Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, isn’t the most popular destination among European cities. But this is actually a really cool place to visit, with numerous great things to do there and a wonderful atmosphere.
Sofia can be also a great base to explore some of the best places to visit in Bulgaria and even beyond. There are many amazing places nearby that you can visit as day trips from Sofia and you should definitely consider them when planning your Bulgaria itinerary.
I was lucky to visit Sofia on a few occasions and each time I also went for at least one of Sofia day trips. Many of them can be easily doable by public transport, other places are in a bit remote locations and a tour is the best option.
Below you can see the selection of my favorite day trips from Sofia as well as a few recommendations from fellow bloggers.
Day trips from Sofia
Visiting Rila Monastery is one of the most popular day trips from Sofia. This amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site is located around 120 km away from the capital of Bulgaria and getting there takes around 2 hours. You can reach Rila Monastery by car or with a tour, public transport is also available but it is a bit more challenging and time-consuming.
The caves near the site were inhabited already in the 10th century by hermit Ivan of Rila (eventually the monastery was named after him). The first monastery was established here in the 14th century but the beautiful buildings you can see today are from the mid-19th century when the monastery had to be rebuilt after the fire.
The main reason to visit Rila Monastery is the stunning external frescoes, some of the most impressive you will ever see. They are bright, colorful, very decorative, and packed with various motives, including some weird and disturbing images like the devil walking with a man on a chain.
Visiting Rila Monastery will take you around 2 hours. Even if the place is rather small, it is full of attractions. Inside the monastery complex, you can visit the Nativity of the Virgin church, the tower of Hrelja from the 14th century (the oldest of all the buildings), and the History Museum.
Once you are done with the sightseeing just sit down in the courtyard and enjoy the beauty and the atmosphere of the place.
If you get hungry or would like to get some souvenirs you can find a few shops and restaurants just outside the monastery gate.
And keep in mind this is a holy place and still a working monastery (around 60 monks live there) so visit the site with the respect.
You can read more about visiting Rila Monastery in the article I wrote “Day trip from Sofia to Rila Monastery, Bulgaria”.
Recommended tours to Rila Monastery:
- Rila Monastery and Boyana Church Full-Day Tour
- Rila Monastery Day Trip from Sofia
- From Sofia: Rila Monastery & Boyana Church Small Group Tour
Recommended by Sue from Sue? Where? Why? What?
The Seven Rila Lakes are located 100 km from the centre of Sofia & take less than 2 hours to get to. The journey culminates in a 20-minute ride on a chair lift to get to the start of a spectacular hike.
The Rila Lakes are numbered from top to bottom & named after the shapes they most closely represent. Among them, you have the most famous Babreka (the Kidney), Okoto (the Eye), and Salzata (the Teardrop).
You can opt to walk to the top & back (which takes 4 hours) or do a circular full-day hike. It is moderate in difficulty, but with some steep climbs involved along the way. Once you reach the peak, the effort is well worth it for the magnificent view across the valley with the lakes laid out before you.
The easiest way to reach the lakes is via a shuttle transfer & self-guided tour, alternatively, you could opt to combine the 4-hour hike with a visit to Rila Monastery on a full-day guided tour.
Recommended tours to Rila Lakes:
- From Sofia: 7 Rila Lakes and Rila Monastery Self-Guided Trip
- The Seven Rila Lakes: Full-Day Tour from Sofia
- Seven Rila Lakes Hiking Day-Tour from Sofia
- From Sofia: Seven Rila Lakes & Rila Monastery Full-Day Tour
- From Sofia: Bus Transfer to Rila Lakes
Koprivshtitsa is one of the prettiest and most underrated places to visit in Bulgaria and the good news is you can easily visit it as a day trip from Sofia. The town, located around 110 km east of Sofia, can be reached by train (and then a bus from the train station to the town itself but it’s pretty straightforward) or with a tour.
Koprivshtitsa, picturesquely located in a valley surrounded by green mountains, is a real gem. The town is very charming with its cobbled lanes and beautiful architecture, typical of the so-called Bulgarian Revival style from the 19th century. The buildings have sleek, distinctive shapes with vivid colors and rich decorations.
Many of the historical houses were turned into the museums of well-known Bulgarians – even if you are not familiar with the people it is still worth visiting them to see the original interiors from the times the houses were built in.
The town is perfect for wandering around and getting lost in the maze of narrow lanes. It feels like the time has stopped there and it’s impossible not to fall under its charm. Once you are done with sightseeing you can sit down in the local cafe and enjoy the vibe of the town before heading back to Sofia.
You can read more about Koprivshtitsa in the article I wrote “Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria – is this the prettiest town in the country?”
