Here are 14 of the best cities in Bulgaria that you should check out. We’ve covered a good range from the well-known to a little off the beaten track.
Bulgaria is one of the more fascinating countries in the Balkans. Peppered with picturesque villages, snow-capped mountain peaks, ideal ski runs that seem to stretch endlessly, well-kept mountain trails, and mild summer temperatures combine for a hell of a vacation destination at any time of the year.
Not to mention the countless caves, history leftover from the Romans and Turks, alpine lakes, ancient monasteries, centuries-old architecture, and the generous hospitality of friendly Bulgarian locals who are willing to help you in almost any situation – it is hard to imagine a better place to spend a couple of weeks than in Bulgaria.
Sitting in the southeast corner of the Balkan peninsula, bordered by five other Balkan countries (Serbia, Turkey, North Macedonia, Greece, and Romania), this country is ideally situated to jump around from country to country if your vacation allows. Even if not, we guarantee Bulgaria will end up surprising you.
We have compiled a list of our favorite cities in Bulgaria so you can easily map out your holiday.
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Top Cities in Bulgaria
We may be biased, but we believe Bulgaria has some of the best cities in any country in the Balkans. No matter where you go, you are never far from at least one of the cities on this list. That means, no matter where you are vacationing in Bulgaria (and even in surrounding countries), you could end up in one of these towns in Bulgaria almost effortlessly. In fact, we even wrote a post on easy weekend break itineraries for Bulgaria because they are so worth it!
Without further ado, here are our favorite cities in Bulgaria:
This one is a bit obvious, so we thought we’d start the list with what most people would agree is one of the best cities in Bulgaria. The capital of Bulgaria is Sofia – a beautiful metropolis with a compact city center, cozy cafes, affordable traditional restaurants, and plenty of places to escape the regular tourist crowd (as well as exciting tourist stops, too), all within walking distance of just about anywhere in the city.
When you come to Sofia, not only will you want to visit some of the most famous places, but you will also want to spend some time admiring the magical sunsets and landscapes on top of Mount Vitosha, which the city sits directly under.
Though the city is relatively affordable in terms of European backpacking standards, there is a certain sophistication – especially around the center – that will make you feel as though it could be expensive. The good news is a lot of Sofia’s best sites can be seen for free.
The suburbs of Boyana, the National Historical Museum, Vitosha Nature Park, the Central Park of Borisova, and, of course, the famous St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral are just some of the many attractions that can be toured for free!
These are the most visited places in the city, and naturally, you will visit them for the first time in the city. Surprisingly, there isn’t a huge tourist circle in Sofia, so the sights may not be as crowded as you anticipate. However, for those who have been around the city before, you will likely want to get off the beaten path, for there are plenty of alternative things to do in Sofia as well, such as Hamara bar – a local place seemingly built in a cave (lit by candlelight) in the middle of the city.
Or perhaps you are on the lookout for adrenaline rushes. You will then want to take advantage of the excellent opportunity for winter sports, such as skiing and snowboarding on Mount Vitosha, less than half a mile from the capital.
Another popular destination, but not quite as apparent as the first one, is Pleven. Pleven is located in an agricultural region and is an important cultural and economic center with a population of under 150,000 inhabitants. As attractive as it may seem, Pleven is even more beautiful than you see from the outside. Often regarded as an essential city known for its rich historical heritage and, of course, the beautiful landscapes and full-on Bulgarian traditions.
Pleven is the seventh-largest city in Bulgaria regarding population. This is one of those Bulgarian cities that attracts many backpackers. This Bulgarian city has an unconventional spirit, cultural attractions, waterfalls, unique art galleries, wine museums, and many other things that keep a constant influx of tourists coming through.
Pleven is home to a rich heritage and a huge collection of breathtaking cultural monuments. We haven’t mentioned many things, such as the cave dedicated to fine wine, but you will have to visit to know the entire story of this great destination.
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With a population of about 70,000 people, this beautiful city is an important economic and cultural center for the entire southwestern region of the country. Blagoevgrad is home to two famous universities, including the American University in Bulgaria. Making it one of the best cities in Bulgaria for students.
