Bulgaria Tours and Travel Guide
Bulgaria Attractions & Landmarks Guide
Filled with historical ruins, rugged mountains, ancient cities, and a unique cuisine, Bulgaria is a country on the brink of stardom. From the stunning hiking trails of the Rila Mountains to the medieval fortress in Veliko Tarnovo to the bustling bistros of Sofia, Bulgaria will dazzle all of your senses and keep you coming back for more.
Why Visit Bulgaria on a Tour
One of the main reasons you should visit Bulgaria on the tour is the language barrier. Bulgarian can be a challenging language to understand and read. Additionally, only about 25% of Bulgarians speak English. Learning some key phrases and words in Bulgarian can help, but having those expert guides who can help you navigate the restaurants and shops will be invaluable.
Surprisingly to many, Bulgaria has a very long and diverse past. Bulgaria is actually home to one of the most prosperous ancient civilizations in the world, the Thracians. Their history, along with thousands of years of occupation, has given Bulgaria a detailed and extensive past.
Learning all of this or trying to see the best spots on your own is daunting, but tours to Bulgaria offer you the chance to see the main attractions and delve deeper into Bulgaria’s past.
Bulgarian culture is a result of a combination of a variety of civilizations and cultures. With influences from Greece, Thrace, Rome, the Ottoman Empire, the Slavic people, and Russia, Bulgaria’s way of life is distinct in the Balkans.
Bulgaria has played an important role in the world since the country’s beginnings. The country is home to large amounts of Thracian gold treasures, was a major political and economic power during the Middle Ages, where the Cyrillic alphabet was created, and has made multiple contributions to the arts and music.
Another claim to fame is that Bulgaria is considered The Rose Capital of the world. The Rose Valley in Bulgaria produces over 80% of the world’s rose oil which is used in soap, perfume, and as a stress reliever. You’ll find countless rose bushes and vines in every part of the country, especially during the spring when the flowers begin to bloom.
Common Bulgaria Tour Routes
There are three common tour routes of Bulgaria: Bulgaria-only tours, Bulgaria outdoor tours, and tours when Bulgaria is included with other Eastern European or Balkan countries.
For guided tours of Bulgaria, you’ll often begin and end your journey in Sofia. You’re route typically will follow a counterclockwise path taking you through Rila Monastery on your way to Plovdiv, Varna on the coast, northern city of Veliko Tarnovo, and back towards Sofia. These tours hit all of the major sites and sounds that make up Bulgaria’s unique culture.
An adventure tour of Bulgaria usually takes place in the mountains of western Bulgaria or in the Balkan Mountains. Hiking tours or snowshoeing tours of the Rila Mountains outside of Sofia are a common destination for these adventurous and picturesque routes.
With Bulgaria’s central location in Southeastern Europe, Bulgaria is often included in tours of other countries in the area such as Romania, Turkey, Greece, Hungary, and Serbia. These tours last a couple of weeks and don’t spend as much time in Bulgaria as the above tours, but are an opportunity to see more of this region of the world.
Cities in Bulgaria
While countries like India or Poland have what they call “The Golden Triangle” of cities to visit, Bulgaria has more of a “Golden Diamond.” Bulgaria has four main cities that are included on guided tours of Bulgaria for their rich past and importance to the growth of Bulgaria.
The capital of Bulgaria, Sofia has something to offer everyone. With medieval Byzantine churches, funky cafes, retro Communist buildings, and public parks around every corner, Sofia is a bustling blend of each era of Bulgaria’s past.
One of the oldest cities in the world, Plovdiv is a hotbed of ancient civilizations. Considered the cultural capital of Bulgaria, Plovdiv is spread out across seven hills and is the home of some of the country’s oldest ancient ruins.
Bulgaria’s Black Sea mainstay, Varna is a summer oasis in Southeastern Europe. Locals and travelers visit during the warm months to take in the beautiful weather of the sea, relax on the beaches, and stroll down the romantic seaside promenade.
