Sofia is fortunate to have many parks and wooded areas, but when thinking of nature one name comes to mind: Vitosha.
Accessible by public transpor, car and taxi, mount Vitosha is a popular destination for day hikes, picnics and skiing.
The mountain is encompassed with a good, though somewhat outdated, network of lifts, trails, ski slopes and mountain huts.
In the summer and on weekends, the trails closest to the city can get crowded, but overall the mountain remains underutilized by the locals. One small step off the beaten track and you will feel like you have the place to yourself.
Plan to spend at least a half day or, even better, a full day of hiking.
VITOSHA MOUNTAIN: QUICK FACTS
The Balkan Range might be the mountain occupying a prominent place in Bulgarian folklore as a refuge for revolutionaries or brigands, but it was Vitosha that captured the imagination of the first Bulgarian mountaineers.
It was the first area to be designated a national park in 1934, and most its territory has remained protected ever since. Many of the mountain huts and shelters date back to that era.
With 10 peaks reaching over 2000m, thick pine forests and barren alpine terrain, Vitosha deserves to be called a real mountain.
Its geology remains open to interpretations and academic debate.
One urban myth even claims it is a dormant volcano.
It is not!
Vitosha had never erupted and we sincerely hope it stays that way.
Vitosha's Highest Peak
Cherni Vrah or Black peak (2292m) is Vitosha’s highest.
Boulder Slopes on Vitosha
Vitosha is known for its boulder-covered slopes, called “stone rivers” in Bulgarian and in some English language guidebooks.
The area of Zlatnite Mostove (Golden Bridges) is the best place to check one out.
Wrongly called "morains", the famous Vitosha boulder "rivers" are not glacial in origin, but formed by weathering and denudation. Head to the area of Zlatnite Mostove for some boulder hopping.
Bulgarian hikers have the lovely custom of greeting each other and do it with remarkable vigor and consistency, even on crowded trails!
A short "Dobar den" (Good day) or "Zdravejte" (Hello) will do.
Start your Vitosha hike from the one of Sofia's South Ring suburbs
Or head further south to
Alternatively, go east to the villages of
All are accessible by public transport.
If going to Simeonovo, Dragalevtsi, Boyana and Kniahevo you might also take a taxi. (Approx 15 lv)
Simeonovo has a cable car going 1 km up (recommended!).
Dragalevtsi offers a shortcut into the mountain by an open chair lift that operates on weekends.
SIMEONOVO - ALEKO CABLE CAR
Simeonovo Cable Car climbs 1100 m in the course of 6.7 km from the suburb of Simeonovo to Aleko Hut.
Hidden behind the Ring Road shopping mall and an IKEA, Simeonovo cable car is by far the most popular launch pad for a day in the mountain. Hop on the Simeonovo cable car for a quick and easy climb to Aleko hut station.
By taxi: 10-12 lv from the city center
Car Parking: 5 lv per day
CABLE CAR FACTS
Length: 6.2 km
Time: 35 min
Bottom Station: Simeonovo
Top Station: Aleko area
2 intermediary stations
Adults: 8 lv / 10 lv two-ways
Students: 6 one way /8 lv two-ways
Dogs: 4 lv one way /6 lv two-ways
Bikes: 4 lv one way /6 lv two-ways (temporarily unavailable)
HOURS OF OPERATION
Open on weekends and national holidays only
9 am - 5.30 pm
Last cable car goes up at 4.30 pm
Last cable car goes down at 5.30 pm
Get off at the cable car's final station at Aleko area and start the 1h 30 minute climb to Cherni Vrah Summit from there.
The Aleko area is also the starting point for trails back down to Simeonovo (2h 30min), Bistritsa (2h 30min) or Zheleznitsa (3h 30min).
See below for detailed hiking routes.
Not in the mood for serious hiking?
ALEKO BY BUS
Want to miss out on the fun of riding a cable car and don’t feel like hiking up?
The city runs bus 66 to the nearby hotel Morenite(via Dragalevtsi) once every 30-40 min on weekends only. The first bus heads towards the mountain at 7.30 and the last heads back to the city at 5.40 pm.
The current timetable is valid until Sept 17, 2017.
Price: 4 lv one way / 6 lv two ways
ALEKO BY CAR
For the car-obsessed, a 14-km cobbled road leads from Dragaletsi to Aleko.
Park authorities do not restrict car access and driving your car into the national park is free of charge. Bear in mind that the parking at the top can be difficult on weekends.
DRAGALEVTSI LIFT STATION
The Dragalevtsi chair lift offers an alternative shortcut into Vitosha on weekends.
Taxi: approx. 10-12 lv from city center
Car Parking: free street parking
Walking from Dragalevtsi’s central square (25 minutes)
This antiquated chair lift operates on weekends and holidays only (9 am to 5 pm).