From the moment you arrive in the city, you will be offered a choice from a wide range of outdoor activities. Most people who travel here are outdoor enthusiasts who can’t wait to take their next step into nature.
Varosha, Blagoevgrad’s unique Old Town, is one of the most charming parts of town. The town’s people have well preserved its impressive architecture and authenticity. As a matter of fact, it is so beautiful that there are actually a couple of places in Blagoevgrad that made the list of top 100 tourist sites in the entire world. You are almost guaranteed to get lost in the rich landscape of this place.
These seemingly other-worldly landscapes hidden around Belogradik rarely get seen in Bulgaria’s remote corner, on the northern slopes of the Balkans. Known simply as the Belogradchik Rocks, this fairytale Bulgarian city is often given life-like characteristics inspired by popular legends and local myths.
Plus, the dream-like environment of the Belogradchik Rocks is not even the only thing to see in this small town. No trip to the region would be complete without a visit to the Belogradchik Fortress, which out-dates the Roman era. And while you are nearby, you might as well visit the Baba Vida Citadel and the mysterious prehistoric art of the Magura Cave!
5. Veliko Tarnovo
You have likely heard of Veliko Tarnovo before. Bulgaria’s former capital is one of the most important cities (historically) in the whole country.
Perhaps the city’s most famous feature is the famous Tsarevets Fortress, located in the medieval city center. The regionally known lights and sounds show, which is held in the city, attracts thousands of visitors and immerses them in the fortress’s immense beauty and history – and also makes it one of the best cities in Bulgaria for kids.
The old town of Tarnovo is located on the winding Yantra River. The colony was built in the 12th Century, and its defensive wall still stands over thirty feet tall. In short, Veliko Tarnovo illustrates an essential page in Bulgarian history, and the light and sound show is a magical experience focused on important moments of the rich Bulgarian culture. If you are looking for an authentic experience but the comforts of tourism, you will be hard-pressed to find a better spot than Veliko Tarnovo. You cannot come to Bulgaria and not see this historic Bulgarian city.
You might be surprised by the unique architecture of the old town. It remains preserved so well to this day. One of the city’s best features is undoubtedly a walk along the symbolic cobbled streets of the old town and basking in the atmosphere of the beautiful city of Plovdiv.
Don’t forget to check out places like the Roman Amphitheater dating back to the second century, the Ethnographical Museum, or the Balabanov House, a symbol of national renewal in Bulgaria and another side of the country’s deeply rooted history. You could literally walk from a famous historic site to a famous landmark site all afternoon without getting bored. There is so much to see and learn in this popular city.
Varna, or Warna, is a seaport and the third-largest city in Bulgaria. The city is located on the northern coast of Varna Bay on the Black Sea and is protected by the Dobrudzhansko plateau, which sits nearly 1,000 feet high.
The city is an important administrative, economic, cultural, and tourist center for the country. Most people who visit Varna soak up the city’s many resorts though there are more budget-friendly options for accommodation as well.
It is a modern city with a beautiful seafront promenade, park, and relaxing beaches, asking why more people don’t vacation to the Black Sea.
Most of the resorts sit along the northern coast of Varna, where there are several popular resorts, including Druzhba, Golden Sands, Albena, and Balchik, the latter being the summertime home and solitude of the Romanian king and aristocracy. We don’t blame him. . . Varna is undoubtedly one of Bulgaria’s most relaxing places to vacation.
When talking about the National Revival in Bulgaria, one should mention the town of Zherawna. The town has some of the most unique old architecture in the entire country, and you can clearly see the times’ effect on it.
The town itself is situated at the foot of the great Balkan mountains, in the thick of the Bulgarian forests. The cobbled streets have been beautifully restored, with more than 150 homes with typical wooden facades.
Though attractive places like the Yordan Yovkov House and the church of St. Nicholas are some of the most beautiful in town, you may find other places more interesting culturally. Off-the-beaten-path tourists seem to like the nearby village park of August Dobromiritsa, where festivals of Bulgarian folk music take place nearly all year round in their traditional Bulgarian dress.
Perhaps the most famous Orthodox monastery globally, Rila Monastery, has become a true symbol of the Bulgarian people. It is renowned for its unusual mixture of Mamluk, Arabic, Byzantine, and Romanesque languages and its beautiful and carefully carved walls covered with bright golden leaves. Rila Monastery was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983. You might have seen it before in photos.
