Rila Monastery is undoubtedly one of the most famous spots in Bulgaria – the beauty of the monastery (check a virtual tour here) and also the surrounding area (Rila mountain) will definitely make you want to stay there for longer.
The monastery was built in the 10th century by St. Ivan of Rila, the first Bulgarian hermit who is also honored as a saint. Next to the monastery you will also see Rilska river – this is why eating a fish in the region is actually quite common.
It is fairly easy to reach Rila Monastery. To start with, there are many travel agencies who organize trips to this place. However, if you are more adventurous and would like to do the trip your own way, you can either catch a bus (for instance, from Ovcha kupel bus station in Sofia – check the bus schedule in advance though!) or rent a car so that you can visit other sightseeing places close to the monastery (e.g. Stob pyramids, the town of Blagoevgrad, Bohemia eco trail, etc.). The most common way to reach Rila Monastery is as follows: you drive from Sofia on the E79 highway that leads to Greece. In around an hour and a half close to the town of Blagoevgrad, there are signs for you to go to the Rila Monastery which is located around 20 minutes away from the main highway. Although there are signs with directions for the monastery, I recommend using GPS so that you don’t miss the right exit - Rila Monastery is marked on Google maps!
Once you reach the monastery, there is a small parking lot in front of it (they will charge you a small fee for leaving your car there). Inside the monastery there are several points of interest (each one of them having admission fee, though - usually between 5 and 8 leva; you can also buy a combined ticket for all museums), but the most interesting and famous ones are the main museum and Hrelyo’s tower. I think it is a good idea to get an English-speaking tour guide (the monastery offers this), so that you learn more about the history behind the walls of the Rila monastery. Inside and around the monastery you can buy souvenirs, have lunch (there are many restaurants on the way to the monastery too, I personally had lunch at Pchelina restaurant and I liked it) or even try the traditional Bulgarian breakfast called “mekitsa” (fried dough). It is also possible to book a room and sleep in the monastery – I have never done it, but I am planning to do so because it will give you the amazing opportunity to enjoy the night views in the region and spend the night at a holy place. The reception is next to the museum.
Keep in mind that it is forbidden to enter the museum with a pet and with inappropriate clothes (e.g. short skirts, shorts, etc.). Also, taking photos or videos in the temple and in the museum is not allowed. Walking along the balconies in the monastery is forbidden unless you have booked a room.