Sofia Adventures

Welcome to Sofia!

Sofia is an intriguing city, with corners that show at various times a glint of the splendor of Vienna, the charm of Istanbul, the quirkiness of Budapest, and the brutalism of Moscow. You’ll find Roman ruins in our subway stations, medieval icons in the church basements, and Thracian relics in the former presidential palace. Yet Sofia brings all of these seemingly disparate traditions together into one magical, inspiring city.

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3 Easy Way to Get From Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo

Veliko Tarnovo, the Medieval capital of Bulgaria, is a popular place to visit from Sofia. We’ve traveled from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo by bus and by car, and we’ve gone as a quick day trip from Sofia and as longer overnight trips. Here we lay out everything you need to know to easily travel from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo by bus, car, or train. 

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3 Easy Way to Get From Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo

Should You Go on Your Own or On a Group Tour?

If you are visiting Veliko Tarnovo as a day trip from Sofia, you may want to go on a guided tour instead of figuring the buses or trains out on your own. While the trains and buses are fairly easy to manage, we love going on guided tours when we only have a brief time somewhere. This way, we learn about where we’re visiting from our tour guide. 

If you’re interested in taking a group tour, you can check the reviews and schedule for this Full Day Tour of Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanasi from Sofia. The tour includes hotel pick-up, transportation, and an informational guide who will teach you about the places you’re seeing.

>>Check tour prices, schedules, and reviews.<<

Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo by Bus

Bulgaria - Sofia - Union Ivkoni Bus at Bus Station

This is my preferred way to travel from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo, because the buses are frequent, fast (as they can be), and you don’t have to deal with parking once you get there. 

Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo Bus Schedule

There are two companies that make this journey every day. We traveled with Union-Ivkoni, but Biomet is also reliable. The only difference is picking the company that leaves at the time that you want since they have different schedules.

Buses leave every day around 6:30 am, 7:30 am, 8:00 am, 8:30 am, 9:45 am, 10:30 am, 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm, 2:30 pm, 3:00 pm, 4:00 pm, 4:30 pm, 5:30 pm, 10:30 pm, 11:30 pm, and 12:00 am. 

Bulgaria - Sofia - Union Ivkoni Bus Schedule from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo

There’s a catch though…buses to Veliko Tarnovo sell out early. If there’s a particular one you want (or you are trying to get there and back as a day trip) you’ll need to book in advance by at least a few days. For example, right now half of all the buses are sold out for the next week.

Where to Buy Bus Tickets

Bulgaria - Sofia - Biomet Bus Schedule from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo

Because tickets sell out early, I suggest you purchase your tickets online ahead of time (at least a week if you’re super picky). I bought my round-trip tickets on Bus Express. I received an email with the ticket information, which I had the option to print or show the electronic version to the ticket window before boarding. 

If you buy online, you can use your credit card.

You can also buy your ticket at the bus station in Sofia, but keep in mind that it may be sold out if you show up the day you want to leave. 

Bulgarian buses have assigned seats. When you buy online, you can select your seat. For our ride there, the bus was full and we had to sit in exactly our seat. For the ride back, it was practically empty and we had room to spread out.

How Much Do the Bus Tickets from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo Cost?

We paid 30.40 leva for round-trip tickets (about $17.50 USD). One way tickets purchased online are 20.55 leva (about $12 USD). 

Finding the Right Bus Station

Bulgaria - Sofia - Sofia Central Bus Station Valentine

Sofia has several bus stations, but you’ll want to go to the Sofia Central Bus Station:

bulevard “Knyaginya Maria Luiza” 100, 1202 Tsentralna, Sofia

Double check that your bus doesn’t leave from Serdika Bus Station. While these two stations are next to each other, you won’t have time to get between them if you’re running late.

Checking In Before Your Bus Ride

Bulgaria - Sofia - Sofia Central Bus Station Union Ivkoni Kiosk

If you buy your tickets online, you’ll want to show up to your bus thirty minutes early so that you have time to check in with your bus company. They’ll print out your tickets when you show them your online confirmation. If you purchased round-trip tickets, they can print both of them for you so that you don’t have to worry about doing it again when you come back.

Bulgaria - Sofia - Union Ivkoni Bus at Bus Station

When you check in, double check the number of the bus stand you’ll be leaving from. The number on the ticket might change when it’s actually time to leave.

For our trip, the bus didn’t say Veliko Tarnovo in either Latin or Cyrillic. Instead, it said the bus was going to Varna (which was its final destination). If you’re worried, double check the number at check-in and also ask when you get to the bus stand.

The Ride from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo

If the bus fills up, expect it to be crowded and slightly hot. The landscape between the two cities is really beautiful, so there’s a lot to look at. Don’t expect wifi or a bathroom. Since the ride takes three and a half hours, make sure you use the bathroom before you leave! 

Tips for Having a Good Bus Ride

Bulgaria - Veliko Tarnovo - Stephanien and Valentine on the Bus from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo

If you’ve never taken a bus in the Balkans, then consider our Guide to Balkan bus rides required reading. The cliff notes version? Bring cash to use the bathrooms, have snacks with you, and know there’s a 50% chance your bus will arrive very early or very late.

Arriving in Veliko Tarnovo

Bulgaria - Veliko Tarnovo - Taxi at Bus Station

Since Veliko Tarnovo won’t be the final stop for the bus, make sure you’re paying attention. Not everyone will get off the bus when you pull into the station.

There are two bus stations in Veliko Tarnovo, and you don’t always know which one you’ll be dropped off at. Our bus went to the South station (Avtogara Yug / Автогара ЮГ). There was only one taxi sitting there, and he wanted to charge us 3x what the price should have been. We chose to walk instead and grabbed a taxi when we were about halfway to our hotel.

The price for a taxi from the South Bus Station to the center should be about 5 leva or less. 

The distances are short enough to walk, but we found that the hills make it less than fun to walk if you are carrying your luggage with you. 

If you decide to call a taxi and have cell service, we prefer Aleks OK taxi. Their phone number is 062 616 16. 

Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo by Train

Bulgaria - Sofia - Train from Istanbul to Sofia

I don’t like taking trains for domestic travel in Bulgaria since I find the buses are much faster. However, I do like taking the train to Istanbul and Bucharest.

If you do decide to take the train though, here’s what you need to know.

Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo Train Tips

You’ll need to buy your tickets at the train station, and I would personally try to buy them early. The cost is about $11 USD and includes changing trains in Gorna Orjahovica. The ride takes about five and a half hours, so almost twice as long as the bus ride. 

Checking in at the Train Station

The train station in Sofia is the Central Railway Metro Station. If you buy your tickets beforehand, make sure to get to the train station at least thirty minutes before your train. You’ll need some cash to use the bathroom.

Tips for Having a Good Train Ride

You’ll want to follow many of the tips in our Guide to Balkan bus rides for your train ride, including making sure you bring snacks ahead of time in case the train gets stuck.

Arriving in Veliko Tarnovo

Bulgaria - Veliko Tarnovo - Bulgarian Wine

The trains arrive at the Veliko Tarnovo Train Station:

5003 Индустриална зона, Veliko Tarnovo

The walk to the center from the train station is about thirty minutes, so take advantage of the taxis outside or take the buses that go into town every twenty minutes. 