4. Veliko Tarnovo
Bulgaria’s medieval center, Veliko Tarnovo was the ruling seat for the Second Bulgarian Empire. Nestled atop the bluffs above the Yantra River, the city harkens back to Bulgaria’s power and prestige during medieval times and is a great base for day trips into the surrounding villages.
Not unlike the rest of Bulgarian culture, Bulgarian cuisine is the culmination of many cultures and peoples. You’ll find traditional Bulgarian dishes, but also influences and cooking styles from Turkey, Greece, and other Balkan countries.
Traditional meals typically begin with a shopska, or salad, and the main course is based around a stew featuring a main meat and a variety of vegetables.
Grilled meat, especially sausage, is a main staple in Bulgarian diet, as is yogurt, stuffed pastries, the cold soup tarator, and cheese. Bulgarian dishes are noted for their bold flavors from the paprika, garlic, black pepper, thyme, and rosemary that are commonly used.
Wine is a common drink to have with your dinner, but Bulgaria’s most iconic alcoholic beverage is "rakia". Rakia is a fruit brandy produced in the Balkans and is a staple in Bulgaria. The brandy isn’t for the faint of heart, some rakia can be as potent as 40 - 50% proof!
Adventure tours to Bulgaria are growing in numbers. With much of the country dominated by the Balkan Mountains, Bulgaria has become a major hiking and skiing destination. Travelers can hike throughout the Rila Mountains or the Rhodope Mountains in the east or choose a slower, easier vacation by visiting the beaches on the Black Sea Coast.
Bulgaria is also home to numerous national parks and preserves. Some of the country’s stunning natural wonders are the Rila Lakes, the naturally-formed Melnik Pyramids, and Pirin National Park.
If you are out hiking and exploring Bulgaria’s natural wonders you may come across some of the country’s commonly spotted wildlife. Bears, foxes, vultures, and rabbits can be found when hiking in the mountains. On the coast you may find pelicans or dolphins swimming in the sea. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll see a local favorite of Bulgaria in the woods or even in the cities, the adorable hedgehog.
Bulgaria has over 2,500 caves with more still being discovered. With such a rugged landscape, caving has become a major activity for travelers visiting Bulgaria.
A few of the most popular caves in Bulgaria are:
1. Devil’s Throat Cave
One of the largest in Bulgaria, Devil’s Throat Cave is the stuff of legends. Considered by many as the inspiration of some of the myths of ancient Greece and Thrace, the cave is a natural phenomena with large caverns and long underground river.
Devetashka Cave is a karst cave in northern Bulgaria that has been occupied for thousands of years and is a major faunal and floral sanctuary in Bulgaria. Multiple protected species, such as the European trea frog, call this cave home. The cave’s most famous occupants are the some 30,000 bats that reside in the caverns.
Located in the Rhodope Mountains, Snezhanka Cave (“Snow White”) is small compared to others, but what the cave lacks in size it makes up for in wonder. Snezhanka Cave is home to beautiful and stunning stalactites and stalagmites formations. The Wonderful Hall in the cave even has a naturally created formation that resembles Snow White, which is how the cave came by the name.
Bulgaria’s ice cave, Ledenika Cave is located in the Balkan Mountains and has been open to the public since 1961. Ledenika is considered the ice cave of Bulgaria because of colder temperatures that create ice stalactite and stalagmite formations instead of the salt creations in the other caves.
Things to Know Before You Go
Where is Bulgaria?
Bulgaria is located in Southeastern Europe, more commonly called the Balkans. Neighboring countries are Romania, Serbia, North Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey. Bulgaria’s eastern bordern is shared with the Black Sea.
Weather in Bulgaria
Bulgaria’s weather is what is called a “continental” climate. This means the winters are cold and the summers are warm. However, with Bulgaria’s eastern coastline dominated by the Black Sea, this part of the country can be slightly cooler than the rest of Bulgaria at certain times of the year.
Winter in Bulgaria can be cold and windy. If you are skiing in the Balkan Mountains that run through Bulgaria during the winter be prepared for high amounts of snow. For those traveling in the lower lands of the country, there will be less snow and the temperatures will be slightly warmer.
