Go Back in Time - Visit The Amazing Fortresses and Ancient Cities of Bulgaria

Experience the splendor of Bulgarian architecture and enjoy a journey into the past. Bulgaria's remarkable structures have stood for centuries, from awe-inspiring fortresses to peaceful monasteries, seeing empires rise and fall around them. With its stunning landscapes, wandering rivers, and ancient monuments and fortifications, it is easy to be enchanted by its beauty as you explore this incredible country. Read on as we explore the great strongholds that will surely ignite your inner explorer!

Plovdiv, the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe

Plovdiv

With over 6,000 years of history and being the European Capital of Culture in 2019, Plovdiv is a must-see destination in Bulgaria. The city boasts an incredible architectural heritage from the many cultures that have left their mark: this land has been home to Thracians, Macedonians, Romans, Ottomans, and Bulgarians - all throughout history. Nestled on the banks of the Maritsa River and between the Rodopi Mountains and the Balkans, the picturesque "City of the Six Hills" authentically blends nature, history, art, and stunning architecture.

While in Plovdiv, you must explore its rich history by visiting the almost 2000-year-old Ancient Theatre, the stunning Roman Stadium and Roman Basilica, and the Ancient Philippopolis, where you will see ruins of the ancient city's Roman forum. Stroll along the pretty cobblestone streets of the Old Town, where Roman remnants blend with traditional homes, all adorned in bright colors. Take a deep breath and let time slow down as you soak in the charm of this city.

You will learn about Plovdiv's culture and traditions at the Ethnographic Museum. At the same time, St. Konstantin and Elena Church is a beautiful example of 19th-century Bulgarian architecture. Of course, no visit to Plovdiv would be complete without exploring the trendy Kapana district. Here, you will find some of the city's most vibrant bars, cafes, and shops. Enjoy alfresco dining in the many outdoor restaurants, or shop for handmade souvenirs at one of the craft stores. You'll get to know a different face of the city: dynamic, creative, and innovative. 

Plovdiv is conveniently located just 150km east of Sofia, an easy 2-hour drive by car.

As expected, the former Capital of Culture offers you unique places to stay, from 5 stars hotels to fancy hostels, so it all depends on your budget. We recommend trying Hotel Evmolpia, a perfect combination of local architecture, a good location, and excellent services. For a more luxurious 5 stars experience, definitely check out Gallery 37, BW Premier Collection. The interior design includes masterpieces created by Bulgarian artists. Overall it is an experience that will please all your senses. 

See the historical and sacred Bachkovo Monastery

Bachkovo Monastery

And if you're visiting Plovidv, you must also see Bachkovo Monastery. It is located just 35 minutes drive away from the city. Nestled in the foothills of the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria, this architectural gem has stood the test of time, making it one of the oldest Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Europe. Stepping inside its walls is like returning to a long-gone era of elegant architecture and peaceful contemplation. The monastery's colorful frescoes, some dating back to the 1300s, and elaborate carvings are a testament to the impressive craftsmanship of the medieval period. As you wander through the courtyard and its chambers, you'll feel a sense of serenity surrounding you. If you're looking for a peaceful escape, then Bachkovo Monastery is a perfect place to visit.

Escape the ordinary and explore Asenovgrad

Welcome to Asenovgrad, a wonderful small town near Bulgaria's Rhodope Mountains. If you're looking for a European adventure that's off the beaten path, this is the place for you. As soon as you arrive, you'll be greeted with warm hospitality and a feeling of tranquility that will rejuvenate your soul. Explore the cobblestone streets, admire the ancient architecture, and indulge in the local cuisine. You won't regret taking the time to discover this hidden gem, Asenovgrad. 

Asen's Fortress, Asenovgrad

Asen's Fortress is an absolute must-see in Asenovgrad, so include it on your list. You'll have to exit the city and see the Fortress built on top of a cliff on the left side of the Asenitsa River. Here you will find one of the oldest churches in all Eastern Orthodoxy. You'll admire its tall tower, once used also as a watchtower. 

