After spending a few days in Bulgaria’s vibrant capital, you should consider venturing outside the city and explore at least several other incredible destinations. Fortunately, Sofia is a lovely city to serve as a base for visiting many of Bulgaria’s top destinations. So, hop on a bus or a train or join a tour, and get the adventure started with these day trips from Sofia!
Rila Monastery (Рилски манастир)
Having travelled avidly and seen quite a number of historical religious monuments, I had no real expectations for Rila Monastery. Honestly, this is one of the few man-made places that got me “WOW!”. Being the biggest Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria, Rila Monastery is also one of the most important cultural buildings in the Balkans region. The most impressive feature of the monastery is the stunning bright colorful frescoes that decorate the walls. These paintings show stories from the Bible, the Garden of Eden to the Last Judgement. Admission to the monastery is free, but the History Museum costs 16lv (€8) and climbing up the Tower of Hrelio costs 10lv (€5). There is also a small shopping area out the back where there are restaurants, souvenir stalls and a little hole in the wall selling traditional Bulgarian doughnuts (highly recommend).
Getting There: There is a direct bus from Sofia which departs from Ovcha Kupel bus station at 10.20am to Rila Monastery (arrives at around 1:00pm). The bus departs at 3.00pm from Rila Monastery, leaving you 2-hours to stroll the place surrounding by mountains and forest. This day trip would cost you 22lv (€11) for a return ticket.
Fun Fact: Rila Monastery can be seen on the 1lev banknote.
Seven Rila Lakes (Седемте рилски езера)
Nestled in less than 2-hours drive away from Sofia, Rila is the highest mountain range in Bulgaria and the Balkan Peninsula. As you ascend the chairlift for a 20-minute ride, emerald green and sapphire blue lakes greet you, having formed thousands of years ago from the melting glaciers. Due to their location at an altitude of 2,100 to 2,500 meters above sea level, a blanket of snow usually covers these lakes for most of the year.
Vitosha Mountain (Витоша)
Vitosha is the oldest protected nature park in the Balkans, with the fourth highest mountain range in Bulgaria. From almost every point in the city, one can see the mountain range surrounding Sofia along its fringes. Although many visitors know of the locally famous mountain, few take the time to hike up as most opt for Seven Rila Lakes. If you’re looking for an escape from the city, Vitosha Mountain is the place to unwind.
Getting There: Take the blue metro line M2 to Vitosha station. Take bus number 66 or 93 outside of Paradise shopping mall all the way till the last stop. From there, you can start hiking up from one of the many trails.
Boyana Church (Боянска църква)
For those who don’t fancy hiking at Vitosha, Boyana Church is situated at the foot of the mountain. Despite looking neglected, this medieval Orthodox church is one of the nine UNESCO heritage sites in Bulgaria. Do note that the church only permits a maximum of eight people at a time to enter for a duration of 10-minutes.
Getting there: Take the blue metro line M2 to Vitosha station. Board bus number 64 and 107 across from Paradise shopping mall, and enjoy the ride all the way.
Koprivshtitsa, known for its Revival-styled architecture in the 19th century, is picturesquely located in a valley surrounded by mountains. The town is very charming with its cobbled lanes and houses with vivid decorations. Located only 110-kilometres away, Koprivshtitsa is yet a not-so-popular day trips from Sofia. If you’re not in a rush, give this town a chance to bring you back in time.
Getting there: The cheapest way to get from Sofia to Koprivshtitsa is by train which costs 10lv (€5) each way and takes about 2-hours. Once at Koprivshtitsa station, you need to look for the shuttle bus that takes you to the town itself.
Kazanlak Rose Valley (Казанлък Розова долина)
For centuries, the fragrant Bulgarian rose has been grown in the Rose Valley, located just south of the Balkan Mountains. Today, about 85% of the rose oil production of the world comes right from this valley. If you are in Kazanlak between May and June, you will be in time for the harvest festival. I was there in July, there wasn’t much to see except to visit Damascena Ethnographic Complex – the first private rose oil distillery.
Getting there: The easiest way is to join a tour. The drive from Sofia to Kazanlak will take approximately 2.5-hours, one way.
If you make it to the Rose valley, adding Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak will make a lovely combo day trip. Dating from around the late 4th century BC, the beehive-shaped tomb is still in excellent preservation with Hellenistic-styled paintings. About 3.5-metres tall, and 2.5-metres across at the base, this is probably the world’s smallest UNESCO World Heritage Site! Entrance fee is 6 lv (€3) to admire the long-lost Thracian civilization.
Just about 150-kilometers from Sofia, Plovdiv is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe. With evidence dating back to the 6th century BC, the city is home to a wealth of historic monuments – Roman Amphitheater from the 1st century AD, the Roman Stadium from the 2nd century AD, Thracian city of Eumolpias, and about 200 other archaeological sites. Despite having ancient ruins scattering around, one can still enjoy the artistic vibe at the Kapana Art District, where there are numerous cafes, galleries and vibrant atmosphere in the city. With so much to see, I personally feel that this city deserves more than just a 1-day stopover.
Getting There: Go to domestic bus terminal (blue building beside Serdika bus station) and you can go to Vitosha Express or Karats counter to get your tickets. As Plovdiv is a popular destination, there is bus available almost every hour. Karats costs 9.5lv one-way and the journey takes about 2-hours.
Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram!