The Bulgarian capital of Sofia is fast emerging as one of the most exciting holiday destinations in Europe. While it incessantly strives to compete with more modern and fashionable hubs like Paris and London, Sofia still can’t quite shake off the remnants of its more modest past and recent struggles. Yet it’s this most obvious reminder of a turbulent and long-lived past which makes it so endearing. There’s no denying it: Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe, and has been occupied by just about every prominent empire known to man. Only here, can you visit a thousand year old church, mosque and synagogue in just a single day. Only here, can you shop for haute-couture fashion next door to a 200 year old artisan’s workshop. When it comes to diversity and full sensory overload, there’s no holiday destination in Europe quite like Sofia.
Book your next holiday rental apartment in Sofia when visiting Bulgaria and, if you want to plan a day-trip out of town, simply follow our guide to the top 3 day-trip destinations not to be missed.
Of all the decorated monasteries in Bulgaria, the Rila Monastery, found 120km south of Sofia, is by far the most famous and should definitely be on your list of day-trip destinations when visiting Bulgaria. Nestled deep within the Rilska River Valley, the monastery is regarded as one of the most important architectural and cultural gems in Eastern Europe, and is depicted on the reverse side of the 1LEV banknote. The 10th century complex features an intricately designed and colourful five-dome church and an imposing tower, which was a 14th century addition. The church is unbelievably beautiful; with its ornately painted walls, intricately carved interior and mind-boggling amount of beautiful frescoes it is as spellbinding on the inside as it is on the outside. Add to that a mesmerizing setting of lush green hills and you will soon realize why this is by far Bulgaria’s most venerated site. The Rila Monastery deserves no less than a full day exploration, but head off early to beat the guided tour groups.
The second largest metropolis in Bulgaria is one of Europe’s oldest continually inhabited cities, and a day-trip destination well worth exploring. Flanked by the country’s two largest mountain ranges, and dissected by the Maritse River, Plovdiv boasts a 4000 year old history and pre-dates more famous and visited European hubs. Intensely prosperous during Roman times, Plovdiv is home to a grand amphitheatre, only discovered during construction works in the 1970s. It was only then that the extent of the city’s importance in ancient times became evident. The amphitheatre is enormous, enough to fit 6,000 people. Back then, amphitheatres were built to fit at least 10% of the city’s population, proving that Plovdiv was indeed a generously inhabited city.
The old town quarter is compact and pedestrian friendly, and lacks the chaos and crowds usually associated with such illustrious locations. Most of the ancient ruins are subterranean and some of the ancient buildings are home to fantastic museums, depicting the history of the town.
The tourist information office at the entrance to the old town will provide you with maps and a detailed list of prominent archaeological sites you should visit, such as the Roman Forum. Yet most tourists claim the best way to explore Plovdiv is to simply get lost in its maze of cobblestone alleyways brimming with local eateries, unique souvenir shops and cosy cafes, while walking past ancient Roman aqueducts, Catholic churches and Islamic mosques. It is only then that one gets a convincing picture of the city’s trials and tribulations throughout history. If you’ve ever wished to visit Rome, Damascus and Cairo in just a single day, you’ll do well to plan a trip just 150km south of Sofia and visit Plovdiv instead; we guarantee you a truly unforgettable experience.
Koprivshtitsa is as important to Bulgarians as Plovdiv, albeit for different historic reasons. The source of the April Uprising, and the subsequent expulsion of the Ottoman Empire, Koprivshtitsa is still considered the birthplace of modern-day Bulgaria and makes for a brilliant day out from Sofia. Aside the historical importance, and ancient ruins which are nonetheless very interesting, Koprivshtitsa is quintessentially Bulgarian in all its quaint charm, and one of the most fascinating towns you could visit. The riverside town is pretty as a picture, home to the Bulgarian Folkloric Festival and is home to the most extensive collection of memorabilia from the revolution, housed within the Lyuben Karavelov Museum. Spend a day exploring this most divine town and you’ll get an authentic taste of rural Bulgaria.