Driving from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo

For our first trip to Veliko Tarnovo, we rented a car and drove there and back in one day. While I wouldn’t do this again (we were so tired coming back at night!) it’s a good option if you have a few days to spend in the city and somewhere to park your car.

Renting a Car in Sofia

We’re working on a guide to renting a car in Bulgaria, but for now I typically just use Kayak or another search engine to find the best deal. Most car rentals are picked up at the Sofia Airport. 

How Long Does it Take to Drive from Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo?

The roads between the two cities are scenic and easy to drive. The total drive time is about three hours, plus time for stops. 

Parking in Veliko Tarnovo

Bulgaria - Veliko Tarnovo - Parking Near Tsarevets

This is where driving gets a bit tricky. The streets of the old city are very narrow and there’s not much parking. I would only drive if you confirm with your accommodations that they come with free parking or if you plan ahead.

There’s a parking lot by Tsarevets Fortress:

5000 ж.к. Асенов, Veliko Tarnovo

However, I didn’t use this one personally (I moved our car every few hours). 

Basically, I found the drive excellent and parking a total nightmare.

What to Do in Veliko Tarnovo

Veliko Tarnovo is a charming little city, but there is more than enough to do here to pack a day or two. Check out our guides to the best things to do in Veliko Tarnovo and how to visit the nearby village of Arbanasi.

Guided Tours Mentioned in this Post

If you choose to visit with a guided tour instead of on your own, we recommend booking one of the tours listed on GetYourGuide. The Full Day Tour of Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanasi from Sofia looks like the best bang for your buck in terms of getting to see as much as possible of the town and nearby Arbanasi. 

>>Check tour prices, schedules, and reviews.<<

Where to Stay in Veliko Tarnovo

Bulgaria - Veliko Tarnovo - Bridge

Budget:  If you’re looking for the best hostel in Veliko Tarnovo, there’s one easy answer: Hostel Mostel! Nearly every backpacker who has come through Veliko Tarnovo has stayed here, and for good reason! It has a social but not party-crazy vibe, spacious rooms with plenty of space to spread out, a comfortable lounge and kitchen area to hang out in (and outdoor space to enjoy in the summer), and they even help organize tours and day trips. I stayed here during my overnight in Veliko Tarnovo and loved it. However, I will say that two premium things I love in hostels – privacy curtains and easy access to outlets from every bed – are missing at Hostel Mostel, but everything else (especially the free vegetarian dinners and amazing breakfast spreads!) makes up for it. Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

Mid-Range: Brand new and quietly trendy, Base Camp Guesthouse is a sign that things are slowly changing in sleepy Veliko Tarnovo. Comfy and cozy, more a home than a hotel, this guesthouse is the perfect place to stay if you want more privacy than a hostel but you don’t want to pay a fortune for unnecessary things. Travelers love the free breakfast, friendly staff, comfortable beds, and general cleanliness of everything! Keep in mind some rooms have a shared bathroom, and others have private bathrooms, so when booking, make sure you select the right option for the level of privacy you want! Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

Luxury: For the nicest place in all of Veliko Tarnovo, don’t miss General Gurko House. This house is, well, literally a house – it can fit up to 6 people, so it’s perfect if you’re traveling with a large group or with a bunch of friends. Complete with a full kitchen (and perks like an espresso machine), several bedrooms each with their own private bathroom, and a large balcony that can easily fit everyone in your party. On a quiet street in a traditional house, this is the ultimate way to experience Veliko Tarnovo! Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

Where to Stay in Sofia

Bulgaria - Sofia - Sense Rooftop Bar Allison

If you haven’t already booked your stay in Sofia, here is where we recommend our friends and visitors stay!

Budget: For a hostel, we always recommend Hostel Mostel. I have never stayed at the Sofia location but several of my friends have and have always spoken highly of it. I stayed at the one in Veliko Tarnovo and it was excellent. Perks include a free vegetarian dinner in addition to breakfast included in your stay! Check rates and availability here. If you are traveling in peak season, be sure to book online, as Hostel Mostel is popular and tends to get booked up.

Mid-range: For a trendy new boutique hotel that is shockingly affordable, we recommend R34 Boutique Hotel. The location is fantastic, near the Ivan Vazov National Theater in central Sofia. It has gorgeous, loft-inspired details like exposed brick, giant windows, and streamlined but modern décor. It’s a great bargain, too – check rates, reviews, photos, and availability here.

Luxury: As far as we see it, there’s only one option for the best hotel in town: Sense Hotel. We go to their upscale, beautiful rooftop bar all the time when we have guests in town – it has one of the best views in the entire city and they make fantastic cocktails. With beautiful views over Alexander Nevsky, Sofia’s most iconic landmark, the hotel couldn’t be in a better location. Sense Hotel also boasts a state-of-the-art fitness center, an art gallery in the lobby, an excellent spa with luxe treatments, and an indoor pool. It’s truly the best choice in town. Check rates, reviews, photos, and availability here.

Bulgaria Travel Resources

Bulgaria - Veliko Tarnovo - Stephanie and Valentine at Tsarevets

If this is your first trip to the country, start with our travel checklist for planning a trip to Bulgaria. You will also want to check out our overview of Balkan currency, which describes Bulgarian leva and how to tip in Bulgaria.

If you’ll be visiting more of Bulgaria, check out our guides for Sofia, Plovdiv, Buzludzha, and the Black Sea. If you haven’t decided where to go yet, check out our list of the best places to visit in Bulgaria

We publish new content almost every day! Bookmark our pages on Bulgaria and the Balkans so you don’t miss any posts that come out before your trip. 

Don’t Forget about Travel Insurance!

Finally, make sure you always travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. The country is a very safe place to travel, but accidents or theft can easily ruin your trip if you don’t have the travel insurance coverage to recover the losses. Recently my aunt fell on a train in France and needed surgery, but luckily her travel insurance covered the costs in full. Thank goodness!

For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

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3 Easy Way to Get From Sofia to Veliko Tarnovo

Why Zakynthos is the Perfect Greek Island for Families with Young Kids

Note: This is a guest post by Katie of GreenActiveFamily.

Looking for the Best Greek Island for Families? Look no further!

Zakynthos, Greece offers plenty to see and do, natural beauty that will leave you ooohing and ahhhhing, and a rugged interior that’s perfect for getting away from it all.

We spent 10 days exploring the island with our 10-month-old baby and found it to be a great vacation spot for adventurous families traveling with babies or young kids.

If you’re wondering which Greek island is best for families, or are considering a trip to Zakynthos and need a bit more arm twisting before hitting the book button, keep reading to find out why we loved visiting Zakynthos, Greece with a baby!

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Why Zakynthos, Greece, is the Perfect Greek Island for Families with Young Kids

Introducing Zakynthos: The Most Beautiful Greek Island You’ve Never Heard Of

Zakynthos sits off Greece’s southwest coast, due west of the Peloponnese Peninsula and Olympia. One of seven islands in the Ionian chain, it’s a little sister to more well-known Corfu, geographically speaking. Whereas Corfu heads up the Ionian Islands as the northern-most island, Zakynthos almost wraps-up the rear, sitting second from the chain’s bottom (Cythera is the most southerly island).

View of Zakynthos Town from the Castle

Photo by Katie Matthews. Reused with permission.

