Bulgaria Travel Guide: Everything you need to know

Go straight to: Bulgaria in Europe | About Bulgaria | Nature | Brief History | Communications | Transportation | Accommodation | Must-Try Foods | Reasons to Visit | Must See Places | Free Tours in Bulgaria | Traditions | Beaches and Sea Resorts | Ski and Mountain Resorsts | Spa and Wellness | Currency Information Useful Links

Bulgaria in Europe

Europe Bulgaria

Bulgaria is a European, Balkan, Black Sea and Danube country situated in the Southeast part of the Old continent. Its neighbours are Romania on north, Serbia and Macedonia on west. Greece and Turkey on south, and Black Sea on east. Bulgaria is part of the European Union since 2007. 

About Bulgaria

Map of Bulgaria

  • Bulgaria is 1333 years old.
  • The capital and the most important economic centre of the country is Sofia, situated in western Bulgaria.
  • The official language is Bulgarian.
  • The currency is Bulgarian lev. 
  • The official time in Bulgaria is Eastern European Time, which is two hours ahead of Greenwich Time.
  • The flag of Bulgaria consists of three colors: white, green and red, laid horizontally from top to bottom.
  • Bulgaria is a Parliamentary Republic and is divided into 28 administrative areas.
  • The religion of most Bulgarians is Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
  • The country is justly famous for its yoghurt and other dairy products, for its rose oil products, and for its wines and brandies.
  • There are 142 resorts in Bulgaria, of which 26 are marine resorts, 56 mountain resorts, and 58 are balneological resorts
  • Big cities: Sofia (capital), Plovdiv, Varna, Bourgas, Rousse, Veliko Turnovo, etc. 
  • Also check: I bet you didn’t know these 10 facts about Bulgaria

            Nature

Bulgaria map

In the central part of the country lies the Balkan Mountain Range, where the highest peak is Botev. Between the northern arm of the Balkans and the Danube River lies the Danube valley. Between the Bakans, the Rhodopes mountain and Black sea is the Gornotrakiyska Lowlands.

To the south of the capital Sofia rises the mountain Vitosha, whose highest peak is Cherni Vrah. The highest Bulgarian mountains are in the Rila and Pirin ranges, situated to the east of the Struma River valley. The highest peak on the Balkan Peninsula, Musala (2,925 m), is located in Rila. 

The Rhodope Mountains are located to the east of the Mesta River valley and Rila. The many natural landmarks – caves, waterfalls, and alpine lakes – attract scores of tourists every year. The eastern parts of the country border on the Black Sea, where beaches covering hundreds of kilometers attract Bulgarian and foreign tourists. 

There are 4 seasons in Bulgaria.  Three national parks have been established in the country: Pirin National Park (a UNESCO natural heritage site), Rila National Park, and the Central Balkans National Park. There are also 11 nature reserves.


Brief History

  • Bulgaria was born in 681 AD but its territory has been inhabited since antiquity. The first head of the country was the leader of proto-Bulgarians Han Asparuh, and the city of Pliska was declared the state’s capital. 
  • Cyrillic alphabet. At the end of the 9th century, the brothers Cyril and Methodius created and disseminated the Slavonic alphabet. Ohrid and Veliki Preslav became centers of the Bulgarian and Slavonic culture. From Bulgaria, the Slavonic alphabet spread to other Slavonic states as well. To the present day, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Macedonia and Belarus still use the Cyrillic alphabet, with rules of orthography established by the students of Cyril and Methodius and their followers in the Bulgarian capital Preslav.
  • Byzantium Rule. In 1018, after protracted warfare, Bulgaria was conquered by Byzantium. In 1186, the uprising led by the boyar brothers Asen and Peter, freed Bulgaria from Byzantine rule, establishing the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, with Tarnovo as its capital.
  • Ottoman Rule. At the end of the 14th century, the country was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. The Bulgarian Revival began at the beginning of the 18th century, when the Bulgarian church, educational institutions, and culture were re-established.
  • Liberation movement. The beginning of the organized national liberation movement to throw off the Ottoman yoke is marked by the activities of Georgi Rakovski (1821-1867), and key figures in the liberation movement are Vasil Levski (1837-1873), Lyuben Karavelov (1834-1879), Hristo Botev (1848-1876), among others. In April 1876, the April Uprising took place. In 1878, with the Russian defeat of Turkey, the Bulgarian state was restored. 
  • Communism (1946-1989). After the Second World War, Bulgaria came under the political and economic influence of the USSR. In 1946 the country was declared a republic and the Bulgarian Communist Party came to power. 
  • Democracy (1989). The democratic changes in Bulgaria started at the end of 1989, when multi-party elections were held and a new constitution was adopted. Since 1991, Bulgaria has been a member of the Council of Europe, and in 2004 Bulgaria became a member of NATO. 

