Rila Monastery is the largest monastic complex in Bulgaria. It is located in a nature park bearing its name – Rila Monastery Nature Park. There are a lot of things you enjoy there. I will outline some of them that I find worth experience.
The Inner Yard with the Main Church
Entrance fee: Free
Every visit to the Rila Monastery starts by entering the inner yard from one of the two main gates. It is a truly awe-inspiring place that will leave you breathless for a while. Here is a 360-degree panorama of the yard that will give a small clue of what to expect.
Most of the visitors of the monastery complex naturally head first to the main church “The Nativity of Virgin Mother”. It is an architectural five-dome architectural gem. Admire and photograph the brightly coloured frescoes in the outer gallery of the church. They have been completed by 1846 and a work of famous Bulgarian Rennaissance painters as the brothers Zahari and Dimitar Zograf. Taking photos of the church’s outer gallery is allowed, but taking pictures inside the church is strictly forbidden. Read more about the main church from the following LINK. Inside do not miss to admire the gold-plated iconostasis, the miraculous icon of The Virgin Mother Ossenovitsa and also the numerous fabulous mural.s
The History Museum at the Rila Monastery (the Main Museum)
Entrance fee: 8 leva (appr. 4 Euro)
A lot of tourists, especially the ones that are not strong Christianity believers, do not enter the main church. Yes, most of the exhibits there are connected strictly to Orthodox Christianity, but they also have a high artistic value. There are only small information boards next to most of the exhibits, which to my opinion are insufficient. Touring the museum with a guide is recommendable. I personally like and though I have seen Rafael’s cross numerous times, I still am being amused by it. A wood-carved cross with miniature carved 36 biblical scenes and over 500 individual figures. Learn more about the Rafaels cross from the following LINK.
The Revival Period Guest Rooms
Entrance fee: 5 leva (appr. 2.5 Euro)
If the weather is bad and it is unpleasant to take a walk near the monastery then it makes good sense to see the Revival Period Guest Rooms. You may even get an opportunity to snap a few photos from the 2nd and 3rd floor of the monastic compound. Learn more about these rooms from the following LINK.
The hike to John of Rila Hermitage and Cave
Entrance fee: Free
I love this hike and I can recommend if the weather permits it. The trailhead starts from a parking lot some 5 km after the Rila Monastery. The walk is easy or some can find it of moderate difficulty, but old people and small kids make it in about 20 minutes each way. The route passes through an old beech forest with a lot of birds. In the summertime, it is very cool and pleasant to walk under the dense tree foliage. Read more about the cave from this LINK.
Local Food Delicacies
Mekitsi and Yogurt
The Monastery’s bakery is right across the Eastern (Samokov) Gate. Usually, there is a line of people in front of it. This is the place to taste authentic Bulgarian food and save time for sightseeing (if the queue is not too long). During my childhood, which was sometime in the 80s, a common breakfast in Bulgaria very often included one of these foods: banitsa, buhtichki (similar to crullers), kulatsi (tick pancakes) and mekitsi (kind of pasta fried product). Samo tourists draw an analogue and call the mekitsi the Bulgarian Donuts. My mouth waters just thinking about the fluffy delicious mekitsi my grandma used to make. The ones sold at the monastery bakery almost meet in taste the ones in my memory and I really love to have a couple of those with a jar of tasty buffalo or sheep yoghurt. Typically the mekitsi are sprayed with powdered sugar making them even more irresistible (an unhealthy). Eating a few of these will get you full in no time and you would have saved money as well. One mekitsa costs only 50 stotinki (about 25 euro cents).
Trout and/or Bean Soup
There are plenty of trout farms in the vicinity of Rila Monastery. This is one of the reasons for the grilled trout to become one of the dishes advertised by the local restaurants. It is by all means very tasty.
The bean soup is also always on the top of the menu of the local restaurants. It is the so-called bean soup prepared following a monastic recipe (it includes more spices than the one I eat at home). I’m a fan of bean soups and I like the one in the restaurants right by the monastery.
A piece of advice if you are visiting the Rila Monastery with your own vehicle or you are on a private tour. If you have decided to eat a restaurant, it makes sense to drive 5-6 km back and have your meal at the restaurants Gorski Kat or Pchelina. They are not so crowded and the services are much faster.