The Epic Balkans Fortress Series: Guide to Belogradchik Fortress & Rocks in Belogradchik, Bulgaria
Guys… How Game of Thrones does this place this look?
Really… why aren’t they filming on location here? And why aren’t more people bending over backwards to bring their best selfie stick poses to this amazing backdrop? Well screw them. You’re here and perhaps you are going here before it becomes overly marketed which was a huge draw for me in making it out to this secluded mountain top. And now, I get to share with you answers to some questions you might be asking about what makes the Belogradchik fortress and the Belogradchik rocks so epic.
What it has that the other fortresses don’t.
Bulgaria tends to be the country that even repeat-Balkan enthusiasts don’t quite make it to. Many people who plan trips to hit up the beaches along Croatia, Montenegro and Albania can easily make it to Macedonia or Bosnia & Herzegovina on a day trip and check off from their list five Balkan countries in two weeks or under. But getting to Bulgaria from the west Balkans is no friend to the time sensitive.
Even once you are in Bulgaria, getting to-and-from Belogradchik will take you at least a day and a half. Perhaps that is what adds to the triumph of making it to this fortress. Managing to get there in the first place is an accomplishment all on its own as many will not have the patience to do so.
Belogradchik’s claim to fame is…
Welcoming fewer visitors than the popular west Balkan fortresses, the fortress in Belogradchik quietly sits in the middle of an area of 90 square kilometers in northwest Bulgaria. About a three and a half hour drive from Sofia, the fortress overlooks the sleepy town below with the same name. Its surrounding red rocks reach up to 200 meters in height, mystically guarding the fortress from bad guys, super villains and all the evil this world has to offer. Again, how is it not a filming location for Game of Thrones? I don’t get it.
How to get to the Belogradchik fortress–the not so fun part!
I arrived in the quiet town of Belogradchik after a day of traveling from Belgrade, Serbia. I took a 10 a.m. bus from Belgrade to the town of Zaječar, about 15 minutes from the Bulgarian border. This all took about four hours. When I arrived in Zaječar, there were no busses that day going to Vidin, the Bulgarian town which has bus transfers to Belogradchik running 3-4 times a day. I unfortunately had to catch an hour long taxi ride from Zaječar to Vidin, which will be 30-40 euros depending on your bargaining skills if you are coming from Serbia and don’t want to travel to Sofia first. From Vidin, you can take a one hour bus to Belogradchik.
The more common option is to travel to Sofia and take a direct bus from there to Belogradchik, although I believe they are infrequent. You can also take a bus from Sofia to Vidin, and then Vidin to Belogradchik. But be warned: that all looks really simple in writing. Unfortunately, the Belogradchik transportation situation was one of the worst transportation situations I have dealt with in all of my years of travel. Sorry Belo babe, but I have to be honest. You can read more about that in the section below ominously titled “The Worst Thing about the Belogradchik Fortress.”
So… what’s it like in Belogradchik town (and Vidin)?
I stayed for less than 24 hours in Belogradchik. Theres’s absolutely nothing to do there except visit the rocks in Belogradchik and the fortress. I know that might sound a bit harsh, but it’s just the truth. If you are into nature and the outdoors, there are surrounding mountains for other fun excursions. If you are just there to see the fortress however, you will be bored and want to go back to Sofia or wherever else you have to go. Also, the transportation system sucks, there are very few restaurants and no real energy to the town. It’s a very “just get in and get out” type of town.
As for Vidin, it too is a bit quiet. It’s so quiet that only one restaurant accepts card payments! I don’t think there is so much to see in Vidin besides it being a reliable town to transfer busses in. It has an attractive city center square, but other than that, it too is quite uneventful.
Is there a fee to pay?
Yes. There is. Don’t be cheap. I don’t remember how much, but it was probably about 1-2 euro, give or take.
Degree of Difficulty
Belogradchik is not too difficult. There are some moments when you have to climb very steep metal ladders; but I was able to do so in 1-inch wedge sandals and without holding the railings. That should tell you something.
Real talk: The worst thing about the Belogradchik
Where do I start with the transportation? It sucked. Honestly, I lost my cool and started crying at one moment because that is how frustrated I was. And sure, other things were getting to me that day that were making me emotional. My allergies were really bad in Belogradchik and I was having a hard time breathing the night before, so I wanted to leave so badly. So when the ticket office straight up lied about when the busses were coming, I freaked out and started crying.
So yeah… about that… here are the problems with transportation in Belogradchik.
Problem #1 — There is one bus that goes straight from Belogradchik to Sofia everyday, and it is at 8 a.m. (at the time of my writing this in November of 2017). You would think there would be a bus that goes to Sofia directly in the afternoon for people who visit the rocks in the morning and then need to leave after that, but nope! You’re stuck in quiet little Belogradchik.
Problem #2 — There are only one or two busses a day going to Vidin… you know Vidin, the town you need to go to in order to catch a bus to Sofia! The hours and hours you have to wait for the next bus just eats up your day and thus again, you feel stuck in Belogradchik.
Problem #3 — Not only is the bus stop/little ticket office always closed, but it has incorrect bus times on the sign taped to the door. And when I realized this, that is when I lost it.
I thought I had my day perfectly planned out. I had visited the office very early in the morning, saw there was an 11 a.m. bus to Vidin, went and hiked the the Belogradchik rocks and fortress at 9 a.m., checked out of my room with my bags by 10:30 a.m., only to discover that the sign was wrong and the next bus to Vidin was actually at 4 p.m! It was just one of my most frustrating travel moments in all my years of travel.
Solution — I took a taxi to Vidin, and then a bus to Sofia. The taxi cost about 25 euro, which is more money than I should have been spending. But I was desperate to leave.
Getting in and out of Belogradchik sucked. But what matters most from traveling are your memories–and your social media pictures of course! But in all seriousness, despite the transportation nightmares, I would do it all again exactly the same because the Belogradchik fortress and rocks were on my Balkans bucket list. It was at the top of my hit list. I am so happy I can say that I have been to Bulgaria and that I’ve been to one of the most intriguing and individual fortresses in the Balkans. There is no other fortress in the region like it.