Southwestern Bulgaria Road Trip Itinerary

Your road trip itinerary significant places: Sofia – Rilski Monastery – Blagoedgrad – Melnik (and the region) – Rozhen Monastery – Bansko – Dospat – Trigrad – Devin – Smolyan – Cross Forest Monastery – Plovdiv – Sofia

The Southwestern Bulgaria 5 days road trip itinerary is suitable for first-time visitors in Bulgaria who will enjoy changing the scenery from cityscapes to villages and mountains. You will see many historical places and monasteries and get an accurate impression of southwestern Bulgaria. You will see the Rila and Pirin mountains and will enjoy majestic views. You will spend nights and days in small towns and villages in the mountains. Your trip starts and ends in the capital city of Bulgaria – Sofia, where you will be able to blend in with the city atmosphere again when you get back. This five days road trip in Bulgaria has an average driving pace compared to the rest of the itineraries. Your last day has the most driving time. You can extend the trip to 6 days to have a more relaxed program and spend a night in Plovdiv on your way back to Sofia.

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Southwestern Bulgaria Road Trip Itinerary

Day 1: Departure from Sofia to Melnik

Distance for the day: 245 km | Time in the car: ~3h 45m | Driving on a highway (constructions and minor detours possible), motorways, and country roads

Flying from the western part of Europe to Sofia in the morning is a pleasing way to allow yourself half a day in the capital city of Sofia. Most flights from Europe will take two to three hours and a half. Sofia airport is a very compact airport. After landing, you will be asked for an ID/passport check because Bulgaria is still not in the Schengen area. After collecting your luggage, you can take a taxi by exiting on the right side of the main building. No need to worry, a taxi is a very efficient way to travel in Sofia. If you prefer public transport – a bus and metro connect the airport to the city center. If you follow our advice, you will be collecting your ren-a-car at the airport already. Please follow the directions from your rent-a-car service provider.

Sofia

SOFIA

TRAMS

Sofia is the capital city of Bulgaria and is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city with a rich history and a wide range of attractions and activities to enjoy. Some of the top things to do in Sofia include:

  • Visit the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – This grand cathedral is a must-see for any visitor to Sofia. Its golden domes and beautiful mosaics are breathtaking and a popular spot for tourists and locals alike.
  • Explore the Sofia History Museum – Located in the heart of the city, this museum offers a fascinating look at the history of Sofia and Bulgaria, with exhibits showcasing ancient artifacts, art, and other cultural treasures.
  • Stroll through the city center – Sofia’s city is a bustling and vibrant area with various shops, restaurants, and cafes to explore. Don’t miss the chance to try some traditional Bulgarian cuisine while you’re there!

And no rush. You will also have time on your way back to see the city.

Your next stop is Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery

The Rila Monastery is a historic Eastern Orthodox monastery located on Rila Mountain. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bulgaria and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the most exciting things about the Rila Monastery is its history. It was founded in the 10th century by the hermit monk Saint Ivan of Rila, and over the centuries it has played a significant role in the spiritual and cultural life of Bulgaria. The monastery has survived numerous invasions and periods of political turmoil, and it remains an important center of learning and devotion to this day.

The monastery is known for its beautiful and ornate buildings, including the Church of the Assumption, which is decorated with intricate frescoes and icons. The main buildings of the monastery are surrounded by a wall, which was built in the 19th century to protect the complex from attack.

The Rila Monastery houses an extensive library with over 250,000 volumes, including many rare and valuable manuscripts and books. The monastery hosts a museum that showcases the history and cultural significance of the complex.

Blagoevgrad

Blagoevgrad

Blagoevgrad is located in southwestern Bulgaria and is known for its beautiful natural surroundings. As the city is on your way to Melnik, a quick stop in the city may include:

  • A short walk through the old town – Blagoevgrad’s Old Town is a charming and historic area with narrow streets, old houses, and various shops and restaurants. It’s a great place to wander and soak up the local atmosphere.
  • Alternatively, you can visit the Blagoevgrad Art Gallery, which features a variety of exhibitions showcasing the work of local and international artists, and it’s a great place to learn about art in Bulgaria.

Continuing about eighty kilometers South, you will reach your final destination for the day – Melnik.

With a population of fewer than 400 inhabitants, Melnik is the smallest town in Bulgaria. It is a unique and special place with a rich history and cultural heritage. It is located in the southwestern part of Bulgaria, in the region known as the Pirin Mountains. The town is known for its wine-making traditions and stunning natural surroundings, including the Sand Pyramids – a geological phenomenon consisting of towering sandstone cliffs that rise up from the surrounding landscape.

Southwest’s Unique Places

Pirin National Park

Pirin National Park, located in the Pirin Mountains of southwest Bulgaria, is a protected area designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site since 1983.

