Sofia to Rila monastery in snow with snowy mountains and christmas tree
Rila Monastery fully showing off its beauty in snow - man you have got to stay here and experience the unrealness!

Why you should go to Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery is truly enchanting. It has been the hotshot of tourism for centuries. Need to know why? Refer to the photo above. 

When I was going from Sofia to Rila Monastery, the scenery along the journey was having my jaw open for almost the whole time. The winter view wowwed me every second minute. Snow danced like little ballerinas, landing peacefully with elegant poses on the already-snowcapped mountains.

Inside the main church, the frescos are unbelievable. They completed with all the repainting and renovation. You know how hard it is to get that kind of archeological work done? I don’t know if I have seen another recovery work as well done as that.

Need more reason to go? The hikes around the monastery are spectacular. Like you can get lost in deep woods in just 10 minutes. Okay maybe that’s not the best feeling to have. But what I wanted to say is that every turn you take, it’s an instagram opportunity.

You know what? There were only 2 guests who were spending a night at Rila Monastery when I was there. To be fair, it was low season (December). However, it felt like I own the whole place (along with the monks and nuns). I could wander around. I had all the time to hike around. 

Fresco at rila monastery biblical with bible meaning painting
The frescos of Rila Monastery are just like childhood story books painted on the wall - okay except for the one where the angel kills the demon, which is probably not child-friendly.

Sofia to Rila Monastery - Different options

Hitchhiking

The cheapest way to get from Sofia to Rila Monastery is to hitchhike. It is around 120km away from the capital city of Sofia. Depending on the road condition (which can be really icy in winter), the drive takes 2-3 hours. You can read more about hitchhiking in Bulgaria here. Bulgaria has really harsh winter so be really, REALLY prepared if you do plan to hitchhike from Sofia to Rila Monastery.

Bus

If hitchhiking is not your thing, you can take the bus from Sofia to Rila Monastery. There’s only one public bus that departs from Sofia to Rila Monastery, which is at Ovcha Kupel bus station. On Google maps, the name is “Bus and Coach station Zapad – Ovcha Kupel“. Tram 4, 5 and 11 stops right in front of the bus station. If you are coming from the city centre, your best bet is to take Tram 4 or Tram 5 in front of Serdika station (which is the central metro station). The tram ride costs 1.60 leva (around 0.80 euros) and make sure that you have exact change for it because the machine doesn’t give you change. 

The bus leaves Ovcha Kupel at 10:20am (and arrives at around 12:30pm). It leaves on the dot so you better be a little early. The bus ticket costs 11 leva (5.50 euros) one-way.

The bus leaves Rila Monastery at 3:00pm and also, there’s only one bus coming back to Sofia. If you choose to do a daytrip, you only have around 2-2.5 hours to explore around considering travel time. Hence, I strongly recommend you to spend a night at the monastery if you have time.

In short, you will be spending 3.20 leva + 22 leva = 25.20 leva (12.60 euros) if you were to choose this option. 

You can also get to Dupnica if you would like to spend a night there. The bus is more frequent and it leaves at 9:00am, 3:00pm and 5:00pm.

Tour operators

To save the hassle of navigating, you can also go with a tour. Many hostels and hotels offer a tour to Rila Monastery (and some include 7 Rila Lakes too when the weather is nicer). My hostel, for example, offers a tour for 25 euros. 

Private taxi

This is the priciest option but it does give you the most flexibility. If you can find some companions to share the cost with you, it might actually be cheaper than going with tour operators. Ask around but I have heard people being quoted 75 euros for a whole day for 1 taxi. 

snowy mountains at rila monastery
Any walk around Rila Monastery is a good walk.
road at rila monastery from sofia snow
The roads from the back of the monastery leads to some hotels and restaurants.
sofia to rila monastery
Sofia to Rila Monastery might be the most worthwhile day trip that you will take while in Sofia!

How to stay a night at Rila Monastery

So I was in Rila Monastery during winter and like I said, there were only 2 of us (who aren’t monks) in the whole monastery who stayed the night. Reservation for a night is not necessary during non-peak season but it’s just to make sure that you can get a bed when you are there. If you are going during peak season, it’s better to call and reserve when you’re in Bulgaria. If you miss out, there are 2 or 3 hotels just behind the monastery like Rilets Resort & Spa.

The receptionist only speaks Bulgarian (at least the lady that I was talking to only spoke Bulgarian) so it’s worth it to ask your newly-met Bulgarian friend to give them a call if you can. The number is : +359896872010. You can also send them an email here at info@rilskimanastir.org but I have heard that they never reply to the email anyways. 

On the internet, people seem to say that the price has increased to 30 lev per night per person. I don’t know if that’s seasonal but when I was there (which was during winter), it was only 15 lev per night per person. They count by per head, not per room. When I was there, I was the only guest in the room.

The room had 4 heaters (and all working in great conditions). The monk who was checking me in even gave me an extra heater just in case I become a block of ice. There were 3 beds in my room. There’s also hot water. Everything that you need is there so you don’t have to worry even during deep winter. It’s actually really warm and comfortable in there! 

If you do stay a night at Rila Monastery, I highly recommend bringing your own food from Sofia to Rila Monastery. There’s somewhere along the route that you can stop and buy food. However, you do have to prepare for lunch and dinner of the same day, and also breakfast and lunch of the next day. If you are feeling rich, you can also splurge at the restaurants that are near to the monastery. The quality is not the best for that price tag but if you are keen for some hot food, that’s the way to go. 

Bring enough Bulgarian leva with you to pay for stuff. If you run out of leva, you can change some with the monk (the one that checks you in) but I think they only accept euros. 

Hope that you’ll have a great time in Rila Monastery! Happy planning and purifying! 

Sofia to rila monastery
Fresco at Rila Monastery - front view.
River outside of rila monastery in snow
The almost frozen river outside of Rila Monastery.
Restaurant with a garden at rila monastery in bulgaria
Well, I don't see no garden at this "Restaurant with a Garden"...

Better safe than sorry

I never leave home without getting a travel insurance. Not everything can happen according to to your plan. It’s not unusual for unfortunate events to happen at times. That’s why, I always go with World Nomads before leaving! They have been wonderful to help with my mishaps when I lost my wallet in South Korea and lost my baggage in Bangkok!

The plus side, it’s quite cheap as well – considering the service and the benefit that you’d get. Reimbursement comes in quick and they’ve always got your back! 

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sofia, rila monastery, bulgaria, public transport, winter, bus
sofia, rila monastery, bulgaria, public transport, winter, bus

Born and raised in Malaysia, Aaron is a medical student that is deeply in love with travelling. He loves to inebriate all his readers with the crazy travel stories and personal travel tips that he has gathered throughout years of travelling experience.

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