An Extensive Travel Guide to Bulgaria

An Extensive Travel Guide to Bulgaria

By Kristin L.Trip Guides

You’ve made the right choice. Adding Bulgaria to your travel list, or even considering it, is a decision you will not regret. Bulgaria appeals to all types of wanderlust: outdoor lovers, beachgoers, culture and history buffs, foodies, and foreigners who enjoy being immersed in a place where they can’t read the signs or understand what people are saying (unless you’re Bulgarian or can read the Cyrillic alphabet). It sounds like a cliché, but Bulgaria truly has something for everyone. We’ve compiled this extensive guide to help you plan your ideal trip to this Balkan destination.

Disclosure: This post contains references to products or services from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you buy one of these products or services. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Seven Rila Lakes hiking in Bulgaria

Seven Rila Lakes hiking in Bulgaria

About Bulgaria

Surely, you’ve heard of the country Bulgaria before, but could you place it on a map? Do you know what the geography is like (spoiler: it’s ideal for outdoor adventurers) and what kind of cuisine they serve? This extensive travel guide will inform you about all things Bulgaria, from travel tips on how much to budget to the best ways to get around and, of course, the country’s must-visit list. We include some epic adventure trips, too, for those who need a kick of inspiration.

Here’s a non-exhaustive summary of Bulgaria. Notably, Bulgaria has been around for millennia—the first Bulgarian Empire was established in 681 AD. You can assume just from that three-digit-date that the country has seen a lot of history, been under several different leaders, and has a rich tapestry of culture as a result. The fun fact is, it has always been named Bulgaria. The Bulgarian language has evolved, like all languages, but it has remained the same since the region’s inception.

Geographically, Bulgaria acts as a middle point between eastern Europe and the western Asia. It’s surrounded by Turkey, Greece, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Romania, with an inviting coastline on the Black Sea (in order from the southeast going counter-clockwise). Unlike other countries in the Balkan Peninsula that gained independence from the collapse of former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria announced independence in 1908 from the Ottoman Empire.

When you travel to this undeniably fascinating country, you’ll enter into a world of tangible history. Speak to one of the seven million locals and learn their stories over a glass of potent brandy known as rakia. You can customize your trip to Bulgaria however you see fit, whether you want to hike, trek, swim, bike, learn, eat, drink—the possibilities are limitless. This extensive guide should give you a solid footing to plan your trip to Bulgaria, on a specific route in the country, or on an adventure tour.

Best Places to Visit in Bulgaria

You may want to read this section twice because the names of towns, landmarks, and mountains don’t always give English clues as to what they are just by looking at the name. Our tip? Read through and jot down what jumps out at you to help formulate your trip to Bulgaria.

Rila National Park

We’ll start with the mountains, because, well, you can guess why! Mountains are what draw us all to new destinations. The geography of Rila National Park is enough reason to add Bulgaria to your travel list. The Rila Mountains comprise several breathtaking trails leading to alpine lakes among grassy peaks with views for miles.

Walking through Rila National Park overwhelms your senses with stop-in-your-tracks views, fragrant floral meadows, and ideal hiking conditions from June to September. For hikers, the classic Seven Rila Lakes hike draws the biggest crowds. It’s a hit for sure, but one of our favourite trails climbs up Malyovitsa Mountain, a staple in Bulgarian mountaineering and a challenge well worth the effort. To reach one of the mystical lakes in this area, head out on the Yonchevo Lake Hike and prepare to be stunned by its beauty. Stay in the rustic mountain huts for some nourishing meals, or choose a luxury resort in Borovets for supreme comfort. We could blabber on about Rila National Park forever—it’s that impressive!

Russian church of Kazanlak Bulgaria

Russian church of Kazanlak Bulgaria

Rila Monastery

Within the confines of Rila National Park exists one of the most significant cultural spots in Bulgaria. The Rila Monastery deserves its own section in this travel guide. Even though it draws the most tourists and can get super crowded during high season, it is worth it—and it’s enormous, so chances are you’ll be able to find some breathing room to admire this spiritual hub. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Rila Monastery, was founded in the tenth century by St. Ivan of Rila. This hermit lived in a cave near the current site, and the immense religious building was constructed by students who came to study under the man. About 300 rooms filled the monastery, many of which housed monks and others that acted as drawing rooms, libraries, dining rooms, hospitals, and chapels. You’ll want to book a whole day here, even though a lifetime wouldn’t be long enough to admire the paintings, frescoes, construction, and surroundings.

