Where is Pernik and how to visit
It's not the first place you'd think of visiting. But it's close to Sofia and if you're here for a longer time, you might as well just go and see. Each city has something unique to it and so does Pernik. So join me on this journey to the Bulgarian Steel City - Pernik - at just 30 kilometres from Sofia!
Trains from Sofia leave frequently. use the Bulgarian Railway website to find the schedule. It takes you about an hour and ten minutes. It costs you 2,30lv as of 2017. Essentially, Pernik is just behind Vitosha mountain, which borders Sofia city.
In addition, buses leave from Avtogara Zapad (Ovcha Kupel) and Avtogara Yug (South Bus Station). From South Bus Station, buses are far less frequent. As Pernik is west of Sofia, it doesn't make sense to have many buses leaving from the southern end of the city. So, stick to Avtogara Zapad, which is west of the city center. I found a bus schedule online, not sure if it's up to date. Both bus stations are quite far from the center and from the central bus station, there's no buses to Pernik - at least not with Pernik as final destination.
The city's name
There is no single explanation on where the name Pernik comes from. It's likely to have come from the Slavic God of Thunder Perun or the name of a local boyar named Perin (Source). A boyar is a member of the old aristocracy in Russia, next in rank to a prince.
What to do in town
As you get off the train, cross Otets Paisyi Road and take Targovska Street into the center. The streets are well paved and clean. It's a quiet city and pleasant to walk around - just a typical Bulgarian town with plenty of stores and especially many with shoes and leather products. I didn't find many places to sit and have a drink but as you walk through the center a bit, you'll pass High Street Bar. It's right in front of Hotel Struma on the main square. It might seem like there are few places to eat/drink but just check Google Maps for the orange icons, there's quite a bit around. For example, Restaurant Elite on 34, Naycho Tsanov Street and Bar Fresh on 3, Reno Street. Either way, just walk around and you might find a place to have a coffee in an unexpected street. I recommend the city park behind the Drama Theatre Boyan Danovski for a relaxing stroll. Quite close, a bit northeast, you find the Historical Museum, Underground Mining Museum and the main Museum of Mining. Sveti Ivan Rilski church is just some fifty metres away.
The museums are closed on Sundays as of 2017. During the 20th Century, Pernik quickly developed into an industrial center. Especially the coal mining industry grew quickly. Nowadays, Pernik is still a center for heavy industry for mostly the production of steel. In Pernik, machinery as well as textiles are produced. Another heavy machinery plant is found in the nearby town Radomir.
Be sure to visit Krakra fortress, in the southwest of town. It once functioned to protect the western border of the First Bulgarian Empire. It was named after the local ruler whom resided in the castle, Krakra of Pernik (or simply Krakra). He was an 11th Century ruler whom ruled 36 fortresses in the west and southwest of the Empire. This fortress, at Pernik, was the capital of his land.
Kukeri festival (Surva)
In the last three days of January, the city center fills with people wearing masks to scare away evil and illness. The name of the festival is Surva. The so-called Kukerite, the masked participants, are said to bring a good harvest, health and happiness! The festival is one of its sort on the Balkans and seeing the colourful folklore masks will surely get you in good spirits. The streets are full of dancing and ringing bells, it is worth it to battle the winter cold and visit. It tends to be quite busy though - Pernik is close to Sofia so plenty of outsiders come visit as well. Check out this clip of the festival.
Continuing your trip
Go northwest to Tran or southwest to Zemen - alternatively go north to Godech (check Razboishte monastery and Chepurlenski monastery Sveta Petka), Iskrets and Svoge. The Dragoman area is nearby as well.