If you’re European, British, or Korean, you might have heard of Zakynthos before. It’s a popular resort destination for Europeans and was featured in the wildly popular Korean TV drama, Descendants of the Sun.

However, if you’re North American like I am, this is quite possibly the first time you’ve heard of it. It’s not a place many Americans or Canadians get to, although we hope that changes.

And for reference, it’s pronounced, za-keen-those, with a voiced th sound and an emphasis on the first syllable.

Why is Zakynthos Great for Young Families?

Here’s why we think Zakynthos is a great Greek island for young families.

It’s a True “Get Away from it All” Destination

Best Greek Island for Families

Photo by Katie Matthews. Reused with permission.

When we were planning our trip to Greece, we knew we wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t packed with tourists.

Don’t get us wrong: we believe travel can be a powerful force for good in the world, and understand it’s the economic lifeblood of many Greek islands’ economies.

And while we’re all for that, we also live in a very touristic city and come face to face with drunk people on vacation multiple times per day.

For our own trip, we wanted to get away from drunk people on vacation. More to the point, we wanted to get away from it all. Relaxation and beautiful scenery was our goal.  

We got our wish.

Despite its reputation among some package tourists as being a party island, Zakynthos is actually perfect for enjoying peace, quiet, and natural beauty.

It’s the Perfect Size

Porto Azzurro Beach Bar View of Water

Photo by Katie Matthews. Reused with permission.

We rented a car for the trip. By staying outside the resort areas, we absolutely needed a car to explore the island at will. That said, we didn’t want entire days to pass where all we did was drive.

To give you some perspective, Zakynthos has 123 km (76 mi) of coastline. That’s more than Santorini (69 km / 43 mi of coastline) but less than Corfu (217 km / 135 mi of coastline).

Not too big, not too small, just right.

Despite doing our very best to get out and see something new almost every day, we never spent more than 45 minutes or so in the car.

For parents traveling with young kids, this is vacation gold! For parents traveling with young babies who can’t even with the car seat, it’s almost too good to be true.

There’s a Great Mix of Touristy Hotspots and Hidden Gems

Zakynthos beach with baby

Photo by Katie Matthews. Reused with permission.

For us, this trip was all about exploring. As far as we were concerned, the more natural beauty, the better.

The last thing we wanted was to spend our entire trip in a resort town, hitting up the same beach every day. Don’t get me wrong: there’s a time and a place for that kind of vacation. And there’s a time and place for that kind of thing within every vacation.

But just because you have young kids, it doesn’t mean you have to take that kind of vacation. That adventurous vagabond soul of yours doesn’t die when the doctor cuts the cord.

You can still explore!

And Zakynthos is the perfect place to do it.

We wanted to eat local food. We wanted to get a sense of what local life is like. We wanted to lose our breath from the sheer beauty of a place.

But also, we wanted to spend a few days doing nothing but lounging on a beach, drinking a day beer, and eating all the fried feta, souvlaki, and pita.

Zakynthos has a good mix.

Best Greek Island for Families

Photo by Katie Matthews. Reused with permission.

It’s Just… So. Damn. Beautiful.

To be fair, this is Greece we’re talking about. The country – and the islands in particular – set an admittedly high bar when it comes to beauty.

But we were seriously blown away.

The island’s interior is rugged and hilly, with small mountains in parts rising to around 750 meters /  2460 feet above sea level. Pretty little villages dot the countryside, with distinctive red roofs standing in stark contrast to the different shades of green.

The coast is packed with all kinds of different beaches, from remote hike-in/out spots that are rocky but gorgeous to stretches of soft sand you can drive right up to.

Wherever you look, it’s gorgeous, and you can build your own adventure depending on what you’re up for.

It’s Accessible from Athens without Flying

Photo by Katie Matthews. Reused with permission.

For us, there’s no pleasure in flying with young kids. At best, it’s a means to an end.

Flights always seem to happen during nap time, toys and pacifiers get thrown on the filthy airplane floor, and it takes high-level coordination to bring enough for your kid to eat and drink.

And then there’s gear. We went from being smug light packers before kids to those people that check three massive bags and are constantly trying to stuff their carryon baggage into the size checker to make it fit.

The fact that we could drive from Athens to Zakynthos in a fairly easy day was hugely appealing.

It took us roughly six hours to drive from Athens to Zakynthos, including the ferry trip (which you drive your car onto) and a stop for lunch in Psathopyrgos.

Tips for Visiting Zakynthos with Young Kids

Here’s what we learned during our trip.

Where to Stay in Zakynthos as a Family

View from our Villa House

View from our Villa House. Photo by Katie Matthews. Reused with permission.

Because Zakynthos has a reputation as a party island, we opted to stay inland. We had a car to explore at will, so we chose a fairly rural setting to ensure we’d enjoy peace and quiet when we weren’t out and about.

We rented a 3-bedroom villa house about 20 minutes’ drive from the island’s main town (also called Zakynthos). This house has steep stairs and no baby gate, which was okay for us because our daughter had only just started crawling.

Tips for Renting a Car in Greece

We found car rental in Greece to be very affordable. We used RentalCars.com to book, and suggest you use the same site or a similar aggregator. It compared prices among the different providers to find the best deal, and we ended up using GoldCar. It was a great experience!

We brought our own car seat because the cost to bring the car seat on the plane was cheaper than the total cost of renting it. However, during our research, we found car seats to be widely available from rental companies.

Zakynthos Family Vacation

Photo by Katie Matthews. Reused with permission.

Note, if you bring your own car seat and it’s from a non-EU country, double check it meets EU safety standards. As Canadians, we discovered the car seat we own in Europe doesn’t meet Canadian safety standards, but it does meet US safety standards. If we had used our car seat in Canada and gotten in an accident, our baby wouldn’t have been covered by insurance. Definitely best to double check!

What to Pack for Zakynthos with Young Kids

Make sure you have everything you need before you get here – Greek island prices are more expensive than prices back home!

Lobster Chair Clip-on Baby Chair

The house we rented offered a high chair, so we didn’t bring our Lobster Chair on this trip. But we’ve used it on past trips, and it’s a super convenient option for a travel high chair. You just screw the clamps down on a sturdy table or counter and – presto – you’ve got somewhere for your kid to eat that isn’t your lap.

For eating out, every single restaurant we went to on Zakynthos had a high chair for us to use.

>>See ratings & reviews on Amazon<<

Travel Crib or Pack n Play

Whenever possible, we bring a portable travel crib on vacation. We use the Phil & Teds Traveler, which is only 6 pounds and packs into one of our suitcases. It’s a pain to carry, as it takes up valuable luggage space, but we feel better knowing our baby is in a super safe and clean crib.

>>See ratings & reviews on Amazon<<

Pretty Square in Zakynthos Town

Photo by Katie Matthews. Reused with permission.

UV Protection Suit & Water Shoes

One thing we noticed about Zakynthos is it always felt warmer than the weather forecast suggested, and the sun felt quite strong. We brought a bathing suit for our baby, but we almost always had her in her UV bathing suit at the beach.

Our baby is still a crawler, but had she been walking, we would have also wanted water shoes. Many of the Zakynthos’ beaches are sandy, but there are also some gorgeous rocky spots we enjoyed visiting, and the rocks would’ve definitely hurt sensitive kiddo feet.

