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Top Things To Do In Bulgaria For Every Kind Of Traveler
Co-written by Luana Weaver, from Route4us and Chasing the Donkey Travel team.
She first visited Budapest, Timisoara, after which she decided to explore the hidden gems of Bulgaria. She was so impressed with the country’s diverse beauty that she decided to visit its main cities: Sofia, Varna, and Plovdiv, in addition to quainter but not less breathtaking spots around the country.
It’s impossible to escape beauty when you visit Bulgaria. You’re either going to be enjoying the coastline of the Black Sea or the majestic mountainous interior. In either case, the crisp fresh air will likely revitalize your entire being. While these are obvious positives, what you can experience in Bulgaria goes much deeper.
For instance, Bulgaria is known as a cultural melting pot. Influences include; Greek, Slavic, Ottoman, and Persian. When you mix these different cultures together, the result is some of the most fascinating dance, music, arts, and artifacts found anywhere in the world.
Interestingly, you don’t hear many people saying that Bulgaria is at the top of their vacation list—or on their vacation list at all—but almost everyone who visits Bulgaria comes back saying it was one of their top travel experiences. Consider this nation of roughly 7 million people a hidden gem – and it’s a budget-friendly destination to boot!
By this point, it should already be evident that visiting Bulgaria would be a wise decision. Deciding what to do in Bulgaria can be tricky – there is just so much on offer.
It’s best suited for families, adventurers, and couples.
You’re going to find many intriguing options. This could lead to a complicated decision-making process, but don’t fret; you can’t go wrong no matter which option you choose.
Book a room at one of Bulgaria’s top hotels, and start exploring!
Explore Ancient Nessebar
Nessebar is an ancient and quaint city with cobblestone streets, restaurants that overlook the sea, local bars, small parks, historic architecture, archaeological remains, warm people, and churches from the 4th century to the 18th century.
The best way to see Nessebar is to allocate half of a day for exploration. In addition to the attractions above, you can grab a coffee, beer, or ice cream and go for a scenic stroll along the harbor or on the pier.
If you choose to dine in one of the restaurants, it should be noted that seafood is the specialty here. However, very few complain about Bulgarian cuisine here, whether it’s seafood or not.
Visit The Rila Monastery
The Rila Monastery is a World Heritage Site with a mountain backdrop. Many visitors say this is the cleanest air you will ever breathe in your life. That fact alone should make this an alluring option.
When visiting the Rila Monastery, you can take a guided tour and learn about the region’s history. You can also see it alone and lose yourself in its magnificence. The best things to see are the galleries, the old kitchen, the collection of weapons, and art from different eras.
Admire The Saint Alexander Nevski Cathedral
This is a unique location because you’re not allowed to take pictures. This church sits at the heart of Bulgaria, and it’s renowned for its breathtaking interior. Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take pictures there.
Seeing the place in a picture is, of course, not even near to seeing it with your own eyes. Should you go visit, the odds are that you might hear the choir singing.
Go Scuba Diving
With its diversity of mountains, forests, and the magnificent Black Sea beaches, Bulgaria is one of the best countries for outdoor enthusiasts. Those outdoor adventures aren’t limited to land, though. There’s plenty to see and do in Bulgaria in the water, too.
The country will surprise divers with its diversity of dive sites. Whether it is underwater caves, sunken World War II battleships, underwater forests, and a wide variety of marine life, including sea turtles, dolphins, whales, and more, Bulgaria’s Black Sea dive sites are amazing.
See The Shumen Monument
Often referred to simply as the Shumen Monument, the Monument to 1,300 Years of Bulgaria is a huge monument located on a plateau above Shumen’s town. It was constructed in 1981 to celebrate and commemorate the First Bulgarian Empire’s 1,300th anniversary.
Also called the Founders of Bulgarian State Monument, it towers above the surrounding landscape, dominating it with its typical cubist and bombastic Communist design. Unlike other former Communist monuments in Bulgaria, such as the Buzludzha Monument (see below), this one has been maintained after the fall of Communism.
Now, it’s one of the top things to see in Bulgaria, a popular place for photoshoots.
Stroll Through Plovdiv Old Town
Recently chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2019, Plovdiv Old Town has plenty to offer.
You might find yourself walking over cobblestone streets and ducking into antique shops and museums. You will also find an Ottoman mosque and a Roman amphitheater.
Allow 1-2 hours to enjoy this breathtaking town, or consider staying overnight at one of these awesome accommodations in Plovdiv to give yourself more time to explore. Be sure not to overlook the stunning architecture.
