Off-the-Beaten-Path in Sofia, Bulgaria
The eastern European country of Bulgaria is a hidden gem located between the Balkans and the Black Sea. It’s a great off-the-beaten-path destination where you can easily avoid the mainstream tourist crowds. The capital city of Sofia is centrally located, and it’s a great base for your trip to Bulgaria. A small country, you're never more than two hours from all of these places that have historical, cultural and natural beauty. You’ll be able to take trains, buses or rent cars to drive to nearby sites from Sofia. Coming back to Sofia each night is a blast as there are loads of great dining and nightlife establishments.
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Where to stay
Sofia Hotel Balkan
This Marriott property is located within a historic Bulgarian building featuring décor from the luxurious 1950s.
Centrally located in Sofia with comfortable thoughtfully-designed guest rooms.
Grand Hotel Millennium Sofia
An elegant 30-story property with a celebrated spa.
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Things to do
Get to know Sofia
Head out on the Free Sofia Tour to get to know the capital city. You’ll pass by the grand Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a giant Eastern Orthodox Church right in the center of town that’s the largest church in all of Bulgaria. The tour goes by ancient Roman ruins and communist-era buildings that are still standing since the Iron Curtain fell. St. George's rotunda is inside of a giant communist building in the courtyard. The rotunda is an old cathedral from 300 A.D.
Visit cultural sites
Rila Monastery is about an hour and a half from downtown Sofia, and the World Heritage Site is one of the oldest Eastern Orthodox monasteries in the world. Aim to arrive midday, as it gets cold in the mountains.
After you walk around, have lunch at the restaurant outside the monastery then drive half an hour to the Medi Valley Winery for wine tasting and incredible views of the mountains.
The Belogradchik Fortress is breathtaking. It was a Roman fortress and became an Ottoman Empire fortress later on, so the space has a very rich history. Climb the rock formations that stick out from the side, overtop and behind the fortress for gorgeous views. Have lunch in town before heading back to Sofia.
Melnik is Bulgaria’s celebrated wine region. Head to the Rozhen Monastery which is a time capsule of medieval and Eastern Orthodox history. It overlooks the beautiful Melnik wine country.
Visit Plovdiv, the oldest inhabited town in all of Europe. Get to know the town on the Free Plovdiv walking tour. You’ll see ancient Thracian walls, the Roman Amphitheater, stroll through Old Town and see the outside of the Ethnographic Museum, and walk to a viewpoint of the 6 hills of Plovdiv. Have lunch in a cafe on Dzuhamaya Square before heading back to Sofia.
Get a dose of nature
Take a day to explore Bulgaria’s caves. The Prohodna Cave is called the eyes of God because it has two distinguished holes in the roof of the cave that shine a light down. In the winter when it rains into the cave, people say that God is crying. It's also an extremely high cave but very short so anybody can walk through. The Devetashka Cave is also worth visiting, both can be seen in one day.
Places to eat & drink
The Social Cafe Bar and Kitchen: A great indoor-outdoor cafe on Vitosha Street. Order the Kafta Kabab.
Carnivale: Go here for really good shawarma and excellent Mediterranean food.
Tenebris: A five-course tasting menu serving fusion Western and Asian dishes. Quirky place with an interesting design.
The Cake Lab: Delicious parfaits with layers of light cream and custard.
Hidden Pub Crawl: Organized by the same company that does the free walking tours, this pub crawl is amazing. They take you to all these little wooden pubs that don't have names.
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