Sofia shouldn’t be absent on any Bulgaria itinerary. The country’s capital is one of the most underrated capital cities in Europe, filled with gorgeous architecture, art galleries, inviting parks and plenty of historic sites. Sofia deserves some serious exploration.
You don’t need more than a couple of days to see this city, though. So, once you’re done, you might want to rent a car and explore some other destinations in Bulgaria. Using Sofia and the great selection of hotels as a base, there are several places you can visit on day excursions. The following are the ten best day trips from Sofia.
Great Day Trips From Sofia
One of the most beautiful natural attractions in Bulgaria, the seven Rila Lakes are only 90 kilometers from the city and among the most beautiful spring destinations in Eastern Europe. This collection of glacial lakes are located at different altitudes in the highest mountain range in the Balkans. A hiking trail leads past each lake, ending at a viewpoint that overlooks all seven lakes. The hike takes three to four hours and is possibly the greatest hike anywhere in Bulgaria.
While it bears the same name as the attraction above, the Rila Monastery has nothing to do with it. The only similarity is that it also lies in the Rila Mountains. This major cultural landmark was founded in the 10th century and is one of the most significant monuments in Bulgaria and the Balkans. A fantastically colorful structure, the Rila Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, indicating its enormous cultural and historical importance.
Sometimes regarded as the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe and one of the oldest in the entire world, Plovdiv’s history goes back to the 6th millennium—that’s right, millennium—B.C. It’s a couple of millennia older than the Egyptian pyramids. Think about that for a second.
Unsurprisingly, the city is home to a wealth of historic monuments. The most important ones are the Ancient Theater, the Ancient Stadium, the Roman Forum, the remains of the 2nd-millennium-B.C. Thracian city of Eumolpias, and about 200 other archaeological sites. If you like antiquity, you can’t find a better place anywhere in the Balkans than Plovdiv.
An old Bulgarian capital, Veliko Turnovo lies in the north-central region of the country. This is the destination furthest from Sofia on this list. There is a direct train connection between Sofia and Veliko Turnovo, but it still takes about four hours to get there. Make sure to catch the earliest train of the day.
The main attraction here is Tsarevets Fortress, the most important and powerful stronghold of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
This series of cascading waterfalls near the village of Krushuna lies in the north of the country. Famous because of their remarkable landscape of travertine dams and lakes—people who have visited Plitvice Lakes in Croatia know what the result of this natural phenomenon can eventually be—, these waterfalls are exceptionally photogenic and one of the top natural attractions in Bulgaria.
The Rila Mountains are the highest mountain range in the Balkans (see above) and home to the number one highest mountain in the Balkans. Mount Musala towers above the landscape, its peak 2,925 meters high.
Rather surprisingly, the climb to the summit isn’t that technical or hard. You can easily drive there from Sofia, climb the mountain, hike down and head back to the capital in one day. Count on four hours to reach the top, another four hours to get back down.
A karst cave near the village of Karlukovo in the province of Lovech, Prohodna Cave is 262 meters long, making it one of the longest caves in Bulgaria. It’s famous for its two holes in the ceiling, resembling two massive eyes. This cave isn’t popular among only hikers and cavers, but rock climbers and even bungee jumpers find some entertainment there as well.
One of Bulgaria’s most popular tourist attractions, Belogradchik is attractive for various reasons. The town of Belogradchik is the base for all touristic activities while the Belogradchik Rocks are arguably the area’s greatest landmark.
This collection of strangely shaped sandstone formations are an extraordinary sight, made even more interesting by the local folkloric tales associated with them. Another major highlight in Belogradchik is the Belogradchik Fortress.
The town of Melnik is an architectural preservation in Bulgaria, almost 100 of its buildings designated as cultural monuments. Interestingly, this is also the smallest official city in Bulgaria, home to no more than 400 people.
Additionally, Melnik is one of the best day trips from Sofia because of the nearby rock formations. The “Melnik pyramids”, as they’re sometimes referred to, are imposing sandstone rock formations in various shapes. To top it all off, there are great vineyards in the area as well.
If you want to learn more about the Bulgarian culture and identity, make your way to Koprivshtitsa. Known for its significant role in the uprisings of April, 1876, the town is also renowned for its typical Bulgarian architecture and folk music festivals.
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With so many options for day trips from Sofia, how will you pick just one!?
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