Go For An Outdoor Adventure At Vitosha Mountain
The third-highest peak in Bulgaria at 7,513 feet, Vitosha Mountain, is a national park that offers skiing and hiking. If you opt for the former and not experienced, don’t worry; you can take advantage of the ski school for lessons.
For those who are hiking during the warmer weather, don’t forget to stop at the waterfall.
Attend A Bulgarian Festival
A country with a centuries-old history and ancient traditions and customs, Bulgaria can certainly be called a “festival destination.” Bulgarians are very proud of their heritage, and they never pass up a chance to celebrate and showcase that.
From dancing barefoot on smoldering embers to chasing evil spirits away to traditional dancing, folklore parades, food-focused events, and even a bagpipe festival, attending a typical Bulgarian festival is one of the best things to do in Bulgaria.
Spend Some Time In Burgas
Burgas (or Bourgas) is the second-largest Bulgarian city along the Black Sea and fourth in the entire country. As it is primarily used as a transit point for non-diving tourists for smaller resort towns north and south of it along the coast, Burgas has become a sort of sanctuary for the diving scene in Bulgaria.
In it, you will find long stretches of primarily empty beaches, beautiful and well-maintained seafront parks, and very affordable accommodation options for the budget-conscious traveler. It is a perfect place for an extended diving holiday.
There are also four lakes outside the city, which bird enthusiasts flock to. Additionally, Burgas is also a great base from which to visit other Bulgaria tourist attractions like Sozopol and Nessebar.
Visit A Cave Or Two
Although there are currently more than 4,500 known caves in the country, only a few caves in Bulgaria are open and accessible for tourists. About a fifth of Bulgaria’s surface area consists of karst, a type of rock that’s easily dissolved and shaped by water.
This is why there are such huge subterranean halls, passageways, and tunnels in this Balkan country.
The vast majority of Bulgarian caves are the exclusive playground of experienced speleologists and rock climbers. However, those that are managed and can be visited include some of the top natural attractions in Bulgaria.
Some of Bulgaria’s most beautiful caves, which you can actually visit, are the following:
- Magura Cave
- Bacho Kiro Cave
- Ledenika Cave
- Prohodna Cave
- Devetashka Cave
Discover Sozopol Old Town
Once again, you will be walking on cobblestone streets, which gives you a feeling of being transported back to a much simpler time. In this case, you will find quality food at harbor-side restaurants, wooden houses, cafes, as well as warm and friendly people.
This information might sound simplistic, but therein lies the beauty of Sozopol Old Town – its simplicity. Don’t miss it!
Visit The Buzludzha Monument
Situated atop Buzludzha Peak in the Bulgarian Central Balkan Mountains, the Buzludzha Monument sits at a historically important site. This was where massively outnumbered Bulgarian rebels lost against a force of Ottoman soldiers in 1868, which triggered the Liberation of Bulgaria about a decade later.
Later, this was the location of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers Party’s first gathering (the party later became the Bulgarian Communist Party). Additionally, it’s also where Bulgarian fascists and Communist partisans met in battle during the Second World War.
So, it’s easy to see why a place loaded with such heavy Bulgarian history was chosen as the site for a national monument afterward. The Buzludzha Monument opened in 1981, a citizen-funded structure to commemorate the Bulgarian socialist movement. Since the democratizing of Bulgaria, however, it’s now been abandoned for decades.
Nonetheless, it’s one of the most fascinating places to visit in Bulgaria, often regarded as one of the world’s greatest abandoned buildings.
Palace And Botanical Gardens Of Balchik
Balchik is a Black Sea coastal town. Within that town is what many visitors describe as one of the top places to see in Europe: the Palace and Botanical Gardens of Balchik.
In addition to beautifully manicured gardens, you will find a palace, a waterfall, and an outstanding view of the sea. This is the perfect way to end a day in Balchik after seeing the marina and beach. You should also consider browsing the little shops selling local items right outside of the botanical gardens. You want to have more than some pictures as a reminder of the beauty of this town.
Go For A Casual Walk In The Varna Sea Garden
It’s often said that simplicity is bliss. Nothing can be a better example than Sea Garden. This is simply a big, beautiful, and clean park with flower gardens, waterfalls, seaside views, hiking trails, statues, and benches for relaxation.
Varna Sea Garden is the ideal location for a stroll. That said, if you would prefer a little more action and you’re visiting during the warmer seasons, then you can try some water sports like windsurfing and diving.
Enjoy Winter Sports At Bansko Ski Resort
Located about 160 kilometers from Sofia, the Bansko Ski Resort is one of Bulgaria’s most popular winter sports destinations in the country’s southwestern corner.
