Even though Bulgaria is one of the most cost-effective countries to visit in Europe, it boasts an amazing variety of activities for every type of adventurer. Sunbathers, snowboarders, surfers, historians, foodies, and the culturally curious alike flock to Bulgaria in order to experience it in all its beauty. Because of this, many different tours take visitors to some of the more famous sights, which can be fascinating, but sometimes to truly get a feel for a country, you have to break away from the pack and forge your own adventure. This guide will show you how to live it up like the locals do in Bulgaria.
Sleep Like A Local
Guest houses are everywhere in Bulgaria, are generally less expensive than hotels and are about as close to living locally as crashing on your Bulgarian friend’s couch—without the discomfort of actually crashing on someone’s couch. Most offer traditional home cooked meals along with your room, allowing you to experience contemporary local cuisine.
Hostels are another housing option that allows you to experience the local culture a little more first hand. Many hostels offer both bunks and private rooms, and all offer that one of a kind Bulgarian hospitality that comes with food, laughter, drink, and a smile.
Eat Like A Local
If you’re a foodie, you may want to seek out even more local food than can be found at the local guesthouse. Luckily for you, Bulgaria has no shortage of delicious local foods and many of them can be found freshly made if you do a little looking around.
Generally, breakfast is a lighter meal often consisting of just coffee and a pastry, sometimes with meat or cheese. A typical breakfast might include of banitsa, a delicious pastry that contains cheese and sometimes meat, leeks or onions, and boza, a sweet drink made from fermented wheat or barley. Because it is a fermented drink, boza does contain minute amounts of alcohol, around 1%ABV.
Lunch is a lighter meal as well and is often just a quick snack like lutenitsa, a spicy mix of peppers, tomatoes and a few other ingredients. Most commonly people will spread the spicy mixture onto bread and place cheese on top before devouring, but this mixture is extremely versatile and used in many ways throughout Bulgarian cooking, from sauces for meat to sides for your lunch salad.
Dinner is by far the most important meal in Bulgaria, often consisting of several courses and accompanied by the drinking of much Rakia earlier in the evening, and later wine or beer. Some traditional dinner dishes include gyuvech, a hearty stew named after the pot it is cooked in and meshana skara, or mixed grill.
If you need a remedy for all that Rakia the next morning, shkembe cho rba is a spicy soup that has long been used as a local cure for a hangover. Often served early in the morning with a beer to combat the spiciness, this soup is a tasty pick me up even if one hasn’t been drinking.
Drink Like A Local
If you haven’t already been offered a glass or three at the guest house you are staying in, once you’ve filled up on delicious local treats, you may decide to have a drink or two and if you want to drink like the locals, you’ll definitely come across a strong spirit called Rakia. Most Bulgarians abide by the rule of “liquor before beer, you’re in the clear. Beer before liquor, never been sicker.” As such, the evening is usually started with Rakia, a strong brandy produced from a plethora of different fruits depending on the variety.
While it is not historically proven as of yet, Rakia is thought to have originated in Bulgaria itself, and Bulgaria is currently trying to claim Rakia as its official national drink. However, as with anything steeped in a long history of local lore, there are some customs that should be observed if you want to truly drink like a local.
- Never toast with an empty glass, it is considered impolite.
- Eye contact is also important, during the first toast maintain eye contact with your toasting partner until you both have taken your first sip of the drink.
- Drink slowly, Rakia is incredibly strong. It is often served in shot glasses but it is intended to be sipped.
Beach Like A Local
While Sunny Beach sounds like the perfect place to enjoy the surf and catch some rays, it is also the most well-known beach in Bulgaria and is very often crowded with tourists. There are many less crowded beaches that will give you a much more serene and authentic experience. If you are looking for a place to lay your towel, the beach in old Sozopol is a lovely place to relax on the Black Sea. The older parts of Sozopol also have great local shops and restaurants that serve fresh seafood.
Hit the Slopes Like A Local
Since Bulgaria’s sunny beaches get most of the attention, its fantastic ski slopes tend to be a lesser-known secret frequented more by locals than tourists. But there are a few great places to catch some powder if you are visiting Bulgaria in the winter months. Borovets offers a great variety of terrain and a few spots for working on jumps and rails as well.
Celebrate Tradition Like A Local
Nestinarstvo is an ancient fire-dancing ceremony that takes place in the first week of June in Bulgaria. It involves an elaborate barefoot dance on a bed of hot coals. While some hotels and restaurants will recreate this festival, locals insist that most traditional Nestinarstvo ceremony occurs in Bulgaria, although smaller and perhaps less crowded Nestinarstvo ceremonies may take place in small villages around the Strandzha area during that time.
A person’s name day is another incredibly important tradition in Bulgaria, often held in equal reverence as one’s birthday. Children bring chocolates to school, and everyone is welcome at a name day party, no invitation needed! However, if you are planning to attend, gifts of wine or candies are appreciated.
If you are looking for an authentic local experience in Bulgaria, step off the beaten path and enjoy Bulgaria the way the locals do; with good drink, great scenery, delicious foods, and smiling faces.