It’s impossible to go on a road trip in Bulgaria and not see a sign pointing to one or another of Bulgaria’s beautiful Orthodox monasteries. While most countries in Europe have monasteries that are popular with tourists, after traveling to almost every country in Europe, I have to say that Bulgaria is home to my favorites. They’re colorful, spiritual, quiet, and full of life.
During my initial visit to Sofia, I spent my entire month exploring the city. I knew I needed to get out and go on some day trips, but I kept finding more wonderful and fun things to do in Sofia itself, so I put off exploring the region until my very last week here.
However, as soon as I went on my first tour to Rila Monastery, I realized that I’d made a huge mistake! It would be an absolute sin to come to the country and not check out a few of the amazing Orthodox monasteries in Bulgaria.
While most visitors will only be able to see a few of the beautiful churches, check out the wide variety of styles and beauty to help you decide which ones to add to your itinerary.
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This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the national symbols of Bulgaria, Rila Monastery is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Sofia. Originally founded in the tenth century, the main church dates back to the mid-1800s. Make sure to take time to walk over to the cave of Ivan Rilksi and pair a visit with some of the beautiful natural wonders in the region like Stob’s Pyramid or the 7 Rila Lakes.
Bulgarian: Rilski Manastir
Cyrillic: Рилски манастир
Location: Rila Monastery, Kyustendil district, Bulgaria 2643
Founded in the eleventh century, Bachkovo monastery survived the first wave of Ottoman invaders but was later looted and destroyed. However, it was reestablished in the fifteenth century. Icons from the thirteenth century have survived, and the ossuary from the original early-medieval structure has also made it to today. Make sure to see the “Panorama” mural and take in the beautiful views.
Bulgarian: Bachkovski Manastir
Cyrillic: Бачковски манастир
Location: 86, 4251 Plovdiv and the Valley of the Kings
Troyan Monastery is the third largest and the third most important monastery in the country. Located in the Central Balkan National Park, the drive there is truly stunning. T
he history of the monastery dates back to the eleventh century, but its most interesting historical role was as a citadel and hospital during Bulgaria’s fight for independence from the Ottomans. More about our visit Troyan Monastery.
Bulgarian: Troyanski Manastir
Cyrillic: Троянски манастир
Location: Troyanski M-ir, 5627 Troyanski manastir
Though Dragalevski is typically overlooked by tourists making day trips from Sofia to Rila Monastery, this beautiful fourteenth-century monastery is located in the city on Mount Vitosha. Some of the original frescoes survive, despite the fact that the monastery was closed down during a period after the Ottoman’s disbanded it and some of the buildings were destroyed. It was refounded in the late fifteenth century.
Bulgarian: Dragalevski Manastir
Cyrillic: Драгалевски манастир
Location: 1415 м. Орехите, Sofia
A medieval monastery located in the southern Pirin Mountains, the landscape around Rozhen is protected by UNESCO as part of the Pirin National Park UNESCO World Heritage Site. The grave of Bulgarian Revolutionary Yane Sandanski is located near the monastery.
Bulgarian: Rozhenski Manastir
Cyrillic: Роженски манастир
Location: Rozhen Monastery, 2820
Also known as Shipka Memorial Church, Shipka Monastery was originally a Russian Orthodox Church built near the town of Shipka. It was transferred to the Bulgarian Orthodox church in the 1930’s and has a museum in the basement opened to tourists.
Bulgarian: Rozhdestvo Hristovo
Cyrillic: Рождество Христово
Location: 6150 Shipka
A UNESCO World Heritage Site known collectively as the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo, Ivanovo monastery is part a group of some of the oldest monasteries and churches in the country dating back to the twelfth century. Bulgaria has a long tradition of monasteries carved out of the rocks, but the group at Ivanovo represents their own school and is unique.
Bulgarian: Ivanovski skalni tsarkvi
Cyrillic: Ивановски скални църкви
Location: 7088 Ivanovo
Located twenty-four kilometers from Veliko Tarnovo, just outside the town of Dryanovo, this monastery served as a center of Hesychasm and sheltered many monks in the fourteenth century. It also played a critical role in the rebellion against the Ottoman Turks, functioning as both a meeting place and the site of several battles.
Bulgarian: Dryanovski Manastir
Cyrillic: Дряновски манастир
Location: 5370 Dryanovo
Located in the beautiful Iskar Gorge, Cherepish Monastery is an hour and a half drive outside of Sofia near Mezdra. The famous Bulgarian writer Ivan Vazov visited here twice, as did Aleko Konstantinov who included the region in his travel itinerary “Bulgarian Switzerland.”