Pirin National Park

South of Rila National Park sits another protected area perfect for adventurers year-round. Pirin National Park boasts epic hiking and biking trails during summer and turns into a winter playground for snow-lovers when the ground is covered in fresh snow. Head here to be immersed in nature among scenery filled with hundreds of peaks, a shocking number of lakes (176!), wildlife roaming freely, and panoramic views. Trails wind to all kinds of impressive places, like the highest mountain in the Pirin range, Mount Vihren, at 2,914 m. Beginners can step into this surreal mountain world by heading to Mount Polejan, where the vistas will inevitably make you feel small in this vast, natural world. Bansko sits within Pirin National park, where snow-lovers flock to its charming ski resort for mulled wine and epic lines, and thrillseekers head on two wheels when they want some gnarly downhill excitement. If you’re travelling to Bulgaria for outdoor adventure, you must, 1000%, add Pirin National Park to your itinerary.

Rhodope Mountains

After reading about Rila and Pirin, how could there possibly be more epic mountains in Bulgaria, you ask? Well, that’s the nature of things! The Rhodope Mountains straddle the Bulgarian-Greek border and offer adventurers a limitless natural playground, especially hiking and mountain biking. The Trigrad Gorge carves through vertical marble rocks lending to prime biking and hiking journeys. Venture to the Devil’s Throat Cave that might make you feel as though you ate too many Alice in Wonderland potions. Visit both of these spots on the Cycling Tour in the Rhodope Mountains. For a respite from the mountains, head to Zlatograd, a small town near the Greek border, full of adorable houses tucked into the lush forest.

Sofia

A must-visit list of Bulgaria cannot exist without Sofia, the capital. Not far from Bulgaria’s mountain ranges, the capital city holds territory in the western part of the country, about six hours drive from the Black Sea coast on the east. For culture buffs, a few days in Sofia will fill your cup easily. The capital city is home to the National Palace of Culture, the Serdica Amphitheatre, the National Archaeological Museum, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, and the National Opera and Ballet of Bulgaria. Take yourself on a gastronomic tour and try Bulgaria’s finest local dishes.

Tryavna Bulgaria cobblestone streets

Tryavna Bulgaria cobblestone streets

Nessebar

Now, let’s head to the coast. The Black Sea coastline in Bulgaria has a handful of fantastic seaside towns, many of which are steeped in history. Nessebar, recognized for its unique peninsula that houses its Old Town, offers weary travellers a tranquil place to relax. Feel the sea breeze while you stroll the cobblestone streets of the Old Town and pretend you’ve walked back in time hundreds of years. Visit the ancient windmill, fortress, and churches that remind visitors of this area’s past. And, as any beach destination offers, hit the sandy shores to chill or go kitesurfing, surfing, or scuba diving. After your full day of activities, fuel up with fresh seafood.

Sozopol

During summer, Sozopol shines as a coveted getaway. It’s one of the oldest settlements on the Bulgarian coast and has been an artistic hub for centuries. The authentic charm remains palpable in the Old Town, the restaurant menus exceed expectations, and accommodation could be anything from luxury hotels to cutesy villas. To the north of this beach resort, Nessebar sits across Burgas Bay, and you can take a ferry between the two seaside towns. A nice half-day trip from Sozopol takes you to the Ravadinovo Castle, a unique attraction that looks like a medieval castle. It was built in the late 20th century, a project spearheaded by one man, Georgi Kostadinov Tumpalov.

Pobiti Kamani and Pliska

Are you interested in phenomenal rock formations? Great! Head to Pobiti Kamani, which is just east of Varna, the largest city on the coast. This stone dessert, or fossil forest, holds UNESCO recognition. The rock formations are mainly stone columns filled with sand, which could occur from sandstorms and twisters. This area is one of the only desert areas in Europe, stretching 13 square kilometres. If you want to see cacti and desert reptiles in Bulgaria and be wowed by these natural rocks, don’t miss Pobiti Kamani. Not far from here, you can visit the first capital of the Bulgarian Empire, now an archaeological site of ruins, Pliska.

