With three days in Sofia, you have ample time to explore not just the city but the highlights of Bulgaria. Spend your first day in the fascinating capital, then savor day trips. Head into the countryside to spectacular Bulgarian Orthodox monasteries and mountain lakes, then explore heritage towns such as Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo, or Koprivshtitsa.
Day 1: Sofia’s Spectacles
Spend your first day in Sofia getting to grips with some of its 9,000 years of history. A walking tour of the city center introduces you to the ruins of the old Roman city, Byzantine churches, Ottoman-era mosques, and more. A Communist tour is another Sofia don’t-miss: the city’s brutalist architecture is some of the best preserved in the former Eastern Bloc, while the Museum of Socialist Art is unique. A food tour that explains the complex influences that have shaped Bulgarian cuisine is another must, as are tastes of wines from the Thracian Valley, where winemakers have resided for literally thousands of years.
Day 2: Magical Monasteries and Healthy Hikes
During summer, hiking is one of the great joys of the Bulgarian countryside. Many popular day trips combine UNESCO World Heritage Sites and walks: the UNESCO-listed Bulgarian Revival Rila Monastery and the seven glacial mountain Rila Lakes are a signature pairing. Alternatively, stay close to the city and discover the joys of Vitosha Mountain, whether that’s hiking in summer or snowshoeing in winter; the UNESCO-listed 10th-century Boyana Church is a popular stop en route to Vitosha. Perched on a mountainside in Stara Planina, Glozhene Monastery makes for mesmerizing photos, whether you’re hiking or horseback riding. Other great hiking trips run to caves, lakes, and fortresses.
Day 3: Ancient Enclaves
Venture farther afield and discover one of Bulgaria’s other gorgeous towns and cities. Options include Plovdiv, one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Europe; Veliko Tarnovo, with its medieval cobbled streets; and Koprivshtitsa, a village replete with Bulgarian Revival mansions. From an ancient amphitheater to 19th-century timber-framed houses to junk stores, Plovdiv merits a whole day in itself, but many tours combine it with other beautiful spots such as Koprivshtitsa. Melnik, a scenic village surrounded by pyramid-shaped rock formations, makes a popular village stop, while the Thracian and neolithic ruins at Starosel thrill history buffs.