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Rila Monastery

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Rila Monastery: Our most recommended tours and activities

From Sofia: 7 Rila Lakes and Rila Monastery Self-Guided Trip

1. From Sofia: 7 Rila Lakes and Rila Monastery Self-Guided Trip

Depart Sofia in the morning and travel by shuttle bus with a friendly English-speaking driver. Journey in air-conditioned comfort to Panichishte in the beautiful Rila National Park. Get briefed on arrival by your driver, who will tell you the different options and routes you can take up the mountain. Ride the chairlift to the 7 Rila Lakes, where you will get 5 hours of free time to go on some amazing nature walks independently to experience the glacial lakes from different perspectives. Board the shuttle bus at the agreed meeting point and relax on the 2-hour drive to Rila Monastery in a deep valley of the Rilska River. Founded in the 10th century, the monastery complex is regarded as one of Bulgaria's most important cultural and historical monuments. Get 1.5 hours to explore the largest Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria at your own pace. Then, return to Sofia in the evening and get dropped off at the meeting point.

From Sofia: Rila Monastery and Boyana Church Day Trip

2. From Sofia: Rila Monastery and Boyana Church Day Trip

Experience the religious history of Bulgaria on a day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Rila Monastery and Boyana Church from Sofia. Follow your guide around the monastery to learn about this epic site or choose to explore it on your own before viewing Boyana Church's ancient frescoes. Make your way to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral to meet your friendly group for the day. Settle down in your seat and set off out of the city as you drive along scenic roads with picturesque views of rural Bulgaria. Arrive at Rila Monastery, the largest Eastern Othordox monastery in the country. If you've booked the tour, follow your guide around the historic site and learn about the main frescoes. If you're an explorer you can visit the museum, take photos, and check out the church at your own pace. Then start your journey back to Sofia with one more important stop along the way. Enter the medieval Boyana Church and stroll within the ancient walls, studying the artistic frescoes which make this place so special.

From Sofia: Rila Monastery & Boyana Church Small Group Tour

3. From Sofia: Rila Monastery & Boyana Church Small Group Tour

Depart Sofia at 09:00 AM sharp, and relax on the 2-hour drive to the Rila Monastery in the Rila Mountains. Upon arrival, explore the largest and most important Orthodox cloister in Bulgaria. Admire the arcaded balconies, and discover unique frescoes by one of the most famous painters of the Bulgarian National Revival period. See gilded iconostasis and enjoy the fabulous mountain views. Hear the story of the monastery from your guide before enjoying some time to explore the monastic complex on your own. Learn more at the museum, or purchase souvenir icons and other items in the nearby shops. Take some time to refuel with lunch at one of the local restaurants, where you can purchase local specialties such as mekitsi (a traditional Bulgarian dish of kneaded dough made with yogurt that is deep-fried). Depart at 01:30 PM and travel to Boyana Church in the suburbs of Sofia. See the historically significant frescoes of the Byzantine building, and hear how they started the fashion for illustrating biblical figures with emotions and placing them alongside the local aristocracy. With an estimated arrival time at the church of approximately 03:40 PM, enjoy about 30 minutes to explore. Leave at around 04:10 PM for the drive to Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia city center by 04:30 PM to 05:00 PM.

Sofia: Rila Monastery Trip w/ Boyana Church & History Museum

4. Sofia: Rila Monastery Trip w/ Boyana Church & History Museum

Board the shuttle service behind St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia city center. Then, head to the medieval Rila Monastery in the spectacular Rila Mountains. Depending on the tour option selected, visit the UNESCO Boyana church and the National History Museum, located in a former Bulgarian communist leader's residence, on the way to the Rila monastery. Get over 2 hours of free time to explore the complex, founded by the hermit monk Ivan Rilski in 927 AD. Marvel at the frescoes of the main church and visit the medieval tower independently. Wander down quiet outdoor corridors adorned with beautiful mosaics, and see gold-plated iconostasis and valuable icons from the 14th to 19th centuries. Learn more about the history of the site at the museum, where highlights include the double-sided crucifix of the Rila Cross. See the old bakery and other monuments, including the residential area with high stone walls and little windows. Board the minibus back to Sofia in the afternoon and get dropped off at the pick-up point on arrival.