Communications

There are three mobile service operators in Bulgaria providing almost 100% 2G and 3G network coverage:

  • Vivacom
  • Mtel
  • Telenor (previously Globul)

There are many wi-fi spots with free internet access in Bulgaria mainly in the trade centers, big bus and railway station.

Sofia Airport

Sofia Airport

Transportаtion

There are 4 international airports in Bulgaria – in Sofia, Varna, Plovdiv and Burgas.

The rail network serves all the larger populated places in Bulgaria and is generally comfortable. You can get tickets at railway stations, at transport offices in towns and cities, and at tourist agencies. Check the website of the National Rail Company (BDZ) for more info.

The roads in Bulgaria aren’t as good as they should be. It consists of limited access highways, first-class roads, second-class roads, and third-class roads. The drivers are generally intense and you always have to be careful when crossing the street. 

Bus transport is well developed. There are buses serving most of the large towns and cities in the country. There are also international bus lines to most of the European capitals and to other European cities.

Accommodation

Accommodation in Bulgaria is generally cheap. There are many hostels and hotels in Sofia with prices starting from 7-8 euros for dorm bed to 20 euros for private room. The hotels are a little bit more expensive but it all depends on your preferences. You can find accommodation in almost every city in Bulgaria through Booking.com. There are nice and even cheaper places on Airbnb as well. If you register now, I can give you 25$ off your first stay with Airbnb.

Must-Try Foods

See also:

Shopska Salad

Shopska Salad

Breakfast: banitsa with boza (drink), mekitsas (fried dough pieces), and fried bread slices, popara(bread, feta cheese, butter and warm milk “soup”), yogurt.

Drinks: Rakia (strong alcoholic drink), Bulgairan wines (Gamza, Wide Melnik Vine, Mavrud, Red Misket), Ayran (yogurt and water), Boza.

Salads: Shopska Salad, Shepherd’s Salad, Dobrudzha Salad, Roasted Peppers Salad.

Appetizers: Feta Cheese, Yellow cheese (Kashkaval), Tarator (yogurt and cucumber soup), Bean soup, Flat sausage, Elena Pork Leg.

Dishes: Meat balls, Kebapches, Grilled meat pieces, Grilled sausages, Kavarma, Сtuffed cabbage or vine leaves with rice and meat, Cheverme, Patatnik, etc.

Reasons to visit

See also:

Must See Places in Bulgaria

See also:

Sofia – The capital of Bulgaria represents a nice mixture of cultures and epochs. The city is trying to “catch up” with the present but is also trying to keep its ancient past. Learn more

Plovdiv

The Ancient Theater in Plovdiv

Plovdiv – Plovdiv is famous with its six syenite hills, called tepeta. The old town of Plovdiv is famous with its paved streets, historical houses and mostly with the Ancient Theater – a well-known monument from antiquity. Learn more

Belogradchik Rocks – strangely shaped rock formations situated on the Balkan mountain in Northwestern Bulgaria.

Nessebar – The ancient city of Nesebar is one of the most visited seaside destination and not without a reason. The old town with its historic buildings, paved streets and powerful atmosphere is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Learn more

Rila Monastery – Rila Monastery is situated in the highest mountain in Bulgaria and the Balkans – Rila. It’s one of the 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria, designated in 1983. Learn more

Teteven, Bulgaria

Teteven, Bulgaria

The 7 Rila Lakes – The 7 Rila Lakes are situated in the highest mountain in Bulgaria – Rila. Each one of the lakes have its own original name associated with its shape or distinguishing characteristics – “The Kidney”, “The Twin”, “The Eye”… Learn more

Teteven, Tryavna – These are all great places to feel the traditional Bulgarian atmosphere. Tryavna has managed to preserve the National Revival spirit with more than 140 cultural monuments. And Teteven (on the picture) is a picturesque little town in Central Bulgaria. It’s in the picture on the right, no need to say more.

Etara – The Etara Complex is an open-air museum located in northern Bulgaria which presents Bulgarian customs, culture and craftsmanship.

9 UNESCO sites – There are 7 cultural sites: Boyana Church (A medieval Bulgarian Orthodox church), Madara Rider (An early medieval large rock relief carved on the Madara Plateau), Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo (Monolithic churches, chapels and monasteries hewn out of solid rock), Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak (Ancient tomb, part of a large Thracian necropolis), Ancient City of Nessebar (Ancient part of town, situated on a peninsula (previously an island), Rila Monastery (Medieval monastery, one of the region’s most significant cultural, historical and architectural monuments), Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari (A Thracian tomb dating back to 3rd century BC) and the 2 natural sites: Pirin National Park and Srebarna Nature Reserve (A nature reserve and lake on the Via Pontica bird migration route).

