15 Facts About Rila Monastery: The Hidden Gem of Bulgaria

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery is the most gorgeous, peaceful and authentic place in Bulgaria I’ve been so far. It’s a huge tourist attraction and during the summer it’s crowded with tourists from all over the world. 

In my opinion the secret of the fame of the Rila Monastery is pretty simple – the monastery is very photogenic. I’ll prove you later in this article. 

Here are 15 facts about the monastery of Saint Ivan Rilski, better known as the Rila Monastery, which will help you get to know this place better:

1. It is situated in 1147 meters altitude in the highest mountain in Bulgaria and the Balkans – Rila (Musala – 2925 m).

2. It’s one of the 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria, designated in 1983.

3. The monastery is a key tourist attraction and many Bulgarians and foreigners visit it especially through the summer. In 2008 alone the monastery attracted 90 000 visitors. 

Rila Monastery

4. Rila Monastery is founded in the 10th century by the hermit St. Ivan of Rila. He actually lived in a cave without any material possessions not far from the monastery’s location. His students built the complex when they came to the mountains to recieve their education.

5. The monastery is depicted on the reverse of the 1 lev banknote from 1999.

6. The Rila Monastery preserved the Bulgarian language and culture in the ages of Ottoman rule.

7. The monastery is known as being one of the hideouts of Bulgarian revolutionaries such as Vassil Levski, Peyo Yavorov, Gotse Delchev and etc.

8. The church has five domes, three altars and two side chapels. The gold-plated iconostasis is one of the most precious items inside the church. It is famous for its wood-carving, which took five years to be created by 4 handicraftsmen.

Rila Monastery

9. The church treasures many valuable icons, dating from the 14th to the 19th century.

10. The main church “The Nativity of the Virgin” is covered inside and out by lots of paintings and frescos which show Biblical stories about the Baptism of Jesus Christ, the Day of Judgement, Adam and Eve.

11. The monastery has 24-meter stone walls which forms irregular pentagon. It has 2 iron gates and stunning architecture: covered wooden stairs, carved verandas, arches and colonnades, and 300-400 monastic cells.

12. The monastery has also its own, very rich library – about 250 manuscript books from 11th – 19th century, 9000 old-printed books, manuscripts and so on. 

RIla Monastery

13. There is a museum located in the monastery – it has rich collections of icons, historical collection of 35 000 exponents, wood-carvings, cultural and ethnographical items and many more.

14. In 1980 the International Federation of Travel Writers and Journalists (FIJEST) distinguished the Monastery with the highest award for familiarization and cultural tourism – Golden Apple.

15. The monastic apartments in the Monastery are about 300 – there are 110 monk’s cells, over 30 drawing-rooms, a big dining-room, a hospital, a sexton-room with library, four big floor-chapels, lots of warehouses and kitchens, the rooms of door-keepers are an arrest for the guilty people.

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery


How to get to Rila Monastery: 

By train: Take the train from Sofia Central Train Station to Dupnitsa. Then from Dupnitsa take the bus directly to Rila Monastery at 6:40 am or 14:15. The bus back to Dupnitsa is at 09:00 am, 15:00 and 17:00h. Then take the train back to Sofia. Bulgarian State Railways website: bdz [dot] bg/index-en.php

By bus: Take the bus from Sofia, bus station “Ovcha kupel” (not Central Bus Station) directly to Rila Monastery every day at 10:20 am. The bus from Rila Monastery to Sofia is at 15:00 h. 

By car: If you rent a car take the route Sofia-Kulata. Exit the road in Kocherinovo village. There are 30 km to the monastery from there. 

You can check out the tours from Sofia to Rila Monastery with our friends at Campfire.bg

Are you planning to visit Rila Monastery in Bulgaria yet?

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Written by

Travel blogger and tourism graduate from Bulgaria, working in the field of Digital Marketing and PR for travel brands.

Latest comments
  • Another one to put on my list, very nice!

  • What a gorgeous place. These photos are unbelievable! I would love to visit someday specially because I love monasteries.

  • Great post Maria! Did you try the fresh bread and donuts from the bakery next to the monastery?

  • Very helpful. I’ll be visiting in May, 2024. Can’t wait!