Day Trips from Sofia: Rila Monastery, Bansko, Bankya, and Beyond

by Tsvete Popp

For a year and a half, we traveled as adventurers, exploring distant places and experiencing diverse cultures in Central & South America, and Asia. The stories of far-off lands filled our spirits, each leaving a unique mark. But the peaceful charm of my homeland, Bulgaria, called us back. It felt like a friendly tug, reminding us of familiar scents and cherished memories. Excited and ready to reconnect, Peter and I decided to visit Bulgaria after the days spent in Istanbul, with a keen interest in exploring captivating day trips from Sofia.

Sofia Bulgaria, FDay Trips from SofiaStepping onto Bulgarian soil again felt like reuniting with an old friend. Sofia’s streets, where I had grown and changed, welcomed us warmly. While the majority of our time was centred around Sofia, I held a desire to introduce Peter to the captivating spots that lay just a day’s journey away. It was a chance to show him a bit of Bulgaria beyond the city limits and some of the wonders waiting to be discovered.  Join us as we share the journey that led us to charming villages, historic marvels, and unexpected detours before my flight to India.

Bankya Bulgaria, Day Trips from Sofia

Exploring the enchanting surroundings of Sofia

Exploring the enchanting surroundings of Sofia is best embraced through the freedom and convenience of a car.  As we don’t have one, we decided to rent a car and here are the main reasons why:

Flexibility to Roam: Renting a car grants us the freedom to curate our adventure. We can chart your course, tailor your itinerary, and spontaneously deviate from the beaten path.
Off-the-Beaten-Path Treasures: With a car at our disposal, we can effortlessly venture off the well-trodden routes and uncover the region’s best-kept secrets.

Top Rent A Car Bulgaria, Day Trips from Sofia

Time Efficiency: Traveling by car maximizes our time efficiency. We’re not beholden to rigid schedules or waiting for public transport. This means we can explore more in a day, dedicating our precious hours to experiencing the sights, sounds, and flavours of the region, rather than waiting at transit stops.

Scenic Drives: The roads around Sofia offer breathtaking scenic drives. Embarking on these journeys behind the wheel of our vehicle allows us to immerse ourselves in the stunning natural beauty at our own pace.

Remote Destinations: Some of the most alluring destinations near Sofia might be tucked away in remote corners. Having a car empowers us to reach these places without depending on the availability of public transport.

Convenience in All Seasons: Regardless of the weather or the season, a rented car provides a comfortable and reliable means of exploration.

Top Rent A Car Bulgaria, Day Trips from Sofia

Embracing the Road Trip Adventure: Choosing the Perfect Ride

With the exciting prospect of exploring new places and limited time on our hands, we quickly agreed to rent a car for our adventures in Bulgaria. Being experienced travellers, there are a few things we always consider when choosing a rental company. Renting an Opel Mocca from Top Rent a Car was our choice, influenced by these key factors:

Reliability: We need a car that won’t let us down on the road, especially as we explore unfamiliar areas. Top Rent a Car  is a trustworthy rental company that ensures that the vehicle is well-maintained and in good condition.

Top Rent A Car Bulgaria

Reputation and Reviews: A trusted name goes a long way. After careful consideration, we opted for Top Rent a Car , drawn by their stellar reputation and glowing customer reviews.

Fleet Variety: The ideal rental agency boasts a diverse fleet, offering choices that align with your travel needs. Top Rent a Car‘s extensive range of vehicles ensured we found the perfect fit.

Transparent Pricing: Hidden fees are a buzzkill. Transparent pricing and a clear breakdown of costs were essential, both of which were well-presented by Top Rent a Car.

Top Rent A Car Bulgaria

Insurance Options: Accidents happen, and peace of mind is priceless. We appreciated Top Rent A Car’s comprehensive insurance options, ensuring a worry-free ride.

Convenience: The rental process of Top Rent a Car  is is straightforward, with clear terms and easy pick-up and drop-off locations. This way, we can focus on our journey rather than getting bogged down in administrative hassles.

