Seven Rila Lakes, Bulgaria: Guide, Map & Hiking Tips

7 Rila Lakes Bulgaria

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Wondering how to visit Seven Rila Lakes from Sofia? You’re in the right place with my Rila Lakes hiking guide.

With 2 full days in Sofia, I knew I’d have time to see the city but I would be limited for Sofia day trips. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to hike 7 Rila Lakes without my own transport or have time to stay overnight.

Luckily, I needn’t have worried because there are a few options for visiting Seven Rila Lakes from Sofia. I’m so glad I made the journey: this incredible region was one of the highlights of my 2 days in Sofia and my whole Eastern Europe trip.

I had no idea Bulgaria was so rugged or naturally beautiful. It’s so underrated as a travel destination which is partly why I’m so excited to share my guides and photos.

SOFIA ESSENTIALS

Accommodation: Booking.com // Hostelworld

Tours & activities: GetYourGuide // EatWith

Wild horses at 7 Rila Lakes Sofia
Wild horses at 7 Rila Lakes

7 Rila Lakes intro

It’s no surprise that these are the most visited lakes in Bulgaria. Just take a look at the photos!

The lakes are all between 2,100 and 2,500 metres evaluated above sea level. Although they’re several separate bodies of water, they’re all connected by streams and waterfalls. They were formed thousands of years ago by melting glaciers.

Quick tips for 7 Rila Lakes Bulgaria

  • Don’t visit in the winter unless you can handle the cold!
  • Depart very early if you’re taking public transport
  • Bring an empty water bottle: you can fill up at natural springs!
  • Pack a hat – there’s no shade
  • Don’t forget 18 Lev for the cable car. You can’t pay with card.
  • There’s nowhere to buy food so bring your own lunch
  • For the best hiking experience, book a guided tour from Sofia. You’ll get a guide and/or paper map depending which tour you choose
  • There’s no need for swimwear. Sadly you can’t swim in the lakes.

How to get to Seven Rila Lakes from Sofia

There are a few main options when it comes to hiking Rila lakes from Sofia:

Self-driving. I didn’t take this option myself but I think it would be self-explanatory. The journey from Sofia takes just under 2 hours and there is parking near the cable car to the Lakes. Use Rentalcars.com for Bulgaria car hires.

Public transport. I’ll detail below how to get to Seven Rila Lakes from Sofia by public transport. You’ll need to factor a bit more time for this but it’s the cheapest option.

An organised day tour (the option I took for visiting the 7 Rila Lakes). This is the more expensive option but well worth it for the ease and convenience. I took the 7 Rila Lakes and Rila Monastery Self-Guided Trip (€34) with GetYourGuide.

Scenery at 7 Rila Lakes Bulgaria
Starting the 7 Rila Lakes hike

How to get to Rila Lakes by public transport

Catch a bus from Sofia Central Bus Station to Dupnitsa. These buses depart once per hour (taking 1.5 hours to their end destination) and cost 2 Lev. From there, catch a second bus to Sapareva Banya which departs every 30 minutes and takes 30 minutes to arrive at the Lakes.

This route is relatively easy but a little time consuming, especially if you arrive at Dupnitsa and a bus has just departed. You should factor 3 hours for the journey and the same getting home. It’s doable but a long old day trip!

How to get to 7 Rila Lakes Bulgaria by day tour

If you don’t want to spend up to 6 hours on public transport in a day, consider taking a day tour. These aren’t actually too expensive. The journey takes 1.5 hours each way and drops you off at the chairlift. Tours depart early from Sofia, usually 7am depending on the time of year.

Yes, it’s an early start but you’ll be hiking by 9am and finished by lunch depending on the hiking route you take (more on that next). If you’re travelling solo, it’s also a good way to make friends and get in your own photos. I wouldn’t have been in any of the photos in this blog if it weren’t for my fellow passengers!

I took the first tour below which is self-guided (so you trek and explore solo) but you can opt for the slightly higher priced option that is guided:

Seven Rila Lakes map

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The Seven Rila Lakes are as follows:

  • The Tear (the clearest lake)
  • Fish Lake (the shallowest lake)
  • The Kidney (named after its crescent shape)
  • The Eye (an oval-shaped lake)
  • The Twin (two connected lakes)
  • The Lower Lake (a self-explanatory one – the lake at lowest altitude)
  • The Trefoil (a lake that looks like 3-leafed clover)

7 Rila Lakes hike

You have an easy and a harder option to choose between:

  • Hiking to The Kidney then hiking back (not much uphill involved)
  • Hiking to the top viewpoint. When you pass The Kidney, you can’t fail to see the enormous peak approaching. From the top, you have the following spectacular view of the 7 Lakes:
Mountain top views
The top viewpoint

The good thing about my GetYourGuide tour was that they gave each passenger a paper map showing the different routes.

Rila Lakes lift

The Seven Rila Lakes lift (Pionerska chairlift) is a convenient way to get from the parking lot to the start of the Seven Rila Lakes hike in just 20 minutes. The other option is an extra 2 hours hiking Rila Lakes at an altitude so I’d recommend the cable car.