Located just 30 km from Plovdiv, Asneovgrad is a destination worth adding to your list when visiting the city. Elevate your travel experience, and explore the charm of this nearby place! Being so close to Plovdiv, it's an excellent choice to visit this town while staying in a hotel in Plovdiv. 

Take a spiritual journey to the Arapovo Monastery

Arapovo Monastery

In the immediate vicinity of Asenovgrad, you will find the Arapovo Monastery, a charming place to visit. Interestingly, this monastery was the only one built during the Ottoman domination. Walk around the impressive building, admire the wall paintings inside, and let your soul be surrounded by peace in this serene place. Legends say there is a holy spring with healing powers nearby. You'll find it near the north gate of the monastery. 

Explore the Historical Sites of Vidin

Baba Vida Fortress, Vidin

Nested northwest of the country on the southern Danube shores, Vidin is a city neighboring Romania and Serbia. It's renowned for its rich cultural heritage and has existed for two millennia. When in town, visiting the Baba Vida Fortress is a must! Regarded as one of Europe's best-preserved medieval fortresses, it's a fascinating testament to a turbulent past.

Dating back to the 10th century, Baba Vida has loyally endured conflict and conquest in this tumultuous region. Yet, despite that, its structures remain incredibly well-preserved. As you cross the drawbridge on foot, you can almost hear the trampling of hooves, echoing with the footsteps of warriors long since passed. At Baba Vida, the rich history of an ancient era is brought vividly to life before our eyes. And it's not difficult as it stands proudly today before our eyes, almost in the same form as in those past times. 

Other attractions include the Cathedral of St. Demetrius, one of the biggest and most beautiful Bulgarian Orthodox Cathedrals, St. Panteleimon Church, the ruins of the Vidin Synagogue, the Memorial of Victims in Serbo-Bulgarian War, and many more.  

While there, you can't miss the opportunity to stroll down the Danube's picturesque promenade. Dine in one of the many boat restaurants while admiring the river's vast expanse and islands, including the stunning New Europe Bridge, linking Bulgaria and Romania.

The drive from Sofia to Vidin takes around 3.5 hours. 

Visit Belogradchik Fortress - Bulgaria's best-kept Secret

If you think Bulgaria can't impress you with its natural, architectural, or historical wonders, then you're wrong! And the Belogradchik fortress is living proof of the above statement, combining all three aspects. Hard to believe? The construction of Kaleto, as it's called, it's one of the most unique and beautiful gems that you can discover in the Vidin area and the entire country! 

Belogradchik Fortress

To arrive at the Belogradchik Fortress, you must do a short 1-hour drive from Vidin, so you can easily combine visiting the two in a 2 days trip. Once you get there, you just can't miss it. It's said that Romans built it in the most inaccessible place in the area, on the slopes of the Balkan mountains. It was used as a stronghold and has been through many wars and foreign occupations before you can peacefully walk through its impressive gates today. 

Over the centuries, used by Romans to protect goods and gold transported from Thracian lands, occupied by the Ottoman Empire, and ruled by a Hungarian King, it was considered the second in importance after the Baba Vida fortress in Vidin. As one can expect, being a key element during so many armed conflicts, it was destroyed and rebuilt until its current form. The last time the Fortress was used for a military purpose was in 1885 in the Serbian-Bulgarian war.

This is actually one of the most beautiful places in Bulgaria, where the natural "Fortress" of the Belogradchik Rocks combines just perfectly with the man-made Fortress built for defense and strategic military actions. The strange, almost vertical, reddish formations are entirely natural. They are situated on nearly 50sqm surface and measure from 250 to 650 meters in height.    

And for all of you nature lovers out there, we have a pleasant surprise. While in the area, you can combine visiting the stunning Belogradchik Fortress with the Magoura Cave! This is a fantastic place, boasting paintings dating from the Bronze Age, around 10.000 years old. It's on the tentative list to be included in the UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES since 1984. You'll be in awe admiring the cave's unique rock formations and the early humanity creations, depicting hunting scenes, rituals, and even a solar calendar. Here you will also find the Fallen Pine, one of the most enormous stalagmites in Bulgaria. 

