The very name of Mount Athos promotes peacefulness. It is the main reason why the vacationers from all over Europe come here: to spend some time within the tranquility and, if possible, to visit the monastic republic. The Mount Athos Peninsula is a unique destination, where modern resorts co-exist with spiritual life.
The Athos Peninsula has a long history. It was initially called Akti. Its modern name has a relation to the mythological Giant Athos (Athos). During the war of Poseidon with the Giants, Athos threw a huge boulder at the god of the sea. The stone fell into the sea, missing the aim. It formed the peninsula, bearing the name of the giant. During the reign of the Byzantine emperor John Tzimiskes, the peninsula was regarded as “Mountain” (Oros). Later, in the XII century, people started to call it the Holy Mountain.
The ancient historians mentioned that Mount Athos was housing the cities of Dion, Sane, Acrothoi, Cleonae, and Thyssos. Some of them were the part of Attic Association. The researchers have not yet found the common ground about the location of these cities on the map.
Christianity appeared on the territory of Athos thanks to a close location of the peninsula to Thessaloniki. By the IV-V century, its residents were fully Christianized. The process of transformation of Athos into the monastic republic began in the VII century. In the IX century, one issued a special decree. According to this document, the strangers were not allowed to disturb the monks. The boundaries of the monastic state remained uncertain until the residents of Athos signed an agreement with the residents of Ierissos.
The X century was the golden age of the monastic life. A lot of large monasteries were established here during that time. During the first 500 years of the monastic republic existence on the Holy Mountain, people built about 100 big and small religious houses. The peak of building activity on the peninsula coincided with the period of Byzantine Prosperity.
After the power of the Byzantine Empire faltered, Athos faced a range of difficulties. In the XIV century, it experienced numerous raids of the Turks, which made a lot of monks to leave the peninsula and settle at the Meteora and Thessaloniki. After the conquerors captured Constantinople, Athos had no other choice than to submit. The Turks regarded the monastic state as the source of income. The residents of Mount Athos obeyed the new rules and posed no risk to the conquerors. This helped them to avoid catastrophic consequences.
Athos played a significant role in the struggle of Greece for independence. The Turkish army was not present on the Holy Mountain, which let the participants of the Resistance movement find a temporary safe refuge and renovate their powers. Moreover, the weapons workshops were located there. In 1822, the Turkish troops stormed Athos. They ruined the printing house and plundered the remained valuables. The main relics were taken away from it long before these events.
The Turks left the Holy Mountain on April 13, 1830. This day was a holiday for all residents of Mount Athos. After independence, Greece enshrined Mount Athos as autonomy in a new protocol.
The history of Mount Athos in the XX century was not simple all the time. During World War II, its monasteries miraculously avoided the destruction. That is why, in the 60s, people celebrated the 1000th anniversary of monasticism on the Holy Mountain on a grand scale. At the same time, the new century highlighted independent Greece with peculiar bloom. In the XX century, some of the most famous residents of the Holy Mountain lived here, including Silouan of Athos and Saint Paisios of Mount Athos. At the end of the XX century, Mount Athos was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Modern Athos can be conventionally divided into two parts: the monastic republic and its territories and the area for tourists. The Holy Mount attracts pilgrims from around the world at the time when Mount Athos resorts beckon vacationers with comfortable hotels, beaches, and developed infrastructure.
The Halkidiki Peninsula is best known for its flora and forests. Mount Athos is not an exception. The pine-tree, oak, and chestnut-tree forests cover its territory. When combined with a tranquil atmosphere, local landscapes are a great pleasure for fans of beautiful landscapes. A big number of capes (over 20) is one of the main peculiar features of the region. The peninsula has a mild Mediterranean climate. You can easily stand the heat here. Local air has healing properties. Thus, you can do both relax and improve your well-being here.
Holidays on Athos are a great choice for everyone, except for the fans of the nightlife. It seems that this destination was created for you to feel a sense of pace. There is no better place on earth to “take some time off.”
How to get
Athos has excellent transport accessibility. In terms of geographical position, it is the third “finger” of the Halkidiki Peninsula. It is washed by the Singitikos Bay from the side of Sithonia, and by the Ierissos Bay in the north. Mount Athos is connected with Halkidiki via a narrow isthmus.
Athos peninsula sits 120 kilometers of Thessaloniki and 105 kilometers of Thessaloniki International Airport “Makedonia.” A lot of charter and scheduled flights from around Europe annually deliver passengers here.
