Hidden in the mountain wildness 1174 meters high above the sea level, Rila Monastery became as a number one attraction in Bulgaria. Remarkable scenery around and an impressive monk`s building itself creates something truly magnificent, something where the old spirit can be still present, felt and found. When you look at it, you can notice how well the architecture collaborates with surrounded nature. It feels almost like monastery grew from the ground respecting the peaceful flora around. The location makes it easy to be reached from the capital of Bulgaria on a daily bases. So here I come with my advise for you guys, on how to get to that remarkable place yourself.
Before heading off please take a warm clothes with you like jacket, shoes etc. There is still snow (March, April) around, and the temperature can be very low. Ok, so after my grany`s tips, we are ready to go.
In order to reach Rila Monastery you need to catch a bus from Ovcha Kupel bus station. You can get there by tram number 5, and you can do that from the stop by Palace of Justice in the city center, from where the tram departs. The ticket cost just 1.80 lev and can be bought from the driver. Well…I have been told by one local that it is 1.60, so maybe the driver charges a little for an extra job as a seller. I guess number 5 departs very often as, even that it was Sunday, I waited only 5 mins. Once you are in the tram, you can count stops to get off on 13th (or 12?). You will see a Kaufland shop on the left and an ABC market on the right, so you wont miss it!
Now go to the right, and just 300 m away you will find a bus station. Don’t bother to ask for the ticket at the counter, as it can be only purchased in the bus. It cost 11 lev (march 2017) one way, and it can be paid only by cash. Please note, that the bus is always full, and it`s the only one you can catch for the trip, so please be earlier to claim a ticket and sit. Mine was full, people were standing (2h drive), and I`ve witnessed that 2 people were deny as of lack of the space. I would suggest to be 30 mins before to be 100% sure that you will get to the Rila that day. Bus will leave at 10.20 am (it should wait there 30 mins before the departure time) from the stand number 7.
As I mention before, the journey takes around 2h. Please keep your ticket with you just in case, as we had to change the bus in one little cute town just 30 mins away from monastery. We also stopped there for half an hour. The second bus came exactly to the same place where the first one dropped us. Nobody checked our tickets, but as I mentioned, just keep it with you. From there the journey was very pleasant with spectacular view of the mountain range, rivers and forest on the way. We arrived after 30-40 minutes right by the entrance at exactly 13.00. The same bus (from the same place) departs at 15.00 back to Sofia, and that is your only option to get back, or you will have to get very friendly with local monks, so they will accommodate you….well, highly not possible. Well actually, there is a hotel on the side, but to be frank, one day is more than enough to see monastery, unless you want to hike some hills around. So You will be given 2 hours to look around, and that is enough time, trust me. There is no fee for the entrance which makes the whole trip extremely cheap (around 10 Euros total). Please go around to see everything and visit impressive church in the center. The side feel so peaceful (even with tourists around), you almost want to stay forever. High peaks, that surround the place, creates a beautiful background to the mystical and old monastery. There is a museum to visit too, but you need to pay 8 Lev entry fee (20 with English speaking guide). To warm you up, coffees and teas are available from the dispensary machine and from loads of other stands. There is one restaurant (accepts cards) on the side where you can have a good meal for a fair price, but please remember you need to get off at 15.00. Souvenirs shops with little figures, postcards, local honey and loads more, are around too. Have a look, they do have loads of interesting and unusual stuff there. 2 free toilets are available on the side. If you have a spare bottle, get some water from the well, it is a great quality one.
Places to see in Rila Monastery:
- The Church (located just in the heart of the monastery
- Museum (on the right hand side)
- The cookhouse (can be found not far from the restaurant and food stands)
- Monastic cells
I have read online that there is a cave to see too, but it`s located 4 kilometers away, and I don’t think it is possible to do with your 2 hours time restriction.
Time to go “home”
There is a time for an end for everything, and at Rila Monastery (for the one who took a public transport) that time is 15.00. So again you will get a return ticket from the driver, and you will head back to Sofia to the same bus station from where you departed. You should be back before 17.30, and this time we did not have to change the bus. Again, you can catch a tram back to the city center. The whole journey from the start is nice, easy and very cheap. The Monastery will stay in your memory probably as one of the best you have ever seen.