Flexibility: Our plans might change (which actually happen, as we dropped the car at the airport and not the main office as initially planned), so having a rental company with flexible booking options and the potential for last-minute adjustments provides us with peace of mind.

Top Rent A Car Bulgaria

Excellent customer service: Top Rent a Car is a responsive and supportive rental company that makes a world of difference, especially if we encounter any issues during our travels. Having assistance readily available can turn a potential problem into a manageable situation.

Choosing the right rental company isn’t just about getting a car – it’s about setting the foundation for a smooth and enjoyable adventure. Having a reliable, affordable, convenient, flexible, and customer-focused car rental company by our side ensures that our journey will be as rewarding as the destinations we’re about to explore.

Top Rent A Car Bulgaria

From Sofia to Rila Monastery

Our first stop: Rila Monastery! Embarking on a journey from Sofia to Rila Monastery promises a road trip filled with captivating sights and a sense of adventure. As you leave the bustling cityscape of Sofia behind, you’ll find yourself navigating through a scenic route that weaves through the heart of Bulgaria’s natural beauty.


The road leading to Rila Monastery is a well-maintained highway that offers a smooth and comfortable drive. As you wind your way through the picturesque landscapes, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of rolling hills, lush valleys, and charming villages that seem to have stood still in time. The journey takes you through the Rila Mountains, where the air becomes crisp and refreshing, and every turn in the road reveals a new panorama to marvel at.


The drive is approximately 2 hours each way, making it an ideal day trip from Sofia. Along the route, you’ll encounter various vantage points where you can pull over and capture the stunning scenery with your camera. As you approach the monastery, the road narrows, leading you through forests and revealing glimpses of the magnificent Rila Monastery nestled against the backdrop of the mountain range.

Day Trips from Sofia

Rila Monastery

Upon arriving at the Rila Monastery, you’ll be greeted by a UNESCO World Heritage site that is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The monastery’s intricate architecture, adorned with colourful frescoes and ornate detailing, stands as a testament to Bulgaria’s rich cultural heritage. The surrounding area exudes a tranquil atmosphere, inviting you to explore the monastery’s courtyard, visit the museum, and take in the spiritual essence of this historic site.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria, Day Trips from Sofia

Interesting Information about Rila Monastery

Architectural Masterpiece: Rila Monastery is a masterpiece of Bulgarian architecture, known for its intricate frescoes, detailed woodcarvings, and stunning courtyard. It has played a vital role in preserving Bulgarian culture and spirituality.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria, Day Trips from Sofia

Spiritual Retreat: Founded in the 10th century by the revered hermit Ivan Rilski, the monastery has served as a spiritual center for Orthodox Christianity in Bulgaria. It’s dedicated to Saint Ivan Rilski, also known as John of Rila, the patron saint of Bulgaria.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria,Day Trips from Sofia

UNESCO Heritage: Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983, Rila Monastery is celebrated for its cultural significance and its harmonious integration with the surrounding natural landscape.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria, Day Trips from Sofia

Hrelyo’s Tower: One of the most recognizable features is Hrelyo’s Tower, which offers panoramic views of the monastery complex and the Rila Mountains. It was built in the 14th century and served both as a fortress and a bell tower.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Museum and Artifacts: The monastery houses a museum displaying a rich collection of religious artifacts, manuscripts, and historical items that provide insights into Bulgaria’s past.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Short History of Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery’s history is woven with devotion, resilience, and cultural preservation. Founded in the 10th century by Ivan Rilski, a hermit seeking solitude in the Rila Mountains, the monastery gradually grew in importance. It evolved into a spiritual haven, attracting monks and scholars who contributed to its architecture and artistic wealth. Over the centuries, Rila Monastery endured both natural disasters and political turmoil, yet it stood strong as a symbol of Bulgaria’s faith and identity. Its architectural splendour and role as a centre of learning have left an indelible mark on the nation’s history.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Tips for Visiting Rila Monastery

Appropriate Attire: As a religious site, dress modestly. Cover your shoulders and wear knee-length or longer clothing.

