Magnificent Bulgarian Monasteries: Monastic Sites in Bulgaria

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Post author SJ

Written by our local expert SJ

Sarah-Jane has lived in Croatia for 10+ years. SJ, as she is known, has been traveling the Balkans & beyond since 2000. She now shares her passion for traveling with her husband & kids.

Here is a list of monasteries in Bulgaria you will not want to miss. These Bulgarian monasteries are both ancient and beautiful!


Rock Monasteries

  1. Aladzha Monastery
  2. Basarbovo Monastery
  3. Ivanovo Monastery

Historical And Architectural Gems

  1. Bachkovo Monastery
  2. Rila Monastery
  3. Troyan Monastery

Monasteries With Natural Beauty

  1. Dragalevtsi Monastery
  2. Rozhen Monastery
  3. Klisura Monastery

Revival Period Monasteries

  1. Dryanovo Monastery
  2. Sokolski Monastery
  3. Etropole Monastery


  1. Cherepish Monastery
  2. Lozen Monastery
  3. Lopushna Monastery
  4. Obradovski Monastery
  5. Patriarchal Monastery of the Holy Trinity
  6. Razboishte Monastery
  7. Seven Altars Monastery
  8. Shipka Monastery
  9. Transfiguration Monastery
  10. Zemen Monastery
  11. Arapovski Monastery
  12. Kapinovo Monastery
  13. Kremikovtsi Monastery

Beautiful Monasteries In Bulgaria

Religious and spiritual life are central to Bulgarian life, and Christianity played a decisive role in shaping the country. When the nation underwent years of foreign domination, religion was the glue that kept the culture and language alive in society.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church had a crucial influence on preserving the local culture during Ottoman rule and postwar communist regimes. During this last period, religion remained under the control of the Law on Religion Organizations, with the state taking control of all church property; consequently, some monasteries and churches functioned as museums during the communist era.

However, Christianity always played an essential role in forming the Bulgarian nation and its identity. It helped to keep the native language alive during Ottoman domination and, in many respects, the national culture and traditions.

Over 200 monasteries are spread throughout the country, which certainly highlights the importance Christianity has always had in the nation. This is precisely why no visit to Bulgaria can be deemed complete if you do not visit at least some of the most important monasteries.

This article will show you some of Bulgaria’s most remarkable and beautiful monasteries, all of which are worth a visit during your trip.

The Three Most Remarkable Monasteries In Bulgaria

The first three monasteries we present in this article can be considered the country’s biggest and most important: Rila, Bachkovo, and Troyan monasteries, all under the direct jurisdiction of the Holy Synod. Here are all the details you need to know about visiting monasteries in Bulgaria. 

Rila Monastery

Monasteries In Bulgaria - Rila
Rila Monastery in Bulgaria

Located in the heart of the Rila Mountains, about 110 km from Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, and about 1150 meters above sea level, this is the country’s most famous and important monastery and the second biggest in the Balkan Peninsula.

The complex dates back to the tenth century, holding the record of being the largest Eastern Orthodox Monastery in Bulgaria.

Rila Monastery was founded by the hermit Saint Ivan of Rila and was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983.

Once behind the entrance gates, the colorful buildings will definitely call your attention. This is a fortress-like monastery surrounded by imposing stone walls, covering an approximate area of 8800 square meters. The monastery’s main church is dedicated to the Nativity of the Holy Virgin and features impressive murals and icons by famous icon artists.

Inside the monastery is a library sheltering important manuscripts created between the eleventh and nineteenth centuries and ancient books. Visitors can also spend time in the Ecclesiastical and Historical Museum, where collections of icons, wood carvings, and many other religious objects are displayed.

What Not To Miss At Rila Monastery

When visiting the museum, do not miss the Rafail’s Cross, a wooden crucifix bearing over a hundred carved Bible scenes and more than six hundred miniature figures crafted with the aid of a magnifying glass. Not far from Rila Monastery, you can wander and see some small waterfalls and a wonderful walking area.

How To Get To Rila Monastery

You can either visit on an organized day tour or drive from Sofia (Sofia-Kulata International Road – E79). There are also regular buses departing from Sofia, Blagoevgrad, and Dupnitsa to the area.



