Pilgrims
GUIDE

BEFORE YOU MAKE PLANS

If you are considering a visit, take careful note of the following facts. Only men are permitted to visit Mount Athos (there are no exceptions to this rule). The number of visitors permitted on the Holy Mountain at any time is tightly restricted and all visitors are, by definition, pilgrims. Whatever your reason for visiting them, the monks will welcome you as a pilgrim.

There are no forms of entertainment, tourism or other distractions on Mount Athos – the life of the monasteries and sketes and the spiritual endeavour of the monks are the basis of all that takes place and its very reason for existing.

Seeking
PERMISSION

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.

A finite number 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 this daily quota); for non-Orthodox the number is 10. The quota is administered by the Mount Athos Pilgrims’ Bureau to whom you must apply for entry.

PILGRIMS’ BUREAU CONTACT DETAILS

The Mount Athos Pilgrims’ Bureau 

109 EGNATIA STR. 
546 22, Thessaloniki 
Greece

Mon – Fri: 9:00am to 4:00pm
Sat: 9:00am to 2:00pm
Closed on official holidays.

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VISITORS IN HOLY ORDERS

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. (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople).

PATRIARCHATE OF CONSTANTINOPLE CONTACT DETAILS

Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople 

Rum Patrikhanesi 
34.200 Fener-Halic 
Istanbul, Turkey

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.

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Intending visitors to the Holy Mountain, with valid passport in hand, should first telephone or email the Bureau to specify the day on which they wish to enter and ask if there is a place in the quota for that date. Assuming that a space is in principle available on your requested dates, you will be asked to send (as an email attachment) a copy of your passport’s personal identification page before your request can be considered. A physical copy can in principle be posted to the address above but this is inefficient and increasingly obsolete.

Reservations can be made any time up to six months before your planned departure but cannot be accepted more than six months in advance. Note that the summer daily quotas start to become full in early March so the more notice you can give, especially in summer and around the time of major feasts, the greater your chance of success.

Entry to Mount Athos can be either from Ouranoupolis (the traditional and main point of departure, on the west side of the peninsula) or from Ierissos (on the east side).

You must specify your preference when making your reservation as you will be issued a special entrance document (a “diamonitirion”) which will be waiting for you to collect at your specified point of entry. (see Entry from Ouranoupolis and Entry from Ierissos). A fee (payable in cash only) for the issue of the diamonitirion is required at the time of collection.

Please note that you MUST present your diamonitirion to gain entry to Athos and will be refused entry if you do not do so.

Confirming
YOUR VISIT

If you have made your reservation well in advance, you should receive a letter of confirmation from the Pilgrims’ Bureau within approximately two weeks giving further instructions. If you have not received a confirmation after two weeks have passed, you should follow up with an email or telephone call to request confirmation.

In the instructions which come with the confirmation, all travellers are requested to confirm their reservations by telephone or email two weeks before the date of the intended visit specified in the reservation. 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.

You must present your diamonitirion to be admitted onto the Holy Mountain

Travel
SCHEDULE
01
From Thessaloniki

1. Inter-urban bus (KTEL Chalkidikis line) to Ouranoupolis. Arrival coordinated with ferry.

02
In Ouranoupolis

2. Get diamonitirion (visa) at Pilgrims’ Bureau office and purchase ferry boat ticket at Athoniki office.

03
From Ouranoupolis

3. Take ferry to Daphni (port of Mt Athos). Arrival coordinated with Mt Athos bus and with the south coastal boat. Contact  tickets@agioreitikes-grammes.com for information regarding chartering to Mount Athos with speedboats and taxi boats 

04
From Daphni

4. a) Take Mt Athos bus from Daphni to Karyes OR

b) Take boat (Mikra Agia Anna) along south coast.

05
From Karyes

5. a) Continue on Mt. Athos bus from Karyes to Iviron OR

b) Walk to Stavronikita or take mini-bus to distant destinations.

06
From Iviron

6. a) Take the coastal boat on down the NE coast to Megisti Lavra OR

b) Walk to a nearby destination (Karakalou, Philotheou, Kaliagra).