Public transport from Thessaloniki to Mount Athos resorts runs on a regular basis. The №79 bus stop sits by the airport terminal. It runs to the IKEA bus stop, where you should make a change for the bus №36. It will deliver you to Halkidiki Bus Station – KTEL Halkidikis. It provides transportation in the cities on Mount Athos: Ierissos, Nea Roda, and Ouranoupolis.
If you want to get to Mount Athos from Thessaloniki without making changes, you can book a transfer or rent a car.
If you want to visit the monastic republic as a pilgrim, you can go there by sea from Ouranoupolis and Ierissos.
How to move?
A rental car is one of the most convenient ways to move within Mount Athos. It is the best variant for travelers who want to explore the beaches of the peninsula and take a glance at nearby Kassandra and Sithonia. Car rental offices are scattered all over the resorts of Mount Athos.
Athos has a well-developed bus service: it offers easy access from one resort of the peninsula to another one. If you are looking for an alternative – take a taxi. Short distance trips within Athos are quite cheap. An average cost of 1 km starts at 1,2 euro.
Regarding the visit to the Holy Mountain, it is impossible to hire a car here. If you want to visit several monasteries, you should use the services of pilgrimage agencies. They make arrangements for transportation between the Mount Athos monasteries and sketes.
What to see?
Monasteries are the main reason why travelers visit Mount Athos. Here are Mount Athos best monasteries to visit:
- Vatopedi Monastery – one of the biggest and oldest monasteries on Mount Athos. It was built in the late X century. Vatopedi is best known for its rich library and numerous relics. Among them is the Holy Belt of the Virgin, Icon of the Iver Mother of God (Panagia Portaitissa), the Icon of Panagia Paramythia, Panagia Pantanassa Icon. Most of them are miraculous. Apart from the icons, Vatopedi preserves the hallows of St. Andrew of Crete, Demetrius of Thessaloniki, Gregory the Theologian, and St. John the Theologian. The main inheritance of the church is a piece of the Holy Cross;
- Monastery of Megistri Lavra – it is the first religious site in the hierarchy of Athos monasteries. This magnificent shrine has always been a must-visit place among pilgrims. The Monastery of Megistri Lavra has been one of the richest monasteries. Its treasures were the main target for invaders. Among its relics are the miraculous icons of Virgin Mary Economissa and Virgin Mary Koukouzelissa, the pieces of the Holy Cross, the hallows of St. Andrew the First Called, Basil the Great, and many other revered saints. The Monastery of Megistri Lavra is also famous for its frescoes of the XVI century;
- Iviron Monastery – this monastery was founded by the descendants from Greece. The Holy Monastery of Iviron preserves the famous icon of Iviron Theotokos, also known as Panagia Portaitissa. People venerate it from the IX century. The Iviron Monastery preserves the biggest number of hallowed remains among the monasteries of Mount Athos;
- Pantokrator Monastery – the monastery was first mentioned in the historical records of the XIV century. The monastery preserves the iconostasis of the same period (this relic is likely one of the oldest objects in its kind on Athos), hallows of St. Theodore Stratelates and St. Andrew the First Called, the revered icons of Gerondissa, Eleovritissa, and the Mother of God Weeping.
There are a lot of historical and exciting landmarks in the resort area of Mount Athos. We highly recommend that you visit the Cemetery of Ancient Akanthos during a stay in Ierissos. In the course of excavations, the archaeologists found a lot of artifacts there. Primarily, it is ceramics (jars and figurines). The scientific researches began here in the 1970s. During this period, the researchers found over 600 burial chambers of different types.
Apart from the cemetery, Ierissos has preserved the ruins of the Byzantine castle and the church, which were destroyed by the earthquake. The Krouna Tower is another attraction that is of great interest to travelers. It belonged to the metochion of the Hilandar Monastery on Mout Athos. It has a height of 13 meters.
One more popular place among travelers is the Cultural Center of Ierissos. It attracts visitors with exciting 3D movies, which are devoted to the history of the monastic republic on Mount Athos. It provides visitors with an excellent opportunity to familiarize themselves with the holy sites, without visiting them.
Ouranoupolis houses one of the Mount Athos symbols – the tower of Prosphorio. It is the monument of the Byzantine epoch that regularly houses exhibitions. Prosphorio stands on the seashore, adorning the landscapes of Ouranoupolis.
Just 2 kilometers of Ouranoupolis, you can find the Monastery of Zigou. Its territory makes it possible for travelers to learn more about the original structure of the monastery as it did not undergo any renovations. Besides, it is the only monastery on Athos women have access to.
