Sofia itself is really vibrant and interesting city to explore with its impressive architectural achievements, green areas and endless photo opportunities. But if you happen to be in the Bulgarian capital for longer than a few days, you may want to explore its most remarkable surrounding areas. For each one of them there is an explenation of how to get there from Sofia.
To the point: Here are 10 ideas for exciting single day trips from Sofia.
1. The 7 Rila Lakes
Distance from Sofia: 90 km
The 7 Rila Lakes are a spectacular wonder of nature. They are group of 7 glacier lakes situated in different altitudes in the highest mountain in the Balkans – Rila (2925m). The hike to the lakes begins with a lift to “Rila Lakes” hut. From there it’s a 3-4 hours hike where you pass all the lakes and at the end you reach a peak overlooking all 7 lakes. Stunning! Read my whole post about the 7 Rila Lakes here.How to get there:
By train: You can take the train from Sofia Central Train Station early in the morning to Dupnitsa (~ 2 hours). From Dupnitsa Bus station take the bus to Sapareva Bania (runs on every 30 min). From there take any shuttle to Panichishte and the lift to the lakes. Bulgarian State Railways website: bdz [dot] bg/index-en.php
By bus: Take the bus from Sofia to either Dupnitsa or Sapareva Bania. There are buses from Dupnitsa to Sapareva Bania on almost every 30 min. From Sapareva Bania look for the shuttle to Panichishte and the lift to the lakes.
Organised Tour: You can check out the tour from Sofia to Seven Rila Lakes by our friends at Campfire.bg
2. Rila Monastery
Distance from Sofia: 120 km
Rila Monastery is one of the 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria, designated in 1983. The architecture of the monastery is really impressive and the monastery itself is worth visiting. It is situated in the Rila mountain. The monastery is founded in the 10th century by the hermit St. Ivan of Rila. He actually lived in a cave without any material possessions not far from the monastery’s location. His students built the complex when they came to the mountains to recieve their education. Check out these 15 facts about Rila Monastery to decide better if you want to go.
How to get there:
By train: Take the train from Sofia Central Train Station to Dupnitsa. Then from Dupnitsa take the bus directly to Rila Monastery at 6:40 am or 14:15. The bus back to Dupnitsa is at 09:00 am, 15:00 and 17:00h. Then take the train back to Sofia. Bulgarian State Railways website: bdz [dot] bg/index-en.php
By bus: Take the bus from Sofia, bus station “Ovcha kupel” (not Central Bus Station) directly to Rila Monastery every day at 10:20 am. The bus from Rila Monastery to Sofia is at 15:00 h.
By car: If you rent a car take the route Sofia-Kulata. Exit the road in Kocherinovo village. There are 30 km to the monastery from there.
3. The Pyramids of Melnik
Distance from Sofia: 175 km
The Pyramids of Melnik are a well known site in Bulgaria but are not famous among tourists. They are unique natural, sand pyramids formed because of the soil erosion. Again, we are speacheless in front of Mother Nature. The height of the sand formations is up to 100 m and they are always changing in the course of time. You can see the pyramids from Melnik, but they are closer to Karlanovo village where a lodging is available.
How to get there
By car: Melnik is 175 km away from Sofia. If you are travelling from the capital, you can take the route 1/E79 to Kulata/Dupnitsa. You have to pass by the cities of Dupnitsa, Blagoevgrad and Sandanski. After around 140 km exit onto Route 109 and there are only 10 km left to Melnik. You will pass by the villages Spatovo, Hotovo and Lozenitsa. You can always rent a car from Sofia. It will take you around 3 hours to get there by car. Bulgarian State Railways website: bdz [dot] bg/index-en.php
By bus: There are many buses from Sofia to Sandanski all day long. You can check out the carrier Union Ivkoni (union-ivkoni [dot] com). From Sandanski you can take the bus to Melnik at 11:40 am to have time for walk in the city. While you are at the bus station in Sandanski check out the buses to Sofia. The last one is at around 17:00.