The town of Bansko is at the foot of Pirin Mountain; its ski runs starting basically behind the town center. There are numerous facilities here, including luxurious hotels, but also more affordable accommodations. As far as things to do go, skiing and snowshoeing obviously are in the lead.
There are, however, also more casual activities in Bansko in winter. You can relax in spas, go shopping, enjoy traditional Bulgarian food, go for a landscape photography outing, or join the vibrant après-ski festivities.
Hit The Beach
Along the 378 kilometers of coastline of the Black Sea in Bulgaria lie magical towns and golden sun-kissed beaches like Sozopol, Golden Sands, or Sunny Beach. It might not often pop up on Europe’s best beach destinations, but Bulgaria does have some amazing beach resorts. If you’re looking for a place for an affordable beach vacation, this is where you should go!
Have Some Family Fun
You should consider all the things to do in Bulgaria in this post, even if you’re taking your kids along. The only place that you should take caution would be the Vitosha Mountain. You might consider taking your kids to a ski school so you can enjoy yourselves as a couple without worrying about their safety.
If you’re visiting Bulgaria during the warmer months with children, then Action Aquapark is your top pick. This water park is smaller than most, but there is no shortage of fun rides. Lockers are available for your convenience, and the staff is friendly and alert. There is also a zoo at the back of the park.
Another fun option for families visiting Bulgaria is Sunny Beach, Luna Park. This is basically a fair that offers rides, games, and good food, all at fair prices. It’s best suited for younger children, but that changes after 9 p.m.
Hike To The 7 Rila Lakes
One of the absolute best things to do in Bulgaria for outdoor lovers is the Seven Rila Lakes Hike.
Located in the northwestern Rila region, close to Sofia and Plovdiv, the lakes are all stunning in their own right and cover some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery around the Balkans.
Most hikes in this part of the country cover around 7-8 hours, so it’s certainly worth being prepared in terms of clothing, especially when you consider the high elevations. The trails are all very well marked; the glacier lakes are usually reached by driving or taking a taxi from the closest village, namely Sapareva Banya. The road from there takes you to the chairlift area, Pionerska Hut, then you travel upwards into the mountains.
The highest lake is named The Teardrop, and the lowest is Lower Lake. On top of this, you have The Twins, The Eye, The Kidney, The Fish Lake, and the Trefoil. The biggest of the lakes is Kidney Lake, but they are all special and visually spectacular – so pack a camera.
Visit Impressive Bulgarian Castles
Located in the east of the Balkan peninsula, on the shore of the Black Sea, Bulgaria was historically often the place where traders and travelers, armies, and adventurers entered or left Europe.
It’s the definition of a crossroads country, a meeting place of East and West, North and South. Bulgaria is also one of the oldest inhabited countries in Europe. This is where the Persians conquered Thracians and, later, by the Romans, who were subsequently defeated by the Byzantines.
Slavs moved in from the northwest, while Bulgars invaded from the northeast. Wars were fought between the Byzantines and the Bulgars. Even Mongols seized Bulgaria for a while. Later still, this was a place where the Ottomans battled crusaders from Western Europe.
An incredibly long story short, Bulgaria was the meeting place of many armies. It used to be a region where battles were won and lost, heroic deeds done, massive fortresses erected.
Nowadays, you can still explore this fascinating and eventful past at the many spectacular Bulgaria castles dotted around the country. Whether or not you’re interested in Bulgarian history, a visit to one of those castles and fortresses is always a highlight! Famous examples are Tsarevets Castle, Belogradchik Fortress, Shumen Fortress, and the Fortifications of Nessebar (see the top of this blog post).
Go For A Small Town Weekend Trip
With its healthy blend of small, misty mountain towns and long stretches of golden sand Black Sea beaches, Bulgaria is the perfect country for a short weekend (or extended weekend) road trip.
There’s much more to this large nation (by European standards) than its major cities. In fact, it’s often the small towns in Bulgaria that offer the biggest surprises!
Check out limestone cave bars or spend your time soaking in the sun at a beautiful Black Sea resort or dipping below the sea’s surface on a dive excursion. Ride along streams high up along far-out mountain passes and tour centuries-old monasteries. You can do it all in this country. There are enough Bulgaria attractions to create amazing itineraries for Bulgaria weekend breaks!
Some of the best small towns for weekend trips in Bulgaria are the following:
- Veliko Tarnovo
Now you know a lot more about Bulgaria. It truly is the hidden gem of Eastern European vacation destinations. If you choose to visit, then you’re likely to return home feeling rejuvenated.
Any vacation destination can be rewarding, but not many vacation destinations offer seaside and mountainous terrain in such close proximity. The fresh air alone might be the ultimate reward.