Sofia is may be the only capital in Europe that is located at the foot of a big mountain and which allows such an easy access to nature. Vitosha Mountain is among the symbols of the city and this close proximity of the downtown zone to the mountain paths provides an excellent opportunity for going on relaxing walks, for enjoying a panoramic view towards the city below and for practicing varius sports such as hiking, alpine sports, skiing and snowboarding. Use the the PeakVisor app - it will show the peak names around you!
The busiest spot in the mountain is the one around Aleko hut, where from are revealed lovely 360-degree views towards the city below. During the winter months there are many groups of children that are learning how to ski, while during the summer months there are numbers of tourists along the walking paths. Throughout the year the atmosphere is very pleasant and relaxing.
Where is Vitosha Mountain?
An ancient mountain, Vitosha is a result of volcanic activity and is shaped by granite rock layers. It resembles a huge dome and its territory includes the oldest nature park on the Balkans - Vitosha. The mountain is 19 km long and 17 km wide and is easily approachable through several city bus lines and a cable car. It can be divided into four main parts where the ridges gather at the top known as Cherni Vrah at 2290 m. This is the highest point of the mountain, which has another nine peaks above 2000 m of height. Use the PeakVisor app
to know your way around.
The snow-capped trees on Vitosha Mountain (Photo Credit: HuskymoIcyland)
Vitosha is situated at the southern outskirts of the Bulgarian capital Sofia. Its name comes from the twin ridge or two peaks. At the foothills of the mountain are positioned some of the most sought after neighborhoods of the capital such as Knyazhevo District known for the mineral springs, Boyana District known for the Cinema Center, Simeonovo and Dragalevtsi neighborhoods famous for the incredible houses.
Throughout the world there are places that are named after Vitosha Mountain. Most of them are located in Antarctica, on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands.
Approximately 65 sq.km of Vitosha Mountain have been declared a nature park back in 1934, which made Vitosha the first park of that kind on the Balkan Peninsula. On the next year two biosphere preserves, Torfeno Branishte of 7.84 sq.km and Bistrishko Branishte of 10.61 sq.km, were also included within its boundaries. The park borders changed throughout the years and nowadays they cover almost the entire mountain or an area of 266 sq.km. Since 2000 Park Vitosha is categorized as Nature Park, according to the Protected Area Act requirements.
Several centuries ago Vitosha Mountain was covered by the remains of the Great Bulgarian Forest. Today you can see natural coniferous forests at the reserve of Bistrishko Branishte and the zone around Zlatnite Mostove (The Golden Bridges).
How to get to Vitosha Mountain
Vitosha Mountain is easily accessible by bus and by car from Sofia city. There are several public transport lines that reach different points of the mountain:
• Bus line 64 – it goes to Boyana Church (an important landmark to be seen) wherefrom are to be found hiking paths to Boyana Waterfall and Boyana Lake. During the summer here are organized free hiking tours by Sofia Green Tour Company.
• Bus line 66 – it goes to Aleko area and this is the highest place you can get to with the public transport.
• Bus line 93 – it goes to the chair lift in Dragalevtsi district.
• Bus line 98 – it goes to Jeleznica village, placed on the other side of Vitosha Mountain.
• Bus line 122 – this bus goes to the cable car in Simeonovo District. Find information here
• During the summer season there is a free bus that starts from the center of Sofia (near the National Stadium) and reaches Zlatnite Mostove zone.
In case you decide to reach Vitosha by car – take the road through Dragalevtsi District up. Once at the foothill of the mountain, you can also walk to the top.
Vitosha sites to be seen
• The Golden Bridges – this is an impressive stone river, which comprises of huge stones that are running down the mountain. It is placed in an area of evergreen and deciduous trees along the banks of Vladayska River.
• Duhlata - the longest cave in Bulgaria, which is 18 200 m long, placed near the Bosnek village. It sprawls on seven levels. Six underground rivers run through it as well.
• Boyana Church “St. Nikolas and St. Panteleymon”, dating back to the 10th century – this is a medieval Orthodox church, included in UNESCO World Heritage list. Once there, pay attention to the murals and the frescos dating back to the 13th century, which some researchers believe to be the precursors of the Renaissance. In 1968 Boyana Church was declared a national monument of culture.
• Boyana waterfall – this waterfall is placed on Boyanska River. The fall of the water is 18 m, at an altitude of 1260 m above sea level.
• Dragalevtsi Monastery “St. Mary of Vitosha”, dating back to the 14th century. Called Little Mount Athos, this monastery was found with a degree of the last tsar in Tarnovo Kingdom – Tsar Ivan Shishman. Today only the church has survived and it hides fabulous frescoes. Dragalevtsi Monastery have kept the Bulgarian traditions and culture during the Turkish yoke of five long centuries. The monastery was visited by the national hero Vasil Levski himself and was also a very active center for fighting for freedom.
