From Bulgaria to Greece in a week: Sofia – Rila mountains – Thessaloniki (where to stay, what to eat, what to do, …)

A week’s time and a lot of wanderlust, travel desire and excitement is enough for us three crazy girls to draw up a slightly ambitious plan to visit three totally different destinations in just 7 days. From the busy capital of Bulgaria to peaceful mountains to a Greek seaside town:  how we got everywhere, handy tips and tricks and our food recommendations? Read on!

Map Sofia

We left by airplane from Charleroi, Belgium to Sofia and took the plane back from Thessaloniki to the same Belgian airport. Every transport in between was sort of improvised and thought out in the moment. Here’s how we did it, where we stayed and what we ate along the way.

SOFIA (Bulgaria)

When we arrived in Sofia, our hostel fixed us up with a taxi waiting for us at the airport. We stayed in Hostel Mostel, my first hostel experience ever but one that will be hard to live up to for future hostel visits. The employees are extremely helpful and friendly, the breakfast is basic but all you need to set you up for a day in the city. We had a private apartment on a five minute walk from the main building that is equiped with comfortable beds, common yet clean showers and a common kitchen provided with all appliances.

Our first day we joined the Free Sofia Tour, the perfect way to discover the most popular parts of the city and get some history in at the same time. We also visited the Zhenski Pazar Women’s Market and scored some very cheap cherries and watermelon. Another, less touristic neighbourhood is the one around Shishman street, which was recommended to us by the lovely Radah Boheva, whom I met through Instragram. She was so sweet to show us around as a local and give us recommendations for food and sites to see. The book stores on Shishman street will not fail to amaze you and keep you occupied for hours. We definitely spend most of our last and second day in Sofia hanging around in the botanical gardens. It’s the perfect spot to escape the city’s business and to shoot the perfect Insta pics – which we sure did.

Radah took us to Café Parallel 43 for a matcha and some of the most delicious vegan pie ever. They also serve lunch and coffee. By far our favourite restaurants in Sofia? The Sun Moon cafés. We went two times! Once to the Sun Moon Alabin for dinner and the next day to the Sun Moon Small 5 Corners for lunch and coffee. They have countless vegan options and serve mains, dessert, pastries, bread, cookies, … The sun was shining brightly our entire trip so ice cream was a must. We went to the Gelateria Naturale that sells vegan sorbets such as fondant chocolate, raspberry, … This gelateria is located on the Shishman Street, so it’s very convenient when you go visit those charming book stores.

Lunch at the Sun Moon Café

We discovered the city by foot and bumped into the most surprising and stunning places doing so. We enjoyed Sofia more than we had expected and our two full days there flew by. If we would have had more time in Sofia, we would have liked to take the bus to Plovdiv, which was recommended to us by a lot of fellow travelers we talked to.

RILA MOUNTAINS (Bulgaria)

To get from Sofia to our hut in the Rila mountains (located in Panichishte) we took a taxi (link to the company here). Now, this might seem a bit excessively luxuruous but getting there using public transport is  a hustle and the Internet was not very helpful. Our taxi only cost us €52 euros for a ride that took us over an hour, Wi-Fi included and free water along the way. Our driver didn’t mind us putting on our music and singing along extremely loudly (always a bonus!). The taxi dropped us off at the mountains lifts and we steadily walked the remaining two, maybe three, kilometers with our backpack, which is very do-able so there’s no need to fall for the tourist trap of the mountain taxis offered at the parking lot of the lifts.

For our two nights in the mountains we slept in the Lovna Hutan extremely picturesque, photographable, instagrammable accomodation surrounded by the mountains and the perfect spot to gaze at the stars and spot the milky way at night time.

Lovna Hut

The hut was ideal for what we had planned: hike to see the 7 Rila lakes. From the hut we walked back to the mountain lifts where we bought a one-way ticket up the mountains and planned to follow the path that leads to the stunning lake panorama’s. The one-way ticket was a big mistake: the hike is very exhausting (but so worth it!) and we had no more BGN (the Bulgarian currency) so we had to ask people if they could swap their euros for our leva.