Driving To Rila Monastery

Driving to Rila Monastery

We drove to Rila Monastery from Sofia; the drive was effortless and very scenic. I totally recommend it as the ideal day trip from Sofia. Be sure to stop in the village of Pastra for lunch. Renowned for trout and many traditional Bulgarian cuisine options. 

Where To Stay Near Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery Entry

Since the monastery is quite away from Sofia, it is good to make this a day trip and even book a stay in the area to spend the night.

Following the correct procedure, you can sleep in the monastery if you book well in advance! In fact, there are dormitories and private rooms. You can find all the necessary information about spending the night at Rila Monastery at this link.

Alternatively, you can book a stay at Family Hotel Gorski Kut, in the Rila Valley, only 7 minutes by car from the monastery, offering primary and comfortable accommodation with beautiful views of the river and the mountains. There’s also an on-site restaurant serving typical Bulgarian dishes.


If you want more luxury, we suggest Rilets Resort & Spa. This hotel is just 600 meters from Rila Monastery and has an on-site restaurant and bar. The hotel has a children’s play area and free private parking.

Bachkovo Monastery

Bachkovo Monastery In Bulgaria - Bulgarian Monasteries

Another important monastery, the second biggest monastery in Bulgaria after the Rila, is Bachkovo Monastery, dating back to 1083. It stands about 30 km south of Plovdiv, in the village of Bachkovo in the Chaya River Valley. It is in a stunningly beautiful location, surrounded by a densely forested area at the foot of the Rhodope Mountains.

The complex combines and represents three different religious cultures: Byzantine, Georgian, and Bulgarian. Inside the monastery are three churches and the funerary church or ossuary; the oldest one dates back to the 12th century.

Bachkovo was considered a great religious and epistolary center, while its unique library treasures old Georgian, Byzantine, and Bulgarian books.

The main church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built in 1604 and preserves one of the oldest wood-carved icons in the country. The church also features remarkable murals in its narthex and on the western walls. Every August 15, thousands attend a special mass dedicated to the Virgin within the monastery’s walls.

What Not To Miss At Bachkovo Monastery

Considered miraculous by people of faith, the monastery’s most beloved treasure is a Virgin Mary icon dating back to 1311, brought to the temple by two Georgian monks.

Another interesting object to admire is an impressive marble table in the monastery’s dining room, as well as the frescoes that decorate the building.

How To Get To Bachkovo Monastery

If you’re staying far from the area, it is good to travel to Plovdiv and join an organized tour; otherwise, it is also possible to drive there (E86 Road), which connects Plovdiv and Asenovgrad.


Where To Stay Near Bachkovo Monastery

Visitors and pilgrims can also stay at the monastery, which has rooms with a few beds and a shared toilet bathroom on the same floor for the price of 15 Levs (about 8 euros) per bed. The monastery also features two ensuite rooms and a few apartments. You can get more information at this link.

Complex Magic of the Rhodopes is in a fantastic location and offers beautiful rooms with a comfy seating area. On the premises, guests can take advantage of the restaurant, the seasonal outdoor swimming pool, and 15 km from Plovdiv International Airport. 


Troyan Monastery

Troyan Monastery - Monasteries In Bulgaria

The Troyan Monastery is situated in the area of Lovech, about 10 km from the town of Troyan, at the foot of the Stara Planina Mountains in the Troyan Balkans. It stands at about 400 meters above sea level and is surrounded by a beautiful natural landscape.

Considered the third biggest monastery in Bulgaria, the Troyan Monastery, Assumption of the Holy Mother, dates back to 1600, although it underwent rebuilding and renovation between 1835 and 1855. In fact, the monastery was often assailed and destroyed in 1830, when all monks were brutally killed.

This impressive architectural complex features a central church, residential buildings, and two remarkable chapels. The main church, which features incredible frescoes, is one of the most exciting places inside the complex.

In the nineteenth century, the monastery became a renowned literary and revolutionary center and functioned as an asylum for rebels under Ottoman Rule.

What Not To Miss At Troyan Monastery

One of the most remarkable objects treasured in the monastery is a miraculous icon. It represents Mother Mary and is known as Holy Mary with Three Hands, as there’s a bizarre hand-cut at the bottom of the drawing.

Besides that, do not miss the local plum spirit distilled by the monks on the premises.

