15 Ideas For Winter In Bulgaria – Bulgaria In Winter Guide

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Post author SJ

Written by our local expert SJ

Sarah-Jane has lived in Croatia for 10+ years. SJ, as she is known, has been traveling the Balkans & beyond since 2000. She now shares her passion for traveling with her husband & kids.

Here is all the info you need to enjoy a Bulgarian winter. From the Rhodope Mountains to the vibrant capital of Bulgaria, we have many ideas for you to find a great spot this winter.

We’ve got a massive list of things to do in Bulgaria in winter and ideas on where to stay and what you should pack.

Bulgaria Travel Blog_Things To Do In Bulgaria In Winter

Bulgaria is an incredible Balkan country with exciting experiences, a rich cultural heritage, and incredible historical sites. During the winter, a natural scenario of frozen waterfalls and snowed mountains opens the door to exciting adventures and unforgettable experiences.

Winter sports are a trend in Bulgaria during the cold season; with stunning ski resorts and mountain lodges, top-class skating rinks, and fantastic hiking trails in the woods, people flock to Bulgaria in winter to have fun. 

Popular Bulgarian winter sports include skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, hiking, snowshoeing, and more. Whether you’re planning to visit Bulgaria this winter or you want to dream about your next winter holiday, this article has all that you need to know to discover what there is to do in Bulgaria in winter.

1. Enjoy Sofia

Winter in Bulgaria - Ivan Vazov National Theatre in Sofia
Ivan Vazov National Theatre in Sofia – Bulgaria

There is plenty to do in winter in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Filled with impressive churches, which look even more stunning when covered in snow, and remarkable museums, the city offers many fun and entertaining opportunities for those who love winter but are not fans of winter sports.

For instance, you can visit the magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral or check out shopping opportunities along Vitosha Boulevard.

This pedestrian road is dotted with modern shops, stylish boutiques, and cozy cafeterias, bars, and restaurants for a warm break from the freezing streets.

One of the most vibrant European capitals, Sofia can be pretty affordable in the low season, making it easy to find convenient accommodation for every traveler. The city is home to dozens of hotels, rental studios, and various lodgings catering to all budgets.

Things to do in Sofia Bulgaria - Church of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker - Russian Church

Suppose you’re visiting in the period around Christmas. In that case, the city will surprise you with Advent and Christmas fairs, as well as special culinary events, religious choirs, and several other attractions scattered around the city’s main squares.

However, the most charming place to visit is Sofia’s welcoming Christmas Market in Borisova Gradina, perfect for tasting local delicacies and shopping for unique souvenirs.

Don’t think you won’t be able to enjoy some snow if you’re limiting your time in Bulgaria only to Sofia. Just a 30-minute drive from the city center, Mount Vitosha (2290 m) offers activities such as skiing and snowboarding. Over here, renting the necessary equipment for any activity you choose is possible.


2. Kukeri Festival

winter in Bulgaria - Kukeri, mummers perform rituals with costumes and big bells, intended to scare away evil spirits during the international festival of masquerade games Surva in Pernik, Bulgaria
Kukeri, Pernik, Bulgaria

Kukeri are an essential part of Bulgaria’s rich cultural heritage, and their performances are often showcased during the Kukeri Festival. This festival takes place in various regions of Bulgaria, such as Pernik (see the Surva Festival below), in the winter months, and it is a significant cultural event.

The Kukeri rituals are believed to have ancient roots and are performed to ward off evil spirits, bring good luck, and ensure a bountiful harvest. They play a crucial role in Bulgarian folklore and traditions.

Kukeri wear elaborate and colorful costumes, often including masks, bells, and various ornaments. The costumes are designed to be visually striking and can vary from one region to another.

During the Kukeri Festival, these groups of performers, known as “Bands of Kukeri,” engage in lively and energetic dances and rituals. They stomp their feet, make loud noises with the bells on their costumes, and interact with the audience. The masks worn by Kukeri often depict animals, mythical creatures, or other symbolic figures. Each element of their costume and performance holds specific cultural and symbolic significance.

3. Surva Festival

The Surva Festival, also known as the International Festival of Masquerade Games “Surva,” is an annual celebration and contest held in Bulgaria.  The Surva Festival takes place in the small town of Pernik in eastern Bulgaria. Pernik is approximately 30 minutes away from the capital city, Sofia.

The festival typically spans two days and is held in late January. It is one of the most significant winter events in Bulgaria. The central focus of the Surva Festival is the masquerade games. Participants, known as “kukeri,” don elaborate and often scary costumes and masks. These costumes are meant to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck for the year ahead.

During the festival, the kukeri groups parade through the streets of Pernik, showcasing their costumes and masks. There are also contests where the best costumes and performances are judged and awarded.

The Surva Festival has deep cultural and historical roots in Bulgaria. It combines ancient pagan traditions with Christian rituals and is celebrated to ensure a bountiful harvest, protect against evil, and bring prosperity to the community.