Spring and fall are both ideal times to visit Bulgaria. The temperatures are mild with very little rainfall. These times of the year do see some dramatic weather changes, especially in the spring. If you are traveling during the shoulder months, make sure to pack layers in case the weather suddenly takes a turn.
The summer months in Bulgaria can be very warm and still. Temperatures can reach above 90 with some days even above 100 degrees.
Is Bulgaria Safe?
Yes, it is! Bulgaria is a very safe country to visit. Solo travelers should feel comfortable walking around the major cities of Sofia and Plovdiv. However, it is always recommended to extend caution at night and in busy tourist areas as pickpocketing is known to occasionally occur.
What is the Currency?
Bulgaria uses the Bulgarian lev. Like many countries, Bulgaria uses a combination of coins and banknotes.
Their coins are called stotika, or stotinki, and are valued at 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50. If it helps when visiting, you can think of stotinki as cents when asking for prices. Something to pay attention to is the Bulgarian notes start out at 5. The 1 and 2 leva are in coin form. This may be slightly confusing for those who come from a country where the smaller whole amounts are in bills.
The Bulgarian language is distinct in Southeastern Europe and can seem confusing to visitors. Bulgarian is a Slavic language, but their alphabet uses Latin letters, along with Cyrillic letters. However, if you’ve taken Latin in school you may find you don’t understand Bulgarian as the Latin letters used in Bulgarian are are pronounced differently.
As Bulgarian can be difficult for some to learn and read, there are a few key phrases to remember when visiting:
- Hello = Zdravei (zdra-vey); also common is Dobar den (Doh-bra denh)
- Thank you = Blagodarya (Blah-goh-da-rya)
- Yes = Da (Dah)
- No = Ne (Neh)
- How much is it? = Kolko struva? (Kol-koh stroo-vah)
- Please = Molya (mol-yah)
- How are you? = Kak si (kak see)
Essential Tips to Traveling in Bulgaria
With Bulgaria’s vast countryside, long history, and amazing architecture, there will be no issue filling up your day. Here are a few tips to help you navigate your vacation in Bulgaria and make your time there even more enjoyable:
- Learn some of the language: Take some of the key phrases from above and use them! You will find many older Bulgarians do not speak English and knowing some important phrases will go a long way.
- Signals for Yes and No are different: In Bulgaria, like in Greece, nodding does not mean yes, but actually means no.
- Carry cash with you: Most international stores and some cafes in Bulgaria will take cards, but in the small shops and restaurants, cash is the most common form of payment. This is especially true if you visit any of the local markets.
- Bus travel it is!: Like the rest of the Balkans, bus travel is the main form of transportation. The buses run frequently between the larger cities in Bulgaria and to the surrounding countries.
- Water in Bulgaria: Water in Bulgaria is safe to drink. If you are concerned, you can buy bottled water or use water cleansing tablets.
- Tipping: Tipping is standard in Bulgaria for restaurants and hotel staff.
- Converters: If you are visiting from the United States or Canada, make sure to bring a converter for your electronics. Bulgarian sockets are a Type F as where the U.S. and Canada are Type A and B.
Who Will Enjoy Traveling in Bulgaria?
Firstly, travelers who are looking for an off-the-beaten path or a less visited destination. Bulgaria is growing in popularity amongst travelers as an affordable, but culturally rich destination with an interesting history, cuisine, and stunning landscapes.
Bulgaria has a history that in some cities dates back to before Ancient Rome and Greece. History buffs will love the countless Greek, Roman, Thracian, Bulgarian, and Ottoman ruins that are scattered throughout the countryside. Along with the more modern churches and Cold War era buildings in Sofia and Plovdiv.
Bulgaria is a nature lover’s dream, no matter if you are into winter or summer activities. With the Balkan Mountains running down the center of Bulgaria, you can hike the trails during the summer or go skiing down the slopes in the winter. You can also go paragliding outside of Sofia, kayak the Kamchia River, or laze around on the beaches in Varna.
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