Are you visiting Sofia, Bulgaria on your next trip?
After spending a few days in the vibrant Bulgarian capital, you should consider venturing outside the city and exploring at least several other incredible destinations.
Bulgaria’s small size makes it perfect for road trips.
But what to visit outside Sofia?
As an avid traveler who was born and raised in Sofia, I can answer this question better than anyone.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ve gathered the 21 best day trips from Sofia.
Let’s discover Bulgaria’s diversity together!
Travel Resources you need for your day trips from Sofia:
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1. Vitosha: Historical Sites and Jaw-Dropping Views of Sofia
We start with one of the easiest day trips from Sofia. Vitosha Mountain rises over the Bulgarian capital, and you can bet the views from up there will enchant even the most fastidious travelers.
The mountain is easily accessible by bus, lift, or taxi. I’ve been exploring Vitosha almost every weekend while growing up in Sofia. Numerous trails crisscross the mountain and take you to jaw-dropping places.
The difficulty of the trails varies. No matter whether you’re an absolute “coach-potato” or a hard-core mountaineer, you’ll find a suitable route to hike.
Vitosha also hosts several important historical sites. The 11th-century Boyana Church and the 14th-century Dragalevski Monastery lie at the foot of the mountain.
Numerous huts and eateries, as well as water springs, will satisfy your thirst and hunger.
2. Rila Monastery: The Unvanquished Fortress of Faith
Rila Monastery is the largest and most important religious site in Bulgaria.
A day trip from Sofia to the UNESCO World Heritage Site is the highlight of every traveler’s visit to Bulgaria. It’s my favorite place to take friends on a day trip from Sofia. Everyone I’ve taken there has fallen in love with the monastery and the surrounding mountains.
Through the centuries, Rila Monastery has been a sanctuary of culture, education, and history.
The impressive complex is located on the highest mountain in the Balkans, Rila Mountain. The East Orthodox religious site features an imposing church, a defensive tower, a large courtyard, and distinctive black-and-white striped arcades.
Take your time to admire the incredible frescoes that cover the exterior of the church.
You can also visit the history museum, the icon gallery, the guest rooms, and the monastery kitchen.
In the area surrounding Rila Monastery, you can go for a hike or a leisurely walk enjoying the magnificent Rila Mountain.
3. Plovdiv: Arguably the Oldest City in Europe
From Sofia, you can easily do a day trip to Bulgaria’s second-largest city, Plovdiv.
According to multiple historical sources, nowadays Plovdiv is probably the oldest city in Europe. So, a visit is by far one of the best day trips from Sofia for history buffs.
The most impressive spot is located in the Old Town of Plovdiv. The Roman theatre sits on one of the seven hills, where the city is built.
The ancient Plovdiv theatre dates back to the 1st century AD. It’s one of the best-preserved ancient Roman theatres worldwide. The arena is still used today and can host up to 7,000 spectators. I remember seeing it for the first time as a child – it absolutely blew my mind! And I bet the sight of the ancient Plovdiv theater will leave you speechless, too.
Other historical sites from the same era include the Roman Stadium, the Odeon, and the Small Basilica of Philippopolis.
Apart from these attractions, Plovdiv also enchants with its Old Town. It prides itself on its colorful houses, fascinating museums, and stunning vistas.
Don’t miss to visit Balabanov’s House, the Regional Ethnographic Museum, and the Zlatyu Boyadzhiev Permanent Exhibition.
4. Skopje, North Macedonia: Two Capitals in One Trip
One of the most surprising day trips from Sofia is to the Macedonian capital, Skopje.
The young country attracts travelers with its gorgeous nature and historical sites. Interestingly, Macedonia was the first foreign country I’ve ever visited.
On this full-day trip from Sofia, you’ll explore the city’s highlights, and learn about its rich history and culture from your guide.
You’ll walk to the staggering Skopje Fortress and admire the sweeping vistas of the city before heading to the Church of the Holy Savior. The temple is home to a mind-boggling iconostasis.
Next, you’ll visit the Sultan Murat Mosque and the Old Bazaar, witnesses of the Ottoman Empire.
Cross the majestic Vardar River to enter the New Town of Skopje. Visit the neo-classical center square and the Mother Teresa memorial house.
You’ll end your walking tour of Skopje at the triumphal arch Porta Macedonia, before heading back to Sofia.
5. Melnik: Bulgaria’s Warmest Town
Near the southern border with Greece lies Bulgaria’s smallest and warmest town, Melnik.
It is most famous for the stunning Melnik Pyramids and the delectable Melnik Wine.
The Melnik Pyramids are sandstone rocks. Time, wind, and rain have sculptured them creating fascinating shapes. The best views of the town and the pyramids are from the St. Nicholas plateau.
