Journey into the heart of Bulgaria with the kids-friendly “Discovery Road Trip”! A nine-day expedition perfect for newcomers keen on experiencing the country’s diverse character. This carefully crafted itinerary invites you on an extraordinary odyssey, tracing a path from the bustling modernity of Sofia to charming villages, pristine seas, and heritage-rich cities, encapsulating the essence of Bulgaria’s north and south.
Embark from Sofia, Bulgaria’s dynamic capital, steeped in a rich mélange of modern, communist, and ancient history. Then venture to Koprivshtitsa, a charming town frozen in time, where the architecture paints a picture of the National Revival era.
Next, lose yourself in the evocative antiquity of Plovdiv, one of the world’s oldest cities, where Thracian, Roman, and Byzantine ruins whisper tales of yesteryears.
Breathe in the salty air of Sozopol and Burgas, where the cerulean expanse of the Black Sea laps against pristine sandy shores, and the pace slows to a languid stroll. From there, take a sojourn to Nessebar, a town that blooms like a flower on a rocky peninsula, bearing the weight of ancient civilizations in its time-worn stones.
Head north to Varna, a city that perfectly marries the old with the new, and marvel at the stone testament to Bulgarian valor, the Madara Rider. Continue to Veliko Tarnovo, the ancient capital of the Bulgarian Kingdom, cradled in the arms of the mountains.
Venture along the spine of the Stara Planina, the Balkan Peninsula’s grandest mountain range, witness the Thracian plain’s open canvas, and let the Black Sea’s rhythmic lullaby soothe your senses. Sleep under the stars in a mountain village, and wake up to the vibrant bustle of seaside life.
Next, plunge into the depths of the enigmatic Devetashka Cave and wonder at the Belogradchik Rocks’ ethereal beauty. Let the sheer marvel of these natural wonders take your breath away, embodying millennia of geological artistry.
Your expedition circles back to Sofia, but not before you’ve tasted the flavors of Bulgaria’s multifaceted regions, from the breathtaking mountain vistas to the serene coastal havens. Although demanding a brisker pace, The Discovery is a voyage that promises to deliver the quintessence of Bulgaria’s unique allure in a compelling symphony of experiences. It is a true homage to the soul of this beautiful country.
Day 1 – Arrival and First Day in Sofia
Arriving in Sofia, Bulgaria’s heart and capital, from the western reaches of Europe, offers a delightful half-day introduction to this vibrant city. Flights typically last two to three hours, depositing you in the pleasantly compact Sofia Airport. Here, non-Schengen regulations necessitate an ID or passport check post-landing.
Exit the main building to the right, where taxis offer a swift and efficient transit option; for those seeking public transport, convenient bus, and metro connections weave from the airport to the center. Have you chosen your rent-a-car yet? Collect your rental car directly from the airport following guidance from your chosen provider, securing your ticket to the open road. Explore our commuting suggestions.
In Sofia, a city bustling with almost two million residents, parking can prove challenging. Hence, we recommend reserving your car for virtual drives only. The city center, remarkably compact, can be explored extensively within a twenty-thousand-step stroll. Leave your car safely tucked away at the hotel’s parking facilities and plunge into Sofia’s compelling cityscape. Suppose you are arriving in Bulgaria by car. In that case, we suggest reviewing the Driving and Road Tripping resource, specifically – Road Safety Regulations, Speed Limits, the General parking rules in Bulgaria, and the Toll system.
