Sofia is a city with 7,000 years of human history. It possesses areas of stunning natural beauty, large parks and green spaces, a whole host of fascinating cultural sites, and vibrant areas for eating out and indulging in some retail therapy. If you’re staying in Sofia for an extended period, you won’t be short of excellent things to see and do. However, the whole of Bulgaria is rich with treasures!
The natural landscape offers up forests, lakes, waterfalls, snow-capped mountains and rolling green hills. The country’s historical sites stretch back to antiquity (even regularly referenced in works of Greek mythology — more of which, later). Fortunately, due to a fine public transport network and affordable car rental options, it’s easy to use Sofia as your base camp for exploring the country at large.
Join us today for 5 of our favourite day trips from Sofia. And while you are here, why not check out our range of Private Bulgaria Day Trips, Tours & Excursions.
Perhaps an obvious choice, but travellers seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of the capital city can simply head to the nearby Vitosha Mountain. One of the most iconic images associated with Sofia, Vitosha Mountain is easily spotted from across the city, a constant reminder that the quiet serenity of nature is only a short bus trip away. This is the perfect escape for those tight for time, with the mountain being reachable in about 30 minutes by car.
Once at the mountain, you can enjoy some areas of extraordinary natural beauty such as the Golden Bridges stone rivers, or the Boyana Waterfall. And history lovers visiting the mountain will not want to miss the Dragalevtsi Monastery, a 14th-century complex straight from the pages of a folktale. Vitosha is the perfect day trip for those pushed for time or wanting to avoid too much travel.
Rila Monastery and The Seven Rila Lakes
An exquisite example of medieval architectural ingenuity, the Rila Monastery is one of Bulgaria’s most impressive historic sites and should not be missed by anyone exploring what the country has to offer. Built during the 10th century, this Eastern Orthodox holy site is nestled within the southwestern Rila Mountains, Bulgaria’s highest range. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the monastery welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
Also within the Rila Mountains is the Seven Rila Lakes, a group of stunning glacial lakes, instantly recognisable for their sapphire-blue waters. While we have entered these two must-see destinations under one heading, given their location, an overnight stay would be required if you want to do both on a single trip. However, each one can be enjoyed as a day trip from Sofia.
Those planning on taking a guided tour can enjoy both these sites with us. We explore the monastery on our Sofia to Rila Monastery & Boyana Church Tour and venture to the lakes on our 7 Rila Lakes Hike — Bulgaria Trekking Adventure.
Established around 4,000 BC, Plovdiv is Bulgaria’s second-largest city and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Plovdiv has been ruled and shaped by Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and Bulgarians. Today it offers visitors a truly unique experience and, being located just a couple of hours from Sofia, it’s perfect for a day trip.
Explore the magical streets of Old Town Plovdiv, which allow you to step back in time in a way you can’t in other historic European cities surrounded by floods of tourists. The old town is built across three hills and you’ll get the opportunity to enjoy beautiful city vistas as you wander.
Climb to the top of the Nebet Tepe hill to stand on Plovdiv’s oldest site, where the city came to life 6,000 years ago. Then visit the Roman Theatre, one of the best-preserved ancient theatres on Earth. Plovdiv is a dream trip for photographers and lovers of history: endlessly picturesque and fascinating.
We include Veliko Tarnovo, the “City of the Tsars”, on our list for its extraordinary architecture, rich medieval history, and picturesque setting. Once the capital city of the Bulgarian Empire, Veliko Tarnovo is perhaps best known for Tsarevets Fortress, a sprawling medieval stronghold built in the 12th century across Tsarevets Hill. Discover the historic fortifications while taking in breathtaking views of the surrounding green hillsides.
Elsewhere, walk around the Old Town and pick up handcrafted souvenirs on the quaint Samovodska Charshia Street, cross the Stambolov Bridge to enjoy views of the Yantra River, and journey to the nearby village of Arbanasi for a feel of how Europe would have looked in the Early Modern period. Veliko Tarnovo is well worth incorporating into any Bulgarian holiday.
Our final selection is for travellers with a little more time on their hands. Perhaps the most diverse of all of Bulgaria’s mountain ranges, the Rhodope Mountains can be reached from Sofia in around 3 to 4 hours, though we’d recommend taking a couple of days to explore this mountain territory if your travel itinerary allows it. 83% of the Rhodope Mountains are in Bulgaria, with the rest being within Greek borders.
The mountains have inspired humans for thousands of years for their captivating majesty, and have featured in much mythology and folklore, notably being the birthplace of Orpheus.
Highlights of the region include the stunning Trigrad Gorge, the viewing platform at Eagle’s Eye, the medieval Dyavolski Most (Devil’s Bridge), the Thracian sanctuary at Tatul, and the historic village of Shiroka Laka. The Rhodope Mountains offer some of the most marvellous scenery in all of Europe. The East Rhodope Mountains in particular are a paradise for birdwatchers and nature lovers and you can find out why here.
This brings to an end our choice of 5 great day trips from Sofia that you should consider while travelling in Bulgaria. We hope we’ve inspired you to start packing for your next trip. If you have any questions or comments concerning this blog or any of our tours, please get in touch.