The path to the top of the plateau is steep but in about 20 min of puffing and sweating, you’ll have rewarding views of Melnik and the Melnik Pyramids.
Back in town, enjoy a wine tasting in one of the countless little restaurants or in one of my favorite museums, the Museum of Wine. Learn about the wine production in the region and discover which famous person used to order 300 liters every year of the indigenous Melnik Wide-leafed Vine.
6. Thessaloniki, Greece: Seacoast Walks and Historical Sites
Another great international day trip from Sofia will take you to Thessaloniki.
On my first trip to Greece years ago, we stopped in Thessaloniki and I fell in love with it! The Greek city on the Aegean Sea coast is an enchanting port with a turbulent history. It attracts with its impressive 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Your tour will begin in the heart of the city. You’ll visit the imposing White Tower and learn its legends. Then, you’ll head to the historic Aristotelous Square.
Next, you’ll discover two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Saint Dimitrios Church and the Rotunda Saint George are the most important temples in Thessaloniki.
Afterward, your guide will give you enough time to continue the exploration on your own. Stroll along the seaside, devour delectable Greek delicacies, or climb up to the Castle of Thessaloniki.
7. Three Caves in One Trip: Nature’s Unbelievable Creations
If you’re a nature lover, discovering these three spectacular caves should be on your list of day trips from Sofia.
The tour of the subterranean gems of Bulgaria includes visits to Saeva Dupka, Prohodna Cave, and Devetashka Cave.
The jaw-dropping karst creations will spellbind you and enchant you forever.
All three caves are incredibly spectacular and possess unique beauty. I honestly can’t say which one I love the most as they’re so different from each other.
Saeva Dupka enthralls with its gigantic karst sculptures. Following the staircase and tunnels, you’ll discover several mystical creatures hiding between the stalagmites. Try to identify them even before the guide shows them to you.
Prohodna Cave, also known as The Eyes Of God because of the shape of the openings on the ceiling, will make you question your senses, beliefs, and sanity. The cave is a famous spot for rock climbers and bungee jumpers who love to push their limits and define gravity.
Devetashka Cave fascinates with its gigantic arches and domes. It was inhabited during the late Paleolithic era and is therefore an important archaeological site. The cave is also famous for its bio-diversity.
8. Velingrad: The Incredible SPA Lover’s Paradise
If you’re tired of exploring, take a day of relaxation and hit the mineral water pools in Velingrad, the SPA Capital of the Balkans.
My favorite Bulgarian spa town lies about two hours away from Sofia by car. If you’re searching for a more adventurous way of transportation, you can ride the narrow-gauge train from Septemvri.
Velingrad cuddles between the hills of the Rhodopes Mountains at an altitude of around 770 m above sea level. This is the perfect elevation for rejuvenating your body.
The clear, unpolluted air and the healing power of its mineral waters make Velingrad ideal for treating various deceases and strengthening your body. This is one of the healthiest day trips from Sofia.
9. Koprivshtitsa: The Vibrant Architectural Reserve
Koprivshtitsa is home to the most vibrant, significant, and numerous houses, representing the Bulgarian Revival architectural style.
The small mountainous town played an important role in our country’s history. You can stroll its cobble-stoned streets, which witnessed some of the most important battles in the Bulgarian struggles for liberation.
Visit the houses of poets, revolutionaries, and merchants to experience the life of 18th and 19th-century Bulgaria.
Sit in one of the countless cafés and restaurants and devour traditional Bulgarian dishes in an authentic atmosphere.
Climb the hills around Koprivshtitsa to enjoy spectacular vistas of the majestic Stara Planina Mountain.
10. Niš, Serbia: Peculiar Historical Sites and Great Vistas
The Serbian city of Niš is a hidden gem full of fascinating history and jaw-dropping panoramas.
It is the birthplace of Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor.
Niš is also home to one of the oldest churches in Serbia, dating back to the 4th century. You’ll find it in Mediana, where Roman ruins from the same period attract travelers.
The Serbian city offers some unusual and gruesome attractions as well. The Skull Tower was built out of the skulls of rebelling Serbians, whom the Turks decapitated in the 19th century.
For the best views, head over to the Niš Fortress. The imposing defensive structure rises on the right bank of the Nišava River, revealing mind-blowing panoramas.
11. Belogradchik: Stunning Rock Formations and Fortifications
Belogradchik is a small town in the northwest corner of Bulgaria, which hides incredible historical and natural treasures.
The Belogradchik Rocks are a group of peculiarly shaped cliffs on the slopes of Stara Planina Mountain.
The unexpected hues of red and the fantastic shapes of the sandstone rocks have inspired locals and visitors to see the most unbelievable figures.
