Cities and Towns on the Danube River
The Danube river goes almost accross the whole North boundary of Bulgaria. There are several interesting cities and towns on the river but somehow none of them is popular for tourists. That's good, crowds away. One of the reason that not many people go there is the bad infrastructure. The Northern Bulgaria is generally poor and less developed. There is no good transportation between the cities on the river, compared for example with the towns and villages on the Black Sea Coast. Maybe you think you can travel by ship on the Danube river? What an optimist!
There were some small ships in the past but today your only option to travel between these towns is by land. Unless you build your own raft :D OK, let's see what are the most important places on Danube and how to get there.
Soviet Monument in Vidin
Vidin is the first town when you come from West. This is where one of the two Danube bridges between Bulgaria and Romania is located. It connects Vidin in Bulgaria with Kalafat in Romania. The bridge is about 2 km long and you can walk, bike, use your car, or get on the train to pass through it.
The town's population is about 50,000 and constantly drops after the 90's due to the bad economical situation in the region. Don't think it's a dead place however - Vidin is one of the interesting places in Bulgaria, albeit less popular for visitors. If you plan to travel between Bulgaria and Romania, it's a great idea to stay in Vidin at least for a day. If you are onto landmarks, the Baba Vida Fortress definitely should be visited.
Getting from Sofia to Vidin is easy by train, but is slow. There are 3-4 trains daily with journey taking 4-5 hours. Trains in this direction are often old and not very comfortable. Buses are not much faster but at least have more frequent schedule. Now you must be starting to get why the economy in the area isn't working quite well.
Lom is a smaller town 56 km South-East from Vidin. It's even less popular destination because there is no bridge or major highway going to it. It is however the closest port to Sofia which gives it a bit of life. If you want to see some pictures of Lom, have a look here.
Although it's only 160 km away of Sofia, don't expect to get there fast. Most trains take nearly 4 hours. There are 5-6 buses daily which take about the same time to reach the town. If you are already in Vidin, you can take the train and reach Lom in about 2 hours.
Kozloduy nuclear power plant
Ever heard about the Bulgarian NPP? It's in Kozloduy. The town has only 13,000 citizens but has some business activity due to the NPP. Most of the working population is occupied there. If you are not interested in the NPP, you can visit the Radetski Steamship museum or the Okolchica peak. Visiting the NPP is possible only by sending a letter at least 2 weeks in advance. It's unclear how much this will cost you.
There are no trains to Kozloduy. You can get the bus from Sofia and reach the town in about 3 hours and 30 mins. One bus in the morning starts from Vidin at 9:30 through Lom at 11:00 and reaches Kozloduy in 12.15. So if you are in Lom, going to Kozloduy is easy.
Oryahovo is a small town with a population of only 5,500. It has a beautiful hilly terrain, nice views, a couple of museums, and not much else to see. Here are some pictures.
If you want to visit it you'll need to take the bus (unless you have a car of course). There are 2-3 buses daily from Sofia taking about 4 hours to Oryahovo. The Kozloduy - Pleven bus from 6:30 AM also stops in Oryahovo about 40 mins after departure. If you are early bird, getting from Kozloduy is a fast option.
Even smaller town with population of less than 4,000, Nikopol is better known by Bulgarians. One of the reason is that years ago all batteries in Bulgaria were produced in Nikopol :) Is there something to see there now? Certainly. The Nature Park Persina, the Nikopol Fortress ("Kaleto"), and several museums.
No trains go to Nikopol. There is one bus daily from Sofia which reaches Nikopol in about 4 hours. And that's it. Not very easy to reach unless you have a car.
The next town on the way is Belene. We are going East, now in the middle of the route. This is a poor region, a town with population of 8,000, and not much business activity. It has some things to offer to the traveller however: the Roman military castle "Dimum", museums, military monuments, middle-age artifacts and more.
One or two buses daily travel from Sofia to Belene. The trip takes 4 hours. There are no trains. Buses from Nikopol are available several times per day and reach belene in about 1:20 h.
The Svishtov Railway Station
Svishtov is an university town with a lot more life than the other towns in the region. This is also where one of the best works of Kolyu Ficheto is located - the Church of the Holy Trinity. Other things to see: the Aleko Konstantinov House museum, a Clocktower from 1763, and several other museums. Beign a town full of students it can offer some kind of night life as well.
Because of the university transportation to Svishtov is a bit better. Several trains per day connect the town to Sofia. They are not very fast though, so be prepared to spend 4-5 hours on the trip. There are also a couple of buses taking about the same time. If you are in Nikopol or Belene, you can also take a bus to Svishtov. From Nikopol it takes close to 2 hours, while the trip from Belene takes less than an hour.
The Opera house in Ruse
Ruse is the biggest Bulgarian city on the Danube river. It's the 5th most populated city here with 150,000 people in it (yes, we don't have many big cities). There is a lot to see in Ruse especially if you are interested in architectural monuments and landmarks. The museums are too many to count there. In addition to the architectural landmarks there are a couple of natural parks - Rusenski Lom (have a look), with the only working rock Monastery in Bulgaria, Orlova Chuka cave, and Teketo. If you have time, you won't regret visiting Ruse.
How easy is that? There is an airport in the city but no regular flights to it (I am not sure it's even functional). So your options are again bus, car or train. Currently six trains go daily between Sofia and Ruse taking between 6 and 7 hours. The bus journey can be slightly shorter - 5:30 h with the direct buses.
Ruse is also the most popular gate to Romania. The first Danube bridge connects Ruse to Giurgiu.
This town with population of about 9,000 is mostly known because its name is often used in jokes. Most Bulgarians have no idea where it is :) This is not a surprise because the area is neither economically strong, nor a tourist destination. The town however is not bad to visit. It's located on a beautiful hilly terrain with good views to the river and around. There are several museums and protected natural areas.
Buses from Sofia to Silistra stop in Tutrakan. There are 5-6 such buses daily and the journey takes about 6:30 h. Many buses from Ruse go to Tutrakan in an hour or so. There are no trains however.
A Gazebo in Srebarna Nature Reserve
Silistra is the largest town in this part of the river. With population of 35,000 and many architectural and historical landmarks it's better known and relatively popular destination. Don't get me wrong, "relatively popular" has nothing to do with the popularity of Sofia or the Black Sea resorts. You will not see any crowds of visitors in Silistra.
Two trains daily go from Sofia to Silistra but it's a long journey with several train changes. Takes between 10 and 13 hours. Buses are a bit more frequent and the bus journey takes about 7-8 hours. It's easier to reach Silistra if you are already in Ruse. There are 3 trains daily taking close to 5 hours, but there are again train changes except in the night train. Buses are much better option - there are many buses daily and the journey is only 2-3 hours long.
As a final, let me tell you one thing: if you make a trip to all of these cities and towns you will see more than most Bulgarians, because they have not been to most of them. Including us. Yet :)
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