By train: You can take the train to Sandanski from Sofia Central Train Station. There are trains to Sandanski at 7:05 am, 11:40 am, 14:15, 15:15, 17:00 (as of Feburary, 2015). The duration is around 3 and a half hours. From Sandanski you can take the bus to Melnik or rent a car in the city. The trains from Sandanski to Sofia leave at 05:52 am, 07:21 am, 10:48 am, 14:45, 17:37. The website of Bulgarian State Railways is bdz.bg/index-en.php.
4. Belogradchik Rocks
Distance from Sofia: 190 km
Belogradchik Rocks are a group of strange shaped rock formations. They are located near the town of Belogradchik. The rocks vary in color from primarily red to yellow. Some of them reach up to 200 m in height. In September 2008, Belogradchik was named as one of twenty finalists by the European Commission as a “European Destination of Excellence” and not without a reason.How to get there
By train: Take the train from Sofia to Oreshets (Soifa-Vidin line, around 3-4 hours) which is located 12 km from Belogradchik. There are shuttles to Belogradchik pretty often. Bulgarian State Railways website: bdz [dot] bg/index-en.php
By bus: A bus from Sofia to Belogradchik is not very often. There is one at 16:30 which means you have to stay one night in Belogradchik. The most convinient way to travel is by car.
By car: If you travel by car make sure to head off early in the morning because it will take you around 3 hours to get to Belogradchik. There are 2 routes: 1) Sofia – Hemus Highway – Vitinya Pass – Vratsa – Montana – Ruzhintsi – Belogradchik (2015 km total). 2) Sofia – Petrohan Pass – Montana – Ruzhintsi – Belogradchik (185 km total).
Distance from Sofia: 130 km
Plovdiv is unique with its six syenite hills, called tepeta. The old town of Plovdiv is famous with its paved streets, historical houses and mostly with the Ancient Theater – a well-known monument from antiquity. Plovdiv is Europe’s oldest inhabitted city as said on the Huffington Post.
How to get there
By train: There are trains almost every 30 min or at least an hour from Sofia train station to Plovdiv. The train ride is around an hour and a half or two hours. The train station in Plovdiv is not far from the city center. Bulgarian State Railways website: bdz [dot] bg/index-en.php
By bus: Such as with trains, there are buses to Plovdiv pretty often. The bus station is a few min away from the train station, again – not far from the center.
By car: Take the Trakia highway to Plovdiv. It will take you an hour and a half to get there.
Distance from Sofia: 111 km
Koprivshtitsa is a historic town in central Bulgaria. It was one of the centres of the April Uprising in 1876 and is known for its authentic Bulgarian architecture and for its folk music festivals, making it a very popular tourist destination.Koprivshtitsa is one of the characteristic Bulgarian towns, still preserving the atmosphere of the Bulgarian National Revival period of the 19th century. With thad said, the town is definitely worth visiting for a day.
How to get there
By train: There is a direct train from Sofia that pass through Koprivshtitsa. Note that the train station is located a few km away from the town but there is a shuttle for every train. Bulgarian State Railways website: bdz [dot] bg/index-en.php
By bus: There is a direct bus line from Sofia to Koprivshtitsa. You can check the schedule here.
By car: One of the easiest ways to get to Koprivshtitsa is by car. The advantage of this way of travel is that you can stop anywhere you want to glaze the beautiful views.
7. Climb Mount Musala
Distance from Sofia: 111 km
Rila mountain is the highest mountain in Bulgaria and on the Balkans. Its highest peak is Musala (2925m). The climb of Mount Musala is a challenge for every climber and the views are just stunning. You can start the climb from Borovets to Yastrebets hut (with cabin lift, 25 min), then hike from Yastrebets to Musala hut (an hour and a half). From Musala hut the hike continues to “Ledeno ezero” shelter (an hour and a half). From there you have left 30 min of hike to the Mount Musala itself. Аs you climb you will enjoy stunnin views and the amazing Musala Lakes. The total hike will be around 3-4 hours one way. Don’t forget to plan your way down.How to get there (to Borovets)
By train: In order to hike Mt. Musala you have to start at Borovets and continue walking. The closest train station is in Dupnitsa. Then you have to take a bus from Dupnitsa to Borovets (or Dupnitsa – Samokov, then Samokov – Borovets). Bulgarian State Railways website: bdz [dot] bg/index-en.php
By bus: Take the bus to Samkov from Bus station “South” in Sofia. Samokov is 10-12 km away from Borovets and there are shuttles every 30 min.