From Sofia: Seven Rila Lakes & Rila Monastery Full-Day Tour

5. From Sofia: Seven Rila Lakes & Rila Monastery Full-Day Tour

This full-day tour is designed for active people wishing to combine a trek to natural wonders, with a tour of the most visited tourist attraction in Bulgaria, the magnificent Rila Monastery. Departing Sofia, you will head for the Rila Mountains, where you will enjoy a moderate hike through what is arguably the most distinguished area in the mountains, the 7 Rila Lakes. After a transfer of approximately 90 minutes, you will reach the region of Panichishte, where you will board a chair lift to the Rila Lakes hut. Consisting of a group of glacial lakes, the 7 Rila Lakes is located at an altitude of between 6,900 feet (2,100 meters) and 8,200 feet (2,500 meters) above sea level. Surrounded by rugged peaks and deep valleys, you will see spectacular views as you walk through its pearls, such as The Eye, The Tear, The Kidney, The Twins, The Trefoil, The Fish Lake and The Lower Lake. The route can be adjusted on the spot, following more gentle or steeper paths, depending on your fitness levels. Having visited all of the lakes, continue by car for approximately 90 minutes to Rila Monastery, the biggest and most important symbol of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. Behind the 65-foot (20-meter) walls lie impressive monastery buildings, including a church and a chapel with valuable murals. The monastery's most treasured historic and artistic monuments include the 14th-Century Hrelyo Tower, the 5-domed Birth of the Blessed Virgin Church and the original monastery kitchen from the 19th-Century. You will also explore the monastery’s rich museum, containing a valuable collection of old manuscripts and documents, charters and icons, an ethnographic exhibition of fabrics, jewelry, carpets and wrought iron objects and a library containing more than 16,000 books.

From Sofia: Shuttle Tour to Rila Monastery & Boyana Church

6. From Sofia: Shuttle Tour to Rila Monastery & Boyana Church

The tour departs early in the morning in front of Alexander Nevski. Your first stop will be the great UNESCO Boyana Church located on the outskirts of Sofia consisting of three buildings. The eastern church was built in the 10th-century, then enlarged at the beginning of the 13th by Sebastocrator Kaloyan, who ordered a second two-story building to be erected next to it. After exploring it, head to Rila Monastery, where you will admire the impressive architecture, frescoes and learn about the history of the monastery from your guide. During the guided tour in the inner yard and the monastery museum, discover the most precious pieces that are kept from the past and all the facts and stories about the largest Bulgarian monastery complex. After your monastery tour, enjoy about 2.5 hours of free time for food and shopping.

From Sofia: Full-Day Tour to Rila Monastery and Boyana

7. From Sofia: Full-Day Tour to Rila Monastery and Boyana

Spend the day exploring 2 UNESCO World Heritage Sites located outside of Sofia, Bulgaria's capital city. Begin by meeting at 9:00 behind St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral in Sofia. Sit back and relax for the next 2 hours as your friendly, English-speaking drivers transport you to Rila. Upon arriving, spend 2 hours exploring the area and visiting the Rila Monastery, the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. Then enjoy lunch at a local restaurant which features a specialty of grilled trout. Get back in the van for another 2-hour journey, eventually arriving at Boyana Church, a medieval Bulgarian Orthodox church on the outskirts of Sofia. Check out the elaborate frescoes that have made this site famous, before your tour returns you to your meeting point.

