Best places to visit in Bulgaria (Part 1/3)

Some of the best places in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is a beautiful country, explore it during your studies! The team of Inter HECS encourages you to travel around Bulgaria before, during and after your studies! Here is the first part of our list of "Must-visits in Bulgaria":

1. Seven Rila Lakes

The Seven Rila Lakes are a group of lakes in one of the most beautiful Bulgarian mountains - Rila. Each one is named after its quality or shape (e.g., the Eye, the Tear, etc.).
When to visit? We recommend the summer months, as in winter everything is covered in snow and it is quite dangerous for people who are not experienced in winter hiking.
How to go? Take a bus ride or rent a car to the town of Panichishte. From there, you can either take the lift to the Rila Lakes Shelter (it takes 25 min.) or hike to the Rila Lakes Shelter (keep in mind that there is a two-hour hike afterwards to reach the top of the mountain, so we recommend using the lift so you don't get tired!). After you reach the shelter, it will take you approximately two hours to go to the top of the mountain and see all of the lakes. It is not very steep - there are many tourists, so do not be scared! 
How much it costs? As of January 2017, one-way ticket for the lift costs 10 BGN, two-way ticket costs 18 BGN. Accommodation costs depend on the hotel you choose.
Where to stay? For people who really love spending time in the mountains, you can stay in the "Rila Lakes Shelter" (it is after the lift that takes you up in the mountains) or book a room in Panichishte via booking.com, airbnb.com or any other website. In 2015, we stayed at Villa Ema and it was wonderful!

2. Rila Monastery


Rila Monastery is one of the most beautiful painted Orthodox sanctuaries in Eastern Europe. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its frescoes and architecture, and a must visit in Bulgaria!
When to visit? The best time to visit is late spring and summer when the weather is warm and you'll be able to fully enjoy the beauty of nature and to walk in the area around the monastery.
How to go? Firstly, you can always rent a car - in this case, go to E79 highway direction Blagoevgrad or Kulata. Around 10 km before the town of Blagoevgrad, there is a sign that will show you the way to the Rila Monastery. Afterwards, you must drive around 40 mins (30 km) in order to reach the place. Of course, you can also use public transportation. It is not the easiest thing but it guarantees some pure adventure. Starting from Sofia, go to bus station Ovcha Kupel /Bus Station West. Once you are at the bus station you have to find a bus destined to Rila (РИЛА). It is the nearest town to the monastery where you need to transfer if you want to reach the Rila Monastery. You can buy tickets directly from the bus driver (around 15 leva /BGN/ one way). As of January 2017, once per day (from the same bus station) there is a direct bus Sofia – Rila Monastery, departing at 10:20 AM. The drive takes around 2 hours and it leaves for Sofia at 3 PM. 
How much it costs? The entry at the monastery is free of charge. If you want, you can buy candles inside for 20 stotinki each (10 cents).
What to do? Make a tour inside of the monastery. You can also visit the museum which is just behind the church. Its most spectacular treasure is the Rafail‘s wooden cross, carved with 104 miniature scenes from the Bible. Next to the church is the 5-store fortification tower with a small chapel on the top floor. Another interesting thing to do around the monastery is the pilgrimage hike to the cave where the Saint Ivan Rilski supposedly lived in. The loop hike starts from the Eastern Gate on the road leading up to the mountains. Also, the Stob Pyramids (natural rock phenomenon) are nearby - we recommend visiting the place! 
Where to stay? You can stay for the night in one of the few hotels around the monastery or in the monastery itself (yes, they offer rooms with private bathrooms, 30 leva/BGN per person/ per night).

3. Veliko Turnovo

A town with a very rich history and long traditions, Veliko Tarnovo was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The city is rich in museums and historical sites, and is popular stopping point for travellers as they make their way from one end of the country to the other. This quiet little town has a beautiful castle, nearby hiking trails, and monasteries worth exploring.
How to go? The city is big so you can go by bus, train or car.
Where to stay?
You can stay at any hotel or hostel.
What to do?
Tour the Tsarevets Fortress 
Stroll down Samovodska Charshia (one of the most famous streets in Veliko Tarnovo). There are many antique shops and local craft shops. The architecture is also beautiful so don't forget your camera at home!
Visit the Boris Denev Art Gallery – the entrance fee is 3.5 BGN.
Make a trip to Arbanassi (a small beautiful village outside of Veliko Tarnovo). It is located on a hill so the views are amazing!
Wander Gurko Street – it is on the way to the fortress and you pass the town's oldest district!
Drink coffee at Shekerdzinitsa (a great little café in the old market filled with traditional furniture). The atmosphere is very interesting and it is one of the best places to get delicious Turkish coffee! 