By car: Follow the route Sofia – Gorublyane – Pancharevo – Samokov – Borovets.
8. The Golden Bridges, Vitosha mountain
Distance from Sofia: 21 km
The Golden Birdges (Zlatnite mostove) aren’t actual bridges. There are some bridges there, but they are wooden. It is actually a stone river that “flows” at an altitude of 1500 to 1350m. Zlatnite mostove are large stone blocks, covered by gold lichens, which gave them their name. Vitosha mountain is just minutes away from Sofia and the Golden Bridges are perfect for a day hike and a picnic at the end.
How to get there
You can start your hike from Boyana neighbourhood in Sofia to the Golden Bridges. This will take you around 3 hours hiking. Again from Boyana you can enter Vitosha mountain with your car and go straight to the Golden Bridges area. A bus from Sofia can also take you there – No: 122 or No: 123. A shuttle only on the weekend also goes to the Golden Birdges – No: 10 from the Russian monument (from 8:00 to 14-15:00).
9. Veliko Turnovo with Tsarevets Fortress
Distance from Sofia: 220 km
Veliko Turnovo is an old capital of Bulgaria located in North Central Bulgaria. Most of the houses are situated on a hill and thus gives the charm of the city. A major tourist attraction is the medieval stronghold Tsarevets. It served as the Second Bulgarian Empire’s primary fortress and strongest bulwark. Some days during the year there is a unique Sound and Light audiovisual show that uses three lasers, variegated lights, dramatic music and churchbells to tell the story of the fall of Tarnovo to the Ottomans, as well as other key moments of the history of Bulgaria.How to get there
By train: Veliko Turnovo is a major railway junction. There are trains from Sofia almost every two hours. The train ride lasts more than 4 hours so make sure to take the earliest train available. Bulgarian State Railways website: bdz [dot] bg/index-en.php
By bus: Buses from Sofia Central Bus Station to Veliko Turnovo are also very frequent. The bus ride lasts around 3:45 hours. For bus schedule check www [dot] etapgroup [dot] com.
By car: Veliko Tarnovo is located at the junction of the roads E85 (Ruse – Burgas) and E772 (Sofia – Varna, Hemus highway – A2 – at both ends).
With private guide: pick up and transfer from Sofia, city tour, tour guide, entrance fees. Price: 180 – 230 EUR (price after 5% discount with promo code Travelling Buzz: 171-218,5 EUR). Check out Private Guide Bulgaria for more info.
10. Prohodna Cave
Distance from Sofia: 120 km
Prohodna is a karst cave in north central Bulgaria near the village of Karlukovo, Lovech Province. The cave is known for the two eye-like holes in its ceiling, known as the Eyes of God or Oknata. The cave has two entrances which lie opposite one another. Prohodna is 262 metres long, which makes it the longest cave passage in Bulgaria.
How to get there
By train: There are several trains through the day passing through Karlukovo village. Prohodna is 2 km away from Karlukovo so you can walk there. There are no signs so you have to ask for the direction.
By bus: You can take a bus from Sofia to Loukovit and then a different bus to Karlukovo (06.10; 11.30; 17.20). Don’t forget to ask for the bus back to Sofia when you get on the Bus station.
By car: Sofia – Yablanitsa – Lukovit. Then take the junktion to Petrevene village (8 km from Karlukovo). When you get to Karlukovo follow the signs or ask any locals for the direction to the cave.
