient Greeks. Significant ruins still exist.

Two hours west is the wild Vikos Aoos national park, and the deepest canyon in the world, relative to its width.

One hour beyond is the coastal resort of Parga, and the nearby entrance to Hades. I have always wondered what the underworld looked like.

Back at the start of my route, Greece’s second city Thessaloniki, is a vibrant student city, where byzantine churches and a rich street art scene sit side by side. Monastery lovers will no doubt be attracted to Mount Athos, the centre of Greek monastery life. For the moment though it may only be visited by men.


Kalambaka is a respectable destination in its own right, with unquestionably enough attractions to draw a visitor. With Meteora on its footstep, it is sadly somewhat overlooked. But it’s churches and access to alternative monasteries that are off the beaten track make it more authentic than Meteora. In this day of mass tourism, it’s a place where you will find yourself alone staring at amazing art or architecture. That can only be a good thing.

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Things to do in Kalambaka
Things to do in Kalambaka

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