4. Koprivshtitsa

Koprivshtitsa is a beautiful town famous for its history (linked with the Bulgarian National Revival period) as well as architecture. If you are into architecture, going on a romantic trip or simply spending time in the mountains, Koprivshtitsa is the place to be.
When to visit? We recommend spring, summer and autumn. These months will allow you to enjoy the nature to the fullest. 
How to go? Travelling by train is rather complicated as the train station is far away from Koprivshtitsa. Once you reach the train station, there is a mini bus that will take you to the town of Koprivshtitsa (one-way ticket costs 3 BGN). Hence, we recommend travelling by bus or renting a car.
Where to stay? There are many hotels in Koprivshtitsa. In December 2016, we stayed at Bonchova guest house - it is a small and cosy family house that can host up to six people. The breakfast is wonderful and homemade!
What to do? Have a picnic or a walk in the mountains. Also, visit the museums in Koprivshtitsa - these are the houses of famous Bulgarian writers and people who committed their life to the Bulgarian liberation. You can buy a ticket that allows you to enter the most famous museums in Koprivshtitsa.  As of January 2017, the admission ticket for all famous museums costs 3 BGN for students, 6 BGN for adults and can be purchased at any museum. A tour guide costs about 10 BGN.

5. Leshten

The village of Leshten, near the town of Gotse Delchev, is quite popular for its scenic view over the mountains surrounding it. It is a place where you will have the chance to enjoy nature and peaceful atmosphere in the Rodopa mountain.
When to visit? We recommend spring, summer and autumn. These months will allow you to enjoy the nature to the fullest.
How to go? It is advisable to rent a car as Leshten is hard to find by public transportation because of its location. Also, travelling by car will allow you to see beautiful views that surround the road that takes you to Leshten.
What to do? Try the local cuisine (sirene, lyutenitsa, etc.) as all products are natural. Especially we recommend visiting the little local restaurant simply called Krachma where the simpliest Bulgarian food has a divine taste! Also, visit the village of Kovachevitsa which is situated upon the Kanina river and was appointed an architecture reserve. It is close to Leshten and it is famous for the traditional Bulgarian houses and architecture preserved and restored as it was in the 19th century. If you wish to relax, we recommend visiting the town of Ognyanovo. The place is famous for its SPA treatments and mineral baths.
Where to stay? There are many hotels in Leshten all built in harmony with the local architecture. You can find them on booking.com and other website. We recommend staying in “Panorama House”, Leshten Guest Homes "Venny, Hope and Love" or Guest House “Leshtenska idiliya”. Also, if you are a fan of Lord of the Rings, check out the Omaya eco village. However, the prices there are rather expensive.

6. Melnik

Melnik is the smallest town in Bulgaria and it is famous for the architecture, sand pyramids as well as wine. Together with Rozhen Monastery, it is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
When to visit? Maybe spring or summer as you can ride a horse and walk up the sand pyramids.
How to go? Catch a bus or rent a car. It is a famous place so it is easy to get there. Travelling by car might be a better option as you can also visit Rozhen Monastery that is close to Melnik.
What to do? Try the local wine and cuisine! Also, visit the Kordopulova house (a traditional Bulgarian house). If you want to make a great panoramic photo, ask locals how to go to the "St. Bogoroditsa Speliotisa" Monastery. From there, you will have the best view over Melnik. If you are into peaceful atmosphere and religion, visit Rozhen Monastery that is around 10 km away from Melnik. Around 2 km before Rozhen Monastery, you can also travel direction Lyubovishte village. On the way there, you will see the Lyubovishte tunnel (the "Love tunnel") - it is not famous but a lovely place to see!
Where to stay? There are many hotels in Melnik and the town is quite small so do not pick a place according to its location.

7. Belogradchik rocks

The Belogradchik Rocks are sandstone and rock formations that attract tourist from all over the world. The reason - well, first, the place is beautiful; secondly, it was nominated as one of the new seven wonders of nature.
When to visit? We recommend autumn months, as in the summer it is very hot around the rocks and in the winter everything is covered in snow and it is quite dangerous.
How to go? Take a bus ride or rent a car to the town of Belogradchik. One-way ticket to Belogradchik (from Sofia) costs 16 BGN.
• Travel by bus: From Sofia Central Bus station, buses run every day, the duration of the trip is 4 hours.
• Travel by train: You can use the line Sofia - Oreshets, trains leave from the Sofia Central Station and the end station is station Oreshets - a small village located about 10 kilometers of Belogradchik. Bus services from Oreshets are not very regularly, you should order a taxi beforehand.
• Travel by car: Belogradchik is located on the intenational road E79.
What to do? Some of the best views of the rocks are from the main square, the top of the fortress, the town park or along one of the many hiking trails. A walk around the Belogradchik rocks takes about one hour. Thus, we recommend visiting other places as well, such as the Magura Cave and the Rabisha Lake. Also,  the emblematic town of Visit is located 50 km away from Belogradchik. There, you can see the famous Baba Vida fortress and the Danube. 
Where to stay? You can book a room in a house or hotel in Belogradchik via airbnb.com, booking.com or any other website. Please keep in mind that there are limited places in hotels so it is better to book a place in advance.

GO TO PART 2

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