Rose Valley – Bulgaria produces about 70% of the world’s rose oil. It is used for cosmetic products, soaps, shampoos, etc. The Bulgarian Rose Valley is the home of the exquisite Bulgarian rose oil. Learn more

The pyramids of Melnik – Impressive natural sand pyramids in various forms, resembling giant mushrooms, ancient towers and obelisks.

Tsarevets – medieval stronghold located on a hill with the same name in Veliko Tarnovo in northern Bulgaria. It served as the Second Bulgarian Empire’s primary fortress and strongest bulwark. The Sound and Light audiovisual show is an attraction carried out in the evening that uses three lasers, variegated lights, dramatic music and churchbells to tell the story of the fall of Tarnovo to the Ottomans, as well as other key moments of the history of Bulgaria.

Ravadinovo

The Castle of Ravadinovo, Photo: Facebook

The Castle of Ravadinovo – Viewed from the air like a cross, viewed from the lake – a children’s story. Everywhere there are statues in the garden, huge wooden lanterns with beautiful carvings, stone birds and mermaids. 2 km away from Sozopol. Learn more…

Devil’s Bridge – It’s an arch bridge over the Arda Riversituated in a narrow gorge. The bridge, the largest and best known of its kind in the Rhodopes, is 56 m long and has three arches, but also features holes with small semicircular arches to read water level. Learn more…

Free Tours in Bulgaria (Guides work on donations. You set the price)

Free Sofia Tour – Mon-Sun: 11 am & 6 pm. Start: Palace of Justice. No reservation required.

Free Food Tour (Balkan Bites)  – Every day at 2 pm. Start: Park Crystal, Sofia. Learn more

Free Plovdiv Tour – Еvery day at 6pm (from May to September) and at 2pm (from October to April) under the clock of the Central Post Office near the Tourist Information Centre Plovdiv.

Free Varna Tour – Every day the tours start at the Cathedral at 6pm, from 1st of May until 30th of September.

Sofia Green Bike Tour – No reservation required from April till November. Start: 11 am and 5 pm, National Theater “Ivan Vazov”, Sofia. Rent-a-bike: 10 leva.

Free “BOYANA HIKING tour” – Every day from April until November at 11 am. START POINT: front of National Theater “Ivan Vazov”. No reservation required. From November until April – on request.

Free “Vitosha Panorama” tour – Just for a group with booking. Departure from the center of Sofia: 9:00. Start Point: National Theater Ivan Vazov. Duration: 7 hours. Tour Expenses: transfer fee: ( taxi + tram) around 15 leva.

Lozen mountain free “Pancharevski Gorge” – Just for a group with booking. Departure from the center of Sofia: 10:00. Start Point: National Theater Ivan Vazov. Duration: 6 hours. Tour Expenses: transfer fee: (metro + bus) around 5 leva.

Vitosha mountain free “Vitosha – City To Summit ” – Just for a group with booking. Departure from the center of Sofia: 10:00. Start Point: National Theater Ivan Vazov. Duration: 7 hours. Tour Expenses: transfer fee: ( taxi + bus) around 15 leva.

Traditions

Kukeri – Kukeri is a traditional Bulgarian ritual to scare away evil spirits, with costumed men performing theritual. The costumes cover most of the body and include decorated wooden masks of animals (sometimes double-faced) and large bellsattached to the belt. Around New Year and before Lent, the kukeri walk and dance through the village to scare evil spirits away with the costumes and the sound of the bells, as well as to provide a good harvest, health, and happiness to the village during the year.

Nestinari

Nestinarstvo – Bare foot fire dances. Photo by Apokalipto licensed under CC by 3.0

Nestinarstvo – The Nestinarstvo fire-dancing takes place in the village of Bulgari. The ritual is held to ensure the well-being and fertility of the village. People silently form a circle around the burning embers led by the sacred drum, and the Nestinari, who are spiritual and physical leaders through whom the saints express their will, begin entering the circle and treading the embers. Nestinarstvo is part of the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity Learn more

Baba Marta – Grandma March Day  is a very common holiday celebrated in Bulgaria, on the first of March. Martenitsa – usually in the form of a wrist band, woven by combining red and white colored threads – are worn on that day and through March, until a stork or a bloomed tree is seen, symbolizing warmer weather and well being. Learn more

Christmas – Christmas (Koleda or Rozhdestvo Hristovo) in Bulgaria is one of the most cherished holidays in the year. It is the time when the whole family gathers together, ancient customs and traditions come into play and Christmas spirit is felt everywhere. The tradition requires an odd number of different dishes to be served on Christmas Eve celebration. Usually there are seven or nine meals. It is believed that the more dishes on the table, the richer the next year will be. Learn more

Koledari

Koledari on Christmas Eve in Bulgaria

Koleduvane – On Christmas Eve a group or several groups of young boys (“koledari”) go house to house and sing songs for health, wealth and happiness. In return the owners of the house give them some coins, fruits, specially baked pretzels and other treats. Learn more

