The country of Bulgaria is one of the largest in the Balkan region and a popular tourist destination. It sometimes gets a bad rep because of protests and pickpockets, but don’t let that put you off, it’s a popular stop for a reason. The delicious food, welcoming locals, and cheap travel are just some of the perks visitors can experience during their time here. History buffs will especially enjoy Bulgaria, as there are countless ancient sites open for tourism.
No matter your reason for wanting to travel, Bulgaria offers a wide selection of activities to keep you busy. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some ideas to get you going.
Places to Visit
If you’re traveling to Bulgaria by air, you’ll most likely fly into the city of Sofia. As the country’s capital, it boasts a rich history and idyllic location. Resting between the Black and Adriatic Seas, it sits at the base of Vitosha Mountain and holds lots of hidden gems. It’s an ancient location, first inhabited over 30,000 years ago, making it the second oldest city in Europe. The Celts, Thracians, and Romans have all resided here. With such a lengthy and mixed background, history buffs will find plenty of places to visit.
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Some of the country’s most interesting locations include its churches and monasteries. The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, built in the early 20th century is a memorial to the soldiers who died during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877 and 1878. It’s a popular spot for tourists because of its ornate paintings of saints and religious scenes. The building is easy to pick out of the city skyline thanks to its gold-plated dome.
Devil’s Throat Cave
The Devil’s Throat Cave is said to have inspired the Greek myth of Orpheus who searches for his lover Eurydice in Hades. Whether that’s true or not, it’s a popular tourist attraction in western Bulgaria that can stimulate the imagination. The cave seems to lead straight into the depths of hell and features a winding underground river. The interesting part is that nothing that enters the cave by water ever comes through to the other side. Curiosity has led many tourists to test this.
Things to Do
Apollonia Film Festival
If you visit Bulgaria in early September, consider taking a day trip to Sozopol, a seaside town bordering the Black Sea. The Apollonia Art and Film Festival was first held here in 1984 and runs for ten days. During that time, visitors can attend jazz concerts, film showings, open-air concerts, plays, and many other events. The festival also offers master classes for improvisation, singing, acting, and various instruments. There are several activities designed for children as well.
The Rose Museum
The Rose Museum in Kazanlak originally began as a temporary exhibition. It became so popular that it eventually turned into a mini-museum. What makes it unique is that it’s the only museum in the world dedicated to the rose. Its location in Bulgaria is fitting because of the country’s centuries-long export of rose oil. The museum demonstrates various extraction methods and also offers a reproduction of a 1912 rose warehouse. Visitors can look at documents and photos outlining the history of the industry, and the gift shop offers almost anything that can be produced using rose oil.
National Palace of Culture
The Palace was the brainchild of the daughter of a former Communist Bulgarian leader. Construction was finished in 1981, coinciding with the country’s 1300th anniversary. It contains thousands of square meters of conference halls, cinemas, and gallery space. The location even occasionally hosts various concerts. The main event of the year is the New Year’s concert, which features numerous well-known individuals such as Darina Takova and Andrea Bocelli. The Palace is also famous for its cafés, street musicians, and family-friendly atmosphere.
Seven Rila Lakes
For the adventurers out there, hiking the Seven Rila Lakes is a popular activity. It can be a little tricky to get there via public transportation, especially in the winter months, but it’s only an hour and a half drive from Sofia. What makes this hiking trail unique is that visitors start at the first lake and can pass by all seven before the end of the day. These glacial lakes were all given names that reflect their individual characteristics and shapes. Probably the most amusing is the Kidney, which is exactly what it looks like from a bird’s eye view. Hikers can stop at any time to rest alongside the lakes, providing the perfect opportunity for a picnic.
Food and Drink
If you love to attend wine tastings, consider stopping at the Maryan Winery. It’s a family-owned business that sits in the foothills of the Stara Planina Mountain in the town of the same name. The winery carries a vast selection of red, white, orange, and of course, rose wines. You can also attend a tour that follows the process of winemaking and details the history of the business. Most days, the winemaker and the winery owners are around to speak to visitors.
Regardless of where you may stop to eat during your visit to Bulgaria, you’re sure to find this highly addictive traditional pastry. Banitza is prepared by layering whisked eggs and cheese between layers of filo dough and then baking it in the oven. Served hot or cold, it looks a bit like a cinnamon roll or cheese danish and goes great with coffee.
Located north of Sunny Beach, Khan’s Tent offers more than just traditional Bulgarian cuisine. It sits high above sea level, offering patrons an incredible view of the surrounding area. The restaurant is open every day and well into the late hours of the night, and it caters to most dietary requirements, including vegan and gluten-free. The menu is family-friendly, offering options to children as well as a full bar for the adults. It can be a bit pricey, but the tickets include plenty of food, drink, and even live entertainment in the form of music or dinner theater.