Which one of these day journeys would you take when you are in Sofia?
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Esther | March 2, 2015
Bookmarking this, great tips!! Another great daytrip from Sofia is Thessaloniki in Greece! When I was there I heard many Greeks take weekend trips to Sofia, so I guess the other way around would work too.
Maria | Author | March 2, 2015
Yes, Thessaloniki is a famous destination for many Bulgarians even for a day! Thanks for the idea!
Dannielle Lily | March 2, 2015
Last time I was in Sofia I was just months old – definitely need to return! I imagine it’s changed hugely since then! These are some great ideas 🙂
Andrea | March 2, 2015
As I already said on Facebook but I want to spread the love again thank you for creating posts like this and inspiring me to travel to a destination this May that I hadn’t previously considered. Case in point, I hope to visit a majority of these, especially Rila Lakes!
Maria | Author | March 2, 2015
I can’t be more happy about it! Can’t wait to meet you!
sara | March 2, 2015
Wow! Sofi is on my bucket list from so long now! After reading your post, I would pick Prohodna Cave! So beautiful!
melody pittman | March 2, 2015
I’ve never given much thought to traveling Bulgaria at all but your pictures make it look very interesting. I love the lakes and mountains, plus the history is exquisite. Many great things listed including something i’m new to and loving, caves! Awesome post and great pertinent info included.
Revati | March 4, 2015
That’s 10 extra days at Sofia! Wow, who would have thought there’s so much to see!
Well Traveled Mile | March 7, 2015
Wow! The natural beauty of that region looks stunning and like there are almost endless opportunities to explore.
Vlad | March 10, 2015
I’m going to Thassos this year and I definitely want to stop at Veliko Tarnovo but now that I’ve read your post, I feel like Prohodna Cave is something I’d really enjoy seeing. It sucks that we’d have to take a bigger detour though 🙁 Do you know other stops worth seeing between Bucharest and Thassos? 🙂
Maria | Author | March 10, 2015
Of course! If you are planning to visit Veliko Turnovo you can’t miss Etara – it’s near Gabrovo and is actually an open air museum, like a village, for traditional Bulgarian crafts and customs. Check out Tryavna, a typical Bulgarian town with Revival spirit. You cans top by Plovidv’s old town, depending on where you want to exit the country. The Devil’s Bridge in Rhodope mountain is specacular. Eagle’s Eye region is worth seeing as well! Oh, so many great things to see… 🙂
Vlad | March 10, 2015
Thanks for the recommendations, will check them out! 😀
AJ Walton | March 30, 2015
Awesome list Maria.
I’m currently in Russia and planning my tour of Eastern Europe nw, so these ideas will come in handy. I have to confess I don’t know much about your country, so thanks for sharing these beautiful destination ideas.
Maria | Author | March 30, 2015
Thanks for stopping by, Andrew! I hope you have a great time in Bulgaria!
John | January 24, 2016
Can Veliko Trnovo really be done in a day from Sofia? How many hours would you recommend in the town?
Maria | Author | January 25, 2016
It can be possible, I’ve done it. But I recommend you to spend at least one night there! I heard that Hostel Mostel there is the best!
Tamas | October 23, 2016
We will spend few days in Sofia next weekend. We will have time to do three longer day trips by car. Beloghradcik, Rila, Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo are the four places I am thinking of. I know it is difficult question as all are beautiful and differ from each other, but which would be the one to delete from the list as we only have three days? Thanks.
Maria | Author | October 23, 2016
All of these are a wonderful choice. I would recommend you visit Rila Monastery, Plovdiv for sure and decide between Belogradchik and Veliko Turnovo. You can combine Belogradchik with Magura cave. Veliko Turnovo is impressive with the Tsarevets Fortress and old town’s paved streets. Near Veliko Turnovo you can also visit Arbanasi, Etnographic complex Etara, too. I would probably go with Veliko Turnovo and stop by the other great options if you have time.
Have a great time and keep me posted!