Note that times of operation might change in wet or windy days.
DRAGALEVTSI CHAIR LIFT STATIONS
- Intermediary Station: Bay Krastyo (1380 m above sea level / 15 min)
Get off at Bay Krastyo station to hike to Kominite peaks (30 min) or to the Vitosha plateau (1h 30 min).
CAUTION: Avalanche –prone area! Avoid in the winter!
- Top Station: Goli Vrah (1818 m above sea level / 17 min)
Fit hikers might brace up for a rewarding climb to Aleko (2h 30min) or Cherni Vrah Summit (4h).
Many Vitosha trails commence at the suburb of Dragalevtsi.
Taxi: 10-12 lv
Serious hikers might head to Aleko (2h 45min) or Cherni Vrah (4h 30min). Follow the red trail markings to Goli Vrah and the pole markings to Cherni Vrah.
A number of hiking trails start here.
Taxi: 10-12 lv
The poshest of the posh suburbs along Sofia’s south ring road is known to tourists mainly for the UNESCO listed Boyana church and the National History Museum, but it is also a popular launch pad for Vitosha hikes.
Taxi: 15 lv
Famous for its mineral springs, Kniazhevo was the place where the early 20th century elite had their villas and summer residences. Today, this neighborhood is far less pretentious. Until recently the busy road to Greece ran along its main street.
The geologically minded can hike from here to the Zlatnite Mostove area famous for boulder covered slopes, which locals call “stone rivers” (2h 30min).
Both areas are accessible by car and popular with picnickers.
To avoid the masses and the pervasive smell of grilled meat, head away from the paved roads.
POPULAR VITOSHA HIKING ROUTES
Ask 10 people about their favorite Vitosha day-hikes and you will get 10 different answers.
There are so many marked and unmarked trails crossing the mountain that consensus is difficult.
Here are some suggestions for trails that are both popular and easily accessible.
Simeonovo - Aleko - Cherni Vrah (2h)
From there, lace up your shoes for an easy—we mean plenty-of-children-and-dogs easy—walk to the boulder-covered summit (1h 30min).
The trail from Aleko to Cherni Vrah
Small lodge at the top sells tea and refreshments.
Make sure you are back down to Aleko before the cable car’s closing time.
Fit hikers might consider taking the steep trail from Simeonovo (last stop of bus 67) that meanders under the cable car line to Aleko (3h 20min) and conquering the summit after a lunch break at Aleko (1h 30min).
Aleko - Bistritsa village (2h 30min) or
Aleko - Zheleznitsa village (3h 30min)
The trail from Aleko to Bistritsa, obstructed by fallen trees
Both trails pass through the Bistrishko Branishte Natural Reserve, where the extensive damage from a 2001 tornado is still visible.
While in the reserve, hikers should only stay on the designated trails.
Do the trails in reverse for a much more strenuous experience.
Aleko - Zlatni Mostove Area (2h 30min)
This popular trail in the upper reaches of the mountain crosses mostly through the flat, treeless terrain of the Vitosha Plateau.
The trail goes by the Torfeno Branishte Natural Reserve, a vast peatland, formed by moss and decomposed organic matter over thousands of years.
The highest point along the trail is between the peaks of Kamen Del and Ushite.
Another option is to walk from there to Vladaya (1h 30min) or Kniazhevo (2h).
Vitosha might be in the city’s backyard, but it should not be taken lightly. People do get lost on Vitosha and fatalities, alas extremely rare, do occur.
The mountain is most dangerous in winter with several avalanche-prone areas.
The so called Vitosha plateau between the peaks of Malak Rezen, Goliam Rezen, Cherni Vrah, Selimitsa and Kamen Del is especially tricky year round in foggy conditions for its flat barren terrain.
- Don’t hike alone, especially in the winter.
- Have a map, a compass and a fully charged phone and GPS.
- Check the weather forecast for Vitosha. Note that the weather in Sofia and on Vitosha might differ significantly. The average temperature on Vitosha (0 C) is 10 degrees lower than the average temperature in Sofia (10,5 C). Strong winds, rain and fog are also common.
- Leave early in the morning and be back before sunset.
- Inform your local host, hotel reception or friends about your hiking plans and your intended route.
- Avoid avalanche-prone areas in the winter.
- Have a small backpack with any emergency medicine you might need, sun hat or winter hat and gloves, light jacket (summer), sunscreen (summer and winter), matches, a reaincoat, some snacks and a water bottle.
- When in doubt ask! Vitosha is fairly populated and the markings at times can be misleading. People who traverse the mountain are a special breed and will go out of their way to help you.
- In case of emergency call 112 (English speaking operators are available).