Bulgarian: Cherepishki Manastir
Cyrillic: Черепишки манастир
Location: 3159 Sofia
The fourth-largest monastery in Bulgaria, Transfiguration Monastery is situated near Veliko Tarnovo. Originally founded in the eleventh century, the current location dates back to the 1820s. The bells, chandeliers, and liturgy books of the monastery were gifts from Russian soldiers after the Russo-Turkish War.
Bulgarian: Preobrazhenski Manastir
Cyrillic: Преображенски манастир
Location: 5031 Preobrazhenski manastir
Sokolski Monastery was founded in the 1830s, and it was in a cave near this monastery where the Ottomans hung a group of eight Bulgarian Freedom Fighters in the 1850s. The monastery served as a hospital during the Russo-Turkish war. There is a legend that local Bulgarian women threw themselves into an abyss near the monastery to avoid having to marry Turkish men.
Bulgarian: Sokolski Manastir
Cyrillic: Соколски манастир
Location: 5311 Gabrovo
Aladzha Monastery is a medieval cave monastery near Varna on the Black Sea. The cave’s chapels were carved into the limestone rock, and their other-worldly beauty has inspired many legends about ghosts, monks, and the occult. The caves are located in the Golden Sands Nature Reserve, a protected area.
Bulgarian: Aladzha Manastir
Cyrillic: Аладжа манастир
Location: Golden Sands Reserve, Varna
A rock monastery near Rousse and the Danube River, Basarbovo is a fifteenth-century rock monastery. This is one of the only rock monasteries in the country that is still active. It is open to visitors and close to Ivanovo Monastery, which makes the pair great for a day trip itinerary.
Bulgarian: Basarbovski Manastir
Cyrillic: Басарбовски манастир
Location: 7071 Basarbovo
Founded in 1240 AD, this monastery is located in far northwestern Bulgaria, accessible as a day trip from Sofia. Tragedy struck in 1862, when the monastery was burned and all the monks were slaughtered by a Turkish pasha on the feast day of St. Cyril and St. Methodius. They reopened in 1869. For 10 leva, you can stay here in an apartment or book a single bed for 8 leva.
Bulgarian: Klisurski Manastir
Cyrillic: Клисурски манастир
Location: 3543 Klisurski Monastery
Just south of Plovdiv, Arapovski was founded in the 19th century. The spot was selected due to a holy spring located nearby. Make sure to see the unique residential tower, which is available to rent if you want to stay in the area.
Bulgarian: Arapovski Manastir
Cyrillic: Араповски манасти
Location: Arapovo Monastery, 4264
Founded in 1158, Etrapole became the core of one of the most important literary centers in Bulgarian lands. The monastery sheltered Vasil Levski during the 1870s.
Make sure to stop and see the beautiful Varovitets waterfall right nearby, and you can stay at the monastery for six leva per night.
Bulgarian: Etropolski Manastir
Cyrillic: Етрополски манастир
Location: Etropole Monastery “St. Trinity” (Varovitets), 2192
This monastery is located at the foot of Mount Elena in the Balkans next to the Vesselina river. Founded in the 13th century, Kapinovo served as an important revolutionary and educational center for the country during the Bulgarian National Revival period.
Bulgarian: Kapinovski Manastir
Cyrillic: Къпиновски Манастир
Location: Velchevo 222, 5032
Kremikovski is situated at the foot of the Balkan mountains on the outskirts of Sofia. The monastery owns an important fifteenth-century silver reliquary that was stolen in 1990, but it was miraculously recovered ten years later.
Bulgarian: Kremikovski Manastir
Cyrillic: Кремиковски манастир
Location: 1849 Sofia
Near Montana, Bulgaria, in the western Balkan mountains, Lopushna is situated in the Dalgodelska Ogosta river valley. Ivan Vazov wrote his famous novel Under the Yoke here in the 11890s
Bulgarian: Lopushanski Monastery
Cyrillic: Лопушански манастир
Location: Lopushanski monastery 3470
In Pernik Province outside of the town of the same name, Zemen Monastery was built in the eleventh century. It is no longer inhabited or used as a current monastery but instead is an official monument of culture. Inside there are frescoes preserved from the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. Admission to the church, which is run as a museum, is three leva (1.5 euros).
Bulgarian: Zemenski manastir
Cyrillic: Земенски манастир
Location: Zemen, 2440
Part of the Mala Sveta Gora monastery complex, Lozen was built during the second Bulgarian kingdom. It was a center for rebellion against Turkish rule in 1737, after which 350 villagers, monks, priests, and a bishop were executed for their participation in the uprising.
