Bulgaria is far more than what Sofia can offer. Most of the time, foreigners don’t know what to expect when they visit Bulgaria and probably you are in the same position. I can assure you that the country will amaze you with its endless sightseeing opportunities spread everywhere – natural phenomenons, UNESCO treasures, ancient archaeological sites…
But don’t get me wrong. Sofia is also worth visiting. But if you plan to stay a little more in the country, you may consider going outside of Sofia and explore the real Bulgaria as we did on our 10-day road trip in the country a few years ago.
The most convenient way to do that is to rent a car from good car hire companies and be in charge of your own time and travel schedule. The next step is to get familiar with the practical info and tips for driving in Bulgaria. That’s why I prepared a list that is going to help you get ready for your first Bulgarian road trip and some suggestions about places to include on your itinerary. Keep reading.
PART I: DRIVE BY THE RULES
1. Drive on the right
Unlike some well-known exceptions in the world, driving in Bulgaria is on the right hand side of the road. Therefore, the overtaking is on the left hand side.
2. Drivers and passengers
The legal driving age in Bulgaria is above 18 years old. A child seat is necessary for children under 3 years old or less than 150 cm tall. Children over 3 and under 12 years old can sit only on the back. All passengers in the car must wear seat belts.
The use of a mobile phone by the driver without a hands free system is not allowed. Also, the use of the car horn is prohibited and is only allowed in avoiding accidents on the road.
3. Obligatory Documentation and equipment
The necessary vehicle documentation for driving in Bulgaria is: registration card, annual technical inspection card and “third party liability” insurance.
The necessary vehicle equipment for driving in Bulgaria includes: first aid kit, fire extinguisher, spare tire, lifting tool, reflective/safety jacket, hazard triangle.
4. Turn on the lights all year round
It is absolutely mandatory to drive with car headlights on during day and night throughout the whole year.
5. Comply with the speed limits
When driving in Bulgaria you should comply with the current speed limitations:
- 50km/h (30 mph) inside the city limits;
- 90km/h (55mph) outside cities;
- 140 km/h (75mph) on motorways unless indicated otherwise.
The over-speeding is fined accordingly depending on the speed above the limit and the area you drive in (build-up areas or open roads). For instance, if you drive with up to 10 km/h more than what’s allowed, the fine is 20 Bulgarian leva. Higher fines are applicable for greater violations of the speed limit. Keep in mind that many main roads have speed cameras installed.
6. When outside of the city – use a vignette
A road tax in the form of Vignette is necessary if you drive outside the cities. The sticker should be placed on the bottom-right corner of the windscreen. You should keep the plastic sheet and the receipt from your vignette. The prices of vignettes for regular cars are 15 BGN for 1-week vignette, 30 BGN for a month and 97 BGN for a year. Another great thing about renting a car is that the vignette is included in the price.
7. Parking zones in Sofia
If you drive around Sofia and want to park somewhere, you have to keep in mind that the city has green and blue parking zones marked with road signs. You have to pay hourly rate by sending an SMS with your car’s license plate to 1302 for the Blue zone and 1303 for the Green zone.
Blue zone specifics: maximum parking time – 2 hours, price for 1 hour – 2 BGN, you are only charged between 08:00 and 19:00 on working days and on Saturday between 08:00 and 14:00.
Green zone specifics maximum parking time – 4 hours, price for 1 hour – 1 BGN, you are only charged between 08:00 and 19:00 on working days. It’s free on the weekends.
PART II: TOP TIPS FOR DRIVING IN BULGARIA
8. Know where you are going
Prepare a map, a GPS or anything that can help you get to your final destination. The main roads have both – Cyrillic and Latin, name of the cities, but some remote areas have only Cyrillic signs. Even if you are in a small town, people will be happy to give you directions if they understand where you are going. But most of them don’t speak English. So just write down the Bulgarian name of the place you want to visit before you go.
9. Many sites worth seeing are accessible only by car
Driving a car in Bulgaria is the most convenient way to visit the best sites and destinations in the country. Unfortunately, some of them are even accessible only by car. Or if you change several means of transportation but then you would get to your destination when you’ll have to leave. So, research in advance how to get to the place and better rent a car to get there. One of those remote places is the stunning Buzludzha monument which I recommend you to visit for a day trip from Sofia.
10. The roads are not perfect
Roads in Bulgaria are slowly improving but many of them, especially in the countryside, are still bumpy, with poor asphalt surface and missing markings. Just drive carefully and pay attention for bumps or potholes, especially at night. We advise you to get a car insurance so you can protect yourself from unexpected expenses and troubles.
11. Stop on Zebras
This may be obvious, but I remember a few years ago not a single car in Sofia stopped on Zebras to wait the pedestrians. Now, everything has changed and the police regularly fines drivers who don’t stop on walkways when a pedestrian has stepped on it. Keep that in mind and give priority to pedestrians.
12. Some drivers are reckless
Due to the lack of schooling, ethical values, experience or any other reason, some drivers in Bulgaria may be a bit more reckless. But if you drive carefully and be aware of everything around you on the road, I’m sure your driving experience in Bulgaria will be smooth.
13. In case of a problem, contact the authorities
In case you got in an accident or you have other problem you want to report, you can contact the police on 166 or on the official Bulgarian emergency line 112.
PART III: TOP PLACES TO VISIT BY CAR IN BULGARIA
After you got all you need for a flawless driving experience in Bulgaria,it’s time to get behind the wheel and start your road trip adventure. If you are looking for some interesting places to visit with your rented car, I recommend you to:
- spend a day in Plovdiv strolling around the Old Town and central alley and feel the atmosphere of one of the oldest cities in Europe.
- visit the Buzludzha monument and see one of the greatest abandoned buildings in the world looking like an UFO. I visit it myself last fall and I assure you it’s worth your time.
- hike the 7 Rila Lakes – a 2 hour drive south from Sofia will lead you to the spectacular 7 lakes in Rila. There, you can spend the day hiking and enjoying the mountain spirit surrounded by stunning views and, surprise, surprise, seven lakes.
- visit Rila Monastery – a UNESCO site and one of the most visited tourist attractions in Bulgaria – that speaks for itself.
- explore the Rhodope region – a beautiful mountain region full of natural and historical wonders including the Wonderful Bridges, Belintash, Pamporovo, Kosovo and many more.
Getting the bus or the train from one place to another in Bulgaria may not be the best option. Driving a car will let you plan your stay in the country better and explore the lesser-known but more impressive sites.
Are you ready for your first road trip in Bulgaria?
*This post was created in partnership with Top Rent A Car but all the info and opinions in it are my own and I hope they help you better plan your visit to Bulgaria.