Sofia: Rila Monastery & Boyana Church with Lunch & Admission

8. Sofia: Rila Monastery & Boyana Church with Lunch & Admission

Depart Sofia and travel to the Rila Mountains to visit Rila Monastery, the largest and most important Orthodox cloister in Bulgaria. Inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1976, the monastery is set deep in the dense pine forests of the mountains and has been considered the keeper of Bulgaria's national identity since the Middle Ages. Marvel at the domes and striped colonnades of the monastery complex, and discover some amazing examples of Bulgarian icon paintings and woodcarving in the museum. See the cave where the monastery's founder, Saint Ivan Rilski lived and was buried. Learn how he was considered a miracle worker and why his cave is believed to be sacred. Then, go to Boyana Church on the outskirts of Sofia, added to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List in 1979. Admire its Byzantine architecture and Greek cross ground-plan with domes. Be mesmerized by the richly decorated facades and interior of the church, where several layers of wall paintings date from the 11th, 13th, 15th, 16th, 17th and 19th centuries. Look at the frescoes from 1259 and their depictions of life in Bulgaria in the Middle Ages. According to the experts, the style of these paintings is reminiscent of the Renaissance, even though they were created much earlier.

From Sofia: Rila Monastery, Boyana church and History Museum

9. From Sofia: Rila Monastery, Boyana church and History Museum

Enjoy the sights of Bulgaria from the comfort and convenience of a transfer, taking you to some of the country's most stunning and significant highlights all in one day. Meet your driver in the morning, at a centrally located meeting point in Sofia. Head to the UNESCO Boyana church and visit the richly frescoed historical site. Continue with a short transfer for the National Museum of History where you will have ample time for a tour of your own. Learn about the intriguing history of Bulgarian lands, and then meet you driver again for an onwards journey towards the UNESCO Rila Monastery. You will pass through beautiful countryside on the way to the Rila mountains. Go higher up the mountain through the scenic route, and reach the Rila Monastery. You will have enough time to visit at your own pace all the areas of the monastery complex. Then, in the afternoon, you will be driven back to Sofia city.

Sofia: Private Rila Lakes and Rila Monastery Day-Trip

10. Sofia: Private Rila Lakes and Rila Monastery Day-Trip

Your tour will begin at 8:00AM in the morning, at which point your guide will pick you up from your accommodation in Sofia before you embark on your 1.5-hour journey to the Seven Rila Lakes. From the mountain village of Panichishte, you will take a cable car to the area of the lakes. All seven of them are individually titled, with names that reflect their typical shape or characteristics. The lakes are situated between 2,100 and 2,500-meters-above-sea-level. In winter, they are frozen over and covered in snow; in summer, once melted, they are a clear emerald green and are great for picnicking around. The hiking path around the lake is of moderate difficulty, and takes between 3.5-5 hours to complete. If you have forgotten to take a packed lunch or a sandwich with you, you will be able to take advantage of the meals on offer in the two huts on the way. In the afternoon you will also travel to the famous Rila Monastery, a UNESCO heritage sight, where you can admire its amazing frescoes and architecture. Your expected return to Sofia will be at approximately 8:00PM.

Other Sightseeing Options in Rila Monastery

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What people are saying about Rila Monastery

Overall rating

4.6 / 5

based on 1,974 reviews

The place is just amazing, of course it is a big mountain which you will have to hike so be ready, but the view from the top is totally worth it. All the lakes are beautiful but swimming or bathing is not allowed which is perfect to avoid destroying the environment. The “restaurant “ in that location is just a small place where they sell some sausages and flat “meatballs “ with fries. The monastery is beautiful when we were there there was a celebration which was interesting.

There is a restaurant on site so you don't have to worry about lunch. You can also buy it for the famous donut 1 reflex camera. By the way, beer is also sold at the shop, but since it is 35 refs, it is twice as large as the city.

We had a booking with City Tour and the tour guide Tuny was absolutely fantastic and explained everything very well. Overall the tour was well planned and definitely worth the visit. Cheers to Tuny ( my tour guide) again !!

Beautiful experience. We returned to the hotel very tired but it was really worth it. I highly recommend it.

It was fantastic and also the instructor Martin is very friendly !