The Red Church

The Red Church, The Church of the Holy Virgin, is a Roman building constructed in the 4th century or, at the latest, by the

Asenova Fortress

The Asenov fortress (Asenova Krepost), located in the Chernatitsa region of the Rhodopes, is a symbol of Asenovgrad. The fortress is situated on

The Seven Rila Lakes

The Seven Rila Lakes are a group of seven glacial lakes located in the Rila Mountains in Bulgaria. They are considered one of

Day 2: Explore Melnik surroundings and Rozhen Monastery

Distance for the day: 60 km | Time in the car: ~1h 15m | Driving on country roads | Local trip

What to do in Melnik on that day?

The history of Melnik dates back to ancient times, and the town has a long and varied past. The town was founded by the Thracians, who lived in the region before the arrival of the Greeks. During the Middle Ages, Melnik was an important center of trade and commerce, and it was known for its production of wine and other agricultural products. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the town was predominantly inhabited by Greeks, who made up most of the population. However, after the incorporation of Melnik into Bulgaria’s territory, many of the Greek residents chose to move to Greece, leading to a significant decrease in the town’s population.

Despite its small size and population, Melnik has a lot to offer visitors. Its rich history and cultural traditions make it a unique and fascinating destination for those interested in exploring the beauty and diversity of Bulgaria.

Melnik

Melnik

From above

We can recommend a few exciting historical and natural sites to explore in the town.

The Kordopulova house is an excellent example of traditional Bulgarian architecture and interior design, and it offers a unique opportunity to learn about the history and culture of the region. The house dates back to 1754. The Boyar house is another fascinating historical site, and it’s interesting to think about the events and people that have passed through its walls over the centuries. The fortress of Despot Alexius Slav is another interesting place to visit.

The Melnik pyramids are a unique geological feature, offering beautiful views and a chance to explore the surrounding landscape.

The Rozhen monastery is an important religious site, and it’s a great place to learn about the history and traditions of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

Rozhen Monastery

Rozhen Monastery

From above

Rupite region, near Petrich, with its mineral springs known for their healing properties, and the region’s transitional-Mediterranean climate and varied vegetation make it home to a wide range of plant and animal species. The Rupite region is also home to the remains of an ancient town, which dates back to the 4th century BC and is located along the south slopes of the Kozhuh Mountain.

The Rupite region is famous as the home of Vangeliya Gushterova, known as Vanga, the Bulgarian prophet and healer who lived in the region in the last years of her life. The memorial temple St. Petka of Bulgaria was built in the region in 1994, and it is known for its wall paintings by Bulgarian artist Svetlin Rusev. Despite not being built according to Orthodox Church rules, the temple attracts many worshippers and tourists because of its connection to Vanga.

All these places would make for an exciting and rewarding visit to Melnik, and they offer a chance to learn about and experience the rich culture and history of the region.

If you are into wine, you can visit the Melnik Wine Museum. It is a great place to learn about the history and culture of wine-making in Bulgaria and taste some local wines. The museum is located in the center of Melnik, making it easily accessible for those who do not like to participate in a wine tour. The museum features a collection of wine-making equipment, including traditional presses and barrels, as well as exhibits on the history of wine-making in the region.

The most famous local wine sort is Melnik 55. It is a red wine variety grown and produced exclusively in the Melnik region of Bulgaria. It is a relatively new variety, developed in the mid-20th century by crossing the indigenous Bulgarian grape varieties Mavrud and Melnik with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Melnik 55 is known for its dark color, rich body, and complex flavor profile. It has aromas of dark fruit, such as black currant and blackberry, as well as spice, tobacco, and oak notes. On the palate, it has balanced acidity and tannins and a long, lingering finish.

Melnik 55 is typically aged in oak barrels, which helps to develop its complex flavors and aromas. It is often paired with hearty dishes, such as red meats and game, as well as with cheeses and desserts. Melnik 55 is highly prized by wine enthusiasts for its unique flavor profile and long, lingering finish. It is a great example of the excellent wine-making traditions of the Melnik region in southwest Bulgaria.

This trip also features day escapes and road trip alternatives in the southwest

Day 3: Departure from Melnik to Bansko

Distance for the day: 105 km | Time in the car: ~1h 35m | Driving on country roads

The distance between Melnik and Bansko is approximately 105 kilometers. The route between Melnik and Bansko follows the main road E79, a well-maintained road with good driving conditions. Along the way, you will pass through the Pirin Mountains, which offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape. There are also several small towns and villages that you will pass through on your journey.

It is important to note that the weather in the Pirin Mountains can be hard to predict in April and late September, so it is always a good idea to check the forecast and come prepared for changes in the weather.

Bansko

Bansko

In the summer

What to do in Bansko on that day?

Bansko is a popular ski destination in the winter, known for its well-developed ski resorts and mountainous terrain. In the summer, there are also many other activities to enjoy in Bansko. The town is located in the Pirin Mountains, which offer a range of outdoor activities such as hiking, rock climbing, and mountain biking. There are also several cultural and historical sites, including the Bansko Museum, the Church of the Holy Trinity, and the Velyanov House.

Other popular activities in Bansko include visiting the local thermal baths and spas, trying traditional Bulgarian cuisine at one of the many local restaurants, and shopping for souvenirs at the local markets. There is also a vibrant nightlife scene in Bansko, with various bars, clubs, and live music venues.

