When going to Sofia, you should definitely spend some of your days in enjoying day trips. The Bulgarian capital has a strategic location that allows an easy access to many of the other great cultural and natural places that a person can discover in Bulgaria. Here is my personal list with the most remarkable spots that a tourist should visit:
The town of Plovdiv will capture you with its magnificent views- it is situated in the central part of Sothern Bulgaria along six hills and it is crossed by the big river Maritsa. Plovdiv is considered the ancient existing settlement in Europe, with a history dating back to the 4 millennium BC. Nowadays it merges heritage from Thracian, Roman and Bulgarian times. There you will find the Roman Stadium and the Roman Theater, the Revival Old Town, the newly discovered early Christian mosaics and many other interesting things. Plovdiv will be a European Capital of Culture in 2019.
Driving time from Sofia`s center to Plovdiv: about 1,5- 2 hours
Plovdiv could be visited throughout the whole year. Have in mind that in July and August the temperatures usually are quite hot.
The Rila Monastery is the biggest monastery in Bulgaria and one of the biggest on the Balkans. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is an amazingly beautiful and calm place. There you can also visit its museum, which has a rich collection of different objects and artefacts, dating back to as early as the 14th century, and see an authentic monk room.
Near the region of the monastery are situated the “Stob Pyramids”- sand- stone formations, recognized as a natural landmark. From the small village of Stob, there is a walking path that leads to the pyramids- it takes about 30 minutes in each direction so it is also a great opportunity for hiking walks during the appropriate seasons.
Driving time from Sofia`s center to the Rila Monastery: about 1,5 hours
The monastery is open and can be visited throughout the whole year. The pyramids cannot be reached during the winter season.
Koprivshtitsa is a charming mountain town, built in a traditional Bulgarian Revival style from the 19th century. You will completely fall in love with its colorful houses and relaxing nature. Some of the houses now work as museums so you will have the chance to explore them and to see their authentic interior. The history of the village is closely related to the tragic April Uprising, organized by the Bulgarians in 1876 against the oppression of the Ottoman Empire, so there you will also learn a lot about the local national heroes from that period.
Driving time from Sofia`s center to Koprivshtitsa: about 1,5- 2 hours
Koprivshtitsa can be visited throughout the whole year. It is especially pleasant in the summer, when it offers a good escape from the warm temperatures.
This is my personal favorite trip along the nature. The canyon of the river Iskar is located north from Sofia, in the “Stara Planina” Mountain. The car road goes just next to the river, making the landscape even more beautiful. In the region of the Iskar Gorge there are several different eco paths, going to different high spots in the mountain. From each of these spots, amazing views are revealed and you will feel like you will want to stay there forever. Even if you are not much into hiking, one of the high spots can be reached by car, so this day trip can be done even during the winter season.
Driving time from Sofia`s center to the region of the Iskar Gorge: about 1,5 hours
This trip is usually more appropriate for non- winter seasons when it can be combined with hiking, but can be done in the winter mostly by car as well.
The Seven Rila Lakes are located high in the Rila Mountain. They are named after their shapes and qualities. The landscape there is absolutely enchanting. Along the lakes are opportunities for shorter or longer hikes, depending on your preferences. There is a cable car from the small village of Panichishte that goes up to the lakes and nearby is situated the SPA village of Sapareva Banya, with its hot mineral springs. The trip to the lakes is more appropriate during the summer season, when it could be a great escape from the hot weather.
Driving time from Sofia`s center to Panichishte: about 1,5 hours
The cable car to the Seven Rila Lakes usually works from the beginning of April until the beginning of October.
The Vitosha Mountain is situated just next to Sofia, so it is the closest place for trips along the nature and up in the mountains. The trip to the mountain can be combined with a visit to the Boyana Church- UNESCO world heritage site- and/ or to the National History Museum- both are located at its footsteps. A variety of hiking paths are available in the area with different difficulties and length. Beautiful panoramic views of Sofia can be seen from some of the high spots. In the winter, it is also a place for winter sports since there are several tracks and lifts.
The big Pancharevo lake is also situated in this region. There is an eco-path that goes next to it and gives the opportunity for pleasurable and relaxing walks.
Driving time from Sofia`s center to Vitosha: about 1/2 hour
The Belogradchik Rocks are a natural phenomenon. Their beauty is hard to explain with words. The whole rock complex is about 30 km. long and 7 km. wide. They have different form and size, and reach up to 100 meters high. Some of the biggest rocks have their own names. Along the rocks are also situated more than one hundred caves and some of them can be explored as well.
Next to some of the most spectacular rocks there is a well preserved ancient fortress. It was built initially by the Romans with the aim to control the road from Sofia to the Danube River and later was also used by the Bulgarians and by the Ottomans.
Driving time from Sofia`s center to Belogradchik: about 3 hours
Recommended time of the visit: from March to October
If you like medieval villages and fortresses, this is definitely your place. Veliko (meaning “the great”) Tarnovo was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom from the end of the 12th to the end of the 14th century. It has definitely preserved the charm and the spirit from that era. It is situated in the center of Northern Bulgaria, along several big hills and the river Yantra passes through it. The hill “Tsarevets”, where the Royal Palace of the kings was situated, has a well preserved fortification and the church “Saint 40 Martyrs”, dating back to the 13th century, is also situated nearby. When you walk through the old part of the town along its charming houses you will be able to feel this specific medieval atmosphere.
Most of the nights on the “Tsarevets” hill is performed the unique spectacle “sound and light”, which uses hundreds of colorful lights, music, bell rings and lasers to show different moments from the history of the town and the history of Bulgaria.
Driving time from Sofia`s center to Veliko Tarnovo: about 3- 3,5 hours
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By Vasil Nachkov