• Kladinski Monastery “St. Nikolas Mirliyski the Miracle Maker, dating back to the 19th century but built on old church foundations. It has old rock walls with frescoes and an old altar.
• Interesting fact to be pointed out is that Struma River, which is the longest river in southwest Bulgaria, springs from Vitosha mountain.
The meteorological station and hut
In 1935 at the top of Vitosha Mountain was built a meteorological station which is still operating today. This station also operates as headquarters for the mountain rescue team and as a shelter for the hikers.
Near the top is to be found Aleko mountain hut where one can try simple but very tasty dishes and hot drinks.
Vitosha Mountain features a great diversity of fauna and flora (Photo Credit: HuskymoIcyland)
The elevation of Vitosha is variable and thus the mountain features a great diversity of fauna and flora. The forests in the park comprise mainly of Bulgarian Fir and Norway Spruce, as well as of Scots Pine, Macedonian Pine, and also birch, alder, aspen, and beech. On a small area within the park can be seen as many as 500 species of fungi, 1500 species of higher plants, 500 species of algae, 200 species of lichens and 326 species of mosses, where 52 species of them are included in the Red Book of the country. Higher in the mountain can even be seen the green-winged orchid that grows in Eastern Europe.
Vitosha Mountain is habitat for wild boars, deer and wolves, as well as bats, nesting birds and wild goats. The royal stag could also be seen. Vitosha Rivers are full of Balkan trout. The deciduous trees to be seen include birch and aspen, beech, sessile oak, and maple, ash, linden and hazel. The coniferous trees to be seen include white pine, spruce, and white fir.
There are three types of springs in Vitosha Mountain – underground, thermal and karst ones. The underground springs could be found throughout the mountain.
The thermal ones are located at the foothills of the mountain around the villages of Pancharevo, Zheleznitsa, Knjazhevo and Rudartsi. They are slightly mineralized and warm with temperatures between 28° and 32° C. Those thermal springs are suitable for healing and drinking.
The karst springs are placed in the southwestern zone of the mountain on the site of Jivata Voda area, Bosnek karst region, Vreloto, etc.
Vitosha Mountain Facts Sheet
Location: Vitosha Mountain is placed 1800 m above sea level, making it the highest ski resort in Bulgaria. It is just 10 km outside the capital Sofia. It is a simple resort but with a long ski run and many interesting slopes, as well as with some nice forests.
Sports and Landmarks:
• The highest peak of Vitosha Mountain is Cherni Vruh (2290 m) with the major skiing area below. On the eastern part of the mountain there are various opportunities for rock climbing. The vertical drop is 560 m, the bottom lift is at 1650 m. Now you can use the 3D compass and an altimeter of the PeakVisor app
for your convenience.
• The ride area is 29 km, with a total of 20 ski runs, where the longest one is 5 km. The ski runs of Vitosha Mountain provide excellent conditions for practicing winter sports and come with the necessary facilities. There are large skiing areas, as well as many slopes with powder, which makes Vitosha resort ideal for skiing and snowboarding. The six ski runs are of various size and length, with difficulty ideal for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. There are several green ski runs for the beginners and the difficult Vitoshko Lale ski run – suitable for professionals.
• There is a cross country skiing trail as well, which is called Universiada and is 9600 m long.
• Vitosha resort features six drag and two 2-men chair lifts, as well as one cable car that starts from Simeonovo District above the Ring Mall and IKEA store, reaching the top of the mountain near Aleko chalet. The lifts operate from 8.30 am to 4 pm. More information on the ski lifts in Vitosha is available here
• Ski equipment for rent and qualified ski instructors are to be found at Aleko chalet.
• The lift ticket for one day is around 12 Euros and the one for a half day is around 10 Euros.
• The heavy snow usually falls in December and stays until the late spring.
• The average air temperature is - 6° C.
• The snow cover reaches 1.5 m and the duration of the ski season usually lasts for 3 months.
• The conditions for cross-country skiing, slalom and walking tours are very good.
• The mountain further offers a choice of hiking trails, which are accessible during the winter months. Watch for the iron poles that mark the most popular hiking trails. Along the trails are to be seen chalets and places for rest.
The ski centers:
There are two Vitosha Mountain ski centers. Aleko ski center is the oldest and most popular one, set at 1800 m above sea level. Great part of the ski runs are around Aleko including ski runs of easy, medium and serious difficulty. There are ski runs for children, as well as ski runs for advanced skiers. The ski run Akademika is here too - it is equipped with cannons for artificial snow and is thus enjoying snow cover that lasts long.
The night skiing available on Vitosha Mountain is possible until 10 pm. In this ski zone is also situated the highest ski run in the area – the one that starts under Cherni Vrah peak – it is serviced by a drag lift.
Koniarnika – Vetrovala ski center is the second ski center, placed 1507 m above the sea level.
The ski pistes:
Vitosha mountain is suitable for practicing various sports, and the ski runs available are: 7 for beginners, 4 for intermediate skiers, and 2 for experts. There is a black run from the top of the chairlift down, however most of the ski runs are most suitable for beginners, where half of the twenty available ski runs are graded as easy ones. The longest easy ski run is off the Romanski chair.
