The Best Way to Get from Athens to Meteora is to Drive

Driving is the best way to get from Athens to Meteora but before making any arrangements it helps to review information about renting the car, selecting a recommended route, checking out the quality of the roads and identifying what you can see along the way.

There are also other reasons why driving is the best way to get from Athens to Meteora. You can set your own pace and enjoy the independence that driving brings you; make the road trip to Meteora part of your vacation rather than think of it as a necessary inconvenience; plan ahead to visit points of interest; explore the unexpected along the way; spend quality time with your family, partner or friends; reduce that ever-persistent hassle of having to transfer and convey your luggage; and arrive at Meteora reasonably refreshed ready to enjoy the Meteora Monasteries.

Advice about Renting a Car for the Drive from Athens to Meteora

How Much Does it Cost to Drive from Athens to Meteora?

Item Information
How far is the Drive from Athens to Meteora 350 km
Car Rental Driver’s Quotation
Fuel Costs 45 Euro
Tolls 18 Euro
How Long does it take to Drive from Athens to Meteora Allow 4 hours
Actual Driving Time from Athens to Meteora Allow 5-6 hours

There are many locations in Athens where a car can be rented to drive to Meteora and that includes all the usual rental companies. We chose to rent a car from the airport because we wanted to quickly access one of the multi-lane highways that led away from Athens and avoid having to drive an unfamiliar car through the congested city centre. This would particularly be a factor if back home you drive ‘on the wrong side of the road’. Car rental from Athens airport made sense, even though it drew a supplementary charge, and we recommend it as a less stressful experience than renting a car in central Athens.

Should you be staying in the city but decide to rent a car at Athens Airport, catch the Athens metro from Line 3 (M3, the Blue Line). The journey from Syntagma Station to the Airport Terminus takes about forty minutes, but allow an hour in the event of possible delays. This train is often crowded so protect your hand luggage very carefully. In fact, there are regular announcements on the train during holiday season warning of theft.

You will find the car rental counters are all together inside the airport on the bottom floor – the arrival level – along the terminal wall.

Suggestions When You Rent a Car at Athens Airport

When to Rent the Car

We recommend you rent the car before you leave home. All the major rental companies are present at Athens airport and you can book the rental car over the internet. This will give you the advantage of being able to compare rates for similar cars and take advantage of any specials that may be available on the dates you wish to travel. We were able to secure a vehicle without having to pay the supplementary charge for either a second driver or for GPS.

Rental Car Insurance – What You Need to Know

If you wish to skip this information about Car Rental Insurance click here

Renting a car for your drive to Meteora shouldn’t be done without some planning of insurances. If you don’t know about Collision Damage Waiver Insurance then you must research and understand it. The following will get you started.

When you rent a vehicle you will be liable for any damage that may occur to the vehicle. The car rental company will set aside an excess depending on the make and model of the vehicle, period of hire etc. The average excess may be 1500 euros and will be applied to your credit card when you sign the rental agreement but the money will not be withdrawn from your account.

You have several options.

Assume all the Risk for Your Road Trip from Athens to Meteora

The first option is to assume all the risk and not insure against the possibility of damage. As stated in one of our favourite comedies, ‘very courageous’! You could lose a lot more than 1500 euros if you have a serious accident because you will be liable for all the damage to the vehicle.

Insure against the Excess when Driving from Athens to Meteora

The second option is to insure the 1500 euros. This is the Collision Damage Waiver insurance. It will be offered by the rental company when you sign for the car and it can be expensive if you are going to use the car for a prolonged period. You pay for your peace of mind. But remember, the only item insured against damage is the vehicle – not you or any injuries sustained by others. You need to consult your travel insurance about that. The advantage of taking the CDW is that should the vehicle be damaged then the company will invoice you for the costs of repairs up to a maximum of 1500 euros, but no more. Put another way, should the vehicle be damaged then the maximum you will have to pay for repairs is 1500 euros.

Choose Travel Insurance that Includes Collision Damage Waiver Insurance

The third option is to diligently search what is offered on the various travel insurance policies and chose a policy that will not only provide CDW cover but also protection for personal injury. There aren’t too many of those so study the travel insurance policies thoroughly. This type of cover is usually third party only and you may find it difficult to find a policy that insures you, the driver.

Insure Your Drive to Meteora from Athens by Purchasing a Mix of Policies

The fourth option is the one we took. We knew for this trip that we were going to rent vehicles on several occasions during the three or four months we were going to be away. We chose a travel policy that offered personal protection (the driver is often not included in these policies) as well as CDW cover. That covered one rental which we made directly with the rental company in Athens before we left home – two to go. We chose to book the additional cars through a local travel agent at home. Yes, it was more expensive than renting the cars with the rental company in Athens over the internet but the local agent could offer us insurance through a third party insurer who offered CDW cover for each vehicle. It was far less expensive than including the CDW cover with the rental company in Athens. Once again – read the policies carefully.

And please remember. The consumption of alcohol, driving off-road or yahooing around will void your insurances. Don’t let any of this put you off the road trip from Athens airport to Meteora. It’s just the way it’s done everywhere.

Collecting the Rental Car for Your Drive to Meteora

– Record its Condition Before You Leave

Should you choose to rent the car from Athens airport then once you have finalised the arrangements at the counter, collect the car outside the terminal by exiting the airport and turning to the right. The cars from each Rental Company are parked underneath the overpass at the end of the airport.

Whether you are collecting the rental car in Athens or anywhere else, we recommend you photograph every square inch of the car before leaving. Scratches on a car, particularly if just washed, which are almost imperceptible to the eye become quite clear in an image. Allow us to share our experience. The attendant who assisted us when collecting the car appeared quite casual. When we asked what was written on the paperwork about the condition of the car, he replied, “a few small scratches”. After we inspected the car we respectfully questioned his report and he readily changed the paperwork to read ‘scratches all over’, agreeing that this description better matched the condition of the car. He assured us the process was relaxed and we had ‘nothing to worry about’. This was not the case when we returned the car. A different attendant was on duty when we returned the car and he scrutinised the car inside and outside very, very thoroughly. Without the changes made to the paperwork we could have had an issue. Remember, the CDW deposit is recorded on your credit card and if disagreement arises about responsibility for pre-existing damage, you will need to resolve the matter. Your images will be useful to both parties to ensure an amicable solution.

Car rental in Athens. Unrecorded damage  to the rear bumper. Always check the condition of the rental vehicle against its inspection report at any venue.
Unrecorded damage to the rear bumper of rental vehicle for drive to Meteora.

Car rental in Athens. Unrecorded damage to the bonnet. Always check the condition of the rental vehicle against its inspection report at any venue.
Unrecorded damage to the bonnet of rental vehicle for drive to Meteora.

A Route for Your Drive from Athens to Meteora

The roads from Athens to Meteora (or Athens to Kalabaka) are quite good, and in some cases, excellent. You’ll leave Athens or the Airport on the A6, a multi-lane freeway which links to the E75 near Metamorfosis. The E75 is a dual carriageway for much of the drive to Thermopylae. The E75 forks onto the E65 just east of Thermopylae. It continues northbound and near Lamia you’ll have the option of getting off the E65 onto the A3 toll way to Trikala. You may have to get off the A3 here and there as some sectors of the A3 are still under construction.

The final part of your road trip from Athens to Meteora, that is the drive from Trikala to Kalambaka, uses the E92, a dual carriageway which is in good condition but not quite to the same standard as the roads further south. So, in a nutshell, the roads are fine and even more reason for driving from Athens to Meteora.

The drive from Athens airport to Meteora is facilitated by a four-lane motorway when leaving Athens.
Rent a car at Athens airport and you’re straight on to a system of freeways

Be Prepared to Pay Tolls When You Drive to Meteora

The drive north from Athens to the Othrys Massif in the vicinity of Thermopylae uses a dual lane carriageway in both directions but this may converge to a single lane carriageway due to roadworks associated with the tollway’s ongoing construction. The tollway becomes available for some of the journey north but the sectors between toll gates are quite short and you will never get a chance to put your wallet away. Locals prefer the country roads and the closer you approach Meteora these become the norm.

Beware of Speed Cameras When Driving to Meteora

The Speed Cameras are definitely there – whether there is any film in them is another matter. Nevertheless, you need to be aware that the cameras are not all mounted immediately after the road-side warning sign. Some are placed quite some distance after the sign.

What to See While Driving from Athens to Meteora?

Keep in mind that your reason for driving is to get from Athens to Meteora. What you will see along the way is not mind-boggling but a little preparation can ensure your drive is more interesting. The section between Athens and Thermopylae will introduce you to Greece’s rugged landscape. Greece is approximately 80 percent mountainous. Once past Thermopylae you will drive across central Greece’s flat Thessaly Basin and finally, as you near Kalambaka, approach the foothills of Greece’s mountainous north, the location of the Meteora monasteries.

Landscapes When Driving from Athens to Meteora 

The Landscape Driving North of Athens

When you drive north out of Athens the landscape becomes lumpy and undulating. But nothing challenging – we aren’t talking about the Tour de France and there aren’t any white knuckle corners. In fact, nothing like it. So what’s going on?