GENERAL INFORMATION

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. The best map of Athos is the bilingual (English/Greek) Mount Athos Pilgrim Map, entitled Mount Athos: The Holy Mountain, compiled by Roland Baetens, Dimitris Bakalis, and Peter Howorth (© Peter Howorth 2015). This map owes its origins to the FoMA footpath-clearing project and is based on data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission as well as other sources and GPS data collected by the footpaths team. The map team is currently preparing editions of the Mount Athos Pilgrim Map in Russian, and other languages are projected for the future. You may order the map directly from the Filathonites.org website. To supplement the map and help in planning your route and estimating walking times, you may want to bring copies of FoMA’s footpath descriptions or even download our GPS tracks, available on our ‘Clear the Footpaths’ page. In addition, guidebooks in several languages are available in Daphni and Karyes. A number of tourist maps are available locally or via the internet, but these lack important detail and are not recommended.

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 but note that shorts should not be worn at any time and 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.

MOBILE PHONES

Unlike some other electronic devices, mobile phones are not forbidden on the Mountain and in fact some monks use them a lot, even though reception is at best patchy. They may indeed be helpful for accessing digital maps and GPS tracks on the footpaths, but they should always be turned off when inside a monastery. The best way to communicate with the outside world is by text messaging. Pilgrims who need to keep in touch with family members or have other needs for communication with the outside world are advised to look into purchase of pre-paid mobile phones or sim cards which work with Cosmote, the only service provider whose service is confirmed by our members’ experience to be mostly reliable.

PHOTOGRAPHY

Athos is richly photogenic. Most monasteries permit photography within their walls, but not inside the church, especially during services. Monks do not normally permit themselves to be photographed; a request to do so may have to go to the abbot, but it is often granted. The same procedure may be necessary for photography of icons, frescoes, and other treasures. The best advice is: if in doubt, ask. Failure to do so may cause serious offence. It is worth knowing that on Athos the word used for permission is evlogia (literally ‹blessing’).

Video cameras are prohibited everywhere on the Mountain.

SWIMMING AND BATHING

Officially swimming, bathing and fishing in the sea are forbidden. Pilgrims who decide to bathe or swim in the sea should certainly do so out of sight of monasteries.

Monks are not much given to bathing, though the sea is sometimes used for baptism. Some guest houses are now equipped with showers, but hot water remains a rarity. Visitors should always be properly clothed in public areas within the guest house.

LANGUAGES

The common language in the Greek monasteries is Greek, in St Panteleimonos Russian, in Chilandari Serbian, in Zographou Bulgarian, and in the sketes of Prodromos and Lakkou Romanian. Some communities are more cosmopolitan than others, but many now include monks from overseas. An aspect of the current renewal is that many of the Greek monks are better educated and better travelled than in the past. As a result of all these factors, English is now quite widely spoken on the Mountain. To have no Greek remains a disadvantage, but not nearly so much as it was a few years ago.

ADVISORIES

Wolves

It is a well known fact that wolves migrate southward onto the Athonite peninsula in late autumn and winter on the peninsula. Wolves have been known to attack and feed on mules in winter time even in close proximity to the monasteries, and are a potential threat to pilgrims. They can be heard howling during this time of the year in more remote forested areas and along the Way of the Bey (the ridge road).

Pilgrims traveling on Mount Athos during those months are therefore advised to take precautions, and especially to ensure their arrival at a monastery or skiti before the closing of the gates at sunset.

On December 17, 2015 the following account confirming this advisory was sent in by a FoMA member to his membership secretary:

“Before, you had warned me in an e-mail ‘that it is forbidden to spend the night outside because of wolves.’ As circumstances dictated, I had to do just that. I spent the evening keeping a vigil down at the water front in an open sided storage building (so the night breeze was coming toward shore from the sea). At 1:30 A.M. I saw a wolf trot by 45 feet away. He couldn’t smell or for that matter see me because of the direction of the breeze. Needless to say, this introduced new fervour into my vigil!”