Mount Athos beaches are one more attraction of the peninsula. Almost all of them are covered with clean sands and offer a diverse choice of entertainment:
- Nea Roda – it is a long coastal line covered with golden sands. Its infrastructure changes uniformly: somewhere its area is empty, while other places provide chaise loungers, bars, taverns, and playgrounds for children;
- Komitsa – you can find this beach not far from Nea Roda. It is surrounded by pine trees and overlooks the hills. Among the facilities of the beach are the bar, playgrounds, and taverns. A part of Komitsa beach is wild and has no equipment;
- Tripiti – it is good enough to relax at: visitors are offered to bask on the sandy beach and have a swim in a totally calm sea. Its shallow waters turn the beach into a perfect place for recreation with children;
- Ouranoupolis – is arguably the best beach on Mount Athos. It can be conventionally divided into the central part and several picturesque bays. People who choose Ouranoupoli for a holiday get as a bonus amazing views of the Prosphorio tower and the hills covered with lush woodland.
What to do?
Excursions and activities
Athos, first of all, is the starting point for many pilgrimage excursions around the monastic republic. The pilgrimage tours can last either one day or several days. Since only men are allowed to access Mount Athos and visit its monasteries, women are offered some alternative options. For example, short sea trips are the only way to get close to the shores of Athos and admire its monasteries from a distance. These short sea excursions along the coasts of the peninsula are held on a daily basis. Some of the excursions include familiarization with the monasteries’ relics.
Mount Athos provides excursions to the main attractions of mainland Greece: Aridaia, Edessa, Mount Olympus, Meteora, and Athens. You should necessarily visit Thessaloniki, regularly welcoming observation and pilgrimage excursions from the peninsula.
The ancient village of Arnea enchants visitors with both its architecture and attractions. During a visit to Arnea, you should visit the Weaving Museum of Arnea, the Folklore Museum of Arnea, the mayor’s office (the former school of the mid-XIX century, regarded as the oldest schools on Halkidiki), and, of course, the shops, selling traditional jams made of the fruit of the arbutus.
The ferries depart to paradise Ammouliani Island on a daily basis. The island provides car rental facilities. Thus, you can stay on the island for a few days to relax on its beaches and immerse into its settled life.
Although most people come to Athos to gain spiritual renovation, this place will not disappoint the fans of various outdoor activities either. A peninsula is a great place for trekking, long cycle rides, and diving. The beaches of the resorts also offer water sports facilities.
Mount Athos beaches
An interesting fact: Mount Athos has about a hundred big and small beaches, 20 of which regularly get the Blue Flag for cleanliness. You will hardly be able to visit all of them. There are some beaches you should necessarily include in your route.
- Develiki beach – this beach sits by the entrance of the peninsula, in the fishing village of Develiki, not far from the village of Gomati. It is best known for its clean light sand and the shallow safe sea. The beach is surrounded by trees, creating a natural shade. You can see many fish taverns on its shore.
- Tripiti Beach – one of the longest beaches on Mount Athos. It stretches for several kilometers until Ouranoupolis. You can find beach entertainment, taverns, hotels, diving centers, and boat rental facilities in it.
- Ouranoupolis Beach – is another long beach with a well-developed infrastructure. It is washed by crystal pure sea waters and surrounded by lush vegetation. Ouranoupolis Beach provides all the necessary facilities for relaxation of its visitors: from taverns and water sports centers up to shower cubicles.
- Nea Roda – a long sandy beach that is partially equipped for recreation. It is a fine choice for fans of privacy who do not seek for infrastructure.
- Ierissos – it is a sandy & pebble beach, stretching for 11 kilometers away. It consists of several zones, each of which is equipped with chaise loungers, shower cubicles, and taverns. Ierissos beach is pretty wide. Thus, you can easily find some free space here even on the high tourist season.
- Xeropotamou – it is the beach with ideal clean and soft sand that is great for recreation with children. Xeropotamou is best known for its spectacular scenes: here, you can see the contours of Ammouliani Island and the Holy Mountain.
Mount Athos is an ideal choice for married couples with children. Apart from sandy beaches, the peninsula offers water activities: boat trips on pirate boats and diving for beginners. A lot of resort cities offer playgrounds and attractions for children. Right on the coast of Ierissos, you can find a small aquarium with marine inhabitants.
Recreation for youth
The youth might think a holiday on Athos to be boring: the bars are the only entertainments here. At the same time, they can use car rental facilities at any time to get to the Kassandra Peninsula. It houses the settlement of Kallithea – the main fancy place on Halkidiki. Taking a drive to Thessaloniki is even a better solution as this city has a lot of clubs and bars to any taste.
