Rila Monastery or Rilski manastir, listed as world heritage by UNESCO, is the most famous monastery in Bulgaria. It is surrounded by the mountains of Rila and is 17 km from the town of Rila, that’s why you get a unique natural landscape. So it is really worth making the trip to see it!
How to get to the Rila Monastery?
It takes about 1:30 hours to get there by car from Sofia (120 km south of the capital) and around 2 hours on site. Please note that the road to the monastery is narrow and winding.
We had the chance to go on a trip organized by our hostel (Hostel Mostel in Sofia) for 20 per person in car. We highly recommend this inn we loved (check our description of Hostel Mostel on the Sofia page).
If you do not have the chance to go with your hostel, here are the information that we found on the internet: the only way to go directly to the monastery is to take a bus from the bus station” Ovcha Koupel” (Sofia), departing daily at 10:20am and arriving directly at the Rila Monastery at 12:30. The return bus to Rila Monastery Sofia is 3:30pm. The ticket price is 10-12 lv. To access the Ovctha Koupel station, take the tram No. 5. Its first stop is at the back of the Courthouse in downtown Sofia. Other more complicated itinerary: change the bus at Doupnitza or Blagoevgrad, then take another bus to the town of Rila and another to the monastery.
Visit the Rila Monastery
The Orthodox Church of the Nativity is beautiful, built of stone, brick, wood and covered with colorful murals. These were painted by the greatest artists of the mid-nineteenth century. Inside, too, the decorative richness is breathtaking, but the photos are prohibited.
The Hreljo Tower (XIV), erected in the middle of the court is one of the few vestiges of the medieval monastery. At the bottom of it you will find a gift shop.
The galleries surrounding the central courtyard had the monks’ rooms. 300 monks lived in the monastery in the past, but today there remains just a few dozen. During your visit you can spot them, dressed in black, walking across the central courtyard.
Access to the monastery by the door Dupnica. At the opposite, you’ll find the door Samokov, where you can find some taverns to eat.
The tomb of Rila
15 minutes by car from the monastery and after 10 minutes of walking on a steep dirt road in the forest, you can visit a small chapel containing the tomb of John of Rila, the founder of the monastery. You can then check if you are pure. Indeed, if this is the case, you will have no trouble getting through the hole formed by the rock in a small cave next to the chapel, where lived John of Rila.
Where to eat Next to the Rila Monastery?
There are only two or three taverns near the monastery. Do not expect something exceptional! One of them is called Restaurant Rila and is situated just behind the door Samokov. You can enjoy views of the river while eating dinner on the terrace or inside in the vaulted room. The local specialty is trout. It is offered in the taverns near the monastery.
The seven lakes region
If you have time (which we missed), you can spend two days hiking in the Seven Lakes area, which is accessible from the Rila Monastery, and stay at a mountain refuge. There are new lifts that will save you a painful climb to the mountain