Visitor Hours: Check the monastery’s official website for the most up-to-date visitor hours, as they may vary by season.

Guided Tours: Consider joining a guided tour to gain deeper insights into the history and significance of the monastery.

Photography: Photography might be restricted in certain areas, particularly those with religious importance. Respect any signage or guidelines.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Explore Nearby: Don’t miss the chance to explore the beautiful surrounding landscapes and maybe even take a hike in the Rila Mountains if time allows.

Support the Monastery: Purchasing souvenirs or donations contribute to the upkeep and preservation of this historic site.

Arrive Early: To avoid crowds and fully enjoy the serene atmosphere, consider arriving early in the day.

Local Cuisine: Nearby restaurants offer traditional Bulgarian cuisine, allowing you to savour local flavours.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

From Rila Monastery to Bansko

With the picturesque drive from Rila Monastery to the charming town of Bansko, we continued our exploration of some captivating landscapes not far away from Sofia. As we left the serene grounds of Rila Monastery behind, the road unfolded before us, leading through meandering paths that offered glimpses of the Rila Mountains in the distance. The scenery shifted from lush valleys to quaint villages, each with its own story to tell. It was a serene and peaceful drive, accompanied by the gentle hum of the wind.

However, nature had its own plans for our day. A sudden summer thunderstorm swept across the horizon, painting the sky with dark clouds. Recognizing the need to take cover, we found ourselves in a charming village just before reaching Bansko. It was an unexpected pause that turned into a delightful surprise.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Taking shelter from the impending rain, we decided to explore the village and stumbled upon a local eatery. The aroma of freshly prepared food greeted us warmly, inviting us to step inside. We settled into the cosy ambience and indulged in a leisurely lunch, savouring traditional Bulgarian dishes that tantalized our taste buds.

When the rain stopped, our drive resumed, and as we approached Bansko, the sun broke through the clouds, casting a golden hue over the town nestled at the foot of the Pirin Mountains.


Where to stay in Bansko

Bansko, a picturesque town nestled in the Pirin Mountains of Bulgaria, offers a diverse range of accommodations to suit various budgets and preferences. Whether you’re seeking luxury, mid-range comfort, or a budget-friendly option, Bansko has something for every traveller. Here’s a breakdown of the best options in each category:

Luxury Hotels Bansko

Kempinski Hotel Grand Arena Bansko

  • A luxurious retreat at the foot of the mountains.
  • Elegant rooms, spa facilities, and direct access to ski slopes.
  • Gourmet dining and impeccable service for an indulgent stay.

Premier Luxury Mountain Resort

  • A blend of alpine charm and modern sophistication.
  • Lavish rooms, spa with indoor pool, and a choice of restaurants.
  • Exclusive amenities and easy access to both skiing and the town.

Regnum Bansko Apart Hotel & SPA

  • A lavish escape with a focus on wellness and relaxation.
  • Spacious suites, rejuvenating spa treatments, and stunning mountain views.
  • On-site dining, indoor and outdoor pools, and a variety of leisure activities.

Bansko Bulgaria

Mid-Range Hotels Bansko

Hotel Pirin

  • Stunning Views: Hotel Pirin is known for its breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and the town, providing a picturesque setting.
  • Modern Amenities: The hotel offers modern amenities, including a fitness centre, spa, and comfortable rooms, ensuring a comfortable stay for AI.
  • Ski Shuttle: With a ski shuttle service, AI can easily reach the ski lifts and slopes without hassle.

Bansko Bulgaria

MPM Hotel Sport Bansko

  • Family-Friendly Atmosphere: MPM Hotel Sport Bansko is known for its family-friendly environment, making it a great choice if AI is travelling with family or friends.
  • All-Inclusive Option: The hotel offers an all-inclusive package, ensuring AI has access to meals, drinks, and various amenities without worrying about additional expenses.
  • Evening Entertainment: AI can enjoy evening entertainment and themed nights, adding to the overall experience and enjoyment.

