Sofia is a capital that doesn’t really feel like a big city at all. In a good way. There are so many parks and even forests right in its centre. And then there is mount Vitosha. It rises like a giant in the back and depending on the weather, reveals all its cracks and glades or seems gloomy and covered in dark woods. Hidden away to its east are Boyana Waterfall and Lake and they make for popular hikes!
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Table of Contents
How to Get There
There are various hiking paths around Boyana, so you might get lost. Follow the occasional signs to either Boyana Lake or Boyana Waterfall and remember the colour of the markings on the trees.
How to Get to Boyana Church
Get yourself a day ticket from the tourist information (4 leva) so you can use metro and buses freely and as often as you like. Otherwise, you would need to pay 1.60 leva for a metro ticket and bus ticket each. (For buses, you need exact change.)
From Serdika, take the blue line down south to Vitosha metro station. There, you can change into bus 64 to the stop Boyanski Hanche (Боянско Ханче ).
The stop is right next to the restaurant of the same name and a 3-minute walk to Boyana church (Боянска църква музей ). Pro tip: It’s helpful to have the ciryllic name at hand in case you need directions. Most bus drivers don’t speak English and will happily ignore you if you start.
Image credit: Mariama Diallo
Alternatively, you can call a cab and avoid having to change and figure out buses and metro lines. It costs 0.7 leva as the base rate and every additional km is another 0.7 during day times. For me, a 10 minute ride cost 12 leva ($7).Read next: How to get around Bulgaria with public transport
Only use registered cabs (usually yellow and named OK Taxi) or go through the free app TaxiMe to avoid getting ripped off. Make sure the taximeter is turned on and the rates are displayed on the dashboard. You usually pay in cash. There is no Uber in Sofia.
If you want to maximise your day and have a local guide by your side to hike Vitosha and to Boyana Church and Draglalevtsi Monastery.
How to Get to Boyana Waterfall
From Boyana Church, you walk up the steep streets until you find a trail into the woods. Follow it upwards, where you will most likely run into a information boards about the hiking area. To your right, you can see an off-limits military area. You walk parallel to it, up the forest slope.
A little further up, the slope divides into three trails. Choose the right one, past the military zone and straight up the mountain. This is the more challenging hike.
Photo credit: Richard Szabados
The second option is to head towards Boyana Lake and halfway up, you will see a signpost declaring the more gentle slope towards Boyana Waterfall. There, you turn right and pretty much just stick to the path ahead and up.
My app optimistically declared the hike to take just an hour. But that’s a lie! If you are super fit and go hiking in Bulgaria all the time, well, it might be true. (Kudos to you!) Otherwise, calculate in 90 minutes to 2 hours. I mean, you will want to stop and take travel photos, too, won’t you?
How to Get to Boyana Lake
You can easily combine your Sofia hike to Boyana Waterfall with a tour to Lake Boyana. Instead of heading straight to Boyana Waterfall, why not stop and rest at the lake first. The hike from there is rather steep, be warned!
Or, you could hike up to Boyana Waterfall and then branch off to the West and walk down towards Boyana Lake. From there, you have three trails downwards again. They all take around an hour down. You can fill up your water bottle on the way if you take the right path (nearest to the wire fence.)
What You Need to Bring on Your Boyana Hike
Food and Drink
There are no eating facilities or kiosk around that part of Vitosha Mountain. For a more touristy location, try the Poiana Brasov Ski Resort. (There are great walks around on the top, too.) The last option to grab food is Boyanski Hanche restaurant.
So, bring your own snacks and refillable water bottle. The bottle at least can be refilled on the various natural springs coming out of the rocks. They are drinking water quality and locals come with giant water containers to fill up on the H2O goodness.
If you are lucky and hike Sofia’s Vitosha in late August/early September, you might even pick some blackberries from the bushes. (Just rinse them under water before eating them to avoid the possibility of getting worms from wild animals.)
The Boyana hike is kinda challenging and terrain uneven. There are parts where you have to climb up smaller rock formations as well as mudslides (hopefully dried), so you definitely HAVE to bring your hiking boots. My trusty Lowa boots were perfect for the occasion! (They’ve been with me for years and all over the world.)
To not get lost in the forest (happened to me in the Czech Republic), I use my free app maps.me to locate me and see the different hiking trails. They are nicely accurate. (The GPS and app drain the phone quickly if left open, so I have a small external battery and charging cable with me just in case.)
Should you go hiking during rather indecisive weather conditions, come prepared with a light rain poncho and outdoor jacket. It’s always cooler in the forest. If the sun is out, pack sunglasses as well.
There is no need, however, to pack swimming gear. Boyana Lake is a protected nature zone and you shouldn’t swim there. You can have a picnic, no problem. There are sitting benches and logs around. Just don’t leave litter behind. Boyana waterfall doesn’t have a pool to swim in either.
Should You Visit Boyana Church Too?
Boyana Church in Sofia is highly recommended if you ask the tourist information. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. However, while the frescoes are truly stunning, non Bulgarian information boards are scarce. So if you prefer to know more about the frescoes, better read up on the offical website.
If you visit on a Monday after 3PM or any time of the last Monday of the month, you can enter for free. Otherwise, it’s 10 leva.
The church has great importance due to the fact that it was built and painted in three stages, namely in the 10th, 13th and 19th century. That’s not entirely uncommon with Bulgarian churches. (See Plovdiv and other Sofia churches.) The church was finally finished thanks to local donations.
As a result of the different stages of the construction, Boyana Church interior walls are filled with various frescos. The first layer originally covered the entire church. Sadly, only fragments survived. The second layer depicts more than 240 figures following the canon of icon-painting established by the Seventh Ecumenical Council from 787. Again, not everything remains as some parts were overpainted.
The frescoes themselves are revered for their realism and complexity. Art experts say that the “Boyana masters” who painted the church made a real impact on mediaeval Bulgarian and European painting. By the way, Boyana is the only church wholly preserved monument of the Turnovo School of Painting from the 1200s.
Address: Боянска църква музей, ул. Боянско езеро 3, 1616 кв. Бояна, София
Opening hours: 9:30AM to 5:30PM (1 April to 31 October); 9:00AM to 5:00PM (1 November to 31 March)
When to Best Hike Sofia
I’ve done the Boyana hike both in summer and spring and both times and it was beautiful with the green trees all around and the views over the city. The sky was definitely less misty in spring. So go in good Vitosha weather as well as early in the day to have even better views.
The absolutely best time is when the snow is melting on top of mount Vitosha. Then, the waterfall really looks powerful. It is said that on clear days you can even spot it from the city!
If it has rained and the ground is wet or not dry yet in Boyana Bulgria, be careful with your hike. Paths are slim and can be muddy and slippery, rocks could be loose and some trees can remain lying along the path for a while. So you will need to be careful.
More Hiking in Bulgaria
If I have whet your appetite for Bulgaria hikes now, why not explore other areas of mount Vitosha? On weekends, there are free shuttle buses going up and you can enjoy a mountain walk up above the city.
Alternatively, go on a day trip to Rila monastery and the stob pyramids. The Rila mountains are absolutely stunning. If you are planning day trips from Sofia and want to go to Plovdiv, there are options too. I loved my hike from Assenowgrad over Asen’s Fortress and to Bachkovo Monastery. Near Veliko Tarnovo, I recommend the trail towards Arbanasi village.
Photo credit: Eric Dumas
Tell me, would you want to see both Boyana Waterfall and Lake?
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