7 Rila Lakes Bulgaria cable car

The lift to the 7 Rila Lakes costs 18 Lev (€9) return. I’d consider this fairly expensive compared to other costs in Bulgaria but I suppose it is a tourist attraction. The ride is quite fun and you get fantastic views – but I was a bit nervous hoping quickly on and off.

Note – the route for students, seniors and disabled citizens is 12 Lev (€6) return.

Rila Lakes Lift opening times:

Tuesday8.30am–4.30PM
Wednesday8.30am–4.30PM
Thursday8.30am–4.30PM
Friday8.30am–4.30PM
Saturday8.30am–4.30PM
Sunday8.30am–4.30PM
Monday12–4.30PM



Where to stay

Did you know you can stay over at Seven Rila Lakes? I didn’t have time but it looks like an adventure. There are a couple of huts in the area including Lovna Hut which is close to the start of the hike. Why not do a circular route and finish at the hut? You can easily head back to Sofia the next day as the chairlift is just 1km away.

View from 7 Rila Lakes

Price of visiting

My GetYourGuide day tour cost €35 and I paid €9 for the chairlift. Add a few snacks I bought for the road and the total trip cost less than €50. Not bad for such a beautiful and memorable day out!

Best season for visiting

If you’re already on your trip, you might not have much choice. But you can still prepare for the Rila Seven Lakes weather. At an altitude of 2,000 metres above sea level, they can get seriously chilly.

Spring (March-May): With average daily temperatures of 10-15 degrees, spring is a lovely time to visit Rila, and not too hot.

Summer (June-August): During my hike in August, the lakes were blissfully sunny with temperatures in the mid-20s. Be aware that this is the busiest time to visit. You may have to queue for the cable car.

Autumn (September-November): With average temperatures of 15 degrees, the autumn is a lovely season to visit Rila Lakes, just pack an extra layer for the journey home.

Winter (December-January): During the winter months, you’re looking at average temperatures of -5 degrees. While you’ll need serious layers for hiking 7 Rila Lakes in the winter, I imagine the snow-capped mountains would be magical…

Mountain scenery Bulgaria
Imagine this capped in snow!

What to pack for 7 Rila Lakes hiking

Of course this depends on the season but I would recommend:

  • Comfortable walking shoes. Hiking boots are not necessary, I did it in battered old trainers
  • Cash for the cable car, no bank cards accepted
  • A packed lunch and snacks
  • A reusable water bottle. You can fill it up from the fresh mountain springs
  • Extra layers of clothing as it can be windy and exposed at the top
  • Sun cream no matter the season – the light is intense as it reflects off the water
  • A book or something to do for the journey there & back
  • A power bar for charging your camera and phone.
Eight horses on hilltop

Seven Rila Lakes and Rila Monastery in the same day

If you’re hiking Seven Rila Lakes from Sofia, consider including a stop at Rila Monastery. The two aren’t especially closeby and it wouldn’t be possible by public transport during the same day but my GetYourGuide tour included both. It was a long day but since I only had one spare, I was happy to make the most of it by seeing as much of Bulgaria as possible.

Rila Monastery dates back almost 1,000 years and has a rich history. It was used to safeguard Christianity during the five centuries that the Ottoman Empire ruled Bulgaria. I really enjoyed my time strolling this colourful place surrounded by mountains and forest so I’d recommend including it if you have time.

Read next: how to take a day trip to Rila Monastery from Sofia

Rila Monastery Bulgaria
Rila Monastery Bulgaria

What next?

If you’re spending a couple of days in Sofia, use my Sofia itinerary to plan your trip. A few highlights of my visit included:

  • Taking a free tour with Balkan Bites
  • Discovering the Sofia street art
  • Stepping back in time at the Red Flat Sofia
  • Taking a walking tour with Sofia Free Walking Tours
  • Touring the Central Mineral Baths
  • Marvelling at Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
  • So much more! I loved Sofia.

TRUSTED RESOURCES FOR VISITING BULGARIA

Getting around by air – I use Skyscanner and Kayak and search by month to see the cheapest dates.

Driving in Europe – use Rentalcars.com to compare car rentals in European countries (and all around the world).

Confused about visas? I use iVisa to check visa requirements and apply for visas online.

For trains, I use RailEurope. The search feature allows you to compare prices, and they show live departure times on the website.

For buses, I use FlixBus. Find journeys between European countries from €1! 

For hotels and self-catering apartments, I use Booking.com. You can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.com.

To save money on accommodation, I use Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects homeowners going away and travellers who can sit their homes & pets.

Browse tours and activities on GetYourGuide.

For food tours pairing travellers with passionate local chefs and foodies, check out EatWith.

Need travel insurance? I use World Nomads. They cover 150 countries and have 24-hour emergency assistance.

Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and budget tips from my 10+ years on the road!

Check out my other Eastern Europe blogs:

See you next time for more adventures,

Rose

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Rila lakes

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