Greece is part of the Balkan Peninsula and so at this stage of the drive you will be introduced to the Pindus Range. Pindus is the mountainous spine of Greece that runs from Macedonia (north) down to the Gulf of Corinth (south). Four secondary ranges branch off the Pindus and cut across Greece like fingers that project out of an open left hand. A southernmost secondary range out of Pindus runs across the Attica region north of Athens and is known as the Parnitha Range. It is a densely forested area with its 1,423m summit, Karavola. The drive skirts the eastern boundary of Parnitha before it starts to climb over its foothills south of Malakasa. There isn’t a lot of fertile arable land in Attica and the heavily forested mountains also prevent agriculture. The lack of crop produce has always been a historical challenge for Athens. It was an important factor that contributed to the quality of ethics that existed in the import and export practices in the Athenian Agora.

Safe driving from Athens to Meteora on good roads surrounded by ranges
Good roads make the drive from Athens to Meteora enjoyable and safe

As you continue north you will regularly glimpse the Maliakos Gulf to the east. The Maliakos Gulf is not as it was historically.

The Maliakos Gulf to the east follows the road across Thessaly on the Athens Meteora drive.
The Maliakos Gulf seen during the Athens to Meteora Drive

Once you drive over the Parnitha foothills heading north, the road cuts across flat land before approaching another secondary range of the Pindus, this time running north-east. This is the Othrys Massif and just south of Othrys is the iconic Thermopylae which lies in the foothills of the Southern Pindus.

The Drive Across the Thessaly Plain

A little north of Thermopylae and you will exit the Othrys Massif in the vicinity of Lamia and spill out onto the lowlands of the region of Thessaly.

The straight roads on the very flat Thessaly Plain is a relief to anxious travellers during the Athens to Meteora drive
The tollway when driving from Athens and Meteora crosses the Thessaly Plains

We stopped at Lamia for lunch and poked our heads into the Archaeological Museum there. It’s worth a visit, particularly if you have given the whole day over to travelling to Kalambaka.

The lumps and bumps are now behind you. It is near Lamia that you should be able to pick up the tollway that heads north towards Meteora. It is dead flat from here all the way to Meteora and, if you use the toll way, dead straight. You’re in the Thessaly lowlands, a flat plain bordered by the triangle defined by the towns of Lamia, Larissa and Trikala. As you drive you will see on your far left (west) the massive limestone formations of the Pindus Range. As you continue north you will be confronted with the sight of the approaching Chasia Range, which is associated with your destination, Meteora. Sadly, though, you will also see a large number of houses and businesses along the way that have been abandoned due to Greece’s ongoing financial crisis.

The Thessaly Basin is very important to Greece. Much of Greece is not arable due to its poor soils and rugged topography. The Thessaly lowland is a former rift valley, the graben having been filled with sediment brought down from the eroded mountains to the north, is one of the few regions in Greece where grain crops can be cultivated.

Historical Places When Driving to Meteora from Athens

The Historical Site of Thermopylae

Once a narrow pass adjacent to the Gulf of Maliakos, it was at Thermopylae that Leonidas led a small band of Spartans against the advance of the Persian army. There is now a road side memorial for that epic encounter.

Excellent road conditions for anyone driving from Athens to Meteora.
Easy driving near Thermopylae with the Pnidus and Chasia ranges in sight
A visit to the monument to Leonidas rewards driving from Athens to Meteora.
The Leonidas Memorial at Thermopylae

There are also some easy trails for hikes and walks through the foothills of the Othrys close to the Leonidas memorial which promote some imaginative reconstruction of what happened here at Thermopylae.

A short trail on the side of the road opposite to the memorial at Thermopylae is signed, “Fortified Hill of Kolonos”. Take the trail because this is the location where large numbers of Persian arrows were found, identifying it as the likely site of the final stand of the 300.

You might be confused about the landscape of the Thermopylae Pass and its distance from the Maliakos Gulf. After all, wasn’t the whole point that ‘300 Spartans’ held off thousands of Persians on a narrow mountain pass bounded by a cliff to one side of the pass and the ocean on the other? It doesn’t look like that today. The simple explanation is that over the years very large quantities of sediment have been transported across the Thessaly Plain and it has displaced the water that once lapped the mountain pass.

If you’d like a reminder of what happened at Thermopylae, we have included a brief description of is history as an appendix at the end of the post.

And on to Meteora

The final stage of the journey from Athens to Meteora by car across the Thessaly plains ends, inevitably, near Meteora, itself a region of uplift and reshaping.