Andrew | October 28, 2016
Your blog is amazing. Super excited for the Seven Rila Lakes
Mimi | December 2, 2016
I’m planning to go to Bulgaria this coming winter break. Seven Rila Lakes is on my top list of places-to-go, but I’m not sure if I should because hiking during winter is not such a great idea, is it? I want to know your opinion. Thanks
Maria | Author | December 2, 2016
Hey, Hiking during winter is okay but it would be best if you contact a mountain guide for best experience. Moreover, they know if it’s possible, the weather conditions, needed equipment, etc. Check out our friends at http://bulguides.com/
Benny | December 6, 2016
We are only two full days in Sofia. Is it possible to go to the Vitosha Mountains for a coouple of hours (half day)? Which bus do we have to take? Thanks.
Maria | Author | December 6, 2016
Hey, Benny! Bus line 63 goes to the Golden Bridges on Vitosha mountain. You can go for a few hours there. The bus runs only during weekends. Here’s some practical info of the route: https://sofiapublictransport.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/the-boyana-express-bus-63-boulevard-tsar-boris-iii-to-byalata-cheshma-vitosha-nature-park/
edith | March 1, 2017
Hi,Maria: We are in going to be in Bulgaria in March 13-20. We are not going to be driving. We are planning to use the bus service.How many days would you recommend that we spend in Sophia and Plovdiv? We are also planning to visit Rila Monastery. What other cities would you suggest we visit? We are in our mid sixty in good physical shape. Thank you
Maria | Author | March 1, 2017
Hi Edith! It’s great you decided to visit Bulgaria. 2 days in Sofia, 2 days in Plovdiv, one day trip to Rila Monastery, and a day in Veliko Turnovo would be ideal in my opinion. Have fun!
Timothy | May 9, 2017
Thank you! The list is pretty amazing and we are headed to Bulgaria next month and will be checking out most of these sights
Just to let you know, we checked and the Rila Lakes Shuttle has increased its prices substantially from 19.95 euros per pax (in 2015) to 24.95 euros (in 2016) and it is now between 29.95 -39.95 euros per pax (depending on number of people). It is pretty expensive considering they are only providing shared transport and not a guide. I think we may just rent a car instead as the public transport option takes too much time.
Connie | May 29, 2017
Such a useful post!
Is there a way to get from Rila Lakes > Rila Monestary > Melnik > Sofia by public transport in one day?
Maria | Author | May 29, 2017
I don’t think so. The best way is to rent a car.
Linda | June 20, 2017
I was wondering if it’s possible to visit the monastery and the lakes all in one day when renting a car and being based in sofia?
How do we get there and where should we go first?
Maria | Author | June 20, 2017
Hello Linda, with a car it is possible yes, but you have to be strict and leave early from Sofia. The lift for the Seven Rila Lakes works somewhere around 16:00 so you may first go to the lakes and then to the Monastery. Google maps will show you exact distances. But without a car it is almost impossible to do it in one day.
Linda | June 20, 2017
Thanks, Maria, for the quick reply and the good advice.
Looking forward to the trip already.
Ian | July 26, 2017
Great list of places to visit Maria.
I will be in Sofia in September so I will visit Prohodna Cave.
vtoyla | August 24, 2019
Hi Maria, your posts are amazing!!very helpfull.We are in Sofia for 4 days, already visited for 1 day Plovdiv, we had great time in both .We need your sugestion, wich is the best way to go to aiport very early in the morning next Tuesday, we have fly to Creta at 5.45 ( our flat is very close to vitoshia str).we are thinking to take a taxi, but how we can book it, how much it cost…thank you in advance
Maria Stoyanova | Author | August 25, 2019
Hello! I’m glad you enjoyed your stay in Bulgaria. The best way is via Taxi. There are usually taxis in both ends of the pedestrian Vitosha blvd. Another option is to use the mobile app TaxiMe or Yellow Taxi. You can also check OKTaxi (https://www.oktaxi.net/order-a-taxi-in-sofia). Have a nice stay!