Nature walks, caves, historic towns, monasteries, and mountains… you can see all of this on day trips from Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Sofia is often forgotten as a destination in Bulgaria. People tend to do the Black Sea Beaches or the Balkan Mountains, though if you allow Sofia, it can and will surprise you.
Sofia is a lovely city to serve as a base for visiting many of Bulgaria’s top destinations. Besides the attractions in town, there are many destinations that you can reach in simple Sofia day trips. Let’s explore them!
Best day trips from Sofia
by Stella Jane of Around the World in 24 Hours
Rila Monastery is one of the most beautiful places in Bulgaria and one of its most famous landmarks. Fortunately, it is also easy to visit as a day trip from Sofia. You will need a car to get there, but it is just about an hour and a half drive away from Bulgaria’s capital. It’s also possible to take the Rila Shuttle from Sofia, which costs about 20 Euros for a round trip.
Rila Monastery is the largest Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was founded back in the 10th century. The monastery was built by the students of Saint Ivan of Rila, a monk who lived in a nearby cave.
Sadly, the original buildings have not survived, but the oldest buildings at Rila Monastery still date to the 14th century.
The most impressive feature of the monastery is the stunning, colorful frescoes that decorate the walls. These paintings show stories from the Bible, from the Garden of Eden to the Last Judgement. Some of the frescoes are rather gruesome, but some might think that just makes them more attractive.
Admission to the monastery and church is completely free, but if you want to see the attached History Museum, it costs 8 Euros. It costs an additional 5 Euros to see the interior of the other buildings in the complex, like the Tower of Hrelio.
Seven Rila Lakes – day trip from Sofia to a natural wonder
by Rose Munday of where goes rose
Undoubtedly, one of the most naturally impressive day trips from Sofia is Seven Rila Lakes. This national park is a two-hour drive from the capital of Bulgaria and can be visited by car, local bus (although factor three hours for this as you’ll need to change via Dupnitsa), or day tour.
The best thing about Rila National Park is the incredible scenery caused by ancient melting glaciers, which have created seven lakes. Each lake has a name based on its appearance, for example, Teardrop and the Kidney.
You can spend anywhere between a few hours and a whole day hiking between them, reaching the top point for fantastic views over all seven lakes at once. It’s a steep upwards trek to the top point but easily worth it for the photo opportunity.
While hiking is free and there’s no entrance fee to the national park, you might want to spend 8 Lev (€9) on a return ride on the Pionerska chairlift. This fun ride with beautiful scenery takes 20 minutes each way, saving you an extra 2-hour hike each way.
It’s well worth it because this hike would be steep without much scenery since the real views begin at the hike starting point when you disembark the chairlift. This day trip is a must to leave city life behind and experience the natural beauty of Bulgaria!
by Stephanie Craig of Sofia Adventures
Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s northern medieval capital, is a great day trip from Sofia. You can easily get from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo by bus or by renting a car, and you can cover most of the city’s essential sites in a day.
In fact, I far prefer it as a day trip to staying overnight since the town is much more fun during the day. The journey from Sofia takes less than three hours each way.
The city itself is laid out over a beautiful series of hills and is bisected by the Yantra river. Popular things to do in Veliko Tarnovo include visiting Tsaravets Fortress, walking through the town’s historic district, and visiting the nearby monasteries.
A day in Veliko Tarnovo won’t cost you more than a similar day in Sofia, so the only extra expense you need to worry about is the cost of the bus ticket or car rental.
Rental car prices fluctuate depending on the season and your desired car, whereas a round-trip bus ticket costs about $18 per person. You might think that a visit here only makes sense in the summer, but the city has festivities and events, making a winter visit here a good idea.
Plovdiv – an urban day trip from Sofia
by Anda Bartos of Travel for a while
Plovdiv is conveniently located for a day trip from Sofia, just about 150km on a highway. I recommend driving because the train ride takes longer than 3 hours. It is the second-largest city in Bulgaria, but you can cover most things to do in Plovdiv in a day trip. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes, as there will be a lot of walking involved, some of it on cobbled stone streets.
Plovdiv is the oldest city in Europe, so a lot of history is waiting to be discovered. From Roman structures to Ottoman mosques and traditional Bulgarian houses in the Old Town, there’s much to see in Plovdiv.
Start with the Roman theater in the Old Town, then make your way through the painted houses on the hills in Plovdiv. Make sure to see the Ethnographical Museum; even if you don’t want to enter, the building is beautiful on the outside too and stands in a peaceful courtyard.
Step inside Dzhumaya mosque in the city center, then wonder at the partially uncovered Roman Stadium in the main square. Most of the stadium is still underground, under the street and buildings, but it went all the way to the Roman Forum at the end of the street.
A day trip to Plovdiv from Sofia with a guide can cost anywhere from 30€ to 70€. Book it here
by Milos Mitrovic of Happy Frog Travels
Most tourists overlook the fascinating city of Kyustendil, located 86 kilometers from Sofia. However, Kyustendil has been an important spa town for centuries.
Attracted by the numerous hot springs in the area, the Thracians founded Kyustendil between the 5th and 4th centuries BC. The city was later Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian, Serbian, Ottoman, and again Bulgarian.
Today, you can bathe in the historical baths located in the city center. What’s more, you have several modern spa hotels to choose from.
Kyustendil offers more than millenary mineral waters. The ruins of a Roman Thermae from the 2nd or 3rd centuries AD are the second-largest archaeological remains in Bulgaria.
The Hissarlaka, an early medieval fortress, sits proudly on the hill overlooking the city. From Ottoman times, you have two mosques to visit: the Fatih Mehmed and Ahmed Bey, built in the 15th century. However, the city has an even older temple.
We are talking about the remarkable 11th-century St. George Orthodox Church. Finally, you can spend hours walking around the city discovering beautiful examples of 19th-century civil architecture.