Kazanlak and the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak

Kazanlak and its surroundings abound with attractions and delights. The city itself is nestled in the Rose Valley, where an exorbitant amount of the world’s rose oil is produced. You can observe the harvest in May and June on your own or experience a celebration of the fragrant flower at the yearly rose festival at the end of May. Just outside the city centre, the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak attracts visitors for its ancient wonder. Built between the fourth and third centuries BCE, the tomb belonged to a Thracian ruler and has works of art preserved from the early Hellenistic period.

UNESCO site Pobiti Kamani ruins

UNESCO site Pobiti Kamani ruins

Tryavna

Tryavna may not be at the top of everyone’s Bulgaria trip itinerary, but if you love old-world charm and enchanting villages, Tryavna delivers. In central Bulgaria, tucked between undulating forested areas, this adorable town awaits. Spend a day or two wandering the centre, where you’ll encounter lovely things like the street of crafts, an alleyway designated for local artisans, the old bridge and clock tower straight from a fairy tale, and several homes that belong or belonged to Bulgarian artists and poets. When you get peckish, try the local version of chocolate, known as pestil, made from dried plums. Let the charm of this town sink in as you sip on a locally-brewed beer enhanced with Bulgarian spices.

Belogradchik Fortress

In Bulgaria’s northwestern corner, the Belogradchik Fortress marks a significant spot that dates back to the Roman Empire. The construction crew was very savvy as they picked a site that was naturally protected by several rock formations—only two sides of the fortress were human-made. During the Ottoman Empire, the Bulgarian territory strengthened its bases, and this fortress was reinforced. Again, during the Serbo-Bulgarian War in 1885, the military revived the Belogradchik Fortress one last time. Now, it stands as a monument to Bulgaria’s history, and it is pretty darn fascinating to see how they incorporated nature to protect their land.

Koprivshtitsa

If you’re heading from Sofia to the coast by bus or car, consider including a stopover in Koprivshtitsa. This enchanting village will pluck your heartstrings immediately upon seeing its colourful houses with verdant forested backdrops. You can easily spend a day meandering through the museums, the Bulgarian revival-style architecture, and walking up several stairs to the statue of Georgie Benkovski, a Bulgarian revolutionary. Koprivshtitsa is the birthplace of many poets, artists, rebels, and artisans. And, it’s arguably one of the prettiest villages in Bulgaria.

Veliko Tarnovo

Last, but certainly not least, is Veliko Tarnovo, a city packed with history and an impressive fortress of the tsars. The Tsarevets Fortress draws visitors in to admire this ancient complex built over the town. Take a walking tour to discover the local perspective, street art, and stop when you find a perfect view of the Yantra River. On a day trip from Veliko Tarnovo, you can visit the Devetashka Cave, a magnificent cave system with skylights formed from rock. The cave area is said to have over 70,000 years of human habitation.

Rila Monastery Church Nativity Of The Virgin Mother

Rila Monastery Church Nativity Of The Virgin Mother

Best Things to Do in Bulgaria

On top of the sightseeing, cultural, and historical lessons to learn while exploring Bulgaria, it’s also an absolute must-visit for outdoor adventurers. With three primary mountain ranges filled with hiking and biking trails, which turn into ski slopes come winter, you can keep your heart pumping year-round in this remarkable country.

Hiking and Backpacking

It would be a shame to visit Bulgaria and not visit several of its majestic peaks. With the Rhodope, Pirin, and Rila Mountains cutting through the country, hikers and trekkers will enjoy the plethora of alpine lakes, backcountry gems, hot springs, endless views, fragrant meadows, and total solitude when you venture far enough. Hiking and backpacking are so prevalent in Bulgaria that rustic mountain huts dot the trails for trekking convenience. No need to carry cumbersome camping gear!

Winter Activities

If you don’t care for substantial summer crowds of tourists and don’t mind chilly temperatures, Bulgaria in winter truly is a wonderland! For skiers and snowboarders, head to Bansko or Borovets for some world-class powder. Even if you’re not looking for an exhilarating drop, you’ll find some heart-warming (and body-warming) activities. Visit a Christmas market and sip on some mulled wine, go ice skating on one of the many rinks that pop up in the winter, or head to a spa resort for the classic hot/cold experience with hot baths and cold air.

