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Beyond Sofia

Day trips highlight beautiful scenery and the unique architecture


The majority of travelers don’t look beyond Sofia when it comes to exploring Bulgaria, but its vast landscape and beautiful, tranquil lakes are not to be missed. Here are five locations to begin your Balkan journey.

4th lake in Rila National Park
  • Pancharevo

    16 km

    If you’re of the opinion that idyllic escapes within spitting distance of cities simply don’t exist, you’ll certainly be surprised when you visit Pancharevo. This picturesque lakeside district is not only a hotspot for Sofia’s working class to retreat for a weekend, it’s also a hotbed of historical and contemporary treats that will please everyone.

    Though the area is full of both literal and metaphorical high points – Lozen Mountains, Urvich Fortress and reams of Roman remnants – the water is undoubtedly the star of the show. Whether you want to simply relax in the mineral springs or charter an adventurous fishing boat trip, you can be assured that any aquatic whim will be catered to in Pancharevo.

  • Borovets

    69.2 km

    Skiing havens don’t come much more heavenly than this resort on the slopes of the resplendent Rila Mountains, and it’s clear why those with a penchant for powder continue to visit these peaks year after year.

    Initially intended to serve as a base for royalty whose hunts in the hills stretched on for days, the resort has a reputation of being the upscale entertainment place in Bulgaria. Accordingly, you won’t find yourself wanting for things to do, even if snow doesn’t appeal to you. With transportation choices ranging from horseback to golf cart to parachute, you’d be hard pressed to have a dull moment in the presence of the mighty Musala, the highest peak in the Balkan Peninsula.

  • Sapareva Banya

    80.5 km

    Breaking forth from the foundations of a 7,000-year-old Neolithic settlement, this southwestern town has a formidable history. Boasting both Byzantine and Roman heritages, this place certainly has a few skeletons in the closet.

    Like Pancharevo, the water features are a draw. But where some tourist towns rely on artificial attractions, Sapareva Banya is all about nature. The thermal geyser at its heart – the only spout of its kind across the Balkans – is exciting to watch when it blows its top. And the warm springs are said to hold regenerative powers that give bathers a renewed sense of vigor. This destination is a refreshing stop before venturing farther into the mountain range.

  • Seven Rila Lakes

    98 km

    These spectacular glacier-fed lakes are the crown jewel of the Balkan Peninsula. Each of the seven inter-connected lakes is accompanied by a name chosen to highlight its most distinguishing feature or shape – from the intense azure waters of Okoto (The Eye) to the deep, clear depths of (Salzata) The Tear. You’ll easily be able to pick a favorite from the bunch, provided you’re not too overwhelmed by the rest of the Dangskiya region to do so.
  • Rila Monastery

    122.3 km

    It’s not too often the home of a hermit becomes a region’s must-see spot, but this UNESCO World Heritage Site continues to crop up on traveler’s lists time and time again. Nestled neatly within the southwestern Rila Mountains, the Eastern Orthodox monastery named after St. Ivan of Rila is continually held up as a prime example of the Balkan people’s creativity, due to the incredibly distinctive architecture.

    Not only a significant spiritual center, the monastery also houses a library with 16,000 volumes, including magnificent manuscripts dating back to medieval times. Mounted frescoes and intriguing artifacts provide clues about the different nations that have influenced the region during past centuries.