Stroll in the Streets of Veliko Tarnovo and Be Amazed by Its Beauty

Veliko Tarnovo

Welcome to Veliko Tarnovo, the Medieval Capital of Bulgaria! If you're looking for a charming and authentic Bulgarian experience, you're in the right place! Based in the heart of the Balkan mountains, Veliko Tarnovo is a UNESCO World Heritage city, and for all the right reasons: it's bustling with history, culture, and impressive architecture!

Veliko Tarnovo isn't just for sightseeing. As a hub for artists, musicians, and creatives, it offers numerous festivals, art galleries, and exhibitions throughout the year. Don't forget to check them out!

Situated in a strategic area on the Yantra River and safeguarded by the Tsarevets, Trapezitsa, and Sveta Gora Hills, Veliko Tarnovo boasts a rich history that dates back over 7000 years. It's hard to believe that this city, once its nation's capital, was conquered  by the Ottomans' arrival in Europe during the 1300s. 

Today you can admire the beautiful bridges crossing the river, visit the Tsarevets fortress, and be amazed by this reconstructed monument that dominates its surroundings. See the remains of the monasteries, the Execution Rock, and the Royal Palace from where over 22 successive kings ruled Bulgaria. 

Trapezitsa Hill holds Veliko's second most significant Fortress. It's also home to several ancient churches, some of which only have preserved foundations while others have larger structures. If you venture inside some of the larger churches, you'll see frescoes that have stood the test of time.

Other significant must-sees are the Forty Martyrs Church, St. Peter and Paul Church, and Samovodska Charshia, the most famous shopping streets in the central part of the city. 

While you're here, why not meander along the cobbled pathways of the Old Town and soak in the medieval atmosphere? Be amazed by the elaborate architecture and complex carved wooden windows of ancient houses that blend beautifully with nature. You absolutely should not miss Gurko Street, one of the most exquisite destinations in the entire city. Take a leisurely stroll and pause for a moment at one of the numerous restaurants, sip on an aperitif, or savor a glass of wine and feel the place's vibe.

Veliko Tarnovo, a mere 2.5-hour drive from Sofia, offers scenic beauty and cultural essence. While exploring this town, stay at the Yantra Grand Hotel to enjoy a unique local experience and a spectacular view over the Tsarevets Fortress. And don’t forget to test the Spa and the interior pool :)  Good accommodation can truly elevate your stay!

Experience the hidden beauty of Arbanassi Village

Arbanassi Village

Dating back to the 14th century, close to Veliko Tarnovo lies the Arbanassi Village. A medieval gem not to be missed should you find yourself in the vicinity; it's a small yet charming village that is also an open-air museum.

The remarkable ancient structures stand out as one of the area's greatest assets. You'll admire the breathtaking panoramic views over the Trapezitsa and Tsarevets hills from the village. 

Discover the roses of Kazanlak

Field of roses, near Kazanlak

Kazanlak, also known as the capital of Roses, is nestled at the end of the picturesque Valley of Roses in the Stara Zagora Province. It's a scenic town located 138km from Plovdiv and 235 km from Sofia, situated at the foothills of the majestic Balkan Mountains.

The rose, as expected, is the town's defining emblem. It's manufactured into oils, beauty products, and souvenirs, with a dedicated museum in Kazanlak. Located within the History Museum, the exhibits narrate the history of Bulgaria's celebrated rose oil production. With the Festival of Roses taking place during May and June, these months are an excellent time to visit the area. You can even participate in the local tradition of rose-picking, which offers a unique and memorable experience.

Roses picking

While you're there, don't miss the Essential Oils Museum. Learn about the fascinating process of producing essential oils from plants like roses and lavender. If you want, you can even grab some of the oils as a small souvenir to take home with you.

Kazanlak is a city filled with impressive landmarks. Among them is the stunning Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak - a UNESCO World Heritage Site- and the Golyama Kosmatka tomb and Shipka Monastery, only 13 km away. Near, you can also find the intriguing Megalith Rock Sanctuary, also known as the "Door of the Sun." This marvelous construction is referred to as the Bulgarian Stonehenge and served as an ancient Thracian observatory.