Shopping on Mount Athos always has some relation to religion. Here are the souvenirs you can buy here for your relatives and friends:
- Myrrh – special aromatic oil, blessed on Mount Athos. It is used in the confirmatory sacrament. People make myrrh of more than 50 herbs and oil. Each of the Mount Athos monasteries has its unique recipe. Myrrh is used in many treatment procedures. It has tonic, antibacterial, and wound healing properties.;
- Icons – Mount Athos provides its visitors with an excellent opportunity to buy a copy of almost all miraculous icons. They are all made by the best craftsmen. These icons are wonderful presents that will always remind you of a trip;
- Prayer Rosary Vervitsa – it is the most widespread souvenir on Athos. The number of its knots is symbolic: the number 33 equals to the age of Jesus, 99 is the number 33 that was multiplied on three faces of the Holy Trinity;
- Frankincense – it is the incense that is produced by the monks of Athos for centuries. It is a wonderful souvenir for your relatives and you;
- Cahors wine – it is a red dessert wine, which always had a close relation to the monastery traditions. It is worth mentioning that Cahors wine of Athos distinguishes itself with excellent quality thanks to the hard work of local winemakers and favorable climate of the peninsula;
- Olive oil – it is one more local product, which is appreciated for its high quality.
There are also a lot of jewelry stores, souvenir shops, shops selling natural Greek cosmetics, ceramics, honey, and spices in the cities all over Mount Athos.
Attractions and activities
Mt. Athos is a place where you can familiarize yourself with the oldest monasteries in the world boasting rich collections of religious shrines. Iviron Monastery, Vatopedi Monastery, Simonopetra Monastery, Monastery of Megistri Lavra, and Pantokrator Monastery – are only a part of holy places attracting visitors from around the world. Apart from attractions, the monastic republic of Mount Athos attracts travelers with its old architectural treasures. The peninsula hosts the Prosphorio Tower, the Monastery of Zigou, and the ruins of Ancient Akanthos. In the vicinity of Athos, in the eastern areas of Halkidiki, you can find the ancient village of Stagira – the birthplace of Aristotle. This place is undoubtedly worth visiting. It invites travelers to see the ruins of the fortress and Aristotle Park, housing the models of the ancient inventions.
If you want to see the other side of life on Mount Athos, you can go in for on-farm tourism. A lot of small hotels, built in the Macedonian style, are open for visitors even in winter. Such a type of recreation allows travelers to learn more about the life of residents of the peninsula from inside: get themselves familiar with the basics of beekeeping, try mushroom gathering in the mountains, observe the process of producing tsipouro, and mussels catching, visit the workshops on creating laces, take a glance into small cheese dairies, and celebrate traditional holidays with the Greeks in tow.
Holidays and events
The calendar of Mount Athos features a great variety of events and festivals: from religious holidays up to gastronomic festivals. The most grandiose event here is the celebration of Easter on the Holy Mountain, followed by worship services, religious processions, and the glorification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. During the Easter period, travelers are offered to join special excursions to Athos, which let to fully immerse into the festive atmosphere.
The celebration of the Repose of the Virgin is of no less importance here. On this day, Mount Athos welcomes several thousand of pilgrims. The miraculous icons of the Virgin are solemnly moved to the main cathedrals of monasteries. The Iviron Monastery is especially crowded on this day. It preserves the famous icon of Panagia Portaitissa.
In a 30-minute drive from Ierissos, you can find a large village of Megali Panagia. It annually hosts the gastronomic festival of KOUZINA. It is dedicated to the gastronomic traditions of Athos, which are passed by the locals from one generation to another. During the festival, the cooks prepare monastic, ancient, and Mediterranean dishes only from local products. Each visitor of KOUZINA will find a delicacy to his taste. As a part of this festival, the restaurants and taverns of Athos in Nea Roda, Ierissos, and Ouranoupolis offer travelers their special menus, including the dishes from the monastery cuisine.
Where to stay?
There are a few resorts on Mount Athos. They sit along the area, stretching up to the border with the monastic republic. Each of the settlements has its peculiar advantages for recreation:
Ierissos – the city sitting on the isthmus between Mount Athos and the mainland of Halkidiki. It was a well-known destination since ancient times. Ierissos has preserved several interesting historical sites. The city is best known for its long beach and well-developed infrastructure: there are ATMs, hotels, supermarkets, water activities, shops, and pharmacies in it.
Nea Roda – a peaceful seaside city with beautiful taverns and cafes, most of which offer enchanting panoramas of the sea. Nea Roda is a perfect place for recreation with children and the fans of peacefulness. Nea Roda offers good infrastructure: from apartments and supermarkets up to coffeehouses and bakeries.
