With a mixture of old and new, Bulgaria gives travellers a chance to explore a vibrant and attractive part of the Balkans that boasts rich folklore traditions mixed with a variety of stimulating activities. Marketed as an affordable alternative to the Eurozone, Bulgaria draws more and more visitors to its ski-slopes each winter. Its long, sandy Black Sea beaches are becoming an increasingly popular summer destination. But there is much more to Bulgaria than its cheap resorts. Outside of the ski-season, Bulgaria’s mountains and forests make an exciting playground for hikers, trekkers, climbers, mountain-kers and horse-riders. Nature-enthusiasts will find a vast range of flora and fauna, thanks to Bulgaria’s mix of continental, Mediterranean and steppe terrain, with birds, butterflies and bats being particularly numerous. And it’s well-worth exploring Bulgaria’s timber-framed heritage villages and historic towns, where you’ll find a lively mix of Ottoman mosques, Orthodox Churches and Roman ruins.
Traditionally in Bulgaria, shaking your head means yes and a nod means no. However, some Bulgarians know to wag or nod their heads in the “normal” way when talking to foreign visitors.
The best time to visit Bulgaria depends on what you want to do.
Skiing and other snow-based activities take place from December to March. Summer (mid-June – early-September) is ideal for hiking and festivals but the beaches on the coast are packed with holiday-makers and Bulgaria’s interior can be oppressively hot.
Birdwatchers should arrive in May or early June to see European species nesting and in September or October to see migrating Asian ones.
Late September is generally a good time to visit: temperatures are pleasant in the interior, trees dazzle with their autumn colours and you can still swim in the Black Sea.
Sofia (SOF), 10km from the city; Varna (VAR), 9km from the city; Bourgas (BOR), 13km from the city.
Transport between cities and towns in Bulgaria is cheap but slow.
For train timetables see Bulgarian State Railways. Bus services are run by various private companies.
If you can’t bear the eight-hour bus journey from Sofia to the Coast, Bulgaria Air fly's between Sofia and Varna and Burgas.
Renting a car is the best way to explore rural Bulgaria. There are hire outlets all over the country.
Most towns have a good network of buses and taxis.
Hundreds of new hotels are opening up in Bulgaria’s major cities and resorts, though un-renovated relics from the days of communism are still numerous. Private rooms are a cheap option and offer a glimpse into real Bulgarian life.
Some monasteries offer accommodation to tourists of either sex as well as pilgrims.
Trekkers can book beds in Bulgaria’s numerous hizha (mountain huts) through the Bulgarian Tourist Union.
Home-grown Balkan traditions mix with Turkish and Greek influence in Bulgarian cuisine.
Typical dishes include shopska salad (tomato, cucumber and feat cheese), kavarma (a spicy, goulash-style pork stew) and gyuvech (meat, peppers and aubergines cooked in an earthenware pot). Don’t miss the delicious traditional banitsa pastries.
The red No Man’s Land wine – from vineyards reclaimed from the no-man’s land that used to separate the Eastern Bloc from the West – is good. Redark is better. Rakia – the national spirit – is a potent brandy distilled from grapes, and sometimes, apricots and plums.
No vaccinations are required, though it’s worth checking your tetanus jab is up to date.
In some parts of Bulgaria there is a small risk of contracting tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme disease – consider insect repellent. The tap water is safe to drink here.
If you are an EU citizen, a European Health Insurance Card covers you for most medical care. Bulgarian physicians are well-trained and competent but facilities can fall below Western standards, so it’s best to fly home in case of anything serious.
Love travel quizzes, events and competitions? Then sign up today for free so you don’t miss out!