How To Get To Troyan Monastery

A visit to Troyan Monastery can be a great day trip idea if you’re visiting Sofia or Plovdiv, either by bus or by car (about 2 hours from Sofia, 2.30 hours from Plovdiv). You can also join a guided tour of the Lovech area, which allows you to have free time to visit the monastery.

Where To Stay Near Troyan Monastery

It is possible to spend the night in one of the monastery rooms, although booking online is impossible, though you can call the monastery in advance to inquire at +359 69 522866.

Reasonably close to the monastery, Family Hotel and Restaurant Plamena in Oreshak enjoys a quiet location surrounded by a magnificent forest. Guests can enjoy comfortable rooms, free parking spaces, and a delicious tavern featuring a cozy fireplace on the premises. Troyan is about 10 minutes by car from this property here.

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Famous Monasteries Near Sofia

The following monasteries are located in the Balkan Mountain Range and are worth a visit. They are Dragalevski, Osenovlaskhi, and Klisura.

Dragalevski Monastery

Monasteries In Bulgaria - Dragalevtsi Monastery of the Holy Mother of God of Vitosha, Bulgaria.

This monastery is located on Vitosha Mountain, on the outskirts of Bulgaria’s capital. It can be easily reached by car, as it is only about 20 minutes from Sofia’s center.

The Monastery of the Holy Mother of God in Vitosha is an active monastery that probably dates back to the 1370s. It is inside the beautiful Vitosha National Park.

In 1382, the Ottoman Empire conquered Sofia, and the monastery was abandoned. It was then renovated back in the second half of the fifteenth century, its church restored and richly decorated with frescoes.

Dragalevtsi was another Bulgarian monastery active during the struggle for national liberation. It participated in secret revolutionary activities against the Ottomans.

The monastic complex includes a church as well as residential and farm buildings. The church features two layers of frescoes, while only fragments from several Biblical scenes have been preserved from the original narthex.

Where To Stay In The Area

Although you cannot stay on the premises, you can spend the night in the immediate area or even return to your hotel in Sofia.

Hotel Romantic is a valid alternative in the Vitosha District; it features suites and rooms, free public parking, a restaurant with a fireplace, and barbecue facilities. The city center is located a 10-minute drive away—more information here.

Osenovlashki Monastery – Seven Altars

Osenovlashki Monastery, also known as Sedemte Prestioa or the Seven Altars, is in the valley of River Gabrovitsa, at the foot of the Izmeretz Mountain, about one hour from Sofia. The complex is easily accessible by car and train, following the Sofia-Mezdra route.

Although its exact foundation date is uncertain, the monastery was first mentioned in a Gospel from 1511 and destroyed in 1737 by Sultan Mahmud, The Godless. It was rebuilt in 1824, including a new residential building and a monastery school.

During the years of Bulgaria’s National Liberation from the Ottomans, Osenovlashki Monastery was often used as shelter by revolutionaries.

The spectacular complex includes a high stone wall with the main church from the eleventh century standing in the inner courtyard. The complex also has a church tower, a unique garden with flowers, blooming bushes, and a century-old sequoia. The monastery also has an important library with old Orthodox books.

The seven separate altars are unique to the church: four main altars forming a cross, two isolated altars, and a seventh one just opposite the entrance. Each altar represents a separate chapel and is dedicated to a Bulgarian saint.

Where To Stay In The Area

It is possible to stay at Osenovlashki Monastery; however, it is a good idea to book in advance as it is a popular area for locals to spend the weekend (the number is 087 9995035 in Bulgaria or +359 87 9995035 from abroad).

Guest House Bovada is another place to stay in the area. It offers a shared kitchen, a sun terrace, and a barbecue. All rooms have a patio with a garden view. The property is 39 km from Sofia Airport and offers a paid airport shuttle service. Read more here.

Klisura Monastery

Klisura Monastery - Bulgarian Monasteries

Dedicated to Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, the Klisura Monastery is located at the foot of the Todori Kukli Mountain in the valley of the River Vreshtitsa. The monastery complex dates back to 1240 and is only 54 km from Sofia.

The easiest way to reach the Klisura Monastery is by car, driving along the road to the town of Montana. The road is modern and well-signed.

The monastery was known as Vreshetski when it was founded. As with many other monasteries in the country, the complex suffered complete devastation by the Ottomans during the fifteenth century and remained abandoned for several years.

