Backpacking in Bulgaria: a 5 night getaway

backpacking in bulgaria

If you’re planning to go backpacking in Bulgaria I must warn you, 1 week is not enough! I learnt that the hard way as my days in this Balkan country were way too short, I surely must come back soon, but even in just a week I managed to see wonderful things!

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This itinerary is more urban and includes only one short hike, but it will allow you to discover quite a few bits of this yet under the radar country!

backpacking in sofia

The quick getaway goes as follow:

Day 1 – Arriving to Sofia and exploring around

I arrived very early in the morning after a night bus from Bucharest, where I was coming from an awesome month of adventures backpacking in Romania.

After walking 15 minutes and checking in at Hostel 123, I made it straight away towards the iconic Alexander Nevsky cathedral which is not far away from the hostel. I’m not much of visiting religious sites, but having been surprised upon entering a couple of orthodox churches in Romania I was looking forward to see this one from the inside, too. And it does not disappoint!

sofia cathedral

On my day walking all over town I was astonished by the beauty of the city. When in 1879 the newly independent Bulgaria chose Sofia as its new capital, architects from central Europe were commissioned and in the course of a few decades Sofia gained the nickname of “Little Vienna” after turning into a distinctively European city.

For me Sofia is a cool mix of modernity with the legacy of the communist era architecture.

Being considered the cheapest capital city in Europe, you can take for granted that travelling on a budget will take you a long way on this country!

All day long I just wandered around the city centre without much of a destination in mind.

wandering in sofia

I recommend going for lunch and dinner at two famous cheap eat spots: Supa Star has a great variety of soups which they change every day, I visited their little shop just down the road from Alexander Nevsky Cathedral twice on my days in Sofia. The second place is more of a dine-in restaurant but still pretty decent prices, at Divaka (various locations) I had a tasty traditional meal at a really cool indoor garden-terrace.

Day 2 – Going out for a hike!

As I was Backpacking in Bulgaria in winter time and just for a few days, I didn’t actually plan to go hiking, but after waking up on my second day in Sofia and having a chat with a fellow backpacker I heard of these stunning mountains just an hour away by train!

lakatnik hike

To go Hiking in Lakatnik was a great highlight on this Bulgarian getaway!

MY HIKING ESSENTIALS

This was another fantastic improvised adventure and one that I highly recommend you to do! it’s short, not super technical and anyone can do it with just a minimum level of fitness. The views are worth it and you can explore some awesome caves as well! remember to grab a head torch with you!

Check the following link where I wrote everything you need to know about how to go Hiking in Lakatnik!

view from the cross

Day 3 – Visiting the city of Tsars!

After meeting a friendly local in Sofia, I got the advise to visit Veliko Tarnovo, which was another place I didn’t know about (yes, I didn’t research anything before arriving to Sofia)

backpacking veliko tarnovo

This beautiful town partly built by a cliff facing the Yantra River, is one of the oldest settlements in Bulgaria with a history extending to over 5000 years!

Veliko Tarnovo used to be the capital of Bulgaria during the second Bulgarian Kingdom and during the middle ages was the strongest fortification in Bulgaria. This will not be a surprise when you see the fortress at Tsarevets which has an incredible location, my rainy day there made it look even more dramatic!

Tsarevets fortress

The inside of the church at the top of the fortress hill is stunningly painted, it’s modernity and in cases abstraction reminded me of the Blue Temple in Thailand! do not miss the chance to go in!!

Just walking around the old town is worth the visit! the cute little houses and near empty streets make you feel that you’ve travelled back in time.

The bus from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo costs only 19 BGN. I stayed at Hostel Mostel which is stunning for hostel standards, they also include a veggie dinner + beer and breakfast at a super cheap price! this is definitely the place to go if you’re backpacking in Bulgaria!

Day 4 – A trip to Plovdiv

The European Capital of Culture for 2019 is the second largest city in Bulgaria and one of the oldest in the world!

roman theater plovdiv

Along many centuries, Plovdiv has had quite a few names. It was first a Thracian settlement which was then invaded subsequently by Persians, Greeks, Celts, Romans, Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Slavs, Rus, Crusaders and Turks! that’s a lot of new neighbours!!

The old town is really peaceful and quiet, the old houses mixed with Roman ruins, museums and galleries make it a pleasure to wander around. I was gladly surprised by its beauty!

I stayed at Pijama Hostel which was really cheap but nothing super special, ideal for just crashing one night!

plovdiv streets

The bus from Veliko Tarnovo to Plovdiv costs 20 BGN.

NOTE! make sure to ask in Veliko Tarnovo (at your hostel for example) how to go to the bus station as these buses depart from a different place to the one that comes from Sofia.

Day 5 – Back to Sofia

For the final stretch of this short trip backpacking in Bulgaria I took a bus from Plovdiv to Sofia (14 BGN) and just chilled all day long through streets that I knew already, but that are pretty enough to just wander around.

For my final night in Sofia I stayed at Hostel Mostel, which the same as in Veliko Tarnovo, offers breakfast, dinner and beer for a super cheap price! the common area is on an old building from the 19th century, this is a perfect place to meet fellow travellers!

sofia bulgaria

One place I wanted to visit near Sofia but didn’t have the time was the Vitosha Mountains which are not far away so try to look into them if you have an extra day or so! they were completely covered in snow when I was there so I’m not sure I’d have been able to hike there anyways.

Day 6 – Leaving Bulgaria and start thinking of coming back!

…Not without first trying on some more local specialities!

My last day in Sofia was for chilling at the hostel (having one of the rare days when I can catch up with my blog). But I did have one last chance for eating the local specialities and listening to some cool stories about them.

The Free Food Tour by Balkan Bites was surely cool to do. We tried 6 different places (the number always changes) and some of them were really good! try to book online in advance as they get fully booked most of the time.

backpacking in bulgaria

Having gone Backpacking in Bulgaria in the middle of winter, due to time and weather constraints I didn’t venture towards the coast or visit the Rila mountains or Pirin National Park which all look incredible. Check them out if you can make it there as there’s a lot to visit in this country!

Feel free to drop your suggestions or questions below!

Happy adventures! 🙂

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