The Mamma Mia Church (Agios Ioannis Kastri) in Skopelos is one of the most famous sights in Skopelos and arguably, all of Greece. In fact, the little church is some people’s entire raison d’etre for visiting Skopelos in the first place!
The Mamma Mia Church: Agios Ioannis Kastri
The official name for the Mamma Mia church is Agios Ioannis Kastri. It is perched precariously atop a craggy clifftop that juts out into the ocean in Northeastern Skopelos some 100 meters high.
The translation of this actually means “St John on the Castle”. It is believed that once upon a time, a castle stood here.
Indeed, the location makes sense as a defensive post. From up here, you can see all the way out to nearby Skiathos. On a clear day, you can even see the mountains of Pelion glistening in the distance.
Pirates and Skopelos
Hundreds of years ago, Skopelos island, Alonissos, and other island and coastal areas of Greece were under threat of pirate attacks. Castles such as the one that once stood in place of the Mamma Mia church were necessary to look out for enemies as they sailed close to Greek shores.
You will notice many other interesting links to the threat of pirates as you travel around the Sporades. For instance, the mysterious Sendoukia pirate graveyard of eastern Skopelos, and the fact that settlements were once built inland to be safer.
Magic and legends of Agios Ioannis Kastri
Much of Skopelos’ history is surrounded by magical stories, legends, and folk tales. The Mamma Mia church of Agios Ioannis Kastri is no different.
Legend has it that centuries ago, a fisherman from Glossa was fishing in the waters surrounding the cliff when he saw a mysterious light glistening on top of the rocks. He saw the light every night as he returned home.
Eventually, he had a dream in which a beautiful woman told him that there was an icon of Ioannis Prodromos at the top of the cliff. He climbed up, took the icon, and took it home.
However, every time he did, the icon would return. As a result, the church of Agios Ioannis (the Mamma Mia church) was built on the top of the cliff where it still stands proudly today.
Inside Agios Ioannis Kastri
There are 110 narrow stone steps that wind around the cliff up to the church of Agios Ioannis Kastri. The pilgrimage to the church has become more popular in recent years.
Every summer, hundreds of travellers unleash their inner Meryl Streep and venture up the cliff to see the filming location of Sophie’s wedding in the hit movie. (The church is one of several Mamma Mia filming locations in Skopelos).
It should be noted that while the exterior of the church was used in Mamma Mia, the interior was not. The scenes inside the church were actually shot at a film studio in Hollywood.
However, the inside of the church is every bit as charming as its exterior. There are some interesting religious icons and paintings that adorn the walls.
There is also a small altar where you can light a candle in honour of deceased loved ones. The little church, like much of the island, is seldom busy even during the height of summer.
However, if you travel later in the season (e.g. September or October), you may find that you have it virtually all to yourself.
There are trees growing around the little whitewashed chapel and out front, you will find some small benches where you can sit and gaze across the horizon. The setting here looks like something from a fairytale.
Climbing the 110 steps can be daunting, especially on a windy day when the sea waves lap ferociously against the cliff. The addition of metal handlebars in recent years has made the climb less terrifying.
Amenities near the Mamma Mia church
Agios Ioannis cove is a small beach that lies adjacent to Agios Ioannis Kastri. It is one of the most breathtaking beaches in Skopelos and offers unparalleled views of the Mamma Mia Cliff.
The beach is only small. But it is a worthwhile place to stop and enjoy a quick swim and an iced Greek coffee to reward yourself for conquering the 110 steps up the cliff.
It boasts translucent cerulean waters and a white sandy coastline.
During the summer months, you can rent sunbeds and umbrellas here for a small fee. There is also a small cafe shack at the foot of the Mamma Mia cliff. The local family that operates it serves an array of drinks, snacks, and ice creams between June and October.
You can order some light meals here depending on what they have available. These are simple dishes like Greek street food, horiatiki salads, hot dogs, and cheese toasties.
You will also find a little shop nearby that sells Skopelos deli products. For instance, oil from nearby olive presses, homemade jars of spoon sweets, preserves, and cosmetics.
