Travel

Exploring Bulgaria: Adding on a Day Trip from Sofia

Looking for a day trip from Sofia? Here’s the one you need to take!

Rila Monastery Sofia Bulgaria header

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Sofia, Bulgaria is a really fun destination – fascinating history, great food, and budget-friendly! I’ve already put together a full guide to the city to inspire your trip. It’s also pretty small, making it easy to add on a day trip from Sofia if you have a little more time.

How to Choose a Day Trip from Sofia

When I travel solo, I’m happy to do my own thing and organize my own day trips to cities or places that are easily reachable by public transport. But when major historic or natural landmarks are off the beaten path, I’d rather do an organized day trip!

The perks of these are pretty big: I don’t have to be in charge, and I don’t have to know how to get around or the best places to stop for a quick photo. Transportation is taken care of and I can book the experience in English!

day trip from Sofia Bulgaria

For this type of thing, my first choice is always GetYourGuide. They’re an aggregator, meaning they pull the best local tour companies and allow you to search for exactly what you want in terms of experience, availability, and price point.

I opted for an all-day option that covered a historic church, arguably the best museum in Bulgaria, and a famously beautiful monastery tucked away in the mountains!

Our group was pretty small, only 7 people. I love small group trips because you can actually hear the guide when he’s explaining what we’re seeing! You can also make friends with fellow passengers if you want, but not feel pressured to if you’d rather do your own thing. The number would be bigger during summer months, but still be a decently small group trip.

Rila mountains Bulgaria

Bells Park

One of the great things about organized day trips is that they take you to small but cool spots I wouldn’t have prioritized on my own. Our first stop this trip was just that – Bells Park, or Kambanite.

In 1979, the Bulgarian government set up this monument to world peace featuring bells from 68 countries. Since then, more have been added (and some lost), bringing the total closer to 100. It’s also interesting to think about this monument going up during Communist rule in Bulgaria, but there aren’t a ton of signs explaining the cultural background here.

I don’t know if I’d make a special trip to see this, but if you’ve rented a car or have the chance to head up here, it’s a striking monument.

Bells Park day trip from Sofia Bulgaria

Boyana Church

Boyana Church is an ancient church on the outskirts of Sofia dating back to the 10th century. The church is famous for its age and its construction. It was added onto in three stages over centuries, with clear breaks in the construction. The original paintings were painted over with the first addition, but you can see some of it from the walls crumbling over time. 

Because we were such a small group, our guide paid to upgrade us to a guided tour, which was much better. This isn’t guaranteed, but doesn’t hurt to ask! The guide explained what we could see and the different historical phases of the building. There are things I couldn’t have gotten without her explanations. For example, the middle section was designed the be the burial place for the king at the time, but his body was never there and no one knows where he was actually buried.

They’re also very proud of their version of the Last Supper, painted hundreds of years before Michelangelo’s.

Boyana Church day trip from Sofia Bulgaria

National Museum of History

A local told me this was the single best museum you could visit in Bulgaria! Luckily I’d booked this day trip from Sofia that took me up there already. 

National Museum of History day trip from Sofia Bulgaria

The National Museum of History gives a historical overview of Bulgaria, from prehistoric finds all the way up to WWII. It includes some of the most valuable gold finds from both prehistory and the Thracian era – gold is a natural resource in Bulgaria, particularly unique for thousands of years ago!

It also has small exhibits on Bulgarian traditional women’s clothing and the Bulgarian presence in Antarctica. The latter wasn’t in English, but most of the other exhibits were bilingual!

Another cool part you can’t miss as soon as you hit the parking lot: it’s a Communist-era showpiece of a building. It was originally designed as a gathering place to host conferences or foreign dignitaries. It has that Communist grandeur throughout, which was a unique contrast to the thousands of years old contents of the exhibits, but cool to see, and good use of an out-of-the-way building.

National Museum of History Sofia Bulgaria
Rila Monastery day trip from Sofia Bulgaria

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery is a unique orthodox monastery tucked into the Rila mountain range. It’s considered the most important historical and cultural monument in the country, and is the most popular option for a day trip from Sofia!

The color makes it striking: the monastery and columns of the church are stark black and white striped, but the church itself has vibrantly painted images depicting Biblical and saint scenes. Inside it’s more of the bright Biblical storytelling images. There were no photos allowed inside (pretty standard for Bulgaria, at least without paying), but the space was gorgeous.

Rila monastery art Sofia Bulgaria
Rila monastery art Sofia Bulgaria

Keep in mind that this is still an active monastery, hosting hundreds of monks year-round. So please be respectful! 

The monastery is free to enter and explore the ground level. You need to pay to do the mini museums inside, which I skipped after absorbing so much at the history museum. It felt like the right call, especially because I had plenty of time to wander the grounds.

day trip from Sofia Bulgaria Rila Monastery
Rila monastery church ceiling Sofia Bulgaria

If you have time, head around the back to the sign marking the cemetery. You follow a path below the monastery walls along a small river, which was stunning in the snow. While I was down there, no other tourists came through, adding to the feeling of sacredness. There were signs for an ossuary, but it was closed on the day I visited.

Was Day Trip From Sofia Worth the Time?

Now the real question: was a day trip from Sofia worth it?

Y’all know I’ll always be honest about what I do and don’t like! 

I say yes, overall. The monastery was gorgeous and absolutely worth a visit. It’s far enough out of town that a day trip or renting a car is really the only way to go, and it was just so easy and inexpensive to do it as a day trip.

Rila Monastery cemetery

I did opt for a more involved trip itinerary, and therefore a little more expensive; you could find trips that just do the monastery for a little cheaper. But it wasn’t a lot more – $50 for this vs $30 for just the monastery – and I liked the other stops as well.

The only thing that wasn’t ideal was the lack of a lunch plan. At the monastery stop, we had two hours and there was a restaurant behind the monastery. But it was up to you if you wanted to eat there during your time for this stop. You don’t need 2 hours for the monastery, but I also didn’t want to feel rushed, so I opted for some mekitsa from the bakery and had packed snacks I bought the night before.

Rila Monastery day trip from Sofia Bulgaria

I chose this day trip from Sofia, and I’ll link a few more options below!

Rila Monastery is the best day trip from Sofia Bulgaria

Want more tips for Sofia? Try my guide to the city or a restaurant guide!

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