Recommended tours to Koprivshtitsa:
- From Sofia: Koprivshtitsa Full-Day Trip with Optional Lunch
- Full-Day Koprivshtitsa Tour from Sofia
- Plovdiv and Koprivshtitsa Day Trip from Sofia
Plovdiv, the second-largest city in Bulgaria, deserves more time than just a few hours but if you are short on time a day trip from Sofia to Plovdiv can be a good way to see this interesting place. You can easily get there by train, the journey takes around 2,5 hours one way.
Plovdiv is known as the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe, with traces dating back to the 6th century BC. Even if you can’t see the old remnants at first, they are there, just well hidden under the layer of the new town. Some of the best ancient monuments include the impressive Roman Amphitheater from the 1st century AD or the Roman Stadium from the 2nd century AD, discovered only in 1923
Plovdiv, with its picturesque location on seven hills, is such a charming and vibrant place. There are cobbled streets and beautiful houses in the Bulgarian Revival style, but you can also find the remnants of the medieval fortress or the edgy and alternative area. All of these places are neatly mixed in the UNESCO-listed old part of Plovdiv.
In 2019 Plovdiv held the title of the European Capital of Culture and it is indeed the main cultural hub of Bulgaria. You can attend there numerous events and the best place to enjoy the artistic vibe is the Kapana Art District, where you will find numerous cafes, galleries and the best atmosphere in the city.
Recommended tours to Plovdiv:
- From Sofia: Full-Day Old Town Plovdiv Trip
- Plovdiv and Koprivshtitsa Full-Day Tour from Sofia
- From Sofia: Full-Day Tour to Plovdiv and Bachkovo Monastery
- From Sofia: Full-Day Tour of Plovdiv with Lunch
I personally think that Veliko Tarnovo is one of the most beautiful and interesting places to visit in Bulgaria that you simply need to visit during your trip there. Due to its importance in history (it was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages) it is known as the “City of the Tsars”.
Today you can visit numerous monuments from the golden old times, with the most important one Tsarevets Fortress located at the edge of the town. This place is one of the highlights of Bulgaria. Even if today you can only see remnants of the former glory this was actually the center of the Bulgarian rule back in the days. You can explore the area to find all the great reminders of the past but the other reason to visit Tsarevets Fortress is the wonderful view of Veliko Tarnovo and the surrounding that you can admire from there.
The large market area is packed with beautiful 19th-century houses (built in the Bulgarian Revival period) and wandering around is a pure pleasure. Don’t stick only to the main streets but go to some backstreets too as you can find some gems there, not to mention even more great views of the city and beyond.
And once you are done with sightseeing you can sit down in one of the many restaurants to enjoy delicious Bulgarian food.
You can combine your visit to Veliko Tarnovo with the picturesque Arbanasi village, located only a few kilometers away from the city, where you can see a few beautiful churches (mostly from the 17th century).
Veliko Tarnovo is located a bit over 200 km away from Sofia so you can expect a long day trip but it’s definitely worth all the efforts.
You can read more about Veliko Tarnovo in the article I wrote “Day in Veliko Tarnovo – my highlight of Bulgaria”
Recommended tours to Veliko Tarnovo:
Belogradchik is yet another good option for a day trip from Sofia that is still not widely popular. The small town in the north-west part of the country, near the border with Serbia and some 170 km from the capital, is worth visiting for the unique rock formations and a fortress neatly incorporated into them. This is actually the most impressive rock formation in Bulgaria, reaching up to 200 meters, making the site very picturesque with the landscape a bit similar to the famous Meteora in Greece.
The Kaleto fortress dates back to the times of the Roman Empire and was built in the 3rd century. Over the years it expanded and today this is one of the most unique fortresses you can find in Europe, where nature and the work of humans are combined into a real masterpiece.
When going on a day trip to Belogradchik you can also stop at the nearby Magura Cave with the valuable prehistoric wall paintings.
The best way to reach Belogradchik is by car or with the tour, the use of public transport on this route takes too much time and makes this day trip a bit too difficult to organize.
Recommended tours to Belogradchik:
Recommended by Daniela from Ipanema Travels
Bansko is an adorable small town located at the foot of the Pirin mountain. In the winter Bansko is a famous ski resort and in the summer a doorway to Pirin National Park, popular with hikers and day-trippers.
Bansko can be easily visited on a day trip from Sofia even if you are not traveling around by car. By bus, the trip takes about 3 hours. There are buses leaving to Bansko from two bus stations in Sofia: Central Bus Station and Bus Station Ovcha Kupel (for the early birds).
When in Bansko, stroll along the cobbled streets of the lovely Old Town and enjoy the typical architecture in National Revival Style. The houses in Bansko, built in the 18th – 19th century, are of the so-called fortified houses type, which is quite unique for Bulgaria.
A fine example of this architecture is the Velyan’s House, which is open for visitors. Another attraction to visit in Bansko is the St. Trinity Church, which is one of the most remarkable churches in Bulgaria.