Brought back to life thanks to generous donations from locals, the building suffered a tragedy during the celebration day of Saints Cyril and Methodius, when the cloister was burnt to ashes and monks and pilgrims slaughtered by the Turkish.

The monastery underwent an entire renovation in 1869 when it got its present Renaissance style. Today, the monastery includes two churches, a residential building, and farming premises.

The monastery keeps precious objects, including old icons, books, and valuable saints’ relics.

Where To Stay In The Area

The monastery offers accommodation either in one of the 80 beds or two apartments at affordable fees. There is also a restaurant on the premises serving traditional Bulgarian meals cooked with products from the farm run by the monks. (the number is 088 6560612 in Bulgaria or +359 88 6560612 from abroad).

Guest House Bankya offers affordable accommodation nearby and has excellent reviews. It has a gorgeous rose garden, barbecue facilities, and a shared kitchen. Breakfast is served daily, while lunch and dinner can be arranged upon request and for a surcharge. Sofia is only 16 km from the property. Read more here.

Other Beautiful Monasteries That You Should Visit In Bulgaria

Since there are so many monastic complexes to visit in the country, we have chosen the most remarkable ones and included them in the following section; take a look.

Sokolski Monastery

Sokolski Monastery - Bulgarian Monasteries

This beautiful complex is located near the town of Gabrovo on the northern slopes of the Balkan Mountains. The monastery can be reached by public bus or car.

Sokolski Monastery, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, is 220 km from Sofia. It is located in a tranquil area surrounded by high peaks and lush forests.

It was founded in 1833 and has a rich history. It was also an important refuge for revolutionaries against Ottoman rule. Later, during the Russian-Turkish War of Liberation, it functioned as a military hospital. Today, it is possible to visit the small collection on the premises that exhibits relics from the period.

Inside the complex, a beautiful courtyard is adorned with flowers, and pilgrims stop at a delicate fountain with intricate architecture to drink the refreshing water, gorging from eight different spouts.

Inside the different buildings, beautiful and simple frescoes in bright shades that are not common in the traditional Byzantine school of painting can be admired.

Where To Stay In The Area

The monastery offers rooms with private or shared bathrooms. Alternatively, you can check out the convenient Guest House Mikaela premises, which features a shared lounge, garden, barbecue facilities, and a terrace in Gabrovo. More information is here.

Preobrazhenski Monastery – Transfiguration Monastery

Also known as the Monastery of the Transfiguration, this complex is located in the Veliko Tarnovo area, the older Bulgarian capital.

Considered Bulgaria’s fourth-largest monastery, it is also one of the country’s oldest religious buildings. It stands at the foot of a cliff with sweeping views of the surrounding region.

The monastery was founded in the eleventh century as a branch of a secondary monastery but became independent later in time. The building stands around a rectangular paved court with old, picturesque pergolas. In the complex, there is also a belfry with a clock.

In 1991, the monastery was hit by a rock falling from a hill, destroying a few cells.

Where To Stay In Veliko Tarnovo

Hotel Alegro is ideally located on a quiet street in the central part of Veliko Tarnovo. It offers original architecture, modern suites, and a restaurant garden. More information is here.

Basarbovo Monastery

In the heart of the Rusenski Lom River Valley, not far from the Barsabovo village and 10 km from Ruse, lies Basarbovo Monastery. This is the only rock monastery in Bulgaria that is still active and functioning.

To reach the premises, one must follow a green path, pass a well, and then hike up about 48 steps to reach a platform guarding the niche of Saint Dimitri Basarbovski. Once here, one can see a rocky chapel with a full-sized icon of the saint.

This rock monastery dates back to the 1400s; inside the premises, it is also possible to check a former bone vault that hosts a museum.

Where To Stay In Ruse

Grand Hotel Riga is located on the shores of the Danube River, just meters from the Ruse Main Square. It offers guests a summer garden, breakfast, and free parking. Read more about the accommodation here.

Glozhene Monastery

Monasteries In Bulgaria - Glozhene Monastery Bulgaria

Enjoying a marvelous location with impressive surrounding views, Glozhene Monastery stands atop a rock on the western side of the Balkan Mountain range near the village of Glozhene.