The most famous ones carry some rather peculiar names:
- The Madonna
- The Horseman
- The Lion
- The Twins
- The Bear
- The Monks
- Adam and Eve
Try to find some of them as you pass through this unusual area.
Apart from the Belogradchik Rock formations, on this day trip from Sofia, you can also explore the stunning Belogradchik Fortress. Its walls rise up to 12 m / 40 ft. high.
The ancient fortification incorporated the relief of the area to fight off invaders.
Both the natural and the historical significance of Belogradchik are enormous and worth the trip.
12. Stara Zagora: The Greatest Lesson in Religious Tolerance
One of my favorite day trips from Sofia and a true hidden gem is Stara Zagora.
On this remarkable tour, you’ll journey through the centuries learning fascinating facts about the history of the Bulgarian lands.
You’ll explore neolithic dwellings, dating back to the 6th millennium BC.
Then, you’ll wander the streets of the Roman city of Augusta Trayana.
Finally, you’ll learn the greatest story about religious tolerance at the Museum of Religions.
The museum resides in a functioning mosque. The mosque used to be an East Orthodox church. And the church was built in the Middle Ages over the remains of a Thracian temple.
Inside, you’ll discover the traces of all these religious sites.
In 1877, Stara Zagora was burnt to the ground. Most buildings in the city were wooden. The only temple, that withstood the fire, was the stone mosque. No church survived the catastrophe.
As Christians had no place to pray, the Imam invited them to the mosque. Christians and Muslims took turns in praying in the same temple.
Now, if that story alone isn’t worth taking the day trip from Sofia to Stara Zagora, I don’t know what is 🥰
13. Rose Valley: The Most Fragrant Place in Bulgaria
One of the most interesting facts about Bulgaria is that it produces around 60% of the world’s rose oil.
The heart of the rose oil production is the fairytale-like Rose Valley.
The area around the town of Kazanlak has a long-lasting tradition of growing the fragrant roses used for the production of the valuable rose oil.
On this day trip from Sofia, you’ll learn about the process of harvesting the delicate flowers and the hard work involved in the manufacturing of the essential oil. You’ll also sample traditional Bulgarian products.
Kazanlak is also home to one of the most important UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria. By joining my recommended tour, you’ll have a chance to explore the Kazanlak Tomb as well.
Before heading back to Sofia, you’ll visit the vibrant Shipka Memorial Church. The temple fascinates with its bright red façade, onion-shaped domes, and gigantic bells.
14. Sapareva Banya: The Hottest Mineral Waters
If you enjoy the healing powers of hot thermal baths, you should head over to Sapareva Banya on a day trip from Sofia.
The small mountainous town is home to the hottest geyser in Europe. The temperature at the spring is 103°C / 217.4°F.
In the gorgeous town, you’ll find the extraordinary public SPA center Kotvata. Multiple swimming pools with different temperatures will pamper your body.
Several saunas, steam baths, and relaxation rooms will make you not want to leave. This is one of the most relaxing day trips from Sofia.
✔️ Tip: I highly recommend spending several days in Sapareva Banya to fully take advantage of its mineral waters’ healing powers. You can book your stay at the best hotel in town here. Next to its private wellness center, it also offers free access to Kotvata.
15. Valley of the Kings: Ancient Tombs and Priceless Treasures
One of the best day trips from Sofia for history buffs and archaeological fans is to the Valley of the Kings. The area around Kazanlak is the burial site of several Thracian rulers.
The mind-boggling tombs of the Thracian kings dot the area. During my recommended guided tour, you’ll visit three of the most staggering archaeological sites, dating back to the 4th century BC.
One of them is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. However, the other two are just as fascinating.
All of the tombs are very well-preserved and reveal the incredible skills of the Thracian builders and architects.
On the tour, you’ll listen to the most romantic legends and the most spellbinding stories about the lost Thracian civilization. You’ll also learn about the rose oil production of the region. This is one of the most educational day trips from Sofia.
16. Rafting on Struma: Your Heart-Pumping Adventure
Do you want to feel the adrenaline race through your veins?
Then, a white-water rafting adventure on the Struma River is what you need!
Skillful and experienced guides will prepare you for a safe journey through the wild river rapids.
Your boat will float, sink, jump, and make 360°-turns countless times before reaching the ending point of the rafting adventure.
As long as you follow your guide’s instructions, you’ll have the time of your life.
If you’re feeling extra brave, you might also jump in the waters for a refreshing swim. I admit I didn’t dare!
This is definitely one of the most adventurous day trips from Sofia.
✔️ Tip: Another great location I recommend for white-water rafting is the otherworldly Tara River Canyon.
17. Bachkovo Monastery and Asenova Fortress: Faith, History, and Mystical Mountains
One of the best day tours from Sofia will show you not one but three fascinating places.