For an immersive dive into the city’s rich history and local anecdotes, enlist the aid of a private guide, a worthwhile investment in elevating your Sofia experience. However, if a self-guided tour better suits your pace, we’ve curated a list of must-visit landmarks to enrich your city exploration:
- Alexander Nevsky Church, a spectacular Orthodox cathedral
- The esteemed Sofia University
- Bulgaria’s Parliament building, a symbol of the nation’s governance
- Ruski Boulevard and the vibrant Chrystal Garden
- The former monarch’s palace and its adjoining square
- The Bulgarian National Bank and the Presidency, including its charming courtyard
- The House of the Council of Ministers and the Constitutional Court, situated opposite the Presidency
- The ancient Church of Saint George, Sofia’s oldest preserved building
- The lively Vitoshka Street is perfect for a refreshing coffee or late lunch
- The imposing National Palace of Culture
- Luben Karavelov Street and Slaveikov Square, buzzing hubs of urban life
- The National Theatre, bearing the name of Ivan Vazov, a towering figure of Bulgarian literature
- Shishman Street, your pathway back to the Parliament
Round off your day in the serene Doctors’ Garden neighborhood behind Sofia University on Shipka and Oborishte streets. This gastronomic hotspot boasts a charming array of restaurants and cafés, perfect for an indulgent dinner. Book or casually drop by to discover culinary delights tucked away in this tranquil corner of Sofia.
Day 2 – Departure to Koprivshtitsa and spend a night in the old village
Distance for the day: 108 km | Time in the car: ~1h 45m | Driving on motorways and country roads
You will be enjoying a drive to the peaceful village of Koprivshtitsa, located in the mountain. It only takes less than two hours to drive through the countryside. On the weekends, many residents from Sofia go there for a day trip. Starting early (in Sofia, weekends-early is before 9 am) will make your road trip less crowded.
What to do in Koprivshtitsa on that day?
Your place of stay will most likely offer a parking space, and you will have parking instructions in your e-mail. Koprivshtitsa is a small, traditional Bulgarian village where you can enjoy self-paced walking and sightseeing. It is kids friendly, and the people are nice too. During the summer, it is less visited by tourists and is an excellent opportunity to disconnect and restart for a night. This museum town has many historical places, churches, old architecture, and traditional cuisine. This is the right place to try Bulgarian yogurt, white cheese, traditional salami, and many locally prepared dishes.
Day 3 – Departure from Koprivshtitsa to Plovdiv
Distance for the day: 88 km | Time in the car: ~1h 40m | Driving on country roads
It is an exciting route, as you will start your trip from northern Bulgaria and arrive in southern Bulgaria in less than ninety kilometers. It will take circa two hours to complete this picturesque trip, though, as it travels through the Stara Planina mountain. If this is a long route for you to take at once, you can make a short detour and grab lunch at Starosel Winery. It is one of the new wineries on your way to Plovdiv that is good to visit.
What to do in Plovdiv on that day?
You will arrive in Plovdiv around noon and have plenty of time to see the old town and museums, the Roman theatre, and walk in the Kapana district. The first thing you need to do after you settle in is to get the Plovdiv CityCard. We recommend you book a hotel or apartment in the city center.
The old town of Plovdiv 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. You can take a free tour in Plovdiv or make the journey yourself. Alternatively, you can look up organized city tours and spare time. The absolute must-see places in Plovdiv include:
- The Roman amphitheater, check this incredible view from above
- Hisar Kapia
- Nebet Tepe (hill) to observe the city from above
- Sahat Tepe (hill) and the four hundred years old clock tower
- The Roman stadium in the city center
- The Mosque in the town (Dzhamiya)
- Knyaz Alexander – the main street
- Kapana district
- Eastern gate
Souvenir Tip: The old town is the best place to acquire traditional souvenirs and bring them home.
Days 4 & 5 – Departure from Plovdiv to Sozopol and spend two nights in Sozopol
Distance for the day: 287 km | Time in the car: ~3h | Driving on highways, motorways, and country roads
After the morning coffee in Plovdiv, you will travel for a few hours and cross Bulgaria from West to East to reach the Black Sea. Burgas is the first big city on the Black Sea coast. You can stop at the Sea Garden on the way to Nesebar and Varna in a few days, and now you are heading South by the seashore. Sozopol is just half an hour from Burgas and has many experiences to offer. If you are visiting during the tourist season, mid-July to mid-August, be prepared to see a crowd of tourists in Sozopol. We recommend staying in the town in June or September if you prefer a quieter atmosphere.
