Rila Monastery is one of the most famous landmarks in Bulgaria and being founded in the 10th century also makes it one of the oldest. It’s around a 2 hour drive and 120kms from Sofia, situated in the stunning Rila mountains, if you have some time during your stay in Bulgaria I’d really recommend you take a day out to go and see it. It is also one of the nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria.
Despite being under Turkish ruling for 500 years, Bulgaria retained its history, language and culture and this monastery, the largest in Bulgaria in fact, is a part of this incredible history. It was this monastery that influenced the culture and arts of all Christian nations under the Ottoman Empire until 1878.
Before you go, I should tell you that it’s not considered appropriate for women to wear short skirts or revealing tops when visiting. I didn’t realise this and being a hot 30 degree summers day I wore an above the knee summer skirt which I had to hitch down to my knee to be able to go inside the grounds and then had to cover up completely with some kind of sarong when I went inside the monastery itself. Just keep this in mind, in hindsight it’s probably quite obvious being a place of such religious importance but I just didn’t think about it until I arrived!
So, back to the history, Rila Monastery was sadly destroyed by a fire at the beginning of the 19th century and was rebuilt between 1834 and 1862 with the only exception being Hreylu tower, built in 1335. Access to this tower costs around 8 leva (4 euro) per person and is via a steep wooden staircase to the first floor followed by dark and narrow stone staircases inside to each of the 5 floors. If you’re not claustrophobic and don’t struggle climbing stairs then it’s definitely worth going inside. I was in there just imagining how this building would have been used as a look-out tower during wars and it’s quite incredible to feel so close to a time that’s so far in the past. One of the things I love about Bulgaria is the history that they manage to preserve so well. You can read more about the history of Rila Monastery here.
You’ll probably need around two hours to look around and enjoy the beautiful architecture and wonderful surroundings here. If you do want to go inside the monastery itself then you must remember the rules, be covered up and no photos. This is a place of worship for many, not just a place for tourists so it’s important to respect that. You can buy candles inside for 20 stotinki each (10 cents) to light in the traditional Orthodox way, for health or for a lost loved one for example. You take the candle and light it with one of the ones already burning and then place it next to them. Most people light two or three candles at least and you will also see many people kissing the Bible and the Icons. Inside is quite spectacular but obviously the no photo rule means you need to go and check this out for yourself!
When it’s time to leave, you can stop at one of the many hotel / restaurants along the main road for lunch or dinner. We chose Hotel and Restaurant Pchelina and I’m really glad we did! I think I ate the nicest lamb I’ve ever tasted here! You can read more about this in my review here!
I hope you enjoy the beautiful Rila Monastery as much as I did, let me know what you thought!
How to get to Rila Monastery.
It’s not very easy to reach Rila Monastery by public transport unfortunately. There are buses, however the timings are not convenient and as a result they leave with so little time at the Monastery that it really isn’t worth the journey.
The best way to reach the Monastery is either to book a rental car and drive there, or, if you’d prefer a guided tour, we recommend that you use a reputable tour company.
You can make an online reservation for a tour or a shuttle with exclusive offers just for our readers. See below for more information!