>>Find the perfect UV Bathing Suit and Water Shoes for your family.<<

Kids Roll-On Sunscreen

This was our first trip with our baby where she was allowed to wear sunscreen (babies need to be 6 months and older for sunscreen – before that, use other methods to protect them from the sun).

We chose a roll-on sunscreen made specifically for kids, and it worked wonderfully. We were able to get her slathered up in two minutes or less and didn’t have to worry about her inhaling the particles that come with spray on options.

10/10 would choose this option again.

>>See ratings & reviews on Amazon<<

Restaurant Keri Lighthouse Zakynthos 1

Photo by Katie Matthews. Reused with permission.

Water Bottle with Soft Straw

Our baby has been drinking water since she was 6 months or so, and we wanted to make sure she drank a lot to stay hydrated in the Greek heat.

We used the Philips Avent My Bendy Straw Cup with a soft flexible straw. Our daughter has no problem getting the water out, it doesn’t spill, and it has a lid to protect the straw when not in use.

My favorite part about this cup is the straw. Our baby plays with the water bottle a lot, and the straw gets precariously close to her eyes on the daily. While I doubt it would feel good, I don’t worry about the straw doing long-term damage if it does poke her in the eye. It also is unlikely to give her a soft palate or gum injury.

Note – the water on Zakynthos isn’t potable. Unfortunately, you have to use bottled.

>>See ratings & reviews on Amazon<<

Lightweight Travel Stroller with Large Sun Visor

Greece laughs in the face of stroller accessibility.

While you can get around the towns and cities fairly well, there are still plenty of situations where you’ll need to hoist your baby and stroller up to get up or down some stairs, over a curb, etc. On Zakynthos, we took our stroller to a few beaches where we had to lift it up and carry it.

If you can swing it, we suggest getting a lightweight travel stroller. We use the GB Pockit and bought a third-party sunshade to make up for the Pockit’s terrible sun protection. The stroller folds up into nothing, and we actually carry it on the plane so we don’t have to wait hours at the baggage belt when we arrive (which happened with our previous full-size stroller, leading us to the never again moment when we bought the GB Pockit).

>>See ratings & reviews on Amazon for our favorite travel stroller and sunshade<<

Restaurant Keri Lighthouse Zakynthos 2

Photo by Katie Matthews. Reused with permission.

Baby Carrier

While the stroller worked most of the time, there were a few situations we were thrilled we had our baby carrier with us.

We used before arriving on Zakynthos during our visit to the (no-strollers allowed) Acropolis and would have used it on two short hikes on Zakynthos if our baby hadn’t decided to sleep through the experience in the car.

If you decide you want to see Shipwreck Beach from above, you’ll definitely need a carrier for babies, as the walk is inaccessible to strollers. Just be warned the cliffs are really steep, and there’s no guard rail, so please be oh so very careful (and probably skip it if you’re with new walkers).

>>See ratings & reviews on Amazon<<

So, Should You Visit Zakynthos with a Baby?

There’s a lot to love about Zakynthos, and we found it to be a great option for a family trip. We found it easy to get around with plenty of child-friendly spots to visit. Add to that, the Greeks love kids and were very welcoming.

While our baby won’t remember her time on the island, we’ll always remember how much fun she had. And with all the moussaka our baby tried, we think she probably developed a life-long love of Greek food!

Katie and Jeff Mathews

Photo by Katie Matthews. Reused with permission.

Author Bio:  Perpetually on the hunt for cheap flights, cold beers, and awesome terraces, Katie has been traveling the world since she was 16 when she somehow persuaded her parents to let her move abroad to learn the ways of hygge in Denmark. Picking up a Canadian husband and a Taiwanese street cat along the way, she’s now based in Budapest. Katie blogs at GreenActiveFamily, which is dedicated to helping parents find eco-friendly and toxin-free products for their kids.

More Greece Travel Resources

Greece - Epidaurus - Stephanie Selfie

Headed to Greece? If this is your first trip, check out our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers everything you need to know from vaccines to visas to planning your itinerary.

If you’re still trying to plan your itinerary, we have posts to help you decide where to go in Greece and our favorite Greek islands along with a guide to when to go to Greece and the best Greek souvenirs to pick up while you’re here!

Finally, since you don’t want to hit up Greece without indulging in the amazing cuisine, here’s our guide to the best Greek food to try during your trip.

We have tons more Greece and Balkans resources, and we publish new content nearly daily. Bookmark our Greece and Balkans travel pages so you can find any new resources that come out before your trip!

Finally, Don’t Forget about Travel Insurance!

If you’re planning a trip to Greece, make sure to travel with a valid travel insurance policy. While we feel safe in Greece, especially in the Greek islands, you need to be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident.

For travel insurance, we use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

>>Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.<<

 

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Why Zakynthos, Greece, is the Perfect Greek Island for Families with Young Kids

Green Tour Cappadocia: The Best Day Trip From Göreme or Uchisar

When you think of Cappadocia, you likely think of hot air balloons, Turkish breakfasts atop lavish cave hotels, and fairy chimney landscapes. But that’s just one small part of what Cappadocia offers.

Cappadocia is not a town or city in Turkey; rather, it’s a large region in the center of Anatolian (Asian) Turkey. It encompasses parts of five Turkish provinces: Nevşehir, Kayseri, Kırşehir, Aksaray, and Niğde.

However, in travel writing, Cappadocia most often gets condensed into a few small towns. Göreme, its touristy heart; Uchisar, its upscale but smaller sister; and Urgup, its offbeat and quiet (though still quite touristic) neighbor.

However, Cappadocia is so much more than these three towns. And the best way to discover the region of Cappadocia more extensively is by taking a tour. There are three main tour circuits: red, blue, and green. Since I only had a few days in Cappadocia, I could only pick one. After doing the research, I ended up picking the Green Tour Cappadocia (also called a South Cappadocia tour) and I’m so happy I did – and I’ll go into why here.

Pros of the Green Tour Cappadocia

You’ll get to see the widest region of Cappadocia

Cappadocia - Turkey - Ihlara
The Ihlara Valley is far from most Cappadocia hotels – and therefore, blissfully quiet!

Compared to the Blue and Red tours, the Green Tour of Cappadocia has you going the furthest afield.

The Red Tour stays pretty close to Göreme and takes up a lot of time at the Open Air Museum and Uchisar Castle – two places that you could visit independently quite easily on your own. Its other stops, like Avanos and Cavusin, are slightly further afield but are still quite popular and tourist-trappy in nature.

Meanwhile, the Blue Tour gets you a little further out but still isn’t as all-encompassing as the Green Tour. It does include one of the two famous underground cities (Kaymakli) which is less-visited but also not quite as impressive as Derinkuyu, which is much deeper. It does spend quite a bit of time near Göreme/Uchisar, though, visiting Uchisar Castle which is easy enough to see on your own.

The reason I like the Green Tour best is that it would be virtually impossible to cover this much ground all on your own independently, unless you have a rental car. You go all the way to the Ilhara Valley and Selime Monastery, which are nearly a hundred kilometers away from Göreme, with very limited public transportation (if any at all, honestly – I’m not sure).

To me, I take tours to get myself to places that would normally be hard to get to on my own and DIY wherever possible, as I’m not huge on guided experiences in general. The Cappadocia Green Tour was easily the best way to see as much of the Cappadocia region as I could in a single day.

It covers the most interesting South Cappadocia tour sights

Selime Monastery was my favorite place in Cappadocia – period! And it’s only on the Green Tour Cappadocia itinerary.

In addition to covering the most ground geographically, it also covered some things that I thought were way more interesting than some of the other Cappadocia tours.

I was stoked to visit Derinkuyu Underground City, and let me tell you: it exceeded my expectations. It’s truly incredible to see how people carved out a fully functioning underground city (no, no exaggerating here: it could literally fit some 20,000 people plus livestock entirely underground) to hide from invaders centuries ago.

It’s the kind of place that really benefits from a guided tour – otherwise, how else would you know that this stone basin was used to ferment wine (I mean, how else are you going to survive living underground for years at a time?) or that this structure was used to funnel smoke out from the underground city safely? It’s not impressive at first glance, but the stories around it truly bring it to life (with a bit of imagination).

But for me, the true highlights of the Cappadocia Green Tour were the Ihlara Valley and Selime Monastery, two stops that none of the other Cappadocia tours make. I loved being able to get out and hike in the Ihlara Valley. It was a short walk, only about an hour, maybe an hour and a half, but it was a really welcome disruption from the hop-on-and-off-the-bus nature of all the guided tours and broke up the tour nicely.

Cons of the Green Tour Cappadocia

It’s not the best option for people with limited mobility

Cappadocia - Turkey - Derinkuyu
The Derinkuyu Underground City: not exactly accessible!

While Cappadocia in general is not the most accessibility-friendly destination, the Green Tour is definitely not suitable for those with limited mobility or other accessibility needs. The long walk in Ihlara Valley would be tiring for some and not feasible for those in wheelchairs or with walkers, etc. Meanwhile, both Derinkuyu Underground City and Selime Monastery involve some difficult footwork to maneuver properly.

While I’m not an expert in accessible travel, the Red Tour would likely be more suitable for people with mobility limitations, though you would have to contact your tour operator to discuss your specific needs. Hatti Travel organizes accessibility-friendly tours of Cappadocia if that’s something you require.

There is still some tourist-trappery

Turkey - Istanbul - Turkish Rug - Pixabay

As with many tours in Turkey, there are some stops that are clearly designed to get the tourist to spend some extra cash. Think overpriced and underwhelming lunches and stops at artisan shops designed to entice you into spending.

The Green Tour avoids some of the more obvious tourist traps by including lunch in the cost of the tour and skipping many of the shop stops, but still expect to stop at least one or two shops, as that’s a common way they lower the cost of the tour, by making deals with shopkeepers to visit their store.

Just know that this is standard for all Turkey tours (and tours in much of the world, to be honest) and don’t feel obligated to shop – unless, of course, you spot a Turkish souvenir you just can’t live without!

What is Included on a Cappadocia Green Tour Itinerary?

Luckily, there are three fixed routes: red, green, and blue. The benefit of this is that it’s quite easy to determine what stops are included on each tour, so that you can pick the best tours and not overlap that much if you choose to do multiple tours (though there is some moderate amount of overlap, mostly short scenic overlooks).

That means it’s quite easy to define what you’ll see on a Cappadocia Green Tour and it shouldn’t vary that much between different operators. However, keep in mind that weather conditions, closures, etc. may cause a shift in the itinerary so come with an open mind in case of any changes.

Generally, the Green Tour will cover the following main stops: Derinkuyu Underground City, Ihlara Valley for a short walk, and Selime Monastery. It’ll also make other stops at scenic overlooks, workshops, etc. depending on the itinerary.

Generally, tours you can book online include lunch, licensed guide, all transportation, and all entry fees, so the only extras you’ll pay are souvenirs and any extras like drinks or snacks that aren’t part of the lunch. If you book a tour on the ground in Cappadocia, you’ll often get quoted a lower price – but then you’ll have to pay for lunch, entrance fees, etc., so you don’t really end up saving much money (if any at all).

Which is the Best Cappadocia Green Tour?

The Cappadocia Green Tour refers to a circuit of common stops, not one fixed tour offered by a single company. As a result you’ll find different tour companies offering the Green Tour, with slight variations on the tour but offering all the same main stops.

If I had to pick, my choice would go to the Green Tour run by Enka Turkey Tours. This is because the guide is a professional art historian with a ton of knowledge about the sites you’ll be seeing on the tour: all the reviews of the tour rave about the guide’s knowledge and how it enhanced the tour.

Since you’ll spend quite a bit of time in transit and exploring sights on foot, having a knowledgeable guide who can make that transit time more educational is a huge benefit. The transportation is also slightly more comfortable as it’s in a luxury minivan with a smaller group – since you’ll be spending at least 4 hours in the van over the course of the day, it’s better to splurge for a little comfort.

If you’re on a budget, the Green Tour by Tourmania is slightly cheaper, although you’ll travel in a slightly larger group (and your guide, while knowledgeable, likely won’t have an art history background). However, it covers all the same stops as the other Green Tours, since it’s a fixed route, so you’ll see all the same things as the other tour.

Of course, you could always wait until in Cappadocia to book, but keep in mind that they’ll often spring some last minute costs on you that are excluded, so if you prefer knowing what you’ll pay ahead of time, I definitely recommend booking in advance. The better tour companies could also get fully booked, so that’s another reason to book in advance.

Where to Stay in Cappadocia

Many of the hotels you’ll find in Cappadocia have been restored from old cave homes that were cut into the rock and given new life. Staying in a cave hotel in Cappadocia was truly one of my favorite parts of the entire trip and I definitely recommend it when planning your trip!

My simple but sweet cave room at Chelebi!

Budget: I was traveling Cappadocia on a budget and stayed at Chelebi Cave House Hotel, which I loved (my small room is pictured above!). I stayed in a double room with a jacuzzi bathtub ensuite and it was simple but perfect. The breakfast spread was fantastic and ultra-generous, and its rooftop terrace was a wonderful place to watch the balloons at sunrise if you could drag yourself out of bed early enough to spot them. Check prices, availability, reviews, and photos here.

Mid-Range: The most-Instafamous hotel in Cappadocia, Sultan Cave Suites, is surprisingly affordable for its ubiquity on Instagram. I’d be willing to bet you’ve seen the breakfast set-up approximately a thousand times as you’ve scrolled through Instagram. Rooms are gorgeously chic and spacious – definitely bring your expectations from the word ‘cave’ up a notch! – and gorgeously furnished with Turkish details such as carpets and textiles. But really, you’re there for that gorgeous terrace and the delicious breakfasts (though the one you’ve seen on Instagram is fake and just set up for the ‘gram, according to my friend who stayed there!). Check prices, availability, reviews, and photos here.

Luxury: Awarded both the Best Luxury Boutique Hotel and the Best Hotel Architecture in Europe, the Museum Hotel is basically as good as it gets. It’d be hard to beat the dreamy infinity-style pool at Museum Hotel (yes, breakfast can be eaten poolside, and the pool is heated even in winter!) But the coolest thing about Museum Hotel is that its name isn’t in vain: the hotel is literally set within historic ruins which have been renovated extensively. It has a number of artifacts from around Turkey that create a ‘museum’ within a hotel — plus each room is furnished with invaluable antiques that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Staying here is like staying in a living, breathing, 5-star piece of history. Check prices, availability, reviews, and photos here.

More Cappadocia & Turkey Travel Resources

If you’re curious about the most Instagrammable places in Cappadocia, we’ve got you covered. We’ve also written extensively about the best cave hotels for all budgets here in Cappadocia.

We also have posts on the best things to do in Cappadocia, and how to plan a perfect 3 day Cappadocia itinerary.

You’re likely also planning a trip to Istanbul if you’re headed to Cappadocia. We’re working on our massive things to do post, but for now, you can check out our Instagram guide to Istanbul, our favorite Istanbul neighborhoods and where to stay, and tips for shopping in Istanbul.

For more general Turkey information, check out this guide to planning a trip to Turkey (including visa information) and this guide to other beautiful places to visit in Turkey.

We have tons more Turkey and Balkans resources, and we publish new content nearly daily. Bookmark our Turkey and Balkans travel pages so you can find any new resources that come out before your trip!

Headed to Cappadocia? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

If you’re planning a trip to Cappadocia, make sure to travel with a valid travel insurance policy. While we feel safe in Turkey, especially in Cappadocia, you need to be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident.

For travel insurance, I use World NomadsI’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

10 Instagrammable Places in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is a lovely but gritty seaside town that’s often overlooked in favor of Athens or Greece’s islands.

But Thessaloniki has a lot going for it: cheaper prices, a vibrant youth culture thanks to the largest university in Greece being set right in Thessaloniki, and what I’d wager is the best food scene in Greece.

But in terms of “Instagrammability,” Thessaloniki is a bit rough around the edges. There are a few famous sights – the Thessaloniki umbrellas, the White Tower that are essential Instagram spots in Thessaloniki – but as for finding more offbeat ones, it’s a bit hard.

Luckily, I spent about 3 weeks of the city discovering its most charming corners – and I’m here to share my knowledge with you!

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PS – We post photo inspiration from the Balkans all the time, so follow us at @sofiaadventures! And if you’d like us to feature your photos and give you a shoutout, simply tag us or use the hashtag #sofiaadventures to be featured.

Map of the Most Instagrammable Spots in Thessaloniki

Our Favorite Instagram Spots in Thessaloniki

The Umbrella Installation

It seems like every city is getting its own umbrella street – but Thessaloniki has one-upped them all with this gorgeous umbrella installation right on the seaside, which is the perfect spot for some sunset snaps.

I visited Thessaloniki in January – hardly high season! – and there was just one other person getting her photos here, but I imagine it would be quite crowded in the summer and you’d have to work pretty hard to get a people-free shot.

To find this installation, walk from the main square towards the White Tower. Once you reach the White Tower, continue walking away from the center about 5 more minutes, and you’ll reach the waterfront installation quite easily.

The White Tower of Thessaloniki

Dating back to the 12th century and reconstructed by the Ottomans during their occupation of the city, this beautiful building has a tragic past as it was the site of many imprisonments and executions during the Ottoman reign.

After being free from occupation nearly two centuries, the White Tower has escaped some of its past connotations as a prison and execution site and is now regarded as the symbol of Thessaloniki and a point of pride for its citizens.

Ano Poli

Thessaloniki’s winding old town on the top of the hill, Ano Poli is one of the oldest parts of the city as much of it was destroyed in the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917, which destroyed two-thirds of the city.

On these steep and winding hills is where you’ll find some of the most photogenic corners of the city and some gritty street art tucked away on side streets, so save yourself at least an hour or two to explore, map tucked away, in search of beautiful corners of this neighborhood.

The Sea

With a zoom or telephoto lens, you can capture some really beautiful sea photos of the boats on the Mediterranean, giving your Instagram feed those sparkling sea vibes while your feet are firmly planted on the ground.

All along the waterfront, you can snap beautiful photos of the different boats, and this area is also fantastic at sunset when you can capture the sun dipping below the mountains and illuminating the whole harbor with gorgeous sunset colors.

Ladidika District

Colorful, vibrant, full of great coffee shops and restaurants: Ladidika is my favorite part of Thessaloniki by a long shot. You’ll find plenty of cute Thessaloniki photography spots here.

One of my favorite places here is Ypsilon, which has an actual non-smoking section of their café (swoon – I was practically asthmatic by the end of my 3 weeks in Thessaloniki in the winter!). It has great coffee, a lot of great places to work if you find yourself in need of some laptop time, and it’s on one of the cutest streets in Thessaloniki.

Arch of Galerius

Kamara – also known as the Arch of Galerius – is one of many Roman ruins in the heart of Thessaloniki, dating back to the 4th century AD, surviving both fires and occupation.

It’s right in the heart of Thessaloniki so it’s hard to miss this gorgeous, historic building (nor should you miss the nearby rotunda, also dating back to the 4th century).

The OTE Tower

For some of the best views of the city, be sure to ascend the space-age looking OTE Tower which is not far from the White Tower of Thessaloniki – about a 10 minute walk away.

You can ascend to the top of the rotating restaurant, where for a premium price, you can enjoy a glass of wine or cup of coffee while taking in incredible views. I think we paid around 9 euro for a glass of wine and about 5 euro for a coffee, so it’s not cheap, but those views are worth it!

Poco Loco

Love capturing colorful food on your Instagram? There are a handful of beautiful, colorful restaurants serving up gorgeous dishes in Thessaloniki, but if you want to snap some serious dessert photos that are worth every sugar-laden bite, head to Poco Loco.

Here you’ll find freakshakes begging to be Instagrammed as well as a handful of other desserts that are as tasty as they are photogenic.

La Niña Frida

For a cute and colorful café, check out La Niña Frida with its gorgeous Frida Kahlo mural and turquoise-blue walls.

While I’ve heard great things about the food, it was always too packed to sit and eat something here – but it’s on my list for next time. It’s located right near Kamara (Arch of Galerius) earlier on this list, so it’s easy to cluster your visit to maximize your time.

Estrella World Street Food

Another one for the foodies and sweet tooths out there, the restaurant Estella World Street Food is absolutely worth a visit while in Thessaloniki – it was my favorite non-Greek restaurant I ate at while there (because sometimes, you just gotta take a break from tzatziki and fava)

They’re known for their sumptuous cakes and ultra-fluffy pancakes, but they serve up plenty of other dishes, including a gorgeous smoothie bowl if you wanna pretend you’re in Bali, as well as several tasty savory dishes (my egg brunch entrée was incredible!)

Bonus: Don’t Miss Meteora!

While not in Thessaloniki by a long shot, it’s the most common day trip for people to do from Thessaloniki and it is entirely worth it! While yes, it’s a long day involving about 3 hours of drive time each way, when else can you see a place this beautiful and unique?

It’s a little difficult to get around unless you rent a car or take a shuttle there – I’ve gone over the details in my guide to visiting Meteora from Thessaloniki. Yes, it’s an all-day affair, but it’s entirely worth it if you have more than 2 days in Thessaloniki.

Greece Travel Tips

Here are a few things to know before coming to Greece. First, you can read our article on planning a trip to Greece to make sure you’ve thought about each of the travel planning steps on our eleven-point checklist.

Second, if you’re planning to explore the islands as part of your trip here, we have recommendations in our Greek Island Hopping Guide and our Greek Destinations Guide. If you’re interested in the most romantic spots in Greece, we’ve narrowed the list down to our favorite Greek honeymoon spots.

We also have a guide to the most Instagrammable places in Athens and where to stay in Athens if you are adding Athens to your itinerary as well.

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

Finally, we always recommend you travel with valid travel insurance. Greece is a very safe place to travel, but accidents and theft can easily ruin your trip if you don’t have the travel insurance coverage to recover the losses. Recently my aunt fell on a train in France and needed surgery, but luckily her travel insurance covered the costs in full. Thank goodness!

For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

The Stay Hotel Plovdiv: Enjoying the Best Location Downtown

There are a few great hotels in Plovdiv, but for my most recent trip to the city I picked out a room at The Stay Hotel Central Square Plovdiv. After a wonderful weekend in the city, exploring Plovdiv’s nightlife and climbing up to Alyosha Monument, we absolutely loved coming home to the cozy yet stylish Stay Hotel. 

7 Things I Love about the Stay Hotel Plovdiv

Here are my favorite things about our stay. 

1. Location, Location, Location

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Stay Hotel Center of Plovdiv Mural

You just can’t beat this location! Located right off of Knayz Alexander I and across from Stefan Stombolov Square, the hotel is located at the most important spot in downtown Plovdiv.

From here, you’re a few minutes walk to the Roman stadium, the statue of Milyo, and the Together Monument. There are also great restaurants within a few blocks like Hemingways and fun bars like the Temple Bar. 

This is a pedestrian stretch of town, but it’s also located just blocks away from a taxi stand so you won’t have to carry your luggage very far if you don’t want to. 

Overall, I loved being steps from some of the best parts of Downtown Plovdiv. 

2. Stylish Rooms

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Stay Hotel

Is it a West Elm catalog come to life? No, it’s just the cozy and comfortable modern furniture in the hotel rooms. We spread out, using every bit of the room. The sitting area came in handy when we came home after a pub crawl and needed somewhere to scarf down some late night snacks. 

3. Super Comfy Beds

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Stay Hotel

I slept like a baby. Seriously, I’d been having some issues with the bed in my hotel (which has luckily been replaced), so I especially relished how delightful it felt to sink into the cushy mattress underneath crisp which sheets.

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Stay Hotel

4. Easy Check-In

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Stay Hotel

The only thing that was unpleasant about checking in or out of our room is the derp face I made in this photo. 

The day before our arrival, we received an email from the hotel with the option to check in online and then access our room via an app. We decided not to do this because I wanted to see if the staff were friendly (more below). However, the option is super convenient!

5. Gorgeous Views

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - View from Stay Hotel

I loved the view from our hotel room overlooking one of the city’s hills. You could even see the Plovdiv sign from our room (but somehow I failed to grab a pic! Ugh, Plovdiv Instagram fail). 

6. Updated Technology

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Stay Hotel

Unlike some hotels in Europe, the Stay Hotel isn’t stingy when it comes to electrical outlets in the room, plus many of the outlets are updated with USB ports. 

If you forget your charger, there’s a stand in the lobby with different chargers so you won’t get stuck without access to that sweet, sweet cell phone battery. 

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Stay Hotel

The hotel wifi was powerful and didn’t go down at all while we were using it. Internet in Bulgaria is notoriously fast and reliable, which means this is a great hotel for anyone looking for a hotel where they can get some work done. 

7. Friendly Staff

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Stay Hotel

Everyone who worked at the hotel was really helpful (and they had no idea I am a travel blogger). They explained all the amenities of the hotel and were friendly during check in and check out. There were a few times when they needed to deliver items to our room, and they were always prompt and courteous. 

Bonus: Free Coffee & Convenient (Yet Inexpensive) Minibar 

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Stay Hotel

We broke into the minibar a bit, and it was great that it didn’t break the bank! While the prices are higher than they would normally be in Bulgaria at a grocery store, they weren’t outrageous. In fact, it was great to be able to grab a Toblerone for three leva (about $1.75 USD) and a beer for five leva (about $3 USD). 

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Stay Hotel

We also got some great use out of the kettle and complimentary coffee and tea, making tea in the evening and coffee in the morning. 

If you want something other than what’s stocked in the minibar, there’s a convenience store right across the street and a plethora of cafes and fast food places where you can grab something to bring back to your room. 

Areas for Improvement

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Stay Hotel

There were two items where I found room for improvement, and they were both related to the restrooms. The first is that there are no hair dryers in the rooms themselves. Instead, you need to call downstairs and have them delivered to you. 

While the process of getting a hair dryer was quick and the staff bringing them were friendly, I would have been upset if I was running late and found out that the hair dryers were downstairs.

The other area is that the showers flood a bit, so the bathroom floor gets really wet. This isn’t a big deal if you’re traveling solo, but heads up if you’re traveling with friends or partners.

Overall, neither of these issues were a huge problem, but you should be aware ahead of time so you can make the proper adjustments. 

Tips for Booking Your Stay

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Stay Hotel

When I was selecting a room for my most recent trip to Plovdiv, I was blown away by the price I found on this hotel on Booking.comWe paid significantly less than posted rates, yet we still got a great room.

I also love using Booking.com because there are often options to reserve a room with no cancellation penalty in case your plans change before your trip. 

>>Check reviews, prices, and availability at the Stay Hotel Plovdiv here.<<

More Plovdiv Travel Resources

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Roman Theater Stephanie

Headed to Plovdiv? If this will be your first time in the country, then start with our guide to planning a trip to Bulgaria.

Next, check out our guide to the best things to do in Plovdiv and our favorite Plovdiv Instagram spots. 

If you’ll also be visiting Sofia on your trip, we have guides on how to get from Sofia to Plovdiv and from Plovdiv to Sofia, plus recommendations for where to stay and what to do in Sofia plus the best Sofia nightlife and our favorite restaurants and bars.

You will also want to check out our overview of Balkan currency, which describes Bulgarian leva and how to tip in Bulgaria.

Don’t Forget about Travel Insurance!

It’s always a good idea to travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. Travel here includes outdoor activities and travel to highly touristed sites. It’s great to be covered in case you have an accident or fall victim to theft. Travel insurance can help you recover your expenses and continue to enjoy your trip.

For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

 

Pin this Guide to the Stay Hotel Plovdiv for Your Trip

 

The Stay Hotel Central Square Plovdiv_ Enjoying the Best Location in Plovdiv

How to Visit the Alyosha Monument on Plovdiv’s Bunardzhik Hill

When in Plovdiv, expect to climb hills! The city is famously set around seven hills, and there are different things to see from the top of each one. However, the site you’re most likely to notice at the top of one of Plovdiv’s hills is the Alyosha Monument, a gigantic statue of a Soviet soldier that’s been watching the city since the 1950s. 

Here’s everything you need to know to walk up Bunardzhik Hill (Liberator’s Hill) to see the Alyosha Monument up close!

What is the Alyosha Monument

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Alyosha Monument

If the site of a Soviet soldier seeming to watch Plovdiv strikes you as odd or creepy, you need to understand the complicated history of Bulgaria and the Soviet Union / Russia. The two countries have been tied for centuries since both are a (majority) Slavic peoples who share the Orthodox faith, the Cyrillic alphabet, and a (historic) tug-of-war for regional power with the Turks / Turkey.