Typical for Bansko are the tavern-type restaurants in traditional style with live music, where you can try the local dishes: kapama, chomlek, or babek.
Melnik is the smallest town in Bulgaria, having a population of only around 400 inhabitants. But nevertheless, it is worth visiting.
The town is well-known for its wine-making traditions that have been present since the 14th century. The local wine is so good it used to be a favorite wine of Winston Churchill!
But wine isn’t the only reason why you should visit Melnik. The town has a beautiful location in the shadow of the Pirin Mountains, just under the so-called Melnik Earth Pyramids – unique rock formations.
You can find many beautiful traditional houses in Melnik as well as the 12-the century Byzantine House – one of the oldest remaining civilian buildings in the Balkans.
You can combine visiting the town with the nearby Rozhen Monastery famous for its 16th-century frescoes.
The best way to reach Melnik, besides the car, is with a tour. The town is located around 180 km away from the capital, near the border with Greece, and reaching Melnik by public transport takes too long to do as a day trip.
Recommended tours to Melnik:
- Sofia: Full-Day Hiking to Rozhen Monastery & Melnik
- Melnik Wine Tour
- Full-Day Tour to Rila Monastery and Melnik
Recommended by Diana from The Globetrotting Detective
The Krushuna Falls are a series of stunning waterfalls situated in the northern part of Bulgaria near the village of Krushuna in the Krushuna National Park. It’s a remarkable natural wonder formed by travertines, a kind of limestone that is deposited by mineral springs.
Try to go there during the week as it’s a very busy travel destination on the weekend. The entrance fee for the national park costs only 5 lv.
In the national park itself, there are two trails: the red and blue trail. The most beautiful one is the red trail along which you can admire several sparkling cascades. It takes around an hour to explore it.
The best way to organize visiting the Krushuna Falls is connecting it with visiting the karst cave called Devetashka Cave and one of the oldest villages of Bulgaria, Lovech. The Krushuna waterfalls are located about 185 meters from Sofia and it takes nearly three hours to get there.
On the way back to Sofia, first, you can visit the Devetashka Cave which is 16 km from the Krushuna waterfalls. After exploring the cave, drive another 20 km and you will find the village of Lovech. This trip is recommended by car. If you don’t have your own car, join an organized tour.
- Sofia: Lovech, Devetaki Cave and Krushuna Waterfalls Tour
- From Sofia: Full-Day Krushuna Waterfalls & Devetashka Cave
- Lovech Day Tour
If you are looking for a more unconventional day trip from Sofia then the Buzludzha monument might be a good option. This iconic brutalist masterpiece in the shape of a spaceship is located over 3 hours driving from the capital, on top of the mountain with the same name in the central part of the country.
The Monument House of the Bulgarian Communist Party (as that’s the official name of it) was finished in 1981 to commemorate the assembly of the socialist movement in the area 90 years earlier that eventually led to the foundation of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party. After the collapse of communism in Europe the building was left abandoned and felt do disrepair which makes it even more interesting (although it is said the renovations will start soon).
The Buzludzha monument is impressive both from the outside and inside although currently, it is not possible to visit the interior with mosaics showing well-known communist figures like Lenin, Marx, or Engels among others. Nevertheless, it is a great place to visit, not only to see this architectonic wonder but also to admire the beautiful landscape of the Central Balkan Mountains.
Recommended tour: Sofia Communist Landmarks Day Tour
If you would like to combine your trip to Sofia with visiting another country you can hop across the border to North Macedonia and see – Skopje. It might be a long day trip since the capitals are located around 250 km away from each other, but it would give you a taste of North Macedonia. And Skopje is actually one of the most underrated capitals in Europe, even if at first it looks a bit weird.
The center is a mix of weird buildings that don’t really fit into each other – there are ancient-looking yet modern pieces, some gems of brutalist architecture that Skopje is known for, or random blocks of flats. And of course, crazy statues in bulk amounts that are scattered all over the place.
But Skopje offers more than that. You can find here the second-largest bazaar in the Balkans (after Istanbul) where you can spend hours just wandering around, getting lost in the narrow lanes and enjoying the vibrant life that goes by. The city is also a great nature getaway as just at the outskirts you can find stunning Matka Canyon or Mount Vodno with some hiking trails.
The list of things to do in Skopje is long but even if you only have a few hours there you still can enjoy the city and its main highlights.
You can read more about Skopje in the article I wrote “What to do in Skopje, the kitschy yet cool capital of North Macedonia”.
Recommended tours to Skopje:
Final thoughts on day trips from Sofia
As you can see above, the variety of places you can visit as day trips from Sofia is really big and everyone can find something for their taste. Whether you are interested in culture, history, or landscape – you can find it all near Sofia.
When planning your trip to the capital of Bulgaria give yourself some time to see the surroundings of the city too, I bet you will enjoy them too!
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