Your day will begin with a stop in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second-largest city.
After a visit to the Old Town and a lunch break, you’ll continue to the magical Rhodope Mountains.
Your next stops will be Asen’s Fortress and Bachkovo Monastery.
Asen’s Fortress is perched on the top of a spectacular cliff in the Rhodope Mountains.
The medieval fortification and the breathtaking vistas of the valley will spellbind you with their beauty.
The last stop for the day is the 11th-century Bachkovo Monastery.
The second-biggest monastery in Bulgaria prides itself on its well-preserved frescoes.
Sadly, the only structure from the original complex is the ossuary. The rest of the buildings are from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Nowadays, the monastery still fulfills its religious purpose. It’s home to several monks, who take care of the properties and the religious treasures of the church.
18. Veliko Turnovo: Incredible History and Architecture
Veliko Tarnovo, also known as The City of the Tsars, was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
It is most famous for the Tsarevets Fortress, the Monument of the Asen Dynasty, and the Old Town.
Your guided tour to Veliko Tarnovo will include a visit to the Tsarevets Fortress. You’ll explore the remains of the royal palace, the ruins of over 400 residencies, and 18 churches.
Don’t miss to climb Baldwin’s Tower and admire the views of the city and the meanders of the Yantra River.
Then, wander the cobbled streets of the Old Town. Visit the Samovodska Charshia, the old market street, and try to find the perfect vacation souvenirs from the crafts shops.
After that, cross the Stambolov Bridge to the impressive Monument of the Asen Dynasty. It commemorates the four Bulgarian tsars who ruled the Second Bulgarian Empire between 1185 and 1280.
19. Panagyurishte: The Largest Thracian Golden Treasure
Panagyurishte is worth being on this list of day trips from Sofia for two main reasons.
Firstly, the town in the magnificent Stara Planina Mountain was an important site during the Liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire. Stroll the cobble-stoned alleys to experience the spirit of the battles and visit the monument in the center to pay your respects to the fallen heroes.
And secondly, you can see one of the most impressive golden treasures ever found in the Panagyurishte Museum of History.
On a cold December day in 1949, three brothers went to work in the tile factory near Panagyurishte. What started as an ordinary day, ended with an extraordinary discovery.
The brothers uncovered wine-drinking vessels that weigh over 6 kg / 13 lbs, made of pure 24-carat gold. Archaeologists dated them to 400 BC. The vessels were used as a royal ceremonial set by the Thracian King Seuthes III.
20. Pernik: Scaring Evil Spirits and Dancing for Good Harvest
Pernik is a city near Sofia, which hosts one of the most incredible festivals in the world.
The International Masquerade Games Surva presents groups of masked participants, performing different rituals. The main purpose of the acts is to scare evil spirits and ensure a good harvest in the warmer months.
But the festival is more than that.
It’s about team spirit, traditional costumes, strength, and resilience. Dancing and jumping for countless hours wearing heavy costumes featuring bells, furs, and feathers in the below-freezing January temperatures requires a lot of willpower and preparation.
You won’t regret watching this otherworldly spectacle or even joining the dances. Visiting Pernik during Surva is the most peculiar day trip from Sofia.
21. The Lakatnik Rocks: The River’s Fascinating Sculptures
The longest Bulgarian river – Iskar – has carved an enthralling gorge with jaw-dropping, high-rising rocks on both sides.
Take the train, jump in the car, or even go rafting for an incredible journey between the cliffs and hills of Stara Planina Mountain.
Stop at one of the numerous panoramic restaurants for a scrumptious lunch with local specialties and a magnificent, unforgettable view.
Follow the Vazov Eco Path to discover why Bulgaria’s most famous poet and writer loved to come here and seek inspiration from the mesmerizing surroundings to write some of his best works.
Hike to the Rajishka Cave or to the communist-era Septemvriytsi Monument and watch the river flow below you. The Lakatnik Rocks on both sides of the Iskar River will make you speechless and unwilling to leave.
Day Trips from Sofia: Explore Bulgaria’s Nature, History, and Architecture
There you have it – the 21 best day trips from Sofia, Bulgaria.
Now you know what to visit outside Sofia. I’m glad I was your Bulgarian guide.
Our country’s relatively small area makes it perfect for short road trip adventures.
Rent a car or a driver, hop on a bus or a train, and go explore these incredible places. All of them are easily accessible from Sofia, and will reveal multiple facets of the stunning and diverse Bulgaria.
Travel Resources you need for your day trips from Sofia:
Whether you want to discover peculiar traditions, jaw-dropping nature, fascinating history, unparalleled architecture, or rejuvenate in thermal baths, these awesome day trips from Sofia will make you want to visit Bulgaria again and again.
So, the only question is: which day trips from Sofia will you take next?