Mountain Biking and Cycling

Whether you want single tracks, wooden bridges, and thrilling downhill rides, or cruisy road cycling routes, you’ll find something that suits your two-wheel style in Bulgaria. You’ll find excellent city and road trail networks around Sofia, Samakof, and Varna, encompassing different regions in the country. In the Rhodope Mountains, you can visit the Beglika Reservoir, a world-class mountain biking hub. There are a few downhill spots that involve chair lifts: just outside of Sofia, you can easily reach Vitosha Mountain for some gnarly downhill tracks; Sopot has some scenic ridges, steep routes, and big drops; and the famous Rila Mountains have incredible trails winding through the idyllic scenery that will lift your spirits even when you’re out of breath.

Cultural Activities and Sightseeing

If you’ve read through the previous section on Best Places to Visit in Bulgaria, you’ll know there’s no shortage of awe-inspiring sights. Bulgaria boasts 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 7 of which are cultural. These include the Boyana Church, Madara Rider, the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak, and the Rila Monastery, to name a few. The sites are chock-full of history and will most certainly overwhelm you with a sense of amazement to admire such places. The tentative list keeps growing, too, so don’t be surprised if the UNESCO list of 10 increases in the next few years.

Rhodope mountains stone arc bridge

Rhodope mountains stone arc bridge

Great Adventure Trips in Bulgaria

With an ideal landscape for outdoor activities, adventure trips in Bulgaria will not disappoint. Whether it’s summer or winter, you’ll find a tour that suits your interests. Think hiking in the unrelenting stretches of mountains in Pirin and Rila Nationals Parks, to weaving in and out of Bulgaria on a bike to see some neighbouring countries as well. Browse through the following tours and pay attention as Bulgaria climbs to the top of your bucket list.

Grand Tour of Bulgarian Mountains

If the highlights are what you’re after, this 15-day discovery tour delivers. You’ll hit the three main mountain ranges—Rila, Pirin, and Rhodope—for some mind-blowing hiking excursions, including the Seven Lakes Hike and Marble Ridge. You’ll also visit some mineral pools, then round out the itinerary with a city tour of the fascinating capital, Sofia.

Rhodope Mountain Biking Tour

Arguably the best way to explore the Rhodope Mountains is by mountain bike. There’s a fantastic network of trails at your disposal, and with your local guide, you’ll be riding the best of the best, including an epic journey to Devil’s Throat Cave. For eight jam-packed days, you’ll be ripping and roaring through forested peaks and valleys, then get to immerse in quaint Bulgarian village culture each evening.

Ski Touring in Bulgaria

Bulgaria welcomes tourists any time of year, and ski tour aficionados will be stoked to know that Bulgaria boasts some incredible backcountry terrain. You should have prior ski touring knowledge for this epic 8-day adventure. You’ll discover two pristine areas in the Rila and Pirin Mountains and get to soak your weary muscles in the Sapareva Banya hot springs. The accommodations are a mix of rustic mountain huts that you’ll ski to and a hotel with an inviting bar for your après ski.

The Summits and Ridges of Bulgaria Tour

This 8-day tour is a wonderful blend of trekking to huts and staying in quaint villages while you’re not hiking. Get a well-rounded experience of Bulgaria’s summits and ridges as you explore the Rila and Pirin Mountains. You’ll be fully immersed in Bulgarian warmth and hospitality at the various family-run guesthouses. And the name of the tour does not lie—you’ll hike to absolutely breathtaking viewpoints like Mount Malyovitsa and Mount Vihren.

North Macedonia, Greece and Bulgaria Hiking Tour

On this exceptional 11-day journey, you get to visit three countries! Start in North Macedonia to go spelunking, then head into Greece to walk among the tangibly mythological peaks like Mount Olympus. When you cross into Bulgaria, you’ll visit Bansko, a popular ski resort town, and get to trek to the famous Seven Lakes in the Rila Mountains. For a quick trip through the Balkans, this tour will stick in your mind forever.

