Are you keen to explore the undiscovered destinations, with gorgeous landscapes that regular tourists are far from knowing about? Come visit the Balkans, where I started my backpacking trip in Southeastern Europe from Bulgaria. The country has lots of splendid mountains and hills that are not very far from the big cities. It is not only known for its rose fields, but also for the excellent cuisine and old architecture. Here are the top must-see destinations to put on your bucket list.
The capital Sofia
Known for the current mixture of European and Communist-style architecture, the Bulgarian capital is well surrounded by many beautiful sceneries and orthodox churches. The central area, surrounding the most important attractions of Sofia, can be explored by foot. Simply walk around and explore the 2500-year-old city in the middle of the Balkans. Some of my favorite attractions are the Central Mineral Baths, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and the main shopping street for pedestrians, Vitosha Boulevard. Sofia is not a very touristic city, thus to explore the hidden parts of it, I recommend taking a free walking tour. The locals even offer a free food tour named Balkan Bites - one of the first free food tours you will come across in Europe.
A must-do on the outskirts of Sofia is to take a bus from Sofia, for about 20 minutes, to the Vitosha Mountain to enjoy the landscape. It is an excellent spot for hiking, alpinism, and skiing. There’s a the lift station, Dragalevtsi, from where you can reach the “Goli Vrah”, or Bald Peak at 1820 m (5971 ft) altitude by the lift within half an hour. There are also lots of bridges, rivers, caves, and mineral springs surrounding this nature park in the Balkans; which happens to also be the oldest. Some of them are the Golden Bridges (Zlatnite Mostove), the Vladayska River that runs beneath the Zlatnite Mostove (also the largest stone river), and the Duhlata Cave with a total length of 18200 m (59711 ft), and considered to be the longest in Bulgaria.. These are just a few to name, so imagine what else you will be able to explore here. At the foot of the mountain, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Boyana Church, is a good starting point for a day trip to the mountain.
Rila Monastery - UNESCO World Heritage
Standing isolated on the northwestern part of the Rila Mountains above the majestic slopes and covered with centuries-old forests, the Rila Monastery is undoubtedly one of the most famous places in Bulgaria. It is the largest Eastern Orthodox Monastery in the country. Visitors come here, not just for the historical, religious, and cultural spirit, but also for the picturesque landscape and natural atmosphere. Standing in the center of the inner ring, the main church is decorated with incredible displays of wood carvings and an iconostasis that has been plated with gold.
To get here, there’s no need to book an expensive guided tour to the Rila Monastery because you can explore the site on your own by public transportation. There’s one bus leaving daily at around 10:20 AM from the West Bus Station, that is also known as Ovcha Kupel, to where you can leave from tram 5. A round trip costs 22 BGN (roughly 12.3 USD). If you only have a short time in the country, take a minibus to both UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Rila Monastery and Boyana Church.
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Plovdiv City and Bachkovo valley
Plovdiv, one of the oldest cities in Europe and the second-largest city in Bulgaria, is located on six hills between the Rhodope Mountains and the Stara Planina (Old Mountains). Enjoy this city that is full of art and medieval architecture by walking around the old town. The city also offers great cuisine, music events, and rose products. A romantic way to end your daily itinerary, is to watch the sunset view from the hills surrounding Plovdiv. From here, you can also catch a bus from the Rhodopi Bus Station to Bachkovo to visit the Bachkovo Monastery along the valley of the Chepelarska River.
Bulgaria - a great combination of the city and nature travel
The country is a great mixture of sights, inside and outside, the cities, where beautiful hidden landscapes can be found. The capital city Sofia offers public Wi-Fi connections in almost every one of the shopping malls, restaurants, and bars, and even on the main streets around the city centre. Therefore, you can explore the city yourself with no worry of getting lost. For adventurous travellers, be ready to add the town of Banska, at the foot of the Pirin Mountains, and the Kostenets Waterfall to your list.
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