What to do in Sozopol on the day of your arrival?
Sozopol is a small old town founded in the 7th century BC by Greek colonists. Located on the Black Sea shore, Sozopol established itself as a trade and naval center in the following centuries and became one of the wealthiest Greek colonies in the Black Sea region. Nowadays, it provides more of a relaxing atmosphere. You will enjoy the old town and its narrow streets with restaurants and cafes. The town has a charming old inner harbor. From the new port, located 10 minutes away, you can take a boat tour around the city, and if you are lucky, you may see dolphins on the way. For those who stay close to the old part, Sozopol offers an in-town beach in its center. Bulgarian tourists and people from Poland, Czech, and Hungary love Sozopol; you will meet many of them on the streets. For those interested in exploring and more intensive journey planning, we can recommend the following place to see South from the town:
- Shofiorski Plaj / The Drivers’ Beach, Alepu
- Arkutino Beach and the Sand Lilly Preserve in Arkutino
- Ropotamo River Mouth and boat tour
- Beglik Tash
- Exploring the Strandja region, further on the South – Brashlyan village and Mishkova Niva
The Drivers’ Beach suits you if you prefer a beach away from the crowd. Many locals visit the beach during the weekend, which may be crowded. Please note that there is no service, and the beach offers no lifeguard. You can refresh yourself in the nearby Duni resort.
The Ropotamo River Mouth offers a tranquil beach and serenity. You can reach the delta by boat from the sea or the river.
Brashlyan village used to be called Sarmashik. Two small rivers, Pantaleyska and Churka pass through the village before flowing into the Katun River. The present village of Brashlyan dates from the late 17th century. The region has traces of ancient human presence – dolmens, mounds, and sanctuaries. The village church St. Dimitar, dates from the late seventeenth century.
For those interested in surfing, kayaking, and other wing-water sports, we recommend heading North of Sozopol towards the windy Gradina beach.
Day 6 – Departure from Sozopol to Varna and a short stop in Burgas or Nesebar on the way
Distance for the day: 170 km | Time in the car: ~2h 55m | Driving on motorways and country roads
Whether you spend the last two days on the beach or travel around Sozopol to explore more places, it is time to pack and continue your journey to the Northern part of the Bulgarian seashore. You start from Sozopol, and in thirty minutes, you will be entering Burgas, a town you passed through two days ago. Burgas is proud of its Marine Garden, and you can quickly stop there for a coffee if time allows.
A short stop in Nesebar on the way to Varna
Continuing on the North for thirty-five minutes, you will be in Nesebar. A walk in the old Nesebar can be refreshing under the shade of the narrow streets. The old town has many ancient churches dating from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Once, Nesebar had as many as 40 churches, eleven preserved nowadays. The ancient city of Nessebar is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
It will take approximately one hour and forty-five minutes to drive from Nesebar to Varna.
What to do in Varna on that day?
Varna, Bulgaria aerial drone view. Beautiful panorama of seascape and sea garden.
Located on the Black Sea, Varna, with its cafes, restaurants, and hotels, has a long history of being the sea holiday place of Bulgaria and the region. Today, Varna has to offer beaches with tiny soft sands and many hot mineral springs. Varna is home to many cultural events and offers child-friendly attractions such as a Zoo, a Dolphinarium, the city aquarium, the Astronomical observatory named after Nicolaus Copernicus, and more. It also has many restaurants where you can experience fine Bulgarian cuisine. We recommend the tourist portal of Varna, where you can check what will be available on your arrival date.
Day 7 – Departure from Varna, make a short stop to see the Madara Rider, and stay in Veliko Tarnovo
Distance for the day: 236 km | Time in the car: ~3h | Driving on highways and country roads
After the morning coffee, you will be heading West, and on the way to Veliko Tarnovo, you can make a short stop at the Pobitite Kamuni or the Madara Rider near Shumen. The drive will only take less than an hour.