Overall, the Surva Festival is a vibrant and captivating celebration of Bulgarian culture, folklore, and traditions, with a focus on masquerade games that are both intriguing and visually stunning.

As a bonus, you’ll find several of these similar festivals across the Balkan peninsula at the same time of the year. For example, in Croatia, a similar tradition is known as “Mesopust” or “Poklade.” While not identical to the Bulgarian Kukeri, these Croatian carnival traditions share some costume similarities.

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4. Escape To A Different Town For A Warmer Winter

ancient amphitheater in Plovdiv in Winter

Known for its sunny winters, Plovdiv is a good city alternative for sightseeing if the winter in Sofia gets too cold for you and the grey weather puts you in a bad mood. Hello, sunny days.

With plenty of sightseeing available, visiting the old town of Plovdiv guarantees a rewarding journey to the past as you’ll be the crowds who flock here in the summer months.

The city stands on top of an ancient Roman settlement where it is possible to visit the Ancient Theater of Philippopolis, which dates back to the first century AD, and a well-preserved ancient Roman stadium. According to different researchers, these buildings prove the city’s importance within the extensive territories of the Roman Empire.

Today, Plovdiv is a treasured destination in the country where dozens of traditional ancient homes of aristocratic origin have been renewed, respecting their old architecture and style, offering visitors the opportunity to experience how life used to be in this corner of Bulgaria.

5. Winter Vibe In Bansko And Borovets

Bankso Ski Resoirt

Bansko And Borovets are two of the best winter resorts in Bulgaria. Both areas attract thousands of winter sports enthusiasts. If it is your time or if you are an advanced skier, the ski area and well-known slopes are fantastic. Plus, many winter lodging options cater to all budgets.

In both destinations, you can easily spend the morning at the ski run, hit the snowboarding track in the afternoon, and then end the day heading back to your wood cabin for a relaxing spa moment.

Bansko is a typical Slavic village with ancient roots and is home to incredible traditions. Here, at the foot of the Pirin Mountains, you can enjoy relaxing at the thermal pools or choose to go on a rafting adventure at the Struma River outside of the ski season.


6. Charming Veliko Tarnovo

Best Things To Do In Veliko Tarnovo - Bulgaria Travel Blog

Another spot not to miss in Bulgaria, no matter the season or the weather, is the historic town of Veliko Tarnovo. The current cultural center of Bulgaria, the city hosts important museums, parks, squares, and impressive ancient buildings.

Among the most stunning monuments to check out in the town, you should not miss the Tsarevets Fortress, an aristocratic building once home to the royal family.

Baldwin’s Tower is an iconic city landmark not far from the fortress, where the Byzantine Emperor Baldwin was held captive when the Bulgarians defeated the Byzantine army.


7. Rila, The Most Famous Monastery In Bulgaria

3 Days In Bulgaria - Rila monastery, a famous monastery in Bulgaria

Rila Monastery is the most remarkable religious center in the country… and it can be a dreamy destination in winter because of its mountain location. An evergreen forest surrounds the premises, and the distant mountains covered in snow offer a stunning postcard-like scenario that’s not easy to forget.

The monastery dates back to the tenth century, and its gorgeous church houses three magnificent altars with fine frescoes and gold-plated icons.

Many travelers get in touch before their trip to spend the night at the monastery, which can be a mystic and unforgettable experience for a meager price. 


8. Taste Bulgarian Gastronomy

Food In Bulgaria - Bulgarian Bean Soup - Bob Chorba

There is no better way to get to know the culture of a destination than through its cuisine, and Bulgaria is a perfect example. Most traditional Bulgarian foods are hearty and rich and seem to have been specially made for the winter season.

Make sure to choose those restaurants and taverns visited by locals more than tourists to ensure you will experience the most authentic Bulgarian delicacies. Check out Bulgaria’s heartwarming stews, pickled vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, and honey—staples with enough caloric values to keep your inner temperature up even if the outside is freezing.


9. Hit The Spa

Spas and thermal springs are famous all over the country. Public mineral springs, hot baths, saunas, and more hot water-related activities are some of the most characteristic things to do in Bulgaria in winter to keep yourself warm and relaxed.

Tourists and locals alike enjoy these pampering, rejuvenating moments that help contrast the icy winters that are usual in the country. Many of these spa premises are found in dreamy mountain cabins and resorts. Man rooms come with hot sauna tubs surrounded by windows facing majestic mountain views made of peaks covered in snow and lush pine forests dressed in white.

Two places are a must when it comes to thermal spa tourism in Bulgaria. Not far from the capital, for instance, you can head to Hisarya, another famous city during the times of the Roman Empire, where there is a fantastic selection of guesthouses and bungalows with hot springs where you’ll be welcome to relax.

The city is also fascinating for its architectural gems and archaeological ruins dating back to the Thracian and Roman times. These include an impressive amphitheater, proto-Christian basilicas, ancient tombs, and portions of the ancient city walls.

10. Not Everything Is Skiing In Winter

Ice skating in winter

Indeed, it’s not! Ice skating is a sport that never seems to go out of fashion in Bulgaria. