The Friends of Mount Athos

President:

Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia

© Copyright 1995 - 2014 The Friends of Mount Athos. All rights reserved.

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A Pilgrim's Guide
to Mount Athos

A Pilgrim's Guide to Mount Athos: Planning Your Visit

The climate of Athos

Compared with southern Greece, winter on Athos is long, wet, and often cold. Snow is by no means a rare occurrence, even at low levels; and stormy seas often confine boats to harbour. As a result there are few visitors at this time. For those who are not bothered by climatic uncertainty and who want to have the Mountain to themselves, winter can be a good time to go. Several monasteries have now installed central heating and others use wood-burning stoves.

High summer by contrast (mid-June to mid-September) can be very hot and is also the time that attracts the greatest numbers of (mostly Greek) visitors. This means that long-distance walking can be uncomfortable and guest facilities at many monasteries are overstretched. Even in summer thunderstorms can cause rough seas on the northeast side of the peninsula with cancellation of the boat schedule on that side. Of those who can choose, many will prefer to plan their visit either in spring (mid-April to mid-June), when the temperature is more congenial for walking and the wild flowers are at their best, or in autumn (mid-September to late October), when the selection of fruit and vegetables on offer may be more appealing.


Bureaucracy

Mount Athos needs to protect its seclusion, without which it would lose its raison d'être. For this reason it has to impose strict entry regulations. The bureaucracy may at first glance appear formidable; and so it is. But in our experience the following procedure is a reasonably sure way to gain entry.

Making Reservations at the Mount Athos Pilgrim's Bureau

Finite numbers of male visitors are admitted daily to the Mountain for a four-day (three-night) stay: for the Orthodox the number is 100 (Orthodox clerics are exempt from the daily quota), for non-Orthodox 10. Women are never admitted. The quota is administered by the Mount Athos Pilgrims' Bureau:

Address and Hours
The Mount Athos Pilgrims' Bureau
109 EGNATIA STR.
546 22, Thessaloniki
Greece
Hours:
M-F 9:00 - 16:00 (9:00 am to 4:00 pm)
Sat 10:00-12:00 noon
closed on official holidays
Contact Information
From Telephone No. Fax No.
UK 00 30 2310 252578 00 30 2310 222424
USA 011 30 2310 252578 011 30 2310 222424
e-mail: piligrimsbureau@c-lab.gr
(the misspelling is correct)
   OR
christos@c-lab.gr

Intending visitors to the Holy Mountain should first telephone the Bureau to ask if there is a place in the quota for the day on which they wish to enter. The more notice you can give, especially in summer and around the time of major feasts, the greater your chance of success. Reservations can be made any time up to six months before your planned departure but cannot be accepted more than six months in advance. Since entry to Mount Athos can be either from Ouranoupolis (the traditional and main point of departure, on the west side of the peninsula) or Ierissos (on the east side), you must specify your preference when making your reservation. (See below, Entry from Ouranoupolis and Entry from Ierissos).

After the reservation has been made, you should send by post (not fax) a photocopy of that page of your passport which gives your identification (usually the last page of a UK passport). If you have made your reservation well in advance, you will receive a letter of confirmation from the Pilgrims' Bureau within about two weeks with further instructions. All travelers are requested (in these instructions) to confirm their reservations by telephone two weeks before the date of the intended visit. If you are unable to travel on the date that you have reserved, you are asked to inform the Pilgrims' Bureau so that someone else may take your place. Failure to do so will be noted, and any request for a new reservation may not be respected.

Visitors in holy orders of whatever denomination, including all Orthodox clerics, must also obtain in advance the written permission (Evlogia) of His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch by writing in good time to Rum Patrikhanesi, 34.200 Fener-Halic, Istanbul, Turkey.

Address and Hours
Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
Rum Patrikhanesi
34.200 Fener-Halic
Istanbul, Turkey
web site: http://www.patriarchate.org/
(Greek and English language options)
Contact Information
From Telephone No.
(Synodical Office)
Fax No.
(central fax)
UK 00 90 212 525 5416 00 90 212 534 9037
USA 011 90 212 525 5416 011 90 212 534 9037
e-mail: patriarchate@ec-patr.org
It is helpful if, when applying for this Patriarchal permission, they enclose a letter of recommendation from their diocesan bishop or a person of equivalent status.

Making Reservations at the Monasteries

In addition to reserving a travel date with the Mount Athos Pilgrim's Bureau, most of the monasteries now require an advance reservation if you wish to stay there over night, and some specify the information required for reservations. The monasteries and sketes known to FoMA as requiring specific information for reservations are listed immediately below (click on the monastery name to view its requirements). FoMA members and other pilgrims are encouraged to provide updated information for this list by contacting FoMA at the address given at the bottom of the page.

Monasteries Requiring Specific Information for Reservations
Hilandar

The Friends of Mount Athos provides a downloadable bilingual (Greek & English) Monastery Reservation Form which may be printed, filled out, and either mailed or faxed to each monastery where you plan to stay overnight. You may also make your reservation by telephone if you are able to speak Greek. Mailing addresses, FAX numbers and Telephone numbers for reservations are given in our Mount Athos Information Page. Calls for reservations are not received at the monasteries and sketes on Sundays and great holidays.

Obtaining Your Travel Papers

Pilgrims are no longer required to visit the office of the Pilgrims' Bureau office in Thessaloniki to register and receive their papers; they now proceed direct to the point of entry that they specified in their reservation (Ouranoupolis or Ierissos). There they will find their papers ready for them, as described below, Entry from Ouranoupolis, Entry from Ierissos.

FoMA members may bring their certificate of membership or a letter of confirmation of membership from one of the Secretaries of the Friends of Mount Athos (see our Contact FoMA page).

OVERVIEW: THE STANDARD TRAVEL PLAN
Assures arrival at destination monasteries in time for vespers services. For costs, see our Costs page
  1. from Thessaloniki: inter-urban bus (KTEL Chalkidikis line) to Ouranoupolis
         Arrival coordinated with ferry boat (no. 4 below), with time for steps 2-3 below.
  2. in Ouranoupolis: get diamonitirion (visa) at Pilgrims' Bureau office
  3. get ferry boat ticket at Athoniki office

  4. from Ouranoupolis: take ferry boat to Daphni (port of Mt Athos)
         Arrival coordinated with Mt Athos bus (no. 5a below) and with the south coastal boat (5b)

  5. from Daphni:
    (a.) take Mt Athos bus from Daphni to Karyes (capital & travel hub of Mt Athos) (with stop at Xeropotamou)
      OR
    (b.) tale small boat (Mikra Agia Anna) along south coast (to Simonopetra, Grigoriou, Dionysiou, St Paul's, St Anne's, New Skete, Karoulia, Kafsokalyvia)

  6. from Karyes:
    (a.) continue (after a lunch break) on Mt. Athos bus from Karyes to Iviron
         Arrival at Iviron coordinated with arrival of small boat (karavi) (7a below)
      OR
    (b.) walk (to Koutloumousiou, Pantokratoros, Stavronikita) or take mini-bus to more distant destinations.

  7. from Iviron:
    (a.) take the coastal boat (karavi) on down the NE coast (to the Arsanas Karakalou, on past Provata to the Megisti Lavra)
      OR
    (b.) walk to a nearby destination (Karakalou, Philotheou, Kaliagra)

Travel From Thessaloniki to Ouranoupolis and Ierissos

While the usual departure for Mt. Athos is from Ouranoupolis, it is possible to go from either Ouranoupolis or Ierissos. The KTEL Chalkidikis bus line operates inter-urban buses from Thessaloniki that connect with the Athos boat transportation in both towns. The 5:30am “express” (Monday-Friday only) goes non-stop to Ierissos arriving there at about 7:30am, at least a full hour before the boat to the monasteries on the northeast coast leaves. It then continues on to Ouranoupolis arriving over an hour before the departure of the ferryboat to Daphni and the monasteries on southwest coast of the peninsula.

The 6:15am bus (daily) is a “local” that makes stops in the villages, and for about 20 minutes of the trip it takes a road with many curves in order to reach the villages just above the newer, straighter highway that the express bus takes. It arrives in Ierissos at about 8:30am, where the boat awaits its arrival. The bus then continues on to Ouranoupolis where it arrives in time for the ferryboat to Daphni and the southwest coast of the peninsula.

These buses depart Thessaloniki from the Chalkidiki (Halkidiki) Station (Greek: Praktorio Halkidikis).

KTEL Chakidikis Contact Information
Phone: 2310 316555; 2310 316575.
Email: info@ktel-chalkidikis.gr.
web site: www.in-ktel.gr (web-site languages: Greek or English).
Click on "Ouranoupoli" to view departure times for Ouranoupolis, Ierissos, and other stops on the route.

