There are a few ways of reaching the Rila Monastery from Sofia. I’ve tried to classify them according to their convenience, comfort, time consumption, environmental impact and price. Here is a list of the most common transport options for taking a journey to the most visited UNESCO site in Bulgaria.
1. Taking a Taxi
Taxis are relatively cheap, especially if compared to the same service in Central or Western Europe. The price for a return trip is usually about 130 lv (65 euro). This price does not include the driver’s waiting time at the monastery parking lot, which for an hour or so may come up to additional 10-15 euro. A good idea may be to bargain the price in advance. Use only legitimate companies like Yellow Taxi or ask at the reception of your hotel to call you a taxi. Otherwise, you are running the risk of being considerably overcharged.
Convenience: A very convenient way of transport as it will pick you up and drop you off at a place of your wish. However, while at the Rila Monastery you will be without a guide and miss most of the interesting historical facts and stories that add much value to the experience. It is difficult to hire a guide on spot and usually the service, to say the least, is disappointing.
Comfort: Most of the Bulgarian taxi vehicles are not kept clean and the chauffeurs are somewhat frantic drivers.
Time consumption: As it is a private service and you will be in full control of the time you would like to spend at the monastery and its surroundings.
Environmental impact: Most of the taxis in Bulgaria run on LPG or methane, which means a less significant impact on the Earth’s climate for such private transportation service.
Price: It is an inexpensive option, especially if you are a group of 3-4 passengers.
2. Using Public Transport
There is a bus leaving from Sofia’s Ovcha Kupel district (it is a neighbourhood away from the city center) every day at 10:20 am and arriving at the monastery at about 1:00 pm. The bus leaves the monastery at 3:30 pm (3:00 pm in the winter) to arrive in Sofia at around 6:00 pm. The price is 22 lv for a return ticket.
Booking a ticket: It cannot be done online in advance and there is also a chance in peak season to end up at the bus station without an option to board the bus as it is already full.
Convenience: The Ovcha Kupel district is far away from Sofia’s center. The user-friendly Google maps function for the public transport in Sofia will get you there without much of a hassle, but you will spend between 30 minutes and an hour getting to the Ovcha Kupel neighbourhood, wasting much of your precious holiday time. You will have 2 hours at the monastery, which is enough for exploration of the complex, to have a short walk in the surroundings and have a quick lunch. Again, you will be without a guide.
Comfort: The buses used are old and not very comfortable. Sometimes the air-conditioning is not working properly as well.
Time consumption: This is the most time-consuming way of getting to the Rila Monastery from Sofia. The bus stops at different places along the way as well as not being very strict on the time schedule (according to different reviews on the internet).
Environmental impact: This is a shared transportation service, which is good. The old buses running on diesel, however, are significant polluters.
Price: By far this is the cheapest way to get to the monastery and back.
3. Driving Your Own Vehicle or Rent-A-Car
Using a rent-a-car for travelling in a foreign country is becoming more and more popular. Reaching the monastery by car is pretty easy as you will be mainly driving on a highway. After leaving Sofia you will have roughly an hour drive on E79 (the road to Greece) to the first exit for the Rila Monastery, which is near the town of Boboshevo. You can take this turn and go through the Smochevo village. The road is with a lot of turns but is with astonishingly lovely scenic views of the Rila Mountains. If you continue on the highway for a few more kilometres, you will see another exit (near the town of Kocherinovo). The road here is better in terms of driving compared to the one via the Smochevo village. Kocherinovo is known as the Town of the White Storks for its numerous white stork nests.
Convenience: The only inconvenience is that you have to drive yourself and deal with the Bulgarian drivers, who are rarely tolerant and do not follow traffic laws to the letter. In peak season the parking in front and behind the monastery may get jammed. Again you will be without a guide, which I consider as a great inconvenience, not only for the Rila Monastery but for most of the Bulgarian tourist sites as they do not have adequate information boards and their attractions are not presented in an interactive way.
Comfort: The comfort depends on the vehicle hired, but for sure it will be a more cosy way to reach the monastery compared to the two options above.
Time consumption: You will be in full control of your time and pace of travelling.
Environmental impact: The carbon footprint depends on the vehicle you have hired, but it is not a shared transport.
Price: It is a savvy and expedient way to travel. The price for parking a car in front of the Rila Monastery is 5 leva.
4. Booking a Private Tour
The private tour offers the most comfort and convenience. Again you are in full control of your time as the guide is at your disposal. At the same time, it is the most expensive way to travel and the carbon footprint is higher per person than on group tours.
For a private tour please enquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. Booking a group tour and sharing the travel experience
A few tour operators, including Traventuria the owner of www.rilamonasterybus.com, offer group tours to the Rila Monastery and Boyana Church. The starting point is from the Alexander Nevski Square. It is a full-day tour starting at 9:00 am and ending around 5:00 pm. The prices are around 30 euro per adult. I consider this the most efficient way of travelling, taking into account the different criteria listed above. Below I will present our tour’s advantages.
Booking a ticket: You can book and pay for your seat with a few clicks from your computer or mobile device.
Convenience: The starting point of the excursions to Rila Monastery and Boyana Church is in the center of Sofia. There is an underground stop (St. Kliment Ohridski University) as well as numerous bus and trolleybus stops nearby. The tour starts at 9:00 am, which gives time to have proper breakfast and be at the starting point on time. The tour combines two UNESCO sites, not just the Rila Monastery. You will visit the Boyana Church skipping the line. The tour is guided in English and you will learn about and enjoy the sites along the route much more.
Additionally, you can pre-book hotel pick-up & drop off. Audio-guides are also available for renting while making an online booking.
Comfort: All of our vehicles are with A/C, they are modern and very comfortable. In most of them, we provide free Wi-Fi and a socket for smartphone charging.
Time consumption: The itinerary is made in such a way that it gives you choice how intensive you would like it to be. At the monastery, you will have a guided walk, which you can extend by visiting the museums or have more free time to admire the site on your own or have more time for lunch.
Environmental impact: All of our vehicles are with Euro 6 engines, meaning less toxic emissions. The shared ride is a more environmentally friendly way of travel.
Price: It is more expensive than the public bus, but for the extra money you can make a safe online booking, have a live guide, enjoy extra comfort, consider the natural impact with fewer carbon emissions and visit the Boyana Church in the same day.
Find out more about the itinerary and/or book online at https://rilamonasterybus.com/detailed-tour-itinerary/