Bulgaria, as a holiday destination, is a real hidden gem. Here is a list of the best things to do in Bulgaria suitable for everyone!
It is the 16th largest European country and covers an area of 110,994 square km. The country has seen several rulers and regimes over the centuries and was also part of the Roman Empire and under Ottoman rule at different times in history.
Bulgaria boasts ample natural geography and wildlife diversity and is also home to over 150 endangered plants. Unspoiled beaches and lush nature, ancient monasteries and beautiful churches, magnificent palaces, and stoic historical monuments add the charm of visiting Bulgaria – and right now, Bulgaria tourism is still somewhat unknown, so now is the time to explore it.
The capital city, Sofia, attracts theatre enthusiasts to the Ivan Vazov National Theatre as much as it attracts tourists in Bulgaria to see the Aleksander Nevski Crypt, Daralevtsi Monastery, and other sites.
Whether you visit ancient cobblestoned cities like Plovdiv or modern cities like Sofia, Bulgaria will send you away with a bucketful of memories like it did for us.
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.
Influences include Greek, Slavic, Persian, and from the Ottoman Empire. When you mix these different cultures, the result is some of the most fascinating dance, music, arts, and artifacts found anywhere in the world. For instance, Bulgaria is known as a cultural melting pot.
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 wise. Deciding what to do in Bulgaria can be tricky – there is just so much on offer. There is something for everyone. It’s well suited for families, solo, adventurers, and couples.
So, let’s kick off the list of the best places to go in beautiful Bulgaria!
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.
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1. Explore The Ancient City Of Nessebar
Nessebar is an ancient and quaint city with cobblestone streets, restaurants overlooking 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 take a day trip; I recommend you allocate half a day for exploration. In addition to the Bulgaria 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 (try a shopska salad), whether it’s seafood or not.
2. Visit The Rila Monastery
The Rila Monastery is a UNESCO 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. The best things to see are the galleries, the old kitchen, the collection of weapons, and art from different eras. You can also see it alone and lose yourself in its magnificence.
3. Admire The St. 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 is renowned for its breathtaking interior. Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take pictures there.
Seeing the place in a picture is not even close to seeing it with your own eyes. Should you visit, the odds are that you might hear the choir singing.
4. Go Scuba Diving
Bulgaria is one of the best countries for outdoor enthusiasts with its diversity of mountains, forests, and magnificent Black Sea beaches. Those outdoor adventures aren’t limited to land, though. There’s plenty to see and do in Bulgaria on the water, too.
The country will surprise divers with its diversity of dive sites. Bulgaria’s Black Sea dive sites are amazing, whether it is underwater caves, sunken World War II battleships, underwater forests, or a wide variety of marine life, including sea turtles, dolphins, whales, and more.
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5. See The Shumen Monument
Not the most obvious addition to this what to see in Bulgaria list, that is for sure. The Founders of the Bulgarian State Monument, often referred to 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.
6. Stroll Through The Old Town Of Plovdiv
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 Roman ruins, such as an amphitheater. There are many top Bulgaria landmarks at home in Plovdiv.
7. Admire Tsarevets Fortress
During the two centuries when Veliko Tarnovo was the Second Bulgarian Empire’s capital, Tsarevets Fortress was the most important of Bulgaria’s castles. Perched atop Tsarevets Hill, this glorious stronghold is incredibly preserved. It’s without question one of the absolute top things to see in Veliko Tarnovo and a major tourist attraction in Bulgaria. This is your must-see attraction if you only have a day in Veliko Tarnovo.
Tsarevets Fortress is home to fortified walls, the medieval palace of the Bulgarian kings, and the patriarchal complex with its library, monks” cells, scriptorium, and Patriarchal Cathedral St. Ascension, the “mother of all Bulgarian churches.”
Additionally, this vast fortress also comprised more than 400 residential houses, about 20 churches, and four monasteries.
We decided to head to the Tsarevets Fortress at 9 a.m. one Sunday morning and were the only people on site for at least 45 minutes. Real magic.
The walk up to the church is not easy for anyone with very small kids or the elderly. You really need to be in your best travel shoes and take a bottle of water with you.
8. Go For An Outdoor Adventure At Vitosha Mountain
Vitosha Mountain is the third-highest peak in Bulgaria at 7,513 feet, a national park offering skiing and hiking. If you opt for the former and are not experienced, don’t worry; you can take advantage of the ski school for lessons.
For those hiking during the warmer weather, don’t forget to stop at the waterfall.
9. Attend A Bulgarian Festival
A country with a centuries-old history and ancient traditions and customs, Bulgaria can undoubtedly be called a “festival destination.” Bulgarians are very proud of their heritage and 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. Bulgarian tourism for celebrations is often centered around the “Rose Festival” like this.
10. 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. Here, you find more than enough items to add to your “what to do in Bulgaria” list.
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.