Ravadinovo Castle near Sozopol

Ravadinovo Castle near Sozopol

Bulgaria’s Outdoors

If you can’t already tell from this travel guide, Bulgaria is a year-round adventure destination, mainly due to its geography and nature. About one-third of the country is covered by forests, and it has 7 mountain ranges, 3 national parks, 11 nature parks, and 55 nature reserves. The country’s geography includes almost everything an outdoor lover could want, and the biodiversity shows how well Bulgarians take care of their precious land and its inhabitants.

Geography

Bulgaria’s topography includes an array of landscapes for a relatively small country, from peaks topping 2,925 m to sandy shores at Black Sea level. In the west, the snow-capped mountain ranges run along its border and appear to spill out over the southern and central regions with the Rhodope Mountains and Balkan Range, respectively. You’ll find the transitional area in central Bulgaria, which encompasses plains, plateaus, gorges, hills, and a tiny bit of desert. Along the Black Sea coastline, which stretches for 378.0 km, rocky outcrops create the shore with several sandy beaches lining the bays.

Biodiversity

No surprises here! Bulgaria tops the charts for biodiversity among European countries—what else would you expect when species have so much protected land where they can roam freely? With a staggering 42,000 species variants (almost half of which are insects), you are sure to encounter wildlife among the biodiverse landscapes. Look out for bears, bats, wolves, wild boars, hedgehogs, storks, and red foxes.

Bulgaria Travel Costs

Bulgaria is not a booming tourist destination since travellers opt for more well-known places like Italy and Austria, so your budget for Bulgaria needs not be too extravagant. For the mid-range traveller, this country is a perfect destination to mix with the locals while treating yourself to some nicer accommodations. For your trip, whether it’s a short week or a digital nomad move, you can expect to spend between $30–$175 CAD per day. Of course, you will have to factor in your activities and travel style, whether you’re renting long term, buying groceries, or eating out for all your meals.

Bulgaria is part of the EU but not part of the Eurozone—the group of countries using the Euro for currency. You’ll have to withdraw local lev as Bulgaria is still primarily a cash-based economy. You’ll especially need hard currency when visiting smaller towns and off-the-beaten-path destinations. If you don’t want to carry a bunch of cash, you can easily find ATMs in all major cities and most smaller ones. On top of that, some larger businesses will happily accept your credit and debit cards. (Prices will vary throughout Bulgaria, so we’ve listed the average costs. All prices are listed in Canadian Dollars and based on single-occupancy.)

Accommodation

Cheap: $18/night
Mid-range: $41/night
Luxury: $84/night

Pirin National Park Bulgaria

Pirin National Park Bulgaria

Restaurant Meal

Cheap: $5
Mid-range: $15
Luxury: $30

Food (groceries)

Cheap: $7/day
Mid-range: $18/day
Luxury: $50/day

Daily Transportation

Cheap: $7/day
Mid-range: $15/day
Luxury: $38/day

Intercity Transportation

Cheap: $15
Mid-range: $40
Luxury: $110

Entertainment

Cheap: $5/day
Mid-range: $11/day
Luxury: $27/day

Nessebar Church Of Saint Sophia Ruins

Nessebar Church Of Saint Sophia Ruins

Alcohol and Coffee

Domestic beer 500ml: $1.50
Import beer 350ml: $2.30
Cappuccino: $1.80

Tipping

Travelers in Bulgaria generally tip between 5% and 15% of their bill, depending on the service and their customer experience. Tipping is expected from visitors, and although it’s not mandatory, it’s very much appreciated. You may even get faster service if you return to the same restaurant and they remember your generosity.

Bulgaria Travel Safety

You don’t have to hold your breath any longer! Bulgaria is a safe country. The people are hospitable, friendly, and willing to help visitors feel welcome in their country. Crime stays low, public protests are rare, and Bulgarians aren’t big on military conflicts. Even though the population comprises several religious elements, everyone happily coexists.