During the nineteenth century, Russia found against the Ottoman Empire in Bulgaria, helping to liberate the Bulgarians from the Turkish occupation. This is why it’s common in Bulgaria to find monuments to Russian soldiers, the Russian tsar, and even Russian Orthodox churches like Shipka and the Russian church in Sofia.

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Alyosha Monument

However, this friendly remembrance of Russia’s shared heritage and the time they came to rescue Bulgaria is one thing. Alyosha is a different thing entirely. This is a Soviet statue that was built to commemorate the Soviet Soldiers who died when they occupied Bulgaria during World War II. Yikes.

There have been two city efforts to remove the statue, which has been here since the 1950s. However, both movements were defeated because the statue has become such a significant landmark in the city. Just keep in mind that the relationship between Bulgaria and Russia is complicated, and the site of a statue of a Soviet Soldier is complicated. 

Finally, remember that Bulgaria was a communist country from 1946 until the fall of Communism, but it was never part of the Soviet Empire.

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Alyosha Monument

But why is the statue nicknamed Alyosha? Because the model who the statue was fashioned after was a Soviet Soldier from Ukraine named Alexei. Alyosha is a common nickname for Alexei. The actual name for the statue is the Monument to the Unknown Soviet Soldier.

How to Get to the Alyosha Monument

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Alyosha Monument Stairs

We asked our taxi driver to take us to Alyosha, and he dropped us at the entrance to the hill paths on Ulitsa Volga. The sidewalk is marked, but we were pretty happy that we had Bulgarian sim cards and could bust out Google maps for the walk up.

You can’t really “get lost” per se, because the paths only really lead one direction. However, you can constantly feel like you are lost, which makes the walk up less enjoyable.  The hill is about two hundred and thirty meters high, with one main pathway that curves around to the top.

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Alyosha Monument View of the House of Culture

The walk up the hill isn’t particularly steep, but there are spots where you take staircases that feel more like secret passages than public pathways. 

The walk up is gorgeous, so make sure you give yourself extra time to enjoy the views on the way to the top!

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Alyosha Monument Hike Stephanie

Wear comfortable shoes, since there are spots where the ground isn’t pretty rocky! One thing that I wish we’d had was water because there isn’t any for sale at the top. 

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Alyosha Monument Hike Selfie

Overall, the walk to the top was lovely! We stopped to take lots of pictures on the way, and it wasn’t ever too steep (even though you are walking up to the top of a large hill). 

Other Things to Do on Bunardzhik Hill (Liberators Hill)

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Alyosha Monument

While seeing the Alyosha Monument up close is the major draw here, it’s actually not the only memorial at the top of the hill. There’s also a small military park with a fountain an a monument to Tsar Alexander I.

If you have extra time, you can bring your own picnic and eat it in the military park or even at the monument itself. You’ll find families at the top, some with kites and drones. 

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Alyosha Monument Hike View Stephanie

You also want to spend time appreciating the views from the top. You can see a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view of the city. It’s just breathtaking! Definitely my favorite view in Plovdiv, which itself is an extremely photographable city.

Tips for Visiting Alyosha

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Alyosha Monument Hike View

Here are some tips so your visit goes smoothly.

First, we enjoyed having Bulgarian sim cards so we could use data for Google maps to navigate as we went up. If you don’t have data in Bulgaria, then make sure to download the area of Google maps so it’s available when you’re offline. There is no wifi on the hill (though there used to be).

Second, it would be nice to bring up some water with you and a snack in case you get hungry. There aren’t any concessions at the top. There was a stand before, but it’s run down now. 

The walk from the bottom of the hill to the top takes between thirty and forty minutes, depending on how many times you stop to admire (read: photograph) the view. The walk down is a bit quicker. Add in thirty minutes to enjoy the statue and views from the top, and you can it to take between ninety minutes and two hours to walk to the statue and back.

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Alyosha Monument Selfie Stephanie Valentine

There are no bathrooms at the top…

Finally, it’s common for young people to watch the sunset from the top of the hill. If you decide to climb to the top to watch the sunset, make sure you think about what it will be like to climb down as it starts to get dark. It’s typically very safe, but you still want to employ common sense safety measures like having your phone charged so you can call a taxi to pick you up at the bottom. 

More Alyosha Monument Photos

I have more photos than I know what to do with…here you go…

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Alyosha Monument

 

 

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Alyosha Monument Hike View

 

 

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Alyosha Monument View

Where to Stay in Plovdiv

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Stay Hotel

If you’re still not sure where to stay in Plovdiv, don’t worry – we’ve done the legwork for you! Here are our top picks for each budget category in Plovdiv.

Budget: When I stay at a hostel, there are a few things that I look for: privacy curtains, personal reading lights, and outlet space for each bed. Bonus points if the hotel lobby is modern and inviting – and if the kitchen is well-stocked and beautiful to cook in to boot, you might as well move in. Pijama Hostel has all of this and then some. Perks include board games, coffee and tea makers, and a central Kapana district location! 

>>Check reviews, prices, and availability here.<<

Mid-range: This is the hotel I chose for my most recent trip to Plovdiv, and I am obsessed with it! The Stay Hotel Plovdiv feels like a luxury hotel but at budget prices, and it’s located at what might be the single best spot in the city. The staff is friendly, the views are great, and the beds are comfortable. I’m seriously in love. My favorite part was that our room had a sleek couch that was a great place to relax after a long day of sightseeing and a long night out. 

>>Check reviews, prices, and availability here.<<

Luxury: The first five-star hotel in Plovdiv, if you’re seeking a spot of luxury in Europe’s 2019 Capital of Culture, you should check out the Residence City GardenThe rooms are refined and stylish – we’re talking spacious rooms and high ceilings (some rooms with chandeliers!), antique-style furnishings, and impeccable attention to detail. The bathrooms are beautiful and extremely modern, with lovely bathtubs that you can soak in to rest your feet after a long day of exploring Plovdiv. 

>>Check reviews, prices, and availability here.<<

Plovdiv Travel Resources

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Roman Theater Stephanie

Headed to Plovdiv? If this will be your first time in the country, then start with our guide to planning a trip to Bulgaria.

Next, check out our guide to the best things to do in Plovdiv, our favorite Plovdiv Instagram spots, and our Plovdiv nightlife guide.

If you’ll also be visiting Sofia on your trip, we have guides on how to get from Sofia to Plovdiv and from Plovdiv to Sofia, plus recommendations for what to do in Sofia and the best Sofia nightlife and our favorite restaurants and bars.

You will also want to check out our overview of Balkan currency, which describes Bulgarian leva and how to tip in Bulgaria.

Don’t Forget about Travel Insurance!

It’s always a good idea to travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. Travel here includes outdoor activities and travel to highly touristed sites. It’s great to be covered in case you have an accident or fall victim to theft. Travel insurance can help you recover your expenses and continue to enjoy your trip.

For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

Pin this Guide to Visiting Plovdiv’s Alyosha Monument for Your Trip to Bulgaria

How to Visit the Alyosha Monument on Plovdiv's Bunardzhik Hill

Planning a trip to Sofia? Check out our best free trip planning resources