The Balkans have really gained traction as a popular tourist destination over the years. From Croatia’s incredible beaches to Romania‘s lush, green forests, this particular area of the world really has it all. And for those looking to get out and enjoy nature, active travel in Sofia, Bulgaria offers surprisingly varied options. Guest contributor Di Minardi from Slight North is here to tell us how to see the city from another point of view while on an unforgettable hiking adventure.
Ideas for Active Travel in Sofia, Bulgaria
Bulgaria gets more than eight million visitors per year, and many of them pass through the capital city of Sofia.
Here, tourists spend their days sipping coffee on Vitosha Street, a lively pedestrian thoroughfare, and their nights sipping cocktails at rooftop bars high above the city. In between, they wear out their feet jumping from one must-see site to the other, standing in awe of attractions like the imposing Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the ancient St. George Rotunda ruins, and the ornate Russian Church.
But what about those who want to get out of the city? Sofia may be clogged with cars and concrete, but it’s also surrounded by nature and beautiful places just waiting for you to explore them. If you’re looking for more active travel in Sofia, add these six experiences to your bucket list!
1. Visit the Dragalevtsi Monastery and Boyana Waterfall
Vitosha Mountain is visible from much of Sofia and the closest place to the city for hiking and fresh air. A quick taxi ride will take you to the base of the mountain where a short uphill walk will complete your journey to the Dragalevtsi Monastery. Because it’s on the lower slopes of Vitosha Mountain, this site is easy to visit even when the bus and cable car aren’t running to the top.
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The Dragalevtsi Monastery was established in 1345 by Emporer Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria and you can still see the buildings, including a small church with 15th-century frescoes, today. If you’re up to the challenge, keep following signs up the mountain to visit the Boyana Waterfall as well before you go!
2. Ride the Simeonovo Cable Car
Ready to explore more of Vitosha Mountain? The Simeonovo cable car runs on weekends and holidays throughout the summer (you can check its status daily on this website) and will take you on a picturesque journey to the top. The ride costs 14 BGN / 8 USD for the round trip and culminates at Aleko Hut, a lodge located near the peak of Vitosha Mountain at 5,971 ft.
Now that you’re high above Sofia, a whole new world of hiking awaits you!
3. Hike to Kamen Dal
From Aleko Hut the two most popular treks are to Vitosha Peak and to Kamen Del. The trek to Kamen Del is easier and shorter than the climb to Vitosha Peak, and one of my favorite hikes in Sofia.
Put in one to two hours of easy strolling and you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of the city laid out below your feet – what’s not to like about that!? There is a lodge at Aleko Hut to eat lunch or grab a coffee at after your trek, but I recommend bringing a picnic to make the most of this serene escape.
4. Hike to the Seven Rila Lakes
The Seven Rila Lakes are a bit difficult to reach by public transport, but you can get there with a group tour from Sofia or on your own with a rental car. The Pionerska Chairlift will then take you to the start of the trail where seven miles, seven lakes, and a spectacular view from the Otovitsa Ridge (at a staggering 8,200 feet) awaits you.
5. Take a Day Trip to Plovdiv
Plovdiv is the 2019 European Capital of Culture and the city has undergone a complete transformation to celebrate. Now, no visit to Bulgaria is complete without spending a day or two in this picture-perfect town, especially because the bus from Sofia to Plovdiv costs only 14 BGN / 8 USD per person and takes only two hours.
Once you arrive, wander the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, visit the ruins of a 2,000-year-old Roman theater, and browse the shops and galleries in the lively Kapana District. Then, climb to the top of Nebet Tepe Hill for sunset views over the city and the surrounding Rhodope Mountains before heading back to Sofia for the night.
6. Enjoy a Walking Tour of Sofia
After you exhaust yourself hiking to the Seven Rila Lakes, climbing on Vitosha Mountain, and exploring the streets of Plovdiv, round out your trip to Sofia with an educational walking tour. Both the Sofia Communist Tour and the Balkan Bites food tour are completely free, so you can tip as you see fit at the end. The highlight of the Sofia Communist Tour is a ride in the Trabant car, a classic sign of the Soviet Era that’s said to be made from cardboard, while the Balkan Bites food tour guides you on a tasty walk through Sofia with stops and samples at three different restaurants in the city.
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