What is the Madara Rider? It represents the figure of a knight triumphing over a lion. It is carved into a 100-m-high cliff near the village of Madara. Madara was the sacred place of the First Bulgarian Empire before Bulgaria’s conversion to Christianity in the 9th century. The inscriptions beside the sculpture tell of events between AD 705 and 801. Madara Rider is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Next, you are heading towards Veliko Tarnovo, and the drive will take approximately two hours.
What to do in Veliko Tarnovo on that day?
Veliko Tarnovo is one of a few cities in Bulgaria whose name consists of two words. It translates as The Great City and has more than seven thousand years of history. Among the many things you can do in Tarnovo are:
- Make a quick entrance into the Tsarevets Fortress and Baldwin’s Tower
- Walk the Skywalk to see the town from the hight
- Walk by the building of the Bulgarian First National Assembly
- Visit the Mini Bulgaria Park, and you can recognize some of the places you have already visited
- Relax and refresh at Gurko Street
- Take a walk to the house with the monkey, a masterpiece by the architect Kolyu Ficheto
- Visit the Samovodska Charshia Market
- Stay for a traditional Bulgarian dinner in the city, or visit the nearby Arbanassi
Interestingly, from February 1879 to April 1879, the Constituent Assembly in Veliko Turnovo sets the beginnings of parliamentary life in Bulgaria.
Day 8 – Departure from Veliko Tarnovo to Belogradchik Rocks (Devetashka Cave on the way)
Distance for the day: 340 km | Time in the car: ~5h | Driving on country roads
It will take approximately an hour and a half drive from Veliko Tarnovo to The Devetashka cave. The Devetashka Cave is a significant natural cave with an entrance of 35 meters wide and 30 meters high. The earliest traces of human presence date back to the Early Stone Age, about 70,000 BC. In the 1950s, the cave was used as a military warehouse. Most recently, the cave was a scene for the action film The Expendables 2, where Sylvester Stallone crash lands a plane into the cave.
Tip: There is a parking space just before the cave entrance. The walking surface in the cave may be moist and slippery, and we recommend adequate shoes and precautions, especially if you are visiting with kids.
After the short stop at Devetaki, we continue our journey to the Belogradchik Rocks. This part of the journey will take approximately three hours and a half. You will be driving through country roads, and road conditions may be significantly less than perfect in this part of Bulgaria. Drive carefully!
What to do in Belogradchik on that day?
You need to see two things if you are in Belogrdchik – the Belogradchik Rocks and Kaleto Fortress. The Belogradchik Rocks are a group of strangely shaped sandstones. They are rock formations on the western slopes of the Balkan Mountains (Stara Planina). Rocks come in different colors, from predominantly red to yellow. These rocks have remarkable shapes and are associated with fascinating legends. The Belogradchik Rocks were declared a Natural Monument of Bulgaria and a New Wonder of the World 2011.
In the 3rd century AD, the Romans built the fortress of Kaleto at Belogradchik to protect the transport of goods and gold from the Thracian lands to the empire. Over the centuries, this early fortress has been rebuilt as needed. Later, the Bulgarian Tsar of Vidin, Ivan Stratsimir, further expanded the fort in the 14th century, making the settlement of Belogradchik the second most important in the country. The fortress was once in the hands of the Hungarian King Ludovic I and was later incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. The fort last saw combat in 1878 during the Russo-Turkish War, followed by the Serbian-Bulgarian War in 1885. The fortress is located just a few kilometers from the Serbian border.
Alternatively, you can visit Kozarnika Cave, with the age of archeological findings dating back to the Lower Paleolithic, around 1.4 million years ago.
Day 9 – Departure from Belogradchik and arrival in Sofia
Distance for the day: 180 km | Time in the car: ~2h 50m | Driving on country roads
If you have spare time, on the way back to Sofia, we can recommend visiting the nearby village of Klisura and The Klisura Monastery St. St. Cyrill and Methodius.