The Bansko Jazz Festival is an annual music festival that takes place in the town of Bansko, Bulgaria. The festival has been held annually since 2002, attracting a wide range of local and international jazz musicians. The festival usually takes place in August and features concerts, workshops, jam sessions, and other events.

During the festival, visitors can enjoy live music performances at various venues around the town, including outdoor stages and indoor concert halls. In addition to jazz, the festival also features other genres of music, such as blues, funk, and soul. There are also workshops and masterclasses held by musicians and industry professionals, allowing attendees to learn more about music and the music industry.

The Bansko Jazz Festival is famous, attracting thousands of visitors each year. In addition to music, the festival also features food and drink stalls, craft markets, and other activities for visitors to enjoy. If you are interested in attending the festival, it is recommended to book accommodation in advance as the town can become very busy during the festival.

Day 3 Escape:

Stay in the southwest, enjoy a day in Kovachevitsa and Leshten, and re-join the trip to Smolyan

Days 4: Departure from Bansko to Smolyan

Distance for the day: 210km | Time in the car: ~4h 15m | Driving on country roads

The route between Bansko and Smolyan passes through the Rhodope Mountains, offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Along the way, you will pass through Dospat, Trigrad, and Devin, which we can recommend for a short stop-over. You will be through country roads and road conditions may be less than perfect. Again, check the weather forecast and come prepared for changes in the weather.

Dospat

Dospat

Dospat & Dospat Dam

Dospat Dam is a large artificial lake on the Dospat River. The dam is popular for swimming, boating, and other water sports in the summer. There are also several hiking and biking trails in the area, offering beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.

Other popular attractions in the Dospat area include the Smolyan Lakes, a series of small lakes in the surrounding mountains, and the Shiroka Laka village, a traditional Bulgarian village known for its architectural style and cultural traditions.

Going further down the road to Smolyan, you can visit Trigrad. One popular attraction in Trigrad is the Trigrad Gorge. The gorge is a popular spot for hiking, with several trails leading through the gorge and offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape. There are also several small waterfalls and caves to explore in the area. Very close to the main road to Smolyan is the Yagodinska Cave, an extensive cave system, and the Devil’s Throat Cave, a deep cave near Devin. Both caves are popular attractions for tourists, with guided tours available.

Devin is famous for its hot springs, a series of natural hot springs in the town. The hot springs are a popular spot for relaxation and therapeutic treatments, and several spa and wellness centers in the area offer treatments using natural hot springs water.

Driving one hour East will bring you to Smolyan, your final destination for the day. You can rest and enjoy the local food in the evening. Tomorrow you will continue to Cross Forest Monastery, Plovdiv, and arrive in Sofia.

Smolyan

Smolyan

From above

Day 5: Departure from Smolyan to Sofia

Distance for the day: 270 km | Time in the car: ~5h | Driving on country roads, and a highway

Starting from Smolyan early in the morning will ensure you enjoy this day full of various experiences and changing scenes.

A recommended first stop will be the Cross Forest and the Cross Forest Monastery. It is a protected area, and several rules and regulations are in place to ensure the conservation of the natural environment. Respecting these rules and following Leave No Trace principles when visiting the area is essential.

A short stop in Plovdiv on the way to Sofia

You will arrive in Plovdiv around lunchtime and have time to see the old town. The city is situated on three hills (out of seven in the city; tepe), and its cobblestone streets lead through picturesque old architecture houses dating from 150 years. People live in many of these houses; some are transformed into various art and craft museums. The old town is also home to the two thousand years old Roman Amphitheatre, many small coffee shops, and areas you can refresh yourself.

Souvenir Tip: The old town is the best place to acquire traditional souvenirs and bring them home.

Continuing will lead you to Sofia, an easy drive on an E80 highway. The distance between the two cities is approximately 175 kilometers. The journey takes around 2 hours, depending on traffic and road conditions.

Sozopol

Plovdiv

The ancient Roman Theater

What to do in Sofia on that day?

As you have already spent a long time in the car today, we recommend walking in the city. From your first day here, you already know a little about the city and that the city center is very compact. Following our advice, you can park your car at the hotel parking and enjoy the rest of the day. Alternatively, you can return the car rental, and take a taxi to the airport later on. We can recommend the following activities for the half day you will spend in the city:

  • Explore the Sofia City Art Gallery: This is a large art museum located in the center of the city, with a wide collection of Bulgarian and international art. The museum is located in a beautiful old building and is a great place to learn about Bulgarian art and culture.
  • Visit the National Archaeological Museum: This is a large museum located in the center of the city, with a wide collection of ancient artifacts and exhibits. The museum is a great place to learn about Bulgarian history and culture.

Dining Tip: Stroll around the Vitosha Boulevard. This is a popular shopping and dining area in the city, with a range of stores, restaurants, and cafes. It is a great place to grab a bite to eat or do some shopping.

Plus 1 Day Alternative:

Enrich your southwest trip with one day and spend it in Plovdiv

Your Southwestern Bulgaria road trip itinerary technical information and data:

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