Day 1: Arrival in Sofia
Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, was founded more than 7 000 years ago, and has long been an important crossroads between Asia Minor and Europe. Sofia’s monuments attest to the many cultures and civilizations that flourished here.
Day 2: All day in Sofia
Sample list of recommended sites of interest: The National Museum of History where one can see the magnificent Thracian golden treasures, as well as artifacts from the oldest in the world discovered so far golden objects, processed by Europe’s most ancient civilization (4600-4200 BC); The 13th century Boyana Church, a remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site. The murals of the famous church in Boyana reflect both Byzantine and local traditions of the preceding two centuries. The portrait of Dessislava is a genuine masterpiece of 13th century painting, created 200 years before the European renaissance, mark a remarkable peak of Christian Art.
The ancient Serdica Fortifications dating from the 3rd-5th century. The 4th century St. George’s Rotunda famous for its unique frescoes and original architecture. Its majestic figures illustrate the development of Christian Painting over several centuries, making Rotunda one of the gems of Bulgarian and East European culture; The magnificent Alexander Nevski Memorial Church is a masterpiece of late 19th – early 20th century architecture, splendidly decorated. The Orthodox Icon Museum houses impressive collection of icons from 9th to 18th centuries and some of them match the best works of Constantinople studios.
Day 3: All day in Sofia
Option 1. Sample list of recommended sites of interest: The Sephardic Synagogue is the third largest in Europe (next to the synagogues in Budapest and Amsterdam). Not many people know that during World War II Bulgaria saved its entire Jewish population. The Bulgarian people lead by their Orthodox Church Metropolitans Kiril and Stefan stood in the way of the Nazi machine that was firmly resolved to implement the “final solution” of the Jewish question. The “solution” was never realized in Bulgaria. Ultimately, not a single Bulgarian Jews was deported to Nazi’s death camps. Anti-Semitism never had roots in Bulgaria. Jews were integral part of the Bulgarian society.
The beautiful Banya Bashi Mosque built in 1566 by the great architect Mimar Sinan. The mosque takes its name from the neighbouring Central baths (in the Turkish language, "banya bashi" means "a lot of baths"); The National Art Gallery is housed in the former Royal Palace; the gallery treasures the most valuable collection of classical paintings and sculptures, which chronically illustrate Bulgaria's artistic achievements from the beginning of the 19th century to the 1950s; The fabulous Archaeology Museum, housed in a former mosque, built in 15th century, treasures breathtaking archaeology finds; St. Sophia basilica, 6th century; the National Theatre; the Sofia University; the National Assembly (the Bulgarian Parliament), as well as some other architectural and cultural landmarks in city’s downtown area.
Option 2: One-day excursion (self drive or by hired/rented car or van to visit Rila Monastery, located 120 km (75 miles) south of Sofia in the Rila Mountains, which is an original national museum with a century-old history. The monastery dates back to the 10th century, but has been plundered and burned down several times. The present building was built in mid-19th century. Located in the gorgeous mountain scenery of the mountains, it is considered the highest achievement of Bulgarian monumental architecture of the National Revival period. It is also a monument of international significance, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of particular interest are the Museum, and also the 1335 Hrelyo's Tower in the courtyard, which is actually the oldest preserved building, standing alongside the big five-dome church Assumption of the Holy Virgin, which has splendid frescos by some of Bulgaria’s finest artists of the time. Close to the Monastery are the rock-cell and the grave of St John of Rila, the founder of the monastery in the 10th century.
Day 4: Transfer Day: Travel from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo
Option 1: There are quite convenient and comfortable public transport connections from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo by bus (coach). Option 2: self drive trip or a trip by hired/ rented car/ van. Option 3: self drive trip or a trip by hired/ rented car/ van to enjoy spectacular mountainous scenery and to visit some more sites of interest in the countryside en route: The delightful ethnographic town of Koprivshtitsa is famous for its National Revival architecture (18th – 19th century). You can walk along its picturesque streets, stop in the small squares, and feel the plastic treatment of the stone fencing walls, the large gates and the dignity of the houses amidst the yards.
Day 5: All day in Veliko Tarnovo
Veliko Tarnovo was the capital city of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1185 - 1396). It has been at the center of many important historical events and was the birthplace of the First Bulgarian Constitution. Sample list of recommended sites of interest: The Fortress at Tsarevets Hill where the Royal Palace and the Patriarch Church once were located; The Museum of the National Revival where the first Bulgarian Constitution was adopted in 1879; The village-museum of Arbanassi, famous for its traditional architecture. Take a walk through the narrow cobblestone street of the Old Samovodene Market Place, leading into small, sunny squares.
Day 6: Transfer Day: Travel from Veliko Tarnovo to Plovdiv
Option 1: There are quite convenient and comfortable public transport connections from Veliko Tarnovo to Plovdiv by bus (coach). Option 2: self drive trip or a trip by hired/rented car/van to enjoy the spectacular scenery of the historical Shipka Pass in the Balkan Mountains and to visit some more sites of interest en route: Etara, a unique open-air architectural and ethnographical museum of traditional arts and Crafts. The town of Kazanlak is situated amidst the Valley of Roses, the home of the exquisite Bulgarian rose oil, also known as “attar of roses”, a world centre for rose oil production. This site has also became famous as the ‘Valley of the Thracian Kings’, due to the numerous archaeological finds of the Thracian period. Recommended sites of interest are the very good History Museum in Kazanlak; the breathtaking 4th century BC Thracian cupola tomb, another renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site, with exceptional paintings; the unique Museum of Rose.
Day 7: All day in Plovdiv
Plovdiv is Bulgaria’s second biggest city, which treasures a history that goes back thousands of years, traces of which have survived to the present day. The Thracians founded Plovdiv during the Neolithic period in the 2nd millennium BC. The Old Quarter was built in the 18th-19th centuries as the center of the Bulgarian National Revival architecture. Along steep cobblestone lanes, behind stone walls and iron-studded heavy oak gates, one could glimpse at verdure and flowers, surrounding the typical Plovdiv symmetrical houses with their painted facades, oriels and jetties and grid windows. The St. Constantine and St. Helena Church completed in 1832, contains murals painted in 1836 by Zachary Zograph, the best known Bulgarian National Revival painter.
Sample list of recommended sites of interest: The Roman period archaeological finds and sites, dating from the 2nd – 3rd century: the Forum, the Stadium, the Fortress Walls, and, above all, the fabulous Amphitheatre, which was built during the time of Emperor Trajan (98-117). It has 28 rows with tiers of marble seats, which can accommodate over 3 500 spectators and today is still functioning. The Old Town with spectacular architecture of the National Period (18th – 19th century) Bachkovo Monastery, located 30 km south of Plovdiv, in the Rhodope Mountains, is the second most important after the Rila Monastery, with frescoes and murals from the 17th century, considered masterpieces of European Renaissance Art.
Day 8: Transfer Day. Travel from Plovdiv to Sofia. Option 1: by public transport connections - bus (coach) or train. Option 2: self drive trip or a trip by hired/rented car/van.
Also see tour packages in:
Europe Bulgaria Local Culture Cultural Journey Archeology/History