For history junkies, the museum will help you discover more than 1,000 years of history, plus the numerous courtyards and peristyles with wall paintings and medieval scenes on them. There is certainly an abundance of art and architecture worth seeing.
Burgas is one of the most popular places in Bulgaria and a bustling port on the southern Black Sea coast. Far from the ancient and historical centers that populate the country in other places, it is mainly a modern art deco with well-maintained coastal parks. You can also attend some of the hottest music festivals in Bulgaria, such as the Spirit of Burgas Festival, which more people attend yearly.
North Beach is the most popular sandy beach in the city. Still, Burgas has another under-the-radar gem: the majestic trio of lakes stretching from the bird-spotting haven of Vaya in the west to the saltwater of Atanasovsko in the north.
For those travelers looking for an escape to the great outdoors, look no further. Surrounded by pines and the changing of the seasons, the popular mountain complex of Pamporovo, located on the hills south of the Rhodope Mountains, this Bulgarian city is just an arm’s reach from the Greek border.
Though hiking is just fantastic in the summer and fall, what really draws the crowds are the winter slopes of the Smoylans. It is one of the best places for skiing in Bulgaria.
Pamporovo town is also developing rapidly, which means that it is undoubtedly one of the next places to lose its culture and atmosphere to over-tourism in Europe. It is best to get to Pamporovo as soon as possible before it loses its quaint appeal.
While Pamporovo is a special place for skiing, it is hardly the resort-style destination that Bansko is. You can choose from several runs, ranging from beginner level to a more advanced level of skiing. The most popular slopes, Chalin-Valog and Shiligarnika, which see thousands of resort stayers every winter, are among the most popular in Eastern Europe. People come from all parts of Russia and Europe to shred the crisp, clean snow off the picturesque Bansko mountainsides.
Even if you are not a ski junkie, the location in the Pirin Mountains, with numerous luxury hotels, hedonistic bars, jazz bars, and Bulgarian taverns, makes Bansko the perfect getaway for families, couples, or solo travelers!
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13. Sunny Beach
Leave your inhibitions aside and dive into Sunny Beach. Sunny beach is a city in Bulgaria where people go to be seen. he Malia, Ayia Napa, or Ibiza of Bulgaria with pulsating clubs and pubs are party promoters who (literally) almost shove alcohol down your throat, flashing neon lights, funk ravers, alcoholic cruises, and bikini contests.
If you manage to make it out to explore after the long nights, Sunny Beach has a beautiful strip of sandy beach along the Black Sea. Many people don’t see the light of day when they visit Sunny Beach, but it actually has a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty.
We may have saved Nessebar for last, but it is certainly not the least. As a matter of fact, it holds a special place in our souls. This medieval city is a pearl of the Black Sea. It is known for its fascinating UNESCO city center, where the ruins of Thracian and the impressive ancient churches intertwine. It is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating and unforgettable cities on the Bulgarian coast.
This Bulgarian city is one to be reckoned with if traveling to the Bulgarian coast this year! There are also huge fortifications known for fighting both the Ottoman Turks and the Crusaders. Not to mention the beautiful coastal villages that decline ever-so-gently to the coast.
So many choices of Bulgarian cities to visit!
As you can see, there are countless cities with amazing potential in Bulgaria. The tourism structure in the country is constantly improving, especially in terms of luxury travel. Just check out these top hotels in Bulgaria if you want evidence! You will not be disappointed in choosing Bulgaria for your destination anytime.
Bulgaria was one of the most accessible and convenient countries to travel to in the Balkans. And with beautiful surroundings – whether it be the Black Sea, the towering Balkan mountain range, the secluded sandy beaches, or the supreme culture – you will indeed find the right place for you. Constant surprises are awaiting you at every stop along the way.
Bulgaria’s smallest town, Melnik, is famous for its unique sandstone formations, vineyards, and the Melnik Pyramids
If you have any questions regarding your vacation to Bulgaria or the rest of the Balkans, please do not hesitate to reach us, and we will be happy to try and answer your concerns.
Now that you know which cities to visit in Bulgaria, which one will you choose to see first?