The Seven Rila Lakes
One of the most stunning hikes in the surrounding countryside will take you up a mountain trail where you’ll be able to spot a new lake at every turn. The Seven Rila Lakes all have names reflecting their characteristics – Lower Lake, Fish Lake, Trefoil Lake, Twin Lake, Kidney Lake, Eye Lake, and Tear Lake. Continue up the ridge after the last one to reach the Lake Peak – a vantage point that will let you see all lakes but one from above. To get there, you’ll need to take a private tour or try your luck with the local public buses.
Rila Monastery is the biggest monastery in Bulgaria and is included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The monastery is dedicated to the most cherished Bulgarian saint, Ivan of Rila, who also founded it more than 1,000 years ago. It is one of the major attractions in the country and famous for its beautiful ornamented decorations.
Once you have visited the monastery, try a mekitsa, a local pastry treat sold at the monastery that has gained a legendary status. It’s similar to a doughnut, covered in powdered sugar – a jar of buffalo yogurt is its perfect companion. The monastery is not located in a town or village, so you will need to take a private tour or rent a car to get there.
Plovdiv is the second biggest city in Bulgaria and a favorite destination of both locals and foreigners. Its colorfully painted historical houses in the Old Town will take you back in time, while the artistic Kapana District close is the perfect introduction to the local creative scene. In 2019, the city will be European Capital of Culture together with Matera, Italy, so keep an eye on the cultural program.
If you have time to visit only one historical town in Bulgaria, let it be the hard-to-pronounce Koprivshtitsa (‘Koh-preev-shtee-tsah’). Amble among the centuries-old houses and discover the stories of the brave Bulgarians who used to live there. Koprivshtitsa was one of the main centers of the Bulgarian National Revival movement and a unique charm still in evidence today.
Iskar River Gorge
Iskar River Gorge is one of the destinations around Sofia that are easiest to access – regular train services connect the capital with the small towns and villages perched on both sides of the gorge. Wherever you get off the train, you will have stunning natural sights all around. Choose Gara Bov if you want to visit a waterfall (Skaklya), or Lakatnik if you want to reach the rocks and get a glimpse of the gorge from above. The train is usually full of hikers, especially on weekends, so you can join them or ask them for more ideas.
You can see Vitosha Mountain from almost every corner of Sofia, and its 2,290-metre (7,513-feet) Cherni Vrah peak is doable to climb in a day. According to the season, you can ascend most of the way by chair lift or by car. The last hike (around 2 hours) requires a medium- to low-level effort as there are no steep areas. There is a small tea house at the peak where you can have a beer, coffee, grilled meat or pancakes.