And before you leave for your next destination, try the Kazanlak donuts, a specialty of this Bulgarian town. 

Admire the timeless natural beauty of Silistra

Situated on the banks of the Danube River, right next to the border with Romania, Silistra offers some unexpected surprises to its visitors. 

If you're a history buff, don't miss the Regional Museum of History in Silistra. You can explore an Archeological Exposition and an Ethnographic museum there, offering a glimpse into life in the area from long ago. Exploring the past provides a valuable opportunity to delve deeper and envision how the people of this area lived. Other interesting sites are the Medzhidi Tabia Fortress and the Roman Tomb, one of the most beautiful monuments of tomb architecture in the Balkans.

Srebarna Nature Reserve

Right next to Silistra lies the Srebarna Nature Reserve. Boasting 600ha, it is a seasonal home to over 80 migratory bird species. It includes the lake Srebarna and the region around it. Its location is on the way of the migratory birds towards Africa, making it a perfect place to rest and refuel before continuing their long journey. Visiting the reserve, you can explore its rich biodiversity and witness the beauty of nature first-hand. Of course, remember to bring your camera or phone for some fantastic shots!

A nature trail envelops the reserve, where you can walk and enjoy the views. You'll be amazed by the magnificent bird species from observation platforms sprinkled along the way. This reserve is a UNESCO-listed natural and cultural heritage site, making it an ideal destination for leisure and nature enthusiasts.

 Uncover the history of Bulgaria in Pliska

You might be surprised by what you'll find in the small town of Pliska. The biggest city around this area is Shumen, 30 km from Pliska. Otherwise, there are approximately 5 hours and 30 minutes of driving from Sofia to this exciting place. Veliko Tarnovo is a bit closer to the area, at only 2 hours of driving (161 km). Whatever your location is, you should take a slight detour to see Pliska. What we may discover in a new country is incredible when we allow ourselves to explore even the tiny and intriguing towns. 

So, what's so exciting about Pliska? This settlement was Bulgaria's first capital, dating back to the 7th century! Just 2km from the modern town, there is the National Historical and Architectural Reserve, where you can visit the old Imperial Palace by entering the Eastern Gate and the "Small Palace" just near it. Another great place to discover is the Great Basilica, one of the most remarkable Bulgarian Christian buildings after the conversion to Christianity. The ruins are restored, so you can enjoy their unicity. The construction is in excellent shape and is one of the rarest early Christianity monuments in the Lower Moesia region in the XIX century. 

The Great Basilica, Pliska

If you're in love with archaeology and history, you will simply love this place. You can also see the Museum, located in the northeastern corner of the palace, where you'll discover artifacts from the region. 

It takes only a small imagination exercise to see with your mind's eye the ancestors of the Bulgarian people living in these picturesque places and respectfully entering the Great Basilica to pray or wander through the streets and bargain in the bazaar. 

In conclusion, Bulgaria has so much more to offer when it comes to travel than anyone can imagine at first sight. It takes only a bit of curiosity and research to discover all these incredible destinations: from the hidden and astonishing Belogradchik Fortress to the well-known and romantic Veliko Tarnovo, or find an entire industry of processing roses in Kazanlak. Moreover, every place has its unique story to tell when it comes to Bulgarian history: from the small town of Pliska, which was the first capital of the country, to the assaulted Vidin stronghold, which went through so many battles to defend the country, or the Magoura Cave, sheltering over 10.000 years old paintings from the Bronze Era. 

And if you'd like to have a stress-free plan for your travel experience to this welcoming Balkan country, you surely deserve to work with an expert. Balkan Trails is here to ensure your holiday is the way you dreamed. Email us and let us know how you want your trip to look! 

ABOUT BALKAN TRAILS

We offer fully customizable private tours in Romania and Bulgaria. We build the whole tour around you and your travel companions.

Enjoy the personable service of a knowledgeable private guide and private air conditioned transportation.

Pick the tour's start and end dates, visit only the sights you are interested in, spend as much time as you want to visit them, and enjoy the flexibility only a private tour can offer you.

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