A couple of tips if you’re going to stay in or hike the 7 Rila lakes:

  • take food for on the walk and in your hut. There are no grocery stores in the mountains and as far as we know, slim to none stores in the surrounding little villages either. Make sure you have enough provisions for the hike. In most huts you’re allowed to take and prepare your own food. (We didn’t because we didn’t know woops).
  • take enough BGN: there is no ATM!
  • buy a retour ticket for the mountain lifts (it’s 20 BGN for a single ride per person).
  • the last mountain elevator to take you down the mountain leaves at 18h at the top, so make sure you’ve finished the hike on time.
  • it’s extremely(!) cold at night, even though it can be very hot during the day. Take very warm PJ’s and socks for the night.
  • wear layered clothing during the day: it’s cold in the shadow, very hot in the sun.
  • take a refillable water bottle: the spring water is drinkable and so yummy! No need for waste and litter the stunning environment.
  • if you have a dog and like to take your pupper on travels: they are allowed in the Rila mountains and I’d say it’s a dog’s dream destination.
  • travel lightly: you don’t need a lot on the hike (see the post-it for what you do need) and the hike is very tiring, so don’t waste your energy on carrying excessive weight.
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THESSALONIKI (Greece)

After two cold but stunning nights and a day of hiking in the Rila mountains, we left for our last destination: Thessaloniki in Greece for a day of sun, beach and swimming.

From our hut we walked back to the mountain elevators, where we planning to hitchhike to Sapareva Banya. Hitchhiking is perfectly doable and people are very helpful. However, we left in the morning, when most people arrive at the mountains and hardly anyone leaves. We’d advise to hitchhike to Sapareva Banya around 18h, when people are leaving and therefore actually driving down the mountains.

We we’re lucky enough that our driver dropped us off in Doepnitsa, where we had to take the train to Greece. If you’re driver does not go that way, you’ll have to take the bus to Doepnitsa in Sapareva Banya.

In  the station in Doepnitsa, we bought train tickets to the Greek border for 6.50 BGN. We had to wait a while for our train, so we went to the grocery store across the street to stock up on food for the day (lunch, dinner, snacks and water).

The first train rides from Doepnitsa to the last station before the Greek border. There you’ll have to take a free bus that stops right at the station a couple of mintutes after the arrival of the train and takes you over the border to the first train station in Greece. In Greece, you’ll take another train to Thessaloniki for €6.50 (tickets are bought on the train).

The journey from Bulgaria to Greece takes an entire day but certainly the train rides are extremely stunning!

When we arrived in Thessaloniki at 23h, we walked to our hotel: Emporikon. We had a room for three without breakfast for our last two nights. The room was spacious enough for the three of us and had a decent bathroom. It wasn’t excessively luxurious or anything but after two nights in the mountains, we were just happy to sleep in a warm room with a normal shower.

After a good night’s sleep we took off for a day on the beach. Thessaloniki itself has no beach but there are boat shuttles. The hotel provided us with a map and schedule of when and where to take the boat. The boats leave just about every hour and there are two places where you can board. The boat costs €2.5 for students and €3.5 for non-students for a one-way ticket, which is bought on the boat. We spotted thousands of jellyfish and even some dolphins!

For lunch and dinner on our first (and only) full day, we went to Greek restaurants that mostly have a ton of easily veganizable options such as sautéed mushrooms, bell pepper dip, dolmades (always ask, as they sometimes are filled with meat), …

Dinner in Greece

The first morning we bought watermelon for breakfast in a grocery store. The second day we went to The Saints Stores for vegan breakfast buffet. You fill your plate and pay the weight. Water is free!

On our search for lunch the last day, we stumbled upon Crazy Garden. They have some vegan latte’s (woop woop) and several vegan lunch options like burgers, sandwiches, … It’s nothing outstanding, but I was excited to have a vegan latte.

After two days of sun and delicious eats, we had to head back home to Belgium. From our hotel in the city centre, we grabbed a taxi to the airport for €20. The taxis have a fixed price for drives to the airport.

That wraps up our trip to Bulgaria and Greece. I hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures and you consider visiting the gorgeous city of Sofia, the unbelievably beautiful Rila mountains and relaxing Thessaloniki. Let me know if you do, I’d love to hear about your travels!

This article contains some affiliate links. If you book your stay through one of them, I’ll earn a little money off of it. Disclaimer though: I would never ever ever link to hotels (or products) that I don’t fully support. 

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