Tripiti – is a settlement that has its private port. Every day, its vessels depart to Ammouliani Island. Tripiti has many hotels for families. Its beach is washed by quiet and shallow waters. In general, the infrastructure of Tripiti is a bit limited. At the same time, it is enough to spend a couple of unforgettable days within the tranquil environment.
Ouranoupolis – it is a picturesque place, connecting the resort area of the peninsula and the territories of the monastic republic. Ouranoupolis is an excellent match for people who need to have all infrastructure facilities in one place. You can find many hotels of different categories, cozy taverns, shops, and join exciting sea excursions here. On the coast that is split into several beaches invites visitors to try some water activities.
What are the best hotels in Mount Athos?
Mount Athos is a wonderful place for peaceful family holidays. Accommodation facilities on the peninsula are mostly represented by apartments and 3-star hotels. Almost all of them stand on the seashore or in a second line area. If you seek for high service quality, you should choose 5-star hotels. Avaton Luxury Hotel, Eagles Palace, Alexandros Palace, and Eagles Villas are the best 5-star hotels on Mount Athos. They provide travelers with all the necessary amenities and services: from entertainment programs up to tennis courts, restaurants, and bars.
Regarding the costs, Athos provides accommodation facilities at reasonable prices even in the high tourist season. The cost of apartments in 5-star hotels can reach 500€. There are also holiday villas for large families.
What to taste?
Due to its proximity to the monastic republic, the cuisine of Athos is rich in dishes that are similar to the monastery cuisine. Local taverns serve fish soup, baked eggplants, dishes with beans, taramosalata, and grilled sea bass. The monastery cuisine includes vegetable products and some seafood. To diversify the tastes, the locals use various herbs and spices: samphire, caraway seeds, cinnamon, and mint.
Mount Athos is famous for its traditional products:
- Herbs, which enrich local cuisine with their flavors, used for the production of hot drinks, and as spices. There are over 400 species of herbs on Mount Athos;
- Mushrooms that grow in local forests. People use them to prepare soups, pies, and stew with vegetables. Only a few people know that about 20 years ago, people found a rare species of truffles here. At present, you can try this specialty as a part of the dishes. Local venues also sell olive oil with truffles and dried truffles;
- Mussels that grew up in the region of Olympiada; they are a nourishing product, which is rich in useful elements;
- Honey from the apiaries, set in ecologically clean mountainous areas. People often use honey from Athos to make tsipouro;
- A great diversity of cheese, one of the main jewels of any dining;
- Wine, especially if it is produced on Mount Athos — has consummate taste.
When you plan a visit to the monastic republic, you should keep to the following rules:
- Respect the way of life of Mount Athos as it should be during pilgrimage tours;
- During sacred worships, travelers are obliged to keep to a specific dress-code: closed footwear, long-sleeve shirts, and trousers. The rules are applied to both adults and children. It is not allowed to wear shorts on Mount Athos;
- It is forbidden to take pictures of the monks inside the buildings without special permission;
- You must switch off your phone during dining at the monastery canteen;
- To visit Mount Athos, you must have a visa that is called Diamonitirion. It provides travelers with the right to visit 20 monasteries and (if you wish to) an overnight stay in any of them. You can get a visa only in Ouranoupolis, housing the official representative office. To get this document, you will need to have a copy of your foreign passport, travel dates, and information about the monasteries you would like to visit. The procedure of visa verification held during the boarding on a ship;
- You should necessarily take headwear, sunscreen lotions, and a minimum set of medicine;
- You should have fractional currency to buy souvenirs;
- If you plan to take a hill-climbing or a walk of long duration, you should do that in May or September, when the heat is off;
- If you decide to take a day trip to Mount Athos and travel on foot, you should better go there as a group with a certain amount of provisions. Otherwise, you can get lost and meet dangerous snakes or scorpions. It is forbidden to stay outdoors at night. You can accommodate only in the dwellings at the monasteries.
Regarding recreation on Athos, you can make some useful notes:
- Travelers often meet sea urchins during a swim in the sea. That is why, you should better enjoy a swim within the areas with a sandy bottom, far from rocks and big stones;
- Mount Athos holiday season starts in May and lasts till September. Although the peninsula has a mild climate, it is getting pretty hot here in July and August. That is why the end of May, June, and early September are regarded as the best time for a holiday at the resorts of Mount Athos;
- Halkidiki is the foodie heaven. Mount Athos is not an exception either. Local taverns serve big portions of meals. They can be easily shared for several people. Big groups of visitors should also draw their attention to mezze, including a lot of small snacks, made of fish, meat, and vegetables. An average total bill for two people in the taverns of Mount Athos is 20€-30€. If you order several dishes and drinks – 40€-50€;