Free-riding is possible as well, since there are some really nice slopes for that starting from the Cherni Vrah peak down to Vitoshko Lale area where are to be seen red and black runs. Some off-run options are also available through the trees. A trail for ski running is available too and it is 9600 m long.
The après ski life:
Vitosha does not have a busy après ski life. There are several small hotels around and a few bars serving some basic meals and drinks. Great nightlife is available in the city of Sofia however, which is conveniently close.
This place was established in 1952 at an altitude of 1 175 m in the area of Kiselishte and Balabanovets. It spreads over an area of 1400 decares, featuring more than 350 different species of foreign and local bushes and trees. The Arboretum comes with walking alleys and fountains, alcoves and two lakes, tables and deck-chairs.
It further features a botanical alley of 610 meters for blind people, where the descriptions of the vegetation species are done in Braille letters. There is also a sports alley for people with locomotory system disabilities, which is 285 meters long and 2 meters wide.
The children can enjoy a special entertainment and informational center on a territory of 20 decares, where they can find many game installations, a labyrinth and three platforms. Nearby is also placed the Bear Museum, while 1.5 km south of the Arboretum, in the Sofia District of Belite Brezi, is placed the Museum of Owls and the Museum of Dragonfly.
On the territory of Vitosha Mountain can further be found the Nature Protection Information Center “Vitosha”, set near Dragalevtsi Monastery, one kilometer away from the district with the same name. There tourists can visit a permanent exhibition, video collection center, observation tower, exhibition zone, library, different education practices.
No ramp is available at the Environmental Protection Information Center “Vitosha”, however the center is accessible for disabled people and can be reached from Dragalevtsi residential area.
The Arboretum is situated 7 km from Boyana District, along the road for the Golden Bridges. The access can be done through bus line 61 from Ovcha Kupel bus station.
Nature Park Vitosha is the most visited area in Bulgaria, attracting more than two million visitors each year. It is the place where the organized tourism in the country was born by the famous Bulgarian writer Aleko Kostadinov, when he arranged the first climbing of Cherni Vrah Peak in 1889. It was then when the writer and his friends decided to create a tourist club as well. In 1895 the writer arranged a hiking and this marked the start of the organized tourism in Bulgaria. The first tourist signification in Bulgaria was placed to direct the path to Cherni Vrah peak in 1901.
Nature Park Vitosha is not only a place for walking, but also a place for practicing various ski sports, rock climbing and alpinism, as well as tourist orientation. Skiing in Bulgaria started in 1915 in the zone below Cherni Vrah Peak. Now skiers use the two ski centers Vetrovala – Konjarnika and Aleko. Mountain rescuing is available on Vitosha since 1923.
Today the total length of the alleys and paths on Vitosha Mountain are more than 300 km. Great part of them are marked in different colors, the dangerous sections are also marked. There are also many tourist spots arranged for short rest with tables and benches, shelters and fountains.
Vitosha Mountain One-day Trips
Vitosha Mountain is a popular destination for half-day and one-day hiking trips from Sofia. There are different options for guided walking tours and independent walks. During the winter one can use the snowshoeing treks, believing that the threat from avalanche is not as serious as the one in Rila Mountain.
Some good hiking trails to consider include:
• Aleko hut – Cherni Vrah peak – Golden Bridges (duration 1 day): Bus access to Aleko hut. Climbing up to Cherni Vrah peak (approx. 1.30 hours). Walk to the Golden Bridges (approx. 3 hours).
• Aleko hut – Cherni Vrah peak – Zheleznitsa village (duration 1 day): Bus access to Aleko hut. Climbing up to Cherni Vrah peak (approx. 1.30 hours). Walk to Zheleznitsa village (approx. 3 hours).
• Vladaya District – Golden Bridges – Boyana waterfall - Boyana Lake – Boyana neighbourhood (duration 1 day): From Vladaya to the Golden bridges (approx. 2 hours). Walk along Boyana River reaching Boyana waterfall (approx. 1.30 hours). Possible passing by Boyana Lake with a small diversion to the right.
Vitosha 100 km - annual walking and cycling competition (Photo Credit: www.360mag.bg)
Vitosha Mountain – Evens and Festivities
Several events and festivals are organized in the area of Vitosha Mountain during the summer months. These include:
• Vitosha 100 km – that is an annual walking and cycling competition around the mountain. It happens during the night (Saturday to Sunday) in June.
• Nothing is higher than Vitosha – this is an open-air folklore festival of national songs and dances, organized on a meadow by the National Ensemble “Philip Kutev”.
• International folklore festival “Vitosha” – that is an annual festival organized each July in Sofia. The participants come from ensembles from more than 10 countries.
• Drum’n’Bass – that is an open-air summer festival for electronic music, organized in July.
Check the live cameras from Vitosha Mountain here