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Rila Monastery In Bulgaria From A Tourist Point Of View



The Rila Monastery is undoubtedly one of the most popular sites in Bulgaria, and a source for national pride for many Bulgarians. The monastery was been founded in the 10th century, and carried the Christian faith through many turbulent epochs of the Bulgarian history. The Rila Monastery is named after its founder, the religious hermit Ivan Rilski.

In this article I won't focus in the historic facts and importance of the Rila Monastery, but rather describe briefly what to expect when you get there, and what to look for, from a purely tourist point of view. You can learn the rest when you arrive.


Since the main international airport is in the capital Sofia, most tours to the Rila Monastery start from there. There are a lot of busses and shuttles that offer daily trips to the monastery. The usual price for a trip with a guide goes for about 25 Euro (about 50 leva), but you can find even cheaper prices if you look. Another option is for 4 people to rent a car and share the cost. Rila Monastery is located about 2 hours car drive south of Sofia, and is marked on every map. The road between Sofia and Dupnitsa is all highway, very fast and comfortable. Between Dupnitsa and the city Rila the road is decent, with lots of picturesque landscape to view.

Murals over the entrance of Rila Monastery

Murals over the entrance of the Rila Monastery


From Rila to Rila Monastery is 30 km. of winding road going uphill, and there aren't many places to pull over, because there isn't any shoulder. However you can stop in small villages along the road, and buy some local honey and sheep's milk yogurt made on site. There are, also several restaurants and small convenience stores along the road. When you get to the monastery, you will find that the air temperature up there is at least 10-12 degrees C colder than down in the cities. Parking at the monastery costs 4 leva, and you don't have to worry about finding parking spot. The best time to get there is around 10:30 am., as it gets a little busy after noon.

Rila Monastery view

View from the yard of Rila Monastery


Once you are at the Rila Monastery, entrance is free, but if you want to visit the monastery's museum the fees are 5 leva for Bulgarians and 11 leva for foreigners. Although this is a weird way to set up prices, the museum is worthwhile to visit, because of the many interesting ancient artifacts it displays. The museum offers guides in many languages, and the description under the displayed artifacts is in English and Bulgarian.
There is a dress code posted at the entrance of the monastery, which is requested for the entire premise, but only strictly enforced in the santuary of the church with cloaks provided. Exposed legs are not allowed.
In the monastery's yard there is a sink with ice-cold mountain spring water. Take a big bottle with you and pour some fresh water for the way back. Behind the monastery are located the gift shops with religious memorabilia, a pastry shop with mekitsi (fried dough pastry), a restaurant and several small buildings with accomodations. The accomodations didn't seem to be very popular, because most tourists go to the Rila Monastery on a daily trip.

Ovcharci waterfall in Resilovo, Bulgaria

Ovcharci waterfall in Resilovo, Bulgaria


The benefit of going to the Rila Monastery with a car is that you can visit other interesting sites on the way back to Sofia, for example, the large aqua park in Dupnitsa and the Ovcharci waterfall in Resilovo. Resilovo is only 10 minutes away to the east of Dupnitsa. The Ovcharci waterfall is in a pristine area above the village of Resilovo and offers a spectacular display of nature's beauty. The area downstream from the waterfall offers a nice shaded place for picnics. While you are up at the waterfall, look for wild thyme. The wild thyme is quite tasty and healthy herb to use in cooking.

Another thing that you need to know is that most organized tours of the Rila Monastery go only from April to October, although it is not impossible to visit throughout most of the year. The area of the Rila Monastery is quite spectacular on its own, with steep peaks towering over the monastery, and huge cliffs leading to an ice-cold river. The river passes right behind the monastery and is accessible, in case you want to refresh yourself with a splash of mountain water..., something like a spiritual baptism.

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