Getting to the Mamma Mia Church
There is no public bus that runs from Skopelos town or Glossa to the Mamma Mia Church. The church awaits in the Kastro region of Northern Skopelos.
It is 6.5km away from Glossa, and 14.1km away from Skopelos town respectively.
You have a few options available for reaching Agios Ioannis Kastri, whether you want to visit the location independently or via a guided tour.
Hike from Glossa
The walk from Glossa to Agios Ioannis Kastri is one of Skopelos’ many gorgeous hiking trails. The trek takes approximately 2 hours each way so you have to really love walking to attempt this!
There are several small paths that veer off from the main route as you make your way to the Mamma Mia Church. They take you down to the coast and some little secluded coves that are well worth your time if your schedule permits.
You can also pay a visit to the Antoniou family olive press just outside of Glossa en route. In all, walking enables you more time to admire the scenery that you may miss if you are whizzing past in a car.
Take a Cab from Glossa
One of the easiest ways to reach Agios Ioannis Kastri is to take a cab from Glossa. This ought to cost you no more than around €25. Your Greek cab driver will wait for you as you visit the chapel before taking you back to Glossa.
Assuming that you are not staying in Glossa, you will need to take the bus from the port area in Skopelos town. This runs several times a day and costs €4.80 each way.
Rent a Car
Renting a car in Greece is far less daunting than it may sound. There are many rental companies around the main town (Chora) and Glossa.
Rental prices start from around €30 per day. You can also rent bicycles, mopeds, and ATVs as you prefer.
It is a good idea to use a rental comparison website like Discover Cars so that you can compare and contrast deals between over 500 different providers. You can then filter your results by car type, car specifications, and supplier.
The platform also allows you to check reviews by past renters. Finding the balance between cheap cost and quality is key. If the cost of the rental company looks substantially lower than its competitors, check and make sure that it at least has a good rating.
Take a boat or bus tour
A number of reputable local tour companies offer boat and bus tours to the Mamma Mia Church. They depart from both Skopelos and neighbouring Skiathos town.
If you prefer something a little more independent than boarding a bus with dozens of other tourists, you can rent a boat from the port in the Chora. Many Skopelitis offer sailing tours of the island for around €25.
They will sail around the island taking you to the main sights from Mamma Mia (Agios Ioannis Kastri, Kastani beach, etc) and offer you ample time to explore and take photos. Many of them also offer the opportunity to have dinner cooked out at sea too.
Recommended Mamma Mia church tours
A selection of Mamma Mia church tours worth considering is detailed below. It is a good idea to reserve your spot online in advance to avoid disappointment!
- Skopelos: The Mamma Mia island tour
- From Skiathos to Skopelos: Full-day sailing tour with lunch
- Skiathos: Sea excursion. Private sailing tour with speed boat
Mamma Mia Church (Agios Ioannis Kastri) FAQs
Do you have any further questions or queries about visiting the Mamma Mia Church of Agios Ioannis Kastri in Skopelos? Hopefully, you will find the answers you are searching for below!
Where is the church used in Mamma Mia?
The church used in Mamma Mia is found on the island of Skopelos in the Sporades island group. This Greek island group sits off the northeastern shore of mainland Greece, some 107km away from the city of Volos.
Can you visit the church from Mamma Mia?
You can visit the church from Mamma Mia at any time of year on the island of Skopelos. Admission to the site is free, and the door to the church is usually left open.
Can you get married at the church from Mamma Mia?
Yes. You can organise a wedding ceremony at the church from Mamma Mia (Agios Ioannis Kastro).
However, do keep in mind that the chapel is extremely small inside and is not suited to hold more than a small handful of people. You could theoretically have a very small, intimate wedding inside the chapel.
Alternatively, you could hold the ceremony at the foot of the cliff, against the backdrop of the chapel and the sea. That way, you could easily seat a couple of hundred people.
Final thoughts on visiting the Mamma Mia church in Skopelos
Have you visited the Mamma Mia church of Agios Ioannis Kastri? What did you think?
I lived on the little island of Skopelos for 9 months during the global pandemic and got to know it very well during that time.
Safe travels! Geia sou! Melissa xo