It is a good idea to call ahead to double check current times and rates. The new Chalkidiki station is located quite a ways from the Thessaloniki city center, so the taxi to get there from the center will cost nearly as much as the bus itself and will take about 15 minutes from the center at that early hour. There is also a city bus that runs from the town center area to the Chalkidiki Station. It is the number 45 and it departs from the Makedonia Bus Station every 20 minutes beginning at 4:40am, arriving at the center of town 10-15 minutes later. It makes stops at only 3 of the regular central stops on Egnatia Street: Kolumvou, Aristotelous Square, and the Kamara (Arch of Galerius). From the central city area it should take 15-20 minutes to arrive at the Chalkidiki KTEL Station in the early morning. For bus 45 schedule: www.oasth.gr, click on itineraries button (icon of bus, top right) enter bus route number (45) in search window; or dial 185 from any phone in Greece. Tickets may be purchased at a discount one day ahead of use from most Thessaloniki street kiosks. On the bus, if you don't have the exact coins, the ticket machine will not give change.

A taxi can also be hired to make the entire trip (see our costs page). Travel time by taxi will be a little under two hours.

Taxis Contact Information, Ouranoupolis & Ierissos
In Ouranoupolis: taxi stand at street kiosk, parking area by the Tower Museum
Kostas: 0030 6944 277477 (UK) / 011 30 6944 277477 (USA).
Gregory: 0030 6944 454318 (UK) / 011 30 6944 454318 (USA).

 
Entry from Ouranoupolis

Ouranoupolis is the usual point of departure for Athos and literally the end of the road (see Overview table above). From the municipal dock by the Tower Museum, the Byzantine-era tower in Ouranoupolis, a large ferry boat departs daily at 9.45 am, calling at Daphni (the main port of Mount Athos) and a number of monasteries on the way. There is also an earlier departure at 6.00 am which goes direct to Daphni, and in summer there are other options including ‘express’ boats departing at various times (see the online Boat Schedules page).

Before embarking, you must visit the Pilgrims’ Bureau office to receive your diamonitirion which is your official permit, entitling you to hospitality on the Mountain for four days (three nights).

Location & Hours: The Pilgrims' Bureau office is conveniently located just off the main road into Ouranoupolis, a few short blocks before the ferry boat dock, on a side street leading down toward the beach. The bus from Thessaloniki stops there for all pilgrims to disembark. It is open from 7:30 am to 1:00 pm.
At the Pilgrims' Bureau office you will present your passport and any confirmation received earlier from the Pilgrims' Bureau, along with any permissions from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It is not necessary to supply a letter of recommendation; but non-Greeks who are Orthodox may be asked to prove that they are indeed Orthodox (by means of a letter from a priest or bishop or a baptismal certificate). After leaving the Pilgrims' Bureau, you must walk on down toward the water and turn left, walking along the waterfront restaurants, to get to the Athoniki shipping office [see travel advisory] to buy a ticket for your passage to Daphni. If possible, these tickets should be reserved in advance.
Ferry Boat Reservations by Telephone:
From Telephone No.
UK 00 30 23770 21041
USA 011 30 23770 21041
(Current prices are listed separately on our costs page.)

The 9.45 boat reaches Daphni, the main port of Athos, at around midday. On the way, it calls at the ruin of Jovantsa (location of the road to Chilandar), the landing stages (Greek: arsanas) of Zographou and Konstamonitou, and at Dochiariou, Xenophontos, and St Panteleimonos. Visitors may disembark at any of these points. The ferry boat connects with a smaller boat (karavi) that leaves Daphni at 12.45 pm for points beyond Daphni along the southwest coast, terminating at Kafsokalyvia at about 2 pm. Current timetables for boats are usually available upon request in the monasteries.

Other options for entering Mt Athos from Ouranoupolis range from mid-size ”express“ boats, departing at various times, to a fast “taxi” boat that takes a half hour (see the online Boat Schedules page). These vessels cost more, particularly the taxi (see our costs page). The regularly scheduled trips of the “speedboat” Mikra Agia Anna (“Little St Anne”) from Daphni to Ouranoupolis requires advance reservations; no tickets issued without a reservation number. These options offer very little advantage for those intending to catch the regular Mt Athos bus from Daphni to Karyes, since it is coordinated with the arrival of the ferry boat. These options may, however, gain travellers some additional time for sightseeing or for rest at their destination monasteries before vespers services if they choose to hire a minibus in Daphni, but the cost will be greater, especially if the number of passengers is small. It can be worthwhile for groups of 8 or more since the price is divided among the passengers. The other options for boats when leaving the Holy Mountain can be useful, for example, for those desiring time in Ouranoupolis before catching the bus to Thessaloniki, or for those who have arranged for other modes of transportation back to Thessaloniki. For more information, see the online Boat Schedules page or call the office in Ouranoupolis (+30) 23770 71149.