Hotel Tanne Bansko

  • Rustic Charm: Hotel Tanne Bansko boasts a traditional Bulgarian design, creating a unique and charming atmosphere that AI may appreciate.
  • Fireplace Lounge: The hotel features a cozy fireplace lounge where AI can relax with a book or socialize with other guests.
  • Personalized Service: With a focus on personalized service, the hotel staff can assist AI in arranging activities, transportation, and other needs.

Bansko Bulgaria

Apartments Bansko

Studio Nr 6

– Affordable apartment-style accommodation with self-catering options.
– Well-equipped apartments, good location and a welcoming atmosphere.
– Ideal for a couple looking for convenience and flexibility.

Studio Nr 6

Studio Nr 6

Bansko Royal Towers
– A great option for budget-conscious travellers seeking apartment rentals.
– Self-catering apartments, outdoor pool, and a lively atmosphere.
– Close to the gondola lift and surrounded by restaurants and shops.

Top Attractions and Landmarks in Bansko

Bansko, a gem nestled in the Pirin Mountains, offers a blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Here are some must-visit places that capture the essence of this enchanting town:

Bansko Old Town: Immerse yourself in Bansko’s rich history as you stroll through its charming cobblestone streets. Explore traditional Bulgarian architecture, with well-preserved houses and the local Holy Trinity Church.

Bansko Ski Resort: A paradise for winter sports enthusiasts, boasting modern facilities and diverse ski slopes. Experience thrilling skiing and snowboarding opportunities surrounded by breathtaking mountain vistas.

Bansko Bulgaria

Pirin National Park: A UNESCO World Heritage site offering pristine landscapes, diverse flora, and rare wildlife. Hike through picturesque trails, discover crystal-clear lakes, and marvel at the iconic “Baykusheva Mura” pine tree.

Bansko Museum Complex: Delve into the town’s history and culture through a collection of museums, including the Ethnographic Museum and the Nikola Vaptsarov Museum.

Bansko Bulgaria

Velyanova House Museum Complex: Step back in time at this beautifully restored 19th-century house, showcasing Bansko’s architectural heritage and local craftsmanship.

Bansko Holy Trinity Church: A stunning example of Bulgarian Revival architecture, adorned with intricate woodcarvings and vivid frescoes.

Bansko Bulgaria

Bansko Chapel of the Holy Virgin: A serene and spiritual place offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and Bansko itself.

Bansko Town Park: Find tranquility in the heart of town, with pleasant pathways, gardens, and a picturesque lake.

Bansko Clock Tower: A landmark at the town square, offering historical insights and a vantage point for panoramic town views.

Bansko Bulgaria


On the second day of our Bansko adventure, we set our sights on exploring the picturesque town of Dobrinishte, an inviting destination nestled in the embrace of the Pirin Mountains. Just a short drive from Bansko, Dobrinishte offered a unique blend of natural beauty, relaxation, and cultural discovery.

Dobrinishte Bulgaria

Top Attractions in Dobrinishte

Relaxation in the Thermal Springs: One of the highlights of Dobrinishte is its rejuvenating thermal springs. We indulged in a truly therapeutic experience as we immersed ourselves in the warm mineral waters. The natural springs are renowned for their healing properties and provided us with a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It was the perfect opportunity to unwind, relax our muscles, and enjoy a moment of pure tranquillity.

Dobrinishte Bulgaria

Scenic Mountain Views: Dobrinishte treated us to awe-inspiring vistas of the Pirin Mountains from every angle. We couldn’t resist taking a leisurely stroll through the town, relishing the panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and lush valleys. The air was crisp and invigorating, making the journey even more refreshing.

