As one of Bulgaria's main symbols, the country's largest monastery is a must-see. It has eye-catching architecture, rich details and a long history. Together with the mountainous surroundings, it is a beautiful place to pay a visit to. As you approach the monastery, it appears to be like a large fortress, because of its tall walls. As you enter the gates, its beauty is striking. This monastery was founded by Ivan of Rila (Ivan Rilski), who was a hermit living in a cave in the nearby area. He had close to no possessions but he was known to educate pupils. In 927, his students built this monastery. Since then, it has long been a spiritual center for the whole country. Its location has one time been moved and it was even completely rebuilt after the Ottomans destructed it. The year 1833 saw it destroyed by a fire. Again reconstructed, Rila Monastery was one of the country's hideouts during foreign reign. Famous Bulgarians such as Vasil Levski and Gotse Delchev stayed in the monastery. Furthermore, Neofit Rilski founded a school inside the complex, to educate Bulgarians. The complex functioned as a stronghold through difficult times for the Bulgarian state. Rila Monastery has always been respected as one of Bulgaria's most historically and architecturally significant assets.
The monastery complex is only 170 kilometres from Sofia and it is possible make a return trip in a day. This would be short, however. The monastery offers basic accommodation, so visitors can truly appreciate its serene beauty. See the sun set over the mountains and perhaps witness a mystical morning as the sun peeks through the clouds. As the monastery is located in a gorgeous area of untamed nature, it is absolutely worth it to hike in the direct surroundings. Not only the mountains surrounding the monastery are good to visit, so are nearby sights such as the Seven Rila Lakes or the Stob Pyramids. Another example is to combine a visit with the lively student city of Blagoevgrad.
The road is in an excellent state but as the monastery sits at an elevation of 1147 metres, snow chains might be necessary in winter. It is not too expensive to rent a car and especially if the cost is divided by several people. There are organised tours leaving from Sofia as well. A comfortable bus gets you to the monastery. Besides, such tours often include another sight as well, such as Boyana Church on Sofia's city border. If you happen to have a longer time to explore the region, you could include a visit to Melnik, near the Greek border. The town is known for excellent wines, a nice, cosy center and good hotels. Besides, Rozhenski Monastery and the spa town of Sandanski are very close. Then you could also pass by Petrich, Pirin village, Gotse Delchev, Bansko and Razlog, Dupnitsa or make a detour through Zemen, Tran and Dragoman. For any questions regarding your trip, do not hesitate to reach out!