Minibuses: Contact Information
From Telephone No. Fax No.
UK 0030 23770 23266, 0030 6944 302451 0030 23770 23879
USA 011 30 23770 23266, 011 30 6944 302451 011 30 23770 23879

Persons needing to stay overnight in Ouranoupolis who are uncertain of where to stay might consider the Hotel Xenios Zeus which is conveniently placed between the harbour and the Pilgrims' Bureau:

Xenios Zeus Contact Information:
From Telephone No. Fax No.
UK 00 30 23770 71274 00 30 23770 71185
USA 011 30 23770 71274 011 30 23770 71185
email: zeus@ouranoupoli.com
website: http://www.ouranoupoli.com/zeus/
The Xenios Zeus is open all year round; its rooms are comfortable and modestly priced; there is a lock-up where surplus luggage may be left while you are on the Mountain; and the Society is well known to the management, so you may be sure of a friendly welcome. To emphasize the warmth of that welcome, the Xenios Zeus is generously offering a discount of 20 per cent to all members of the Friends.

 

  Entry from Ierissos

Pilgrims bound for monasteries on the NE coast might prefer to enter Mt. Athos from Ierissos for a more direct route to their destinations. A speedboat operated by Agioritic Lines (Greek: Agioreitikes Grammes) sails daily from Ierissos at 8.35 am, making calls at Esphigmenou, Vatopedi, and Iviron en route to the Megisti Lavra where it arrives at 10:30 am. From there it departs on its return trip at 10:40 am., arriving back at Ierissos at 1:00 pm.

The harbor bus stop in Ierissos is on the outside edge of the village, after you have passed through it on the bus. It is a 4-5 minute walk from the bus stop to the boarding site. A representative of the Pilgrims' Bureau arrives at the boat landing shortly before the boat's scheduled departure to issue diamonitiria to the pilgrims holding reservations for that day. You will need to present your passport (or Greek or EU identity card) and make your payment to the representative in order to receive the diamonitirion.

Some helpful tips:
  • The boat is a beige-and-brown, box-shaped vessel with lots of windows. Usually it is parked in the very last row (on the breakwater) with its square back-end (almost all window) facing out. As you are walking down from the bus, the boat may start to pull out. Don't panic; they often try to move into a closer spot for ease of boarding.
  • The boat captain will have your name and reservation number, though this number is rarely needed. The boat fare depends on your destination and is paid after you are on board.
  • There is not much in the way of shelter at the harbor, which is no problem unless the weather is bad. The Athos Hotel is about a 3-minute walk from the boarding site and, although currently closed, would still provide some shelter from bad weather.

There are only around 40 seats on the boat, so try to reserve at least two weeks ahead, especially in the summer. You may reserve as much as 3 months in advance, but it would be a good idea to reconfirm a couple of weeks before your departure. Persons making reservations for small groups should state the group's destination monastery. The group will be registered under one name and given a reservation number, which is only needed if there is some problem at the time of boarding. Reservations can also be made at this time for departure from Athos.

Boat Reservations by Telephone or Fax
(M–F: 8:00am–6:30pm; Sat.: 8:00am–4:00pm; Sun.: 8:00am–2:30pm)
From Telephone No. Fax
UK 00 30 23770 21041 00 30 23770 21061
USA 011 30 23770 21041 001 30 23770 21061
Reservations by e-mail
 
 
reservations@agioreitikes-grammes.com

If you need to stay overnight in Ierissos, several hotels there are accustomed to helping pilgrims to the Holy Mountain:

Ierissos Hotels
Hotel Telephone No.
(+30: from UK: 00-30; from USA: 011 30 )
Fax E-mail
Hotel Markos +30 23770 22518 +30 23770 23163 hotmark@otenet.gr
Hotel Alkionis +30 23770 22577 +30 23770 23994  
Hotel Gkeea +30 23770 22533 +30 23770 24141 hotel-gkeea@hol.gr

A contingency plan in case of bad weather.

The sea on the northeast side of the peninsula can occasionally be rough in the summer following storms, and more often during the winter, causing the Ierissos Coast Guard to cancel the boat for that day. The Coast Guard decision will be announced by 7:30 am.

Sources of information about the status of the Ierissos boat :
  • (by 7:30 am) Ierissos Coast Guard Station: (23770 22576)
  • (by 8:00 am) The boat captain: (mobile phone: 6974 060747 [add the +30 country prefix from a foreign mobile phone]).

If that happens, your diamonitirion will be delivered to the Pilgrims' Bureau in Ouranoupolis, and you will have to go to Ouranoupolis and enter Mount Athos from there. For that reason, if you reserved a departure from Ierissos and the weather is uncertain, it is probably best to go to Ierissos on the early bus from Thessaloniki (which arrives about the time of the Coast Guard announcement). Then, if the Ierissos boat has been cancelled, you will still have an hour before the departure of the 9:45 am ferry boat from Ouranoupolis, ample time to get there by taxi or by the later bus that stops in Ierissos about 8:30 am. Alternatively, you might prefer to go to Ierissos the preceding afternoon, staying overnight there in one of the hotels. Then, in the event of a cancellation of the Ierissos boat, the hotel staff can assist you with arrangements for getting to Ouranoupolis.

If you are coming by the morning bus from Thessaloniki: Usually the bus driver is informed about the boat before the bus reaches Ierissos, so you can try asking him or the attendant about the situation, or ask other passengers who may be bilingual. If the Ierissos boat has been cancelled, stay on the bus and get off at the Pilgrims' Bureau stop in Ouranoupolis, following the procedures described above, Entry from Ouranoupolis. If you only discover after disembarking from the bus that the boat has been cancelled, a local taxi can take you to Ouranoupolis for about 15 euros, arriving on time to connect with the ferry boat, or you may seek help at a local hotel (see below).

If you stayed the preceding night in Ierissos: The hotel staff should be able to assist you in finding out what is happening with the boats. If the Ierissos boat has been cancelled, catch the Thessaloniki-Ouranoupolis bus as it passes through Ierissos (about 8:30 am) and get off at the Pilgrims' Bureau stop in Ouranoupolis, following the procedures described above, Entry from Ouranoupolis. Alternatively, a taxi will take you there for a much heftier price. Hotel staff will help you make these connections.

In Ouranoupolis, when you go to Agioritic Lines office to buy your ticket for the ferry boat, tell them you had a reservation on the Ierissos boat. This will give you a priority for a place on the ferry, though there is rarely a problem with space, especially midweek.


What to take

The best advice, especially if you intend to walk, is to take as little as possible. At each monastery you will be provided with food and drink, a bed with adequate bedding, and a towel, so it is not necessary to carry these things with you. On the other hand, packed lunches are not normally provided (though the monks in the refectory, if asked, will usually give you a selection of whatever they have), and if you are walking long distances during the day you are well advised to take some basic supplies (e.g. nuts and dried fruit) and a water bottle.

The most important item for walkers is a good map. A number of tourist maps are available locally but these are not recommended. The only good map of Athos is Austrian, the map produced by Reinhold Zwerger (see our map page for details). Guidebooks in several languages are available in Daphni and Karyes.

Other things worth taking include a torch (many monasteries do not have electricity; those that do, often turn it off at night); matches (to light candles and oil-lamps); stout walking shoes or boots; casual clothing (formal attire is not necessary; shorts should not be worn at any time; clergy of non-Orthodox denominations are recommended not to wear clerical garb); a first-aid kit; any medication you may need; a hat. There are a few shops in Karyes and Daphni for souvenirs, books, and basic provisions; but these should not be relied on for more sophisticated items such as film, pharmaceuticals, insect repellent, etc. In Karyes there is also a bank where money may be exchanged or withdrawn.

Online Resources

http://thessaloniki.pbworks.com/Visiting-Athos/


Credits and Appreciation
The information provided in these pages for your convenience is, of course, subject to change. Boat schedules and hours of service of the offices mentioned above may change from season to season, or even within the course of a season. FoMA is especially appreciative of the contributions from Fr Matthew at Vatopedi Monastery who has assembled and provided updates for much of the information on this page. We also depend upon information from the experiences of our own members and others who have used these pages. FoMA attempts to keep this information up to date and will issue travel advisories as the need arises.

You Can Help Your Fellow Pilgrims
You can help us and your fellow travelers by advising us if you find that the procedures or schedules have changed from those described here. We appreciate your cooperation in our efforts to keep this information current.


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Header Image: Detail from a pilgrimage souvenir print produced for Philotheou Monastery in 1849. The detail depicts the arrival of the "pious pilgrims" on horseback, with the monastery on the left and two monks waiting to greet the arriving pilgrims.
Photograph by Robert W. Alllison, © 2011. The original print bears the following inscription (in Greek):
This bronzeplate print of the Holy Monastery of Philotheou on the Holy Mountain of Athos was printed at the personal expense of Nikolas Emmanouel Chionakes of Crete for the salvation of his soul and those of his parents and kin, and it was dedicated freely for pious pilgrims.
Printed in Moscow on 4 August, 1849.