Mount Athos is a unique destination for visitors who are interested in the Orthodox Christian monastic tradition and the rich cultural heritage of the region. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is a place of pilgrimage for many, mostly Orthodox believers but also a small number of members from other faiths who seek spiritual enlightenment.
Mount Athos is a self-governing peninsula in northern Greece, where 20 Orthodox monasteries and several sketes (smaller monastic communities) are located. The 2000 or so monks who live there follow a strict ascetic lifestyle, devoted to prayer, fasting and manual work.
To visit Mount Athos, you need to obtain a special permit called a diamonitirion, which can be requested online or at the Pilgrim's Bureau in Thessaloniki or Ouranoupolis. You also need to be male, as women are not allowed to enter the holy mountain, according to a centuries-old tradition. The permit is valid for four days and allows access to up to six monasteries. The number of visitors per day is limited to 120 Orthodox and 10 non-Orthodox pilgrims.
Once you have your permit, you can take a boat from Ouranoupolis or Ierissos to one of the ports of Mount Athos. You can stay up to four nights at the monasteries or sketes of your choice, but you need to make reservations beforehand and confirm them by phone a few days before your arrival. You will be offered free accommodation and meals by the monks, but you are expected to respect their rules and customs.
Some of the traditional activities that you can do with the monks are attending the liturgy and other services in the churches, joining them for communal meals in the refectory, helping them with their chores in the gardens or workshops, and visiting their libraries and museums. You can also hike along the paths that connect the monasteries and enjoy the stunning views of the sea and the mountains.
Visiting Mount Athos can be a profound spiritual experience for those who seek to connect with God and themselves in a place of silence and beauty. You can learn from the wisdom and humility of the monks, who have dedicated their lives to God and His creation. You can also meditate on the icons and frescoes that adorn the walls of the churches, which are considered windows to heaven. You can also pray with your own words or use the Jesus Prayer, which is repeated constantly by the monks: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
Mount Athos offers a unique opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in the ancient tradition and rich culture of Orthodox Christianity. However, visitors should also be aware of the challenges and limitations that come with staying at one of the monasteries on the peninsula. By following the rules and regulations regarding their accommodation options, visitors can ensure a respectful and rewarding experience on Mount Athos.
There are no hotels or other types of accommodation on Mount Athos. The monasteries provide basic facilities such as beds, toilets, showers, and meals for their guests, free of charge or for a small donation. However, visitors should not expect luxury or comfort, as the monasteries follow a strict ascetic lifestyle. Visitors should also respect the rules of each monastery, such as dressing modestly, attending the services, and keeping silent during certain hours.
Visitors have to plan their itinerary carefully, as the transportation options on Mount Athos are limited and unreliable. The main mode of transportation is by boat, which connects the port of Daphni with some of the monasteries along the coast. However, the boat schedule is subject to weather conditions and may change without notice. Alternatively, visitors can hike on the paths that crisscross the peninsula, but they should be prepared for long distances and rough terrain. Some monasteries also offer cars or buses for their guests, but they are not always available or convenient.