The Seven Rila Lakes are breathtakingly beautiful and set in the Rila mountains, the highest mountains in the Balkans. This group of glacial lakes is one of the must-see spots in Bulgaria, attracting hikers, nature-lovers and photographers all year round.
What to seeAside from the stunning views (which are reason enough to go on their own), the Seven Rila Lakes have many species of bird and animal life as listed in the Red Book of Bulgaria. Golden eagles, peregrine falcons and woodpeckers make their home here, alongside several endangered species. Visitors may also glimpse alpine ibex, wild cats, or wild boar to name just a few. Plant lovers will enjoy the variety of mountain flora too. The real attraction is the lakes themselves. Intriguingly named to echo their shapes, the glacial lakes have magically clear waters (Tear Lake is the clearest of the seven), and Eye Lake, in particular, is known for its intense cerulean hue. The slightly less charmingly-named Kidney Lake offers a terrific view over the first four lakes and makes a good picnic spot before you continue your hike to the higher lakes.
How to get thereThe lakes can be easily reached from Borovets, Bankso or Sofia. A shuttle runs from Sofia, or you can get a bus to Dupnitsa then take a taxi to the lake lifts at Panichiste. Check the lift operating times before you visit so you can plan your trip. Currently, they operate from 9:00 to 4:30 for the summer season, with shorter working hours out of season. Seeing each of the Seven Rila Lakes takes around five hours. If that sounds too much, it's possible to see five lakes as part of a shorter hike. Many people stay in Panichiste overnight, so they don't have to rush their visit, or stay in the rudimentary hiker's huts on the mountain itself. The hikes require moderate fitness and the usual mountain gear, so take sturdy shoes or boots, a waterproof and a backpack with essential food and water. It's not a spot for flip-flops or trainers, and unpredictable mountain weather means a jacket is essential even in summer. Don't forget your camera either, to capture those wonderful views. If you don't fancy hiking, then how about an air tour? These operate from Sofia and give spectacular views over the lakes and Dangskiya region.
When to goFor clear weather, the best time is July and August, weekends will be busy though, so a summer weekday is ideal. The area is a popular ski and snowboard resort in winter, but the lakes will be covered with ice.
Did you know?The Seven Rila Lakes are sacred to followers of Douno. If you visit in August, you can see the exquisite Paneurhythmy dance as part of a three-day spiritual festival, where followers dance to greet the rising sun as part the celebrations for their New Year. The Seven Rila Lakes can be easily visited during a summer holiday to Borovets, or as part of a city break to Sofia, perhaps before you head to one of the Black Sea resorts for a bit of sun, sea and sand.