New Year – One of the most important traditions in welcoming the New Year is the preparation of the holiday dinner. One of the symbols of New Year in Bulgaria is the so called “Banitza” with fortunes. This is a traditional Bulgarian food prepared by layering a mixture of whisked eggs and pieces of cheese between filo pastry (a paper-thin sheets of dough) and then baking it in an oven. In the “Banitza” we put a lot of fortunes (or lucky charms; only on New Year). We usually put pieces of paper with written wishes and a coin. Everyone in the house take a piece of the “Banitza” and the lucky charm in it determines the upcoming year. Learn more

Survakane – Another really important part of welcoming the New Year is this really old tradition “survakane”. It starts in the early morning of January 1st. Group of children gather together and go from house to house (to relatives and friends) and use the“survachka” (richly decorated wooden stick, on the left picture) to lightly beat relatives and friends on the back while saying a special poem with wishes for health and wealth. In return the owner of the house gives them some money and treats. Learn more

Lazaruvane – Lazarki day is a Bulgarian traditional festive day for young girls. It is only one day in the year usually – Saturday before the day of flowers (Flowerday). Children that became a women during the last year are called Lazarki. They perform ritual Lazaruvane. It is believed that when a girl become Lazarka after that she can be engaged and married.

Beaches and Sea Resorts in Bulgaria

There are many sea resorts in Bulgaria, and they are exceptionally diverse. The largest of the Bulgarian Black Sea resorts is Sunny Beach. Generally the resorts on the South Coast are nicer. 

  • Rousalka

    Black Sea Bulgaria

    Black Sea Resorts in Bulgaria

  • Albena
  • Kranevo
  • Golden Sands
  • Riviera
  • Chayka
  • Sunny Day
  • St. Konstantin and St. Helena
  • St. Iliya
  • Obzor
  • Sunny Beach
  • Elenite
  • Dyuni
  • Nesebar
  • Ravda
  • Kiten
  • Pomorie
  • Primorsko
  • Chernomorets
  • Sozopol
  • Lozenets
  • Tsarevo
  • Ahtopol
  • Sinemorets
  • and more…

Ski and Mountain Resorts

About 30% of Bulgaria is mountainous.  The ski season in the medium high and the alpine resorts last about 130 days each year. Most famous:

  • Bansko – Besides offering world-class skiing, in the city of Bansko there are also more than 140 cultural monuments.
  • Pamporovo – Pamporovo is located at 1,650 meters above sea level in the Rhodope Mountains. Snow falls on average more than 150 a year, and the runs are from 800 to 3,800 meter long.
  • Borovets – Borovets is located in the Rila Mountains, at 1,350 meters above sea level. It offers excellent ski runs, and its biathlon course is one of the best in the world.

There are also good conditions for skiing at the following resorts: Malyovitsa, Panichishte, Batak, Beklemeto, Ribaritsa, Osogovo, Momchilovtsi, Chepelare, Kom-Berkovitsa, Uzana, Yundola, Belmeken, Bodrost-Kartala, Predel, Semkovo and Aleko.

Spa and Wellness Tourism

Few countries in Europe can rival Bulgaria’s spa, balneological and wellness tourism, with its abundance and diversity of thermal mineral waters and curative mud deposits. There are 38 balneological resorts in Bulgaria, more than 550 known sources with 1,600 springs. 

Bulgaria also has a number of excellent spa, balneological and wellness resorts. Velingrad is the spa capital of the Balkan Peninsula. Other famous spa resorts are Hisar, Sandanski, Kyustendil, Pavel Banya, Kostenets, Varshets, Haskovski Mineralni Bani, Sapareva Banya and many more.

The Black Sea coast is also famous for its medicinal mud deposits, which are to be found at Pomorie, Varna, Balchik, Shabla, Atanasovsko Lake, and Taukliman. Also famous are the mineral waters at Krapets, Tyulenovo, Rusalka, Kavarna, Balchik, Albena, Golden Sands, St. Konstantin and St. Helena, Varna, Lower Kamchia, Emine, Medovo and Burgas.

Lev

Bulgarian One Lev Coin

Currency Information

The monetary unit in the Republic of Bulgaria is the lev (BGN), which is equal to 100 stotinki (st.). Since 1997, the country has been governed by a currency board and the value of the lev has been pegged to the Euro, at a fixed rate of 1 EUR – 1.95583 BGN. Currency can be exchanged in banks or in any of the country’s many currency exchange offices. Some of these exchange offices also work on holidays. 

Credit cards: Most Bulgarian hotels and stores now accept VISA, MasterCard, American Express, and Diners Club credit cards.

Useful Links

Information Centre Sofia

Ministry of Economy and Energy (Tourism)

BulgariaTravel – Official tourism website

National Rail Company (BDZ)

Airbnb – 25$ off your first booking

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