If you still have some time and energy on the way through you may wish to pay a visit to Trikala. We have made some comments about Trikala in our post; What to See as You Drive from Meteora to Delphi but it may be more convenient for you to check Trikala out on your way to Meteora rather than your drive back. We have, in the same post, briefly commented on the origin of the terrain of the Southern Pindus and the origin of the Thessaly Plain.

A panoramic view over the Thessaly Plains from the Meteora shows the location of Kalambaka.
The town of Kalambaka and the northern extremity of the Thessaly Plain as seen from the Meteora

The End of the Drive from Athens to Meteora

What’s Meteora Like?

The region projects a gentle, rural atmosphere that is centred around its agriculture and animal husbandry. Shepherds occupy the foothills with their flocks, adding to the serenity. Meteora is also interesting geologically. This is a theme that is explored in the following very comprehensive post about the Meteora Byzantine Monasteries.

Meteora towers over the town of Kalambaka at the end of the Athens to Meteora drive
A glimpse of Meteora above Kalambaka
The monasteries tower over the town of Kalambaka and build anticipation for visitors who have driven from Athens to Meteora
A glimpse of Meteora above the main square at Kalambaka and the Archontariki Taberna
Kalambaka near Meteora, a pretty provincial Greek town, offers excellent cuisine.
Dinner at Kalambaka at the Restaurant Archontariki

Food and Drink

A post describing the drive would not be complete without some lip service to cuisine. It was early evening when we located a likely-looking restaurant and we only had one item on our mind – moussaka! We had stumbled into the Archontarika Taberna and with regret they told us the moussaka had disappeared by the end of lunch. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth! But it must be good, we thought. We settled instead for a beautiful dish of meatballs and potatoes on eggplant underneath a lovely sauce, washed down by a selection of local beer. We asked them to hold two portions of Moussaka for the same time the following evening. They did and it was truly delicious. If you’re over that way, try it out – you won’t be disappointed.

We checked into our hotel which was situated in peaceful pastures overlooking the town.

“The hotel was pleasant but its highlights were the peace, the sound of bells emanating from the sheep in nearby pastures and the sheep yoghurt served at breakfast that was surely made in heaven and would never be found anywhere else on earth.”
— Travel Europe
Hotel Arsenis
A view of the guesthouse 'Arsensis', a welcome sight following the drive from Athens to Meteora.
The guesthouse ‘Arsenis’ at Meteora
The sounds of sheep bells in the fields of Meteora

Our Thoughts on the Drive from Athens to Meteora

Driving is the best way to get from Athens to Meteora because you will have time to stop whenever you like and take in the view. The landscapes along the Athens to Meteora road trip varies and there isn’t any shortage of places to pull off the road and enjoy a break from driving. Think about picnicking along your way and try an assortment of foods, snacks and drinks not available back home.

We would not recommend an Athens to Meteora day trip. We know some do endorse it but the return journey to Athens would require a total of safe driving between 10 and 12 hours; hardly a schedule that would allow you to enjoy the Meteora and its monasteries.

Appendix: A Brief History of the Battle of Thermopylae

How widely the story has been told – the story of the 300 Spartans who in 480 BC as a rear guard opposed the 150,000-strong Persian army under Xerxes as he set about the conquest of Greece. So what had led to this?

A little bit of history certainly contextualises a visit to the memorial. Archaic Greece, rather than being a nation, was made up of a number of independent city states, some of which were Corinth, Sparta, Athens and Argos. Persia protected their territorial gains by appointing officials in many city states who would be compliant with Persian interests. This led to inevitable rebellion which Athens supported. Darius led Persia against Greece at Marathon to punish Athens but was humiliated. A decade later his son Xerxes returned to exact retribution. An alliance made up of the Peloponnese city states met at Corinth, consulted the Oracle at Delphi and decided that Sparta under Leonidas would take a stand against the Persians at the Pass of Thermopylae. The Spartans were the only professional army in Greece – well equipped and well drilled in phalanx strategies. The Persians used wicker shields and were used to fighting in open fields. They were no match for the Spartans and it took them two days at the Pass to secure a victory which only came because of the treachery of Ephialtes. He showed the Persians a little known track that took them to the Spartans’ rear. Leonidas was killed, his head severed and placed on a stake. Athens lay at the mercy of the Persians but they didn’t show any.

We had been taught as young children about the courage of the 300. It was a lovely moment to reflect; to enjoy the environment being experienced as an adult in the light of the simple learning achieved as a child. We hope you capture the moment.

References:

Google Maps: Athens to Meteora

Geological Map of Greece
Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration
Division of General Geology and Economic Geology
Second Edition, Athens, 1983