The monastery was subsequently closed for nearly one hundred years but was reopened in 1821. Currently, there are only two nuns in residence.
Bulgarian: Lozenski Manastir
Cyrillic: Лозенски манастир
Location: Lozen Monastery “St. Spas,” 1151
Right outside Sofia on the banks of the Vladayska River, this is one of the most visited holy sites in the city. The monastery became popular after 1989 when locals began to report a miraculous Icon of St. Minas that’s located inside the church. According to Europost:
“St Menas is the saint patron of homeless, orphans and travellers. The Great Martyr Menas is painted on an icon at the Obradovki Monastery near Sofia, which cures stammering and other problems. As a matter of fact, any icon could be wonderworking and doing its noble job, if venerated with a true faith.”
Bulgarian: Obradovski Manastir
Cyrillic: Обрадовски манастир
Location: ul. “Sveti Mina”, 1278 Sofia
Razboishte is in far, western Bulgaria near the Serbian border. Its use as a religious center dates back to the fourth century. The caves nearby were used by Saint Sava. It was expanded to a full monastery in the 18th century. The Ottomans set the cloister on fire three times during their occupation. Later it was abandoned in the twentieth century until a small group of nuns resettled the monastery in the 1950’s; however, the last nun died in 2007, leaving the monastery uninhabited.
Bulgarian: Razboishki Manastir
Cyrillic: Разбоишки манастир
Location: 2253 Godech
Seven Altars Monastery
Located in the northern Balkan mountains on the edge of Sofia Province on the Gabrovitsa river, Osenovlashki Monastery goes by its much more popular alternative name of the “Seven Altars Monastery.”
According to legend, the name came from seven boyars who moved from modern-day Moldova to the area and founded the church, but they also founded the seven local villages of Osenovlak, Ogoya, Ogradishte, Bukovets, Leskov Dol, Zhelen, and Lakatnik. Today the monastery is open to visitors and is a popular place for tourists to seek accommodations (they recommend booking in advance).
Bulgarian: Osenovlashki Monastery or Sedemte Prestola
Cyrillic: Седемте престола
Location: 2291 Svoge
Patriarchal Monastery of the Holy Trinity
Situated near Veliko Tarnovo in the Dervent Gorge on the Yantra River, the monastery stands in front of the Arbanassi cliffs, making it a gorgeous place to photograph (especially from afar or with a drone). An inscription in the monastery states that it was founded in 1070 when Bulgaria was under Byzantine rule.
The current altar was brought to the church from the ancient ruins of an old Roman town that is now 20km north of Veliko Tarnovo. The church sustained damage during a 1913 earthquake but was reconstructed after World War II and inhabited by a group of nuns. Make sure to stop by Tsarevets hill if you visit.
Bulgarian: Patriarsheski Manastir
Cyrillic: Патриаршески манастир
Location: Saint Trinity Monastery, 5040
Bulgaria Travel Resources
We want you to have the best trip to Bulgaria possible. To help you, we’ve created a number of resources that will be helpful. If this will be your first time in Bulgaria, check out our Bulgaria trip planning guide and our favorite places to visit in Bulgaria.
What to Bring to Bulgaria
We have an entire Bulgaria packing list for your conveinance, but make sure not to leave these items behind!
We strongly recommend having your own unlocked smartphone to make travel around Bulgaria easy – and it’s super cheap with a local SIM (here’s how to get one in Bulgaria).
If your own phone company charges too much to get it unlocked, you can buy a cheap unlocked smartphone online (here’s one we recommend). But generally, if your smartphone is unlocked, we advise you to bring that with you and just be sure you have travel insurance in case of breakage, loss, or theft.
Bulgaria is a safe country, but we always recommend people to be cautious with their belongings. We know a lot of people like money belts for Europe – this is the best-reviewed one we’ve seen. However, neither of us use them.
Instead, we both have the same awesome anti-theft backpack by PacSafe and bring it everywhere with us – in Sofia, when we travel, and even just on beach days and coffee outings! With locking zippers, slashproof construction, and other security features, it’s peace of mind in a bag. It’s also surprisingly gender-neutral and stylish.
Finally, don’t forget a guidebook! While travel blogs are great, we love having a well-researched guidebook at our fingertips. We suggest Lonely Planet Bulgaria & Romania as the best option for the country.
Planning a Trip to Bulgaria? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Make sure you always travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. Travel here includes outdoor activities and travel to highly touristed sites. You need to be covered in case you have an accident or fall victim to theft. Travel insurance will help you recover your expenses and continue to enjoy your trip.
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online, appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times, and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.