That said, you should be aware when you travel anywhere that there’s always a risk. Some safety issues to take particular note of when travelling in Bulgaria are common in many places:

  • Inflated exchange rates, where exchange houses will try to sneak in an extra digit and scam you for a few extra bucks.
  • When spending money at restaurants or bars, always double-check your bill—some cashiers may throw on a few extra items hoping that you won’t notice.
  • Do your best to avoid dark alleys—not that muggings are common in Bulgaria, but you would do the same thing at home, right?
  • If you’re taking taxis, make sure they’re legitimate.
  • LGBTQ+ travellers may wish to refrain from public displays of affection. While homosexuality is not illegal, Bulgaria tends to be socially conservative.
  • Natural disasters can happen anywhere. In Bulgaria, you might encounter earthquakes, flash floods during May and June, and wildfires from June to September in certain areas.

When in doubt, speak to your hosts and get local safety information. They can tell you the places to avoid and how to stay safe. If something unfortunate happens, always obtain insurance before you travel. We have been using World Nomads for years—they offer excellent coverage geared towards nomadic folks and travellers.

Best Time to Visit Bulgaria

Due to its geographical location, Bulgaria sees four seasons of distinct weather patterns, with the lowest lows reaching -5°C and the highest high hovering around 32°C. The best time to visit will depend on your reasons for travelling. Bansko, Borovets, and Pamporovo’s popular ski resorts draw hordes of snow-lovers during winter; the Black Sea coast hosts sunseekers all summer long; late spring and early fall are both great seasons to explore the mountains. If you’re on a budget, be aware that business will raise their prices during the high season from June to August. To catch some summer sun without breaking the bank, consider travelling to Bulgaria in May or September.

Malyovitsa Mountain hut

Malyovitsa Mountain hut

Best Ways to Get Around Bulgaria

Overall, the best (and cheapest) way to get around Bulgaria is by bus. This is usually the case for most European countries, especially with reliable services like FlixBus with destinations to cities all over the Balkans and farther west. Your itinerary might take a day or two of planning just to make sure you can reserve a ticket. To reach smaller towns, you can support the local Bulgarian bus companies, Biomet, Etap-Grup, and Union-Ivkoni Links. Bus rides around the country will range in price from $15 to $23 CAD. Not bad!

In Sofia, the cheapest way to explore the city is through the subway system and public transportation. Taxis are readily available, but as we mentioned in the safety sections, there’s a possibility that your taxi is not legitimate. In other larger cities, you’ll find trollies and trams that are super cheap and fun to ride if you’re not used to them.

Bulgaria is a reasonably-sized country, so it’s unlikely that you’ll need to fly domestic unless you’re super short on time. If you want to go from the coast to Sofia quickly, you can try their domestic carrier Bulgaria Air to hop between Varna or Burgas and Sofia for under $50 CAD one way.

Train travel exists in Bulgaria, but choosing it will be based on your preferences: do you prefer quick, efficient travel? Don’t take the train. Do you want to gaze longingly out the window for much longer than you’d be on a bus? Take the train! You can plan your route and decide if it’s worth spending a little less money for a longer ride to your next destination.

Best Places to Stay in Bulgaria

Travelling in Bulgaria to all its regions means you’ll experience some incredible places to rest your head. You could go from a rustic mountain hut to a stunning villa on the Black Sea in one week. Bulgaria has plenty of hotels, guesthouses, Airbnb options, and hostels. The best place to stay is entirely up to you!

Kableshkova Kashta Koprivshtitsa House Bulgaria

Kableshkova Kashta Koprivshtitsa House Bulgaria

Useful Travel Tools

Planning a trip is easier than ever with helpful travel tools all over the internet. We’ve done the work for you, partly because we’ve been there so many times ourselves, and listed them here in one place to make it even easier.

To Book Accommodation

In Bulgaria, you’ll have your pick of all kinds of accommodation, from luxury hotels to bed and breakfasts in the mountains to a unique vacation getaway on the Black Sea coastline. Plan your stay with ease using booking.com, hotels.com, expedia.com, and agoda.com. For something that feels more like a home, check with Airbnb.com and vrbo.com for unique apartments and guesthouses. Shoestring budget travellers will have no trouble finding cheap accommodation in hostels or mountain huts.

To Book Flights

Unless you’re travelling by land, you’ll fly into Bulgaria at one of its international airports. The hub that gives you easy access to the mountains is the Sofia Airport (SOF). To waste no time getting to the coast, you can fly into Burgas Airport (BOJ) or Varna Airport (VAR). To start or end in central Bulgaria, fly into Plovdiv Airport (PDV). Find great deals on your flights to Bulgaria using Skyscanner or CheapOair.