 

Athoniki Ticket Window Issues

It is reported on some travel websites that “if there is a crowd, they [the Athoniki ticket agent] may call out names instead” and that you should “be there by nine, or your ticket might be given away!” (http://thessaloniki.pbworks.com/w/page/22156781/Visiting-Athos). FoMA has received no direct report of this happening.

Because the Athoniki ticket office closes at 2:00 pm and opens at 8:00 am, persons planning to depart on the early morning ferry boat (departure time: 6:30 am) should arrive the day before their departure date in time to get their tickets before the ticket office closes.

If you plan to go and return from Daphni on an Athoniki vessel, it is worth purchasing a return ticket to ensure your place on the boat on the day you plan to leave Athos, in order to avoid the inconvenience of ticket lines and the crush of crowds at the ticket office in Daphni while holding your luggage. Advance purchase of the return ticket is also advisable if you intend to leave from one of the monasteries along the ferry boat route without returning to Daphni, although ferryboat tickets for the return to Ouranoupolis can also be purchased on the boat.

 

Bedbug Infestation Alert

August 21, 2018. The bedbug infestation continues on Mount Athos and in Ouranoupolis.

On Mount Athos: FoMA is advised by a doctor traveling to Mount Athos in August 2018 that he personally experienced bedbugs at Grigoriou and the Skete St. Andrew in Karyes, and met with others who experienced the problem at Dionysiou about the same time. It is therefore very probable that bedbugs are an issue at many other monasteries as well, since they are transported from monastery to monastery by unaware pilgrims.
In Ouranoupolis: The same doctor reports that the problem in Ouranoupolis is worse, because some owners of lodgings there have not been willing to pay the cost of eradication. It should be noted that others are seriously concerned, to the point of treating guests, pilgrims and monks alike, with sprays to avoid spreading the infestation.

Previous Advisories
May, 2018. The FoMA Footpaths Team has followed up this Spring (May, 2018) on the reports of a bedbug infestation at the Megisti Lavra and potentially at other Athonite monasteries which we reported prior to the 2016 pilgrimage season. We are happy to report that the team at Megisti Lavra were not troubled by bedbugs. The footpath team also observed that bedbug infestations are still active in several Ouranoupolis hotels.

2016-2017 Bedbug Advisory
It has been reported to FoMA that there is currently a serious infestation of bedbugs at the guest house (arhondariki) of the Megisti Lavra. Several researchers and pilgrims who have stayed there since July of this year (2017) have brought the matter to our attention. One reported that within 15 minutes he was covered with bites, and that he had to sleep on his balcony to avoid further bites.

Pilgrims traveling on Mount Athos are therefore advised to take precautions. An internet search reveals a variety of remedies, including special bedcoverings and sprays, that may be helpful. You will also want to follow tips available on the internet to make sure that you are not carrying bedbugs to other monasteries or back to your home either on your person or in your clothing and luggage.

 

Philotheou Bridge Rebuilt

The bridge on the footpath from Philotheou to Karyes, formerly in dangerous condition, has now been rebuilt. The bridge crosses the head of the gorge of the stream between Iviron and Philoutheou. The FoMA footpath descriptions for 2016-2017 had warned pilgrims of the dangerous condition of the bridge.

The bridge was rebuilt in a cooperative project of Philotheou Monastery and the FoMA footpaths team in time for the 2018 pilgrimage season.

Travel along the NE coast

May 28, 2019: The karavi, the old, slow vessel which was formerly the standard means of sea travel along the N.E. coast of Mount Athos, has been replaced by the speedboat, “Panagia.” The published schedule indicates that it goes from Ierissos to Iviron and on to Morphonou, making stops along the way as needed. However, pilgrims should note that the actual route of the speedboat is not predictable. The speedboat is cancelled when the seas are rough (not uncommon on the N.E. coast) and it may go no further than Vatopedi or Iviron if there are not enough passengers to justify the full route. Pilgrims wishing to continue on to destinations further to the South will have to disembark at the point of termination of the speedboat and continue on by foot, minivan, or whatever other vehicular transport they can find.