11. 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 to tourists. About a fifth of Bulgaria’s surface area consists of karst, rock formations that are easily dissolved and shaped by water.
This is why this Balkan country has such huge subterranean halls, passageways, and tunnels.
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
12. 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 Bulgarian food at harbor-side restaurants, wooden houses, cafes, and warm and friendly people.
This information might sound simplistic, but the beauty of Sozopol Old Town lies in simplicity. Don’t miss it!
13. Damascena Ethnographic Complex, Rose Valley
If you find yourself in Bulgaria in June, head to the Rose Valley. Located in Central Bulgaria, the township of Kazanlak is blossoming with roses and holds a festival in celebration at harvest time.
Even though the rose festival and harvest are worth attending, Rose Valley is undoubtedly a place to visit at other times of the year, where you can wander through the Damascena Ethnographic Complex – the first private rose oil distillery. Here, you can experience the rose distillation process and the sweet scent of delicate Damascena roses. Enjoy learning more about the production of pure organic rose essential oil (also known as the “liquid gold” of Bulgaria), wander through the museum, admire the frescoes, and stop by the gift shop to buy yourself a gift to take home.
14. Visit The Buzludzha Monument
Situated atop Buzludzha Peak in the Bulgarian Central Balkan Mountains, the Buzludzha Monument sits at a historically significant 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.
The Buzludzha Monument opened in 1981, a citizen-funded structure commemorating the Bulgarian socialist movement. Since the democratizing of Bulgaria, however, it’s now been abandoned for decades. 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.
Nonetheless, it’s one of the most fascinating places to visit in Bulgaria, often regarded as one of the world’s most incredible abandoned buildings.
15. Palace And Botanical Gardens Of Balchik
Balchik is a town on the Black Sea Sea Coast. Within that town is what many visitors describe as one of the most beautiful 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 sea view. 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.
16. 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 big, beautiful, clean park has flower gardens, waterfalls, seaside views, hiking trails, statues, and benches for relaxation.
17. 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 start basically behind the city center. There are numerous facilities here, including luxurious hotels and more affordable accommodations. As far as things to do, skiing and snowshoeing 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.
18. 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, and Sunny Beach. If you’re looking for a place for an affordable beach vacation, this is where you should go! It might not often pop up on Europe’s best beach destinations, but Bulgaria does have some fantastic beach resorts.
19. Have Some Family Fun
In this post, you should consider all the things to do in Bulgaria, even if you’re taking your kids along. The only place that you should take caution would be 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 a fair that offers rides, games, and good food, all at reasonable prices. It’s best suited for younger children but changes after 9 p.m.
From my experience of taking kids to Bulgaria, there are many famous landmarks in Bulgaria that are of interest to kids, especially hunting down the Thracian Tombs! My boys love the thracian tomb of Kazanlak.
20. Hike To The 7 Rila Lakes
The Seven Rila Lakes Hike is one of the absolute best things to do in Bulgaria for outdoor lovers.
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.
The trails are very well marked; the glacier lakes are usually reached by driving or taxiing from the closest village, Sapareva Banya. The road from there takes you to the chairlift area, Pionerska Hut; then you travel upwards into the mountains. Most hikes in this part of the country cover around 7-8 hours, so it’s worth being prepared in terms of clothing, especially considering the high elevations.
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. Kidney Lake is the biggest of the lakes, but they are all special and visually spectacular – so pack a camera.
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21. Visit Impressive Bulgarian Castles
Located east of the Balkan peninsula, on the Black Sea shore, Bulgaria was often where traders, 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 the Thracians and, later, the Romans, whom the Byzantines subsequently defeated.
Wars were fought between the Byzantines and the Bulgars. Slavs moved in from northwest Bulgaria, while Bulgars invaded from the northeast. Even Mongols seized Bulgaria for a while. Later, this was where the Ottomans battled crusaders from Western Europe.
To make 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 were done, and massive fortresses were 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, visiting 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).
22. 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, the small towns in Bulgaria often offer the biggest surprises!
There are enough Bulgaria attractions to create unforgettable itineraries for Bulgaria weekend breaks! Dip out limestone cave bars, spend your time soaking in the sun at a beautiful Black Sea resort, or dip 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.
Some of the best small towns for weekend trips in Bulgaria are the following:
- Veliko Tarnovo
Now you know that Bulgaria as a holiday destination is truly a hidden gem of Eastern European vacation destinations. Any vacation destination can be rewarding, but not many vacation destinations offer seaside and mountainous terrain in such close proximity as you will find in Bulgaria. We guarantee you will not be disappointed if you choose to visit Bulgaria.
We’ve now shown you what to see in Bulgaria, so tell us, which of these Bulgaria tourist attractions will you visit first? Will it be the Rila Mountains, old churches, Belogradchik Rocks, or maybe the Rhodope Mountains?
If you think that we have missed something on this list of best places to see, comment below!