Since Kyustendil is on the road connecting Sofia to Skopje, you can take any of several daily buses. The journey from Sofia lasts between 2 hours and 2 hours 40 minutes, depending on the bus company. Additionally, you can take a direct train or 6 with a connection to Pernik or Radomir.
by Corina Preda of another milestone
Devetashka cave is located 170 km away from Sofia, in N-E. It will probably take you around 2 and a half hours to get there because you will drive mainly on a national road with speed limits. Use a GPS to take you there because signs don’t appear very often.
Once you arrive, park your car (there is a parking lot there) and walk around 15 minutes to get to the cave. You will find the ticket kiosk near the parking lot – the entrance ticket is less than 2 euros.
Once you get inside, you can see the highlight of this cave: the holes in the ceiling. It is one of the most extensive caves in Bulgaria, with a large cavity at the entrance, but only a part of it is accessible to tourists. Walk around the cave, climb the stairs to reach its highest point, and admire the sky seen through the holes. Inside you will need warmer clothes and sports shoes.
A beautiful, natural landscape surrounds the cave, but you won’t find anything to drink or eat in the area. That is why it is better to come prepared or, on the way back to Sofia, you can stop in Lovech, the nearest city to the cave. In Lovech, you will find restaurants for lunch and even a beautiful covered bridge to visit if you need one more attraction for your trip.
by Seanna Fallon of Seanna’s World
Bansko is a charming mountain town in the southwest of Bulgaria, easily reachable from Sofia in a 2-hour drive. A welcome respite from the capital, Bansko is a peaceful hub where the real draw is the Pirin mountains.
In winter, Bansko is a thriving ski and snowboard resort, and in the warmer months, it is a perfect jumping-off point for some exciting hiking trails.
Nearby Mount Vihren is the second highest peak in Bulgaria, and just about doable in a day if you set off really early from Sofia to Bansko and head back late. However, if you want to take a more relaxed hike, start at Vihren hut, and there are color-marked trails you can follow.
For example, the yellow trail takes around 2 hours each way at a leisurely pace, and there is a mountaintop lake where you can stop for a wild swim. The best thing about a day like this is it is completely free.
If hiking isn’t your thing, Bansko also has a lovely old town to wander around, or you could relax in the spa in one of the 5-star hotels.
If you’re staying in Bansko for dinner, check out one of the welcoming local restaurants, known as mehanas, with traditional Bulgarian food and decor. A real highlight is Mahana Dedo Tase.
by Kami of My Wanderlust
Koprivshtitsa is one of the easiest yet not-so-popular day trips from Sofia. The town, known for its exceptional architecture from the Bulgarian revival period in the 19th century, is located only 110 km away from the capital.
You can easily reach it by car or by train (although you need to change for the bus to get from the train station to the town), the journey should take around 2 hours. If you choose the train, the whole journey (train + bus) should cost approximately 10 leva one-way.
The main reason to go to Koprivshtitsa is to see the beautiful houses and visit numerous museums of famous Bulgarians. The town was the center of the Bulgarian independence movement, and many prominent fighters came from this area.
The houses in the Bulgarian revival style that host the museums are painted in vivid colors and are just the prettiest. It’s worth going inside too, to see the interiors. But the best thing to do in Koprivshtitsa is to wander around the town and enjoy its laid-back atmosphere and many charming corners.
Be sure to climb up to the upper parts of the town too to see its picturesque location from above. Koprivshtitsa is one of the prettiest towns you can visit in Bulgaria!
Rose Valley of Kazalank and Thracian Tombs
One of the best day trips from Sofia is visiting the Rose Valley and the Thracian Tombs. These are two different attractions, but they are close enough to do it in only one day tour.
For centuries the fragrant Bulgarian rose has been grown in the Rose Valley, located just south of the Balkan Mountains and the eastern part of the lower Sredna Gora chain to the south. Today about 85% of the rose oil production of the world comes from this valley.
Though you need to note that the Rose Valley is a seasonal tourist attraction, you can only actually see and smell the roses between May and June, during the picking season. Outside this season, there isn’t much to see except for the Rose Museum. But, if you are traveling during these months, you should take a few hours to enjoy the lovely fields of roses.
There are Thracian tombs spread over Bulgaria, but the most famous (and UNESCO Heritage sites) are the Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari and the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak. If you are visiting the Rose valley, then going to Kazalank Tomb on the same Sofia day trip makes a lovely combo.
The Kazalank tomb is part of a vast royal Thracian necropolis in the Valley of the Thracian Rulers. As UNESCO puts it, it’s “a unique aesthetic and artistic work, a masterpiece of the Thracian creative spirit. This monument is the only one of its kind anywhere in the world“.
However, and before you go, you should note that to preserve the sensitive paintings, the tomb is not open to the public; a full-size replica was built nearby, and that’s what you can visit. There are other tombs in this area that you can visit the original, but they aren’t as notorious.
Krushuna waterfalls are located between Veliko Tarnovo and Sofia. This means that if you have time, you can include it on the same day trip from Sofia, as Veliko Tarnovo or God’s eyes. There’s an entry fee of 3 leva (1.5 Euros).
There are two routes you can take – they will bring you to different parts of the waterfalls. One takes you to the upper side (much more difficult) of the falls and some caves; the other one is easier and follows the river and small lakes. It’s worth taking time to do both.
To reach the falls, you need to follow a trail through the forest and follow the river upstream through some smaller cascades that lead to the main one. The hike is short and reasonably easy, with several places to stop and look around to enjoy the landscape and even have a nice pick-nick.
Krushuna falls somehow reminds me of the Plitvice lakes in Croatia, with several cascades, a big waterfall, and beautiful lakes. Though, not as impressive.
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