MONASTERY HOSPITALITY

It is assumed that, unless they have business in Daphni or Karyes, pilgrims will stay at the monasteries. Sleeping outside monasteries is forbidden and dangerous. Gates close at sunset, and during the winter, if you intend to stay the night, you should not arrive later than 4 pm. The majority of monasteries have now announced that they will not accept pilgrims to stay overnight if they have not made reservations in advance by telephone or e-mail. Accordingly, you are now recommended to make reservations at every monastery or skete at which you wish to stay overnight.

On arrival at a monastery, whether or not you intend to stay the night, you should go straight to the guest house (archontariki) where you will be received by the guest master (archontaris) and offered refreshment (usually raki, loukoumi, Turkish coffee, and cold water). Members of the Friends should identify themselves as early as possible. If you intend to stay the night, you will be given a bed (usually in a dormitory with a number of other guests). The guest master will also tell you the times of services and meals, he may mention the rules of the house, and he may offer a tour of the monastery (always worth taking). Otherwise you will be left to your own devices.

Hospitality in the monasteries is free and to attempt to pay for it may cause offence. On the other hand it is usually expected that guests will stay only one night. If you wish to stay longer, you should ask if this is possible, and usually permission is given. Then it may be appropriate to make a small offering ‘for the church’. Even this may be refused; but usually donations are gratefully accepted.

Meals on Athos are generally simple but wholesome. Monks and pilgrims eat together in the refectory (trapeza), though usually at separate tables. Be aware that in certain monasteries, the non-Orthodox are asked to wait until the fathers have finished or are assigned to a separate room. Meat is not eaten; but fish is regular fare for feasts, and sometimes on other days too. Otherwise the diet is largely made up of bread, olives, vegetables, rice, pasta, soya dishes, salad, cheese, and fruit. A glass of wine is usually available, but on fast days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and longer periods before major feasts) monks abstain from wine, oil, and dairy products. Most communities eat twice a day (morning and evening), except on fast days when some will eat only in the middle of the day. Meals are eaten in silence (and often at great speed) except that one of the monks will usually read a passage from patristic literature. The entrance to the refectory is nearly always immediately opposite the entrance to the church and this proximity symbolizes the way in which eating together is seen as an integral part of the liturgical life of the monastery.

Check the advisories for announcements regrading temporary closure of monasteries to pilgrims.

EXTENDING YOUR VISIT

diamonitirion normally expires after three nights spent on the Mountain. If you wish to prolong your stay, you should apply to the Holy Community in Karyes where, if a good reason is given, permission will generally not be withheld. Occasionally members of the Friends are asked to show their membership card in support of their application, so it is worth carrying this with you. Sometimes an extension can be arranged through one of the monasteries.

MAPS

Pilgrim Map of Mount Athos

The Friends of Mount Athos is very pleased to offer the latest and most comprehensive Pilgrim’s Map of Mount Athos. This new map was developed by FoMA member and cartographer, Peter Howorth, in collaboration with members of FoMA’s Footpaths Project. Information on this map and purchase of copies can be made from

 

The Zwerger Map

Before the release of the new Pilgrim Map, the map that offered the best publicly accessible mapping of the old footpaths of Mount Athos was the classic, pocket-sized map published in Austria by Reinhold Zwerger. This map remains a landmark in the cartography of Mount Athos. Nevertheless, persons planning to hike extensively on the Holy Mountain should be aware that the scale often makes it very difficult to work out which path or road is which. Moreover, many tracks, especially those in close proximity to the monasteries, do not appear on the map. To some extent, this is evident from roads on the map that end in arrows. The arrows mean that although Mr. Zwerger identified the route’s existence, he did not map it, or mapped only part of it. Finally, the map has not been updated since 2001.

Persons interested in acquiring the Zwerger map for historical reasons may order it, while stocks last, from the estate of Reinhold Zwerger in (English or German).

 

Touristic Maps

A number of tourist maps are available locally but these are not recommended. The touristic maps in question, sold in Greece as well as on the Holy Mountain in the shops in Daphni and Karyes, provide only very generalized and selective representation of footpaths and roadways. These maps can can be very misleading to pilgrims attempting to travel by foot, and a source of anxiety that distracts from the pilgrim’s experience.

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