Rila Monastery Tours – the Best Place to Visit in Bulgaria

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Rila Monastery itself was the key attraction that initially drew me to Bulgaria. It’s an active Orthodox Monastery hidden deep in the Rila Mountains approximately an hour and a half drive from the capital of Sofia. It’s easy to get to on your own in you drive, but a challenge if you don’t have a car in Bulgaria. The best way to visit is by booking one of these Rila Monastery Tours.

Introduction to Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery is one of the best places to visit in Bulgaria. First, lets take a look at the Rila Monastery and what you will see when you visit…

Location – Rila Mountains and National Park

Rila is actually the biggest mountain range in Bulgaria. Its natural beauty and green lush atmosphere attracts people from all around the world.

Within Rila National Park, you can see various endangered species and self-regulatory eco-systems. Some big rivers of Balkan Peninsula originate from here. One of the biggest attraction for tourists is the seven lakes, situated in the Rila mountain range and you will be sure to get a glimpse of the lakes if you take one of the Rila Monastery tours. The 7 lakes are:

  • Saltaza’
  • Okoto
  • Babreka
  • Bliznaka
  • Trilistnika
  • Ribnoto Ezoro
  • Dolnoto Ezoro

Introduction to Rila Monastery

The Rila Monastery which is also known as the Saint Ivan Rila is the largest and famous monastery of Bulgaria, comprised of beautiful Eastern Orthodox school of thought to which people visit from all across the world for its architectural history and rich culture. The Monastery is a whole complex which includes historic churches, museums and a residential area. 

Reasons to visit Bulgaria - Rila Monastery

The Main Church

The main church is situated at the center of the monastery and it’s made by architect Pevic Laonov. The Church is dome shaped and the most precious part is the gold plated dome, Iconostasis. Tourists are attracted to the Church which is decorated with fascinating wood carvings. The roof of the entrance to the main Church is painted with colorful images of Saints and Biblical scenes.

The Residential Area

This Complex has a residential area inside where many monks still reside to this day. It has a library too where old printed books and manuscripts from the ancient times are available for scholars to get benefit from historical literature.

Rila Monastery Museum

Within the Rila Monastery Museum there are four exhibitions – a historic museum, ethnographic museum, icons exhibition and resemblance of traditional Bulgarian room. The museum of Rila Monastery is specifically very famous for its Rafail’s wooden cross. Rafail was the Monk of monastery who made different religious miniatures on a wooden piece which are still known as Rafail’s Cross.

Rila Monastery Tours with Rila Shuttle

Rila Shuttle is a company based in Sofia with excellent experience and service. They are English speaking and a good option if you want transport without paying for a guide. This is who you should book with if you want to shop local.

Rila Monastery Tours with Get Your Guide

A good option is to pair up your visit to Rila Monastery with a visit to Boyana Church. The Boyana Church is a medieval Bulgarian Orthodox church situated on the outskirts of Sofia, which was also added to the UNESCO world Heritage list in 1979. This Rila Monastery and Boyana Church Tour does exactly that.

Rila Monastery Tours with Viator Travel

Viator travel run a day tour of Rila Monastery and Boyana Church with a light lunch and a Rila Lakes and Rila Monastery tour from Sofia. They also offer a Rila Monastery tour from Bansko.

Tips for Visiting Rila Monastery

  • Combine with Boyana Church if you are short of time, or Rila Lakes if you have longer.
  • If you are looking for lunch, the nearby Rila Monastery Restaurant serves fresh water mountain trout – a delicacy of the local mountainous area.
  • For views and photographs from above, climb the tower.
  • If you are looking to stay over, you can actually arrange to spend the night at the Monastery.
  • Ask your guide to head to Saint John of Rila’s hermitage and grave which is approximately 5km further up the mountain. Most Riga Monastery tours make a stop there. After a short climb, you find yourself at a small old church. The narrow path on the right takes you to the cave where the saint lived and was buried after his death. 

Rules to Observe during Rila Monastery Tours

  • No smoking or drinking on the premises
  • No going upstairs in the residential quarters where the monks reside
  • No pets allowed
  • No video or photography inside the temple or the museum.
  • No short skirts, vest tops or skimpy outifts.

Packing for Romania

It really does depend on the time of year that you go to Romania as to what to pack. If you are going in the winter, you will need jeans and sweaters and a rain jacket. Walking boots are great regardless of time of year as there are some amazing hikes in Romania.

Merrell Women's Moab 2 MID WTPF Hiking Boot, Bungee Cord, 5.5 UK
  • Removable insole, Merrell air cushion in the heel absorbs shock and adds stability
  • Performance suede leather and mesh upper. Protective rubber toe cap. Molded nylon arch shank
  • 5mm lug depth

If you are travelling in the summer, you will need lighter clothing that is comfortable for the high 20s and beachwear if you are heading to the Black Sea.

Bikini - what to wear in Romania in summer

Pack a couple of dressier items such as a long Maxi dress or skirt and blouse in case you want to go to the Opera or night out. Include one pair of nice shoes for evenings as girls do dress up in Romania.

The people in Romania are extremely generous and so it can be a good idea to take gifts from your home country such as biscuits or drinks for people you meet along the way and for anyone who helps you on your travels.

Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is so important as it will help you with emergencies and unexpected costs on your trip. Make sure that you declare any pre-existing health conditions so that you are covered for those. Check your cover for accidents and medical care and also lost baggage or getting things stolen. Remember to report as soon as something goes wrong on your trip because some travel insurance companies require you to report something that you want to claim for within 24 hours. Read the fine print carefully when you sign up. I always recommend World Nomads. You can get a free quote here:


Further Reading for your Travels to Bulgaria

With the fabulous Churches, Monasteries, history, mountains and beaches, there are just so many reason to visit Bulgaria. Sofia – the capital city – is likely to be where you initially base yourself. I also recommend the free walking tour in Sofia and the New Sofia Pub Crawl.

There are some great cities other than Sofia for you to explore or use as a base…

  • Sozopol – A Great Coastal Destination
  • Plovdiv – Capital of Culture 2019

If you are travelling around Bulgaria, you might also like to read about some of the best Bulgaria Tours.

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