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During my summer visit to Bulgaria this year, I knew I had to make my way to the stunning Rila Monastery. I had seen images circling all around social media of the beautiful Eastern Orthodox monastery colorful frescoes.
I was worried it might be a tourist trap, but it was stunningly enchanting in person. If you find yourself in Bulgaria, I highly recommend taking a day trip to this UNESCO selected monastery complex.
The Rila Monastery has a rich history of over 1000 years. It’s considered a national treasure of Bulgaria, and one of the holiest spots in the entire country.
The Monastery was founded in the last half of the 11th century AD by St John of Rila. The monastery was confirmed as a holy place by the Eastern Orthodox kings of Bulgaria from the 1100s to the 1300s. The monastery remained a very important sanctuary for Bulgarian literature and culture during the Ottoman Empire rule (1500s – 1900s).
How to get there
Schedule of the buses to and from the Rila monastery
- Sofia – Rila monastery: 10.20 bus station “Ovcha Kupel”
- Blagoevgrad – Rila monastery: 07.00; 12.00; 15.00 bus station Blagoevgrad
- Rila monastery – Blagoevgrad: 08.10; 17.00
- Rila monastery – Dupnitsa: 09.00; 17.00
- Rila monastery – Sofia: 15.00
From Sofia you can also take day tours. Book a private day tour from Sofia ›
The Monastery & Museum
As you step out of your bus or car and walk up the cobblestone paths to the monastery, make sure to stop by the water fountain. Take the dipper and pour water over your hand, and make the sign of the cross on yourself, finishing by dripping a bit of water over your head. A sure way to wake yourself up with cold spring water!
The museum of daily life is absolutely worth a visit. You can see the old kitchens and storage facilities, as well as common garb and history about medieval Bulgarian life.
Hrelyu’s tower is also worth a visit if you are not afraid of heights and rickety ladders. The tower is one of the oldest parts of the facility and gives a beautiful view of the main building and its yellow domes.
Know before you go
The monastery is located in the mountains, and tends to be chilly even during summer days.
There are modest religious attire requirements, no uncovered shoulders, hats, or short shorts for example.
The only touching allowed on the holy icons is kissing. No touching with hands.
Pictures are not allowed inside.
Hours and Fees
The Rila Monastery hours are from approximately 7am-7pm. The Monastery museums closes at 5:30.
Main monastery: free
Hrelyu’s Tower and Chapel: 5 lv
History Museum: 8 lv
Museum of Daily Life: 4 lv
Associated with the monastery is a nearby restaurant with traditional Bulgaria fare. Try the shopska salad, fresh trout, bean soup, and fresh bread. Don’t miss the donut stand nearby with homemade honey on top!
You can also book a night at the monastery for what I imagine is an unforgettable experience in the mountains (about 30 Euro). The only way to book is via telephone at + 359 7054 3383.
The Rila Monastery is beautiful, but a bit touristy. If you want a more authentic Bulgarian monastery experience with plenty of icons, vibrant frescos, and less crowds, I highly recommend the Bachkovo monastery. Soon I’ll write a followup post with tips on how to see it!
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