Dobrinishte Bulgaria

Traditional Bulgarian Cuisine: Our exploration of Dobrinishte wouldn’t have been complete without savouring its culinary delights. We indulged in a traditional Bulgarian meal at a local eatery, savouring the flavours of regional specialities and freshly prepared dishes. The authentic dining experience allowed us to immerse ourselves in the local culture and sample the rich tapestry of Bulgarian cuisine.

Bansko Bulgaria

Dragalevski Monastery

As our journey in Bansko came to a close, we embarked on the scenic drive back to Sofia, our hearts filled with cherished memories of our mountain escapade. However, our adventure wasn’t over just yet – we decided to make a stop at the enchanting Dragalevski Monastery, adding an extra layer of cultural exploration to our homeward journey.

Dragalevski Monastery

Nestled on the outskirts of Sofia, the Dragalevski Monastery beckoned with its serene ambience and historical significance. The monastery shrouded in tranquillity, offers a serene contrast to the vibrant energy of the city. As we arrived at its gates, we were welcomed by the peaceful atmosphere and the scent of blooming flowers.

Dragalevski Monastery

Short History of Dragalevski Monastery

Dating back to the 14th century, the Dragalevski Monastery has a rich history that intertwines with Bulgaria’s spiritual and cultural heritage. Founded during a time of Ottoman rule, the monastery served as a haven for monks seeking solace and preserving the Orthodox faith. Over the centuries, the monastery underwent renovations and expansions, contributing to its present-day architectural charm.

Dragalevski Monastery

Exploring Dragalevski Monastery

Church of St. Nikola: The central piece of the monastery is the Church of St. Nikola, adorned with intricate frescoes that reflect the artistic mastery of the past. The interior exudes a sense of reverence and offers a glimpse into the spiritual devotion of generations.

Courtyard and Gardens: The monastery’s courtyard is a peaceful oasis, perfect for quiet contemplation or a leisurely stroll. Lush gardens and well-tended grounds add to the monastery’s tranquil charm.

Historical Artifacts: Inside the monastery, a small museum showcases artefacts, icons, and religious relics that provide insights into its history and cultural significance.

Tips for Visiting Dragalevski Monastery

Respectful Attire: Dress modestly, covering shoulders and knees, when visiting the monastery’s church and grounds.

Operating Hours: Confirm the monastery’s opening hours before your visit, as they may vary based on seasons and special events.

Guided Tours: Consider joining a guided tour to gain deeper insights into the monastery’s history and architecture.

Scenic Views: The monastery offers stunning views of Sofia and the surrounding mountains. Be sure to take in the panoramic vistas for a memorable experience.

Photography: While photography is generally permitted, exercise discretion and respect during religious ceremonies.

Silent Reflection: Embrace the monastery’s peaceful environment by practising respectful silence during your visit.

Discovering Bankya: A Half-Day Adventure

Starting a new day of adventure, we headed to Bankya, a lovely spot not far from Sofia. This half-day trip offered a pleasant combination of nature, culture, and relaxation, making it a perfect escape from the city’s hustle and bustle.

Bankya Park: When we arrived, Bankya Park welcomed us with its tranquil atmosphere and lush surroundings. Walking on its winding paths, we enjoyed the fresh air and peaceful feeling. The well-maintained gardens and shaded spots were perfect for a relaxed stroll or quiet moments of thought.

Bankya Bulgaria

Mineral Springs and Relaxing Retreats: Bankya is famous for its revitalizing mineral springs, and we couldn’t resist trying them. We dipped our toes into the mineral pools, letting the soothing waters refresh us. If you are searching for deeper relaxation, the local spas offer various treatments to indulge your senses.

Bankya Bulgaria


Our journey through Bulgaria’s beautiful landscapes was a wonderful surprise, showing us both famous places and hidden treasures. Choosing Top Rent a Car made a big difference, making our travel smooth and letting us enjoy the trip itself.  As we traversed the winding roads, each bend presented a new vista, whether it was the iconic landmarks that adorn travel brochures or the lesser-known gems – the memories that stand out aren’t just about the places we visited, but also all special moments in between!

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