Bulgaria is truly the land of underrated ancient wonders. Here is everything you need to know about visiting one of them, Aladzha Monastery, a rare example of rock-hewn churches.
Best Time to Visit Aladzha Monastery
You do not need to book in advance to visit Aladzha Monastery. It is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm and closed on public holidays.
From a peruse of Google reviews I see that the hours are often changing, and it may be closed on weekends during the winter. Double check reviews before you go.
I am not sure if the monastery ever gets crowded, but I would plan a visit after 1 pm.
The busiest times according to Google are from 10 am to noon, so I suspect that is when tours roll through.
We visited in the evening, but at that time the monastery was open later. If you have an opportunity to visit at night, I highly recommend it. There was nobody else there and the area is lit for visitors.
Getting to Aladzha Monastery
Aladzha Monastery is only about 4 km outside of the resort town of Golden Sands, and 15 km from Varna.
By car, it’s about 5.5 hours from the capital city of Sofia.
If you are visiting from Golden Sands, you can actually walk to the monastery if you don’t mind a 3.8 km hike.
The highway portion does have a sidewalk, so it’s not as crazy to walk as it looks from the map. The last 1/3rd of the walk is a narrow winding road, so it’s probably safest not to walk to Aladzha with kids.
You can catch a taxi in Golden Sands and take it up to the monastery. It is only a 6 minute drive, and taxis in Bulgaria are cheap. It should only cost $5 – $10.
As always, just make sure that they are using the meter.
You will probably have to call another cab when you are ready to leave, or attempt the walk back.
Bulgaria does not have Uber.
If you are comfortable driving in Bulgaria, it is a good country to rent a car in. Rentals are affordable and we have never been scammed when returning the car.
Public transit in Bulgaria is not very good. That’s all there is to say really. In the spirit of “Slow Travel,” it would be nice if you could get to every destination by bus or train, but the infrastructure isn’t there.
If you are staying outside of Golden Sands, then driving is your best option. If you don’t want to drive, you can get a public bus to Golden Sands and take a taxi from there.
Take a Tour
If you are more comfortable in a group, there are tours available to Aladzha. If you are staying in Golden Sands your accommodation should be able to recommend some to you.
There are also tour options available through Trip Advisor. If you are staying in Varna there are longer tours that combine a visit to Aladzha Monastery with other attractions.
Aladzha Monastery Admission
The ticket price to visit Aladzha Monastery is:
Adults: 5 lev ($3 USD)
Students: 2 lev ($1.20 USD)
Do bring cash! Many places in Bulgaria still do not accept cards, and at last check Aladzha is one of them.
Walking Through the Aladzha Monastery
You will need about an hour to visit the monastery itself and the museum, but plan to stay a little longer to enjoy the attached Botanical Park and the nearby catacombs.
The Aladzha Monastery that you see in pictures, is a series of caves and excavations in the side of a cliff. The first level is living quarters and common areas, as well as a crypt and a chapel.
The second level is dedicated almost entirely to the largest chapel, and has some well preserved frescoes. Wooden stairs and walkways usher you through your visit.
History of Aladzha Monastery
Not a lot is known about the history of the monastery. It is thought that there was a monastery of some description on the site as of the 10th century, or even earlier, but the current structure dates to about 1200 – 1300.
It’s funny that Aladzha has been described as “unforgettable,” because that’s precisely the reason we know so little now, it was forgotten until the 19th century.
How was it built?
Some of the caves are thought to be natural, particularly the larger opening on the second level. Additional excavation in rock-hewn churches was typically done by hand with a chisel.
In Aladzha the walls and ceiling are very smooth, so clearly they were sculpted even if there was a cave to begin with.
The Aladzha Monastery is a Bulgarian Orthodox church, but the name itself is a Persian or Turkish word that simply indicates the monastery is colourful.
There are differing opinions about the original name, some believe it was dedicated to the Holy Trinity, but that is very much a guess based on the frescoes.
Museum at Aladzha Monastery
The on site museum is small, and doesn’t take too much time to go through. It is helpful to get a better idea of what the rooms were used for and how they may have looked long ago.
There is also some period artwork and a few artifacts.
If I remember right, there was also a restroom, which is always a handy feature.
Aladzha Monastery Botanic Park
When you park in the pullout for Aladzha Monastery, that is also the entrance to some walking trails that surround the area.
Zlatni Pyasatsi Nature Park is the smallest nature preserve in Bulgaria and the second oldest. The walk through the forest has great google reviews!
Because we visited the monastery after dark, we didn’t hike through the park beyond walking to the monastery. We had planned to return in the daylight, but we ran out of time that trip. Whomp whomp.
Catacombs Hike from Aladzha Monastery
Something we didn’t know about when we visited, was that there are even older catacombs just a short walk from Aladzha Monastery.
About 700 meters from the main rock hewn monastery are some little caves dating back as far as the 5th century.
Some coins and other historic artifacts were found here, but beware, reviewers did describe the caves as “creepy.”
There is more to the Black Sea coast than culture-less resort towns! Check out my post about Bulgarian destinations, where you will find several options within driving distance of Varna (a town which is also worth visiting).