The monastery was founded in the 13th century by a Ukrainian Prince, and it is still today surrounded by a turbulent past filled with unique legends and mysterious stories.

The monastery’s icon, dedicated to Saint George the Victorious, constantly disappeared from the holy cloister according to popular belief. The monks later found the icon on a hill near the village where the current monastery stands today. In fact, the monks understood that the mysterious disappearance of the icon meant that God wished the monastery to be constructed on the hill.

At one point in history, two monasteries stood in the area, one on the hill and one in the village. They were connected by a tunnel.

The monastic structures feature a church and a two-story residential building shaped like a castle. The former church in the same spot was destroyed by an earthquake in 1913 and rebuilt in 1931.

Where To Stay In The Area

The monastery offers minimal accommodation (about 20 guests accepted); however, there are good places to stay nearby.

Holiday Park Mirovets in Malŭk Izvor features convenient accommodation, a restaurant, a shared lounge, a garden, and a children’s playground. Read more about the accommodation here.

Rozhen Monastery

Located in the Melnik area, Rozhen Monastery is a perfect place to combine a visit with a beautiful hiking path. Although it is possible to drive there, you can also access the monastery by walking a magnificent eco-trail.

The building is in the heart of the region of Pirin, surrounded by the spectacular landscapes of Melnik and its pyramids.

Dedicated to the Birth of the Holy Virgin Mary, this spiritual center was built in 1217 and rebuilt in the sixteenth century after a fire destroyed it.

During the visit, don’t miss the imposing Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, which features ancient murals with Biblical scenes and unique stained-glass windows.

Where To Stay In The Area

Although the monastery does not offer accommodation, it is minutes from Melnik, a popular tourist destination with plenty of hotels and studios to rent.

Otherwise, in the heart of Rozhen Village, Family Hotel Dinchova Kushta is an excellent place to stay when visiting the monastery, which is only 2 km away. Surrounded by a peaceful green area, this rustic hotel, restaurant, and winery offer comfortable rooms, homemade Bulgarian dishes, and special wine-tasting sessions. Read more about the hotel here.

Bulgaria Travel Blog_Most Beautiful Monasteries In Bulgaria

Aladzha Monastery

About 15 km from the city of Varna, near the beautiful Black Sea area, this monastery is a famous cave monastery on the Black Sea Coast, about 2 km from the Golden Sands resort. The premises date back to medieval times.

Several ghost stories and mystic legends are mysterious, enchanting, and part of the atmosphere in Aladzha. Carved and arranged in two different levels connected with an external staircase, the complex includes a temple, monastic cells, a refectory, a kitchen, and a cemetery church.

Where To Stay In The Area

Hotel Amfora is located about 6 km from the monastery, in the resort area of Varna, and 5.5 km from the city center; it offers accommodation with a balcony and sea view. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, a restaurant, and free parking—more information here.

The Ivanovo Monastery

The Ivanovo Rock Monastery, sat in the limestone cliffs near the town of Ruse, is famous for its remarkable frescoes. Founded in 1240, this sanctuary was an important center of religious art during the Second Bulgarian Kingdom.

Its churches, carved into the rock, hosted many monks and were established during the reign of Tsar Ivan Alexander. The Ivanovo Monastery stands as a testament to the ingenuity and faith of medieval Bulgaria, offering insights into the lives of hermit monks and the Byzantine influence on Bulgarian ecclesiastical art.

Dryanovo Monastery

Dryanovo Monastery “St. Archangel Michael,” situated in the extraordinarily beautiful area near the town of Dryanovo, has a tumultuous history marked by resilience and rebirth. Initially built in the 12th century, it was destroyed and rebuilt several times, with the current structure dating back to the 19th century.

This monastery played a significant role in the Bulgarian Revival period and the fight against Ottoman rule. It is not just a place of spiritual solace but also a symbol of Bulgarian resistance and pride.

Basarbovo Monastery

Basarbovo Monastery “St. Dimitrius of Basarbovo,” located near Ruse, is the only active rock monastery in Bulgaria. Established in the 15th century, it has continuously welcomed pilgrims to its unique setting. The monastery thrives on the legacy of St. Dimitrius Basarbovski, a revered Bulgarian ascetic whose life and deeds are celebrated annually. The serene surroundings and the monastery’s dedication to a hermitic way of life make it a peaceful retreat from the modern world.

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