To Rent a Car

If you’re going to drive around Bulgaria, make sure to brush up on your defensive driving tactics—the roads here are not for the faint of heart. Those willing to attempt can get a great deal on rentalcars.com, a comparison tool we use to find the best deals. The driver needs to be at least 20 years and has held a valid license for at least one year to rent a car. Drivers under 25 may be subject to a young driver surcharge.

To Get Gear

Are you heading to Bulgaria for an outdoor adventure? You want to ensure you have high-quality gear. Our favourite picks for high-end clothing and technical gear are Arc’teryx, Patagonia, and Helly Hansen. For biking and running the epic trails in Bulgaria, check the sale racks at Salomon and the Running Room. Of course, you may spend a lot of time sightseeing, walking, or even lounging on the beach, in which case, you should be covered by MEC, Trail Outdoor Leisure, Blacks or MSR.

Other Useful Travel Services

Parking your car at the airport can sure burn a hole in your pocket, right? Save some money by finding a stay-and-park deal at your home airport on Airport Parking Reservations.

Historic Belogradchik Fortress Bulgaria

Historic Belogradchik Fortress Bulgaria

Visa Requirements When Travelling to Bulgaria

Since Bulgaria is part of the European Union, many foreign nationals, including Canada, US, and UK citizens, will receive a short-stay visa stamp as long as their stay is under 90 days (within a six-month period). For extended stays over 90 days, a long-stay visa is required. Bulgaria is not part of the Schengen region, so visits to Schengen countries do not count towards your 90 days in Bulgaria.

Travellers from Canada

Your passport must be valid for at least three months beyond your departure date from Bulgaria with two blank pages. For stays less than 90 days (within a six-month period), a tourist, business, or student visa is not required. Upon entry, you may have to show proof of onward travel, sufficient funds for your stay, and valid medical insurance. For stays longer than 90 days, you must apply for a Bulgarian visa before travelling to the country. For more information, check the Government of Canada’s website.

Travellers from the EU

EU members are exempt from all visa requirements for Bulgaria since it is part of the European Union. EU passport holders are entitled to move to any other EU nation for work purposes, including Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, which are part of the European Economic Area. Read more about the EU Free Movement policy.

Travellers from the UK

Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your departure date from Bulgaria with two blank pages. For stays less than 90 days (within a six-month period), a tourist, business, or student visa is not required. Upon entry, you may have to show proof of onward travel and sufficient funds for your stay. For stays longer than 90 days, you must apply for a Bulgarian visa before travelling to the country. For more information, check the UK Government’s website.

Travellers from the US

Your passport must be valid for at least three months beyond your departure date from Bulgaria with at least one blank page. For stays less than 90 days (in a six-month period), a tourist, business, or student visa is not required. Upon entry, you may have to show proof of valid medical insurance. For stays longer than 90 days, you must apply for a Bulgarian visa before travelling to the country. For more information, check the US Government’s website.

Devetashka Cave day trip from Veliko Tarnovo

Devetashka Cave day trip from Veliko Tarnovo

Interesting Facts About Bulgaria

Bulgaria remains relatively unknown to many western travellers. Here’s a list of interesting and astonishing facts about Bulgaria to help you get acquainted with its quirks and superstitions before you go.

  • Bulgaria has had the same country name since its establishment in 681.
  • Roses are a big deal in Bulgaria. The country is home to Rose Valley, they have a yearly rose festival in Kazanlak, and between Turkey and Bulgaria, these two countries produce 80% of the world’s rose oil.
  • Bulgaria has the second-most natural springs in Europe, trailing behind Iceland.
  • Plovdiv is the oldest constantly inhabited country in Europe, with a history of 8000 years.
  • The three colours on the Bulgarian flag—white, green, and red—symbolize peace, nature, and the blood soaked into the land. Powerful stuff!
  • A Bulgarian (Stefta Kostadinova) holds the world record for high jump—and has since 1987!
  • There are ten UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria, seven of which are cultural and three natural.
  • The Cyrillic alphabet was invented by two Bulgarian monks, one named Cyril and the other named Methodius. Guess who was the alpha in that partnership.
  • For bagpipe fans (though there may not be many), the gaida is a traditional Bulgarian instrument, so expect to hear this distinct sound at festivals and performances.
  • Bulgarians nod for “no” and shake their heads for “yes.”
  • There’s a folk belief still in practice: when someone heads off on a journey (new job, first day of school, before an exam, weddings, travel, etc.), family members will spill a bucket of water on the front doorstep to bring good luck. The gesture represents “may your success flow like water.” Hey, if it works, it works!
  • If you look at someone’s wrist and they’re wearing a red thread, this ostensibly brings them protection from “bad eyes,” meaning the evil thoughts of envious people. The person who ties the thread is often the mother, and it’s a caveat that this person must love the wearer unconditionally.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bulgaria

Still have questions about this up-and-coming destination? We’ll answer a few frequently asked questions about Bulgaria, which should complement the travel trips you’ve learned in this extensive guide.

Do they speak English in Bulgaria?

English language proficiency is increasing across the country. Generally, the bigger the city, the more English speakers you’re likely to encounter. But in smaller villages, you may not hear English at all. It’s wise to have a Bulgarian phrasebook in your pocket. Other languages you’ll hear after the Bulgarian national language are Turkish and Romani. Keep in mind that you are likely to see signs written in Cyrillic rather than using the English alphabet. It’s a good idea to brush up on some common phrases like bathroom (тоалетна), restaurant (ресторант), and hotel (хотел).

What is the hottest part of Bulgaria?

If you’re seeking a vacation with maximum hours of sunshine, head to Sandanski in the southwest corner of Bulgaria. This is a wine-producing region, so you can sip a refreshing glass of Muscat (sweet, floral white wine) under the Bulgarian sun.

What’s the food and drink like in Bulgaria?

Bulgaria draws its culinary trends from neighbouring Greece, Turkey, and Serbia but adds a local twist with combinations of different spices, namely parsley, spearmint, basil, and oregano. No matter where you go in Bulgaria, you’ll find an array of meat, yogurt, cheese, and vegetables on your plate. The majority of meat consumed is pork, lamb, fish, and chicken, as cattle are bred mainly for dairy products. Vegetarians will be happy to know there are plentiful veggie-friendly dishes available. Bulgarians prefer grilling over deep-frying, so your eating habits can easily remain healthy while travelling here. Staple dishes include:

  • banitsa (hand-rolled pastry with feta, leeks, or spinach)
  • shopska salata (cucumber, tomato, onion, pepper, feta salad)
  • stuffed red pepper
  • lukanka (salami)
  • moussaka made with mushrooms or ground meat instead of eggplant as the Greeks do

When you’re looking for something to quench your thirst, you’ll be in bevy heaven in Bulgaria. If you’ve visited other countries in the Balkan Peninsula, you’ll be no stranger to the strong spirit known as rakia, a brandy made from fermented fruit. Several regions are fertile and ideal for producing wine. For non-alcoholic drinks, you can try the thick yogurt drink, ayran, which is especially refreshing on a hot summer day. To get some extra pep in your step, order a Turkish-style coffee that leaves thick grounds at the bottom of a copper cup—sometimes used in Bulgaria to tell fortunes. Maybe they’ll be able to tell you where you’ll go next!

What are some quick tips to cultural etiquette in Bulgaria?

  • Bulgarians are a polite population—if you’re invited to a local’s home, it’s customary to bring a small gift, such as a token from your own nation, a bouquet, or a bottle of spirits.
  • When gesturing “yes” and “no,” Bulgarians shake their heads for “yes” and nod for “no”! And to complicate matters further, they might switch it up if they assume you’re a tourist! Using the words da (yes) and ne (no) will help emphasize your intentions.
  • Personal space is quite fluid in Bulgaria. Don’t be surprised if someone gets up in your bubble quickly.
  • Absolutely, definitely, undoubtedly offer your seat to a pregnant or elderly person on public transportation.
  • Shake hands to greet, and introduce yourself with your first and last name.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia Bulgaria

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia Bulgaria

Other Related Stories

Can’t wait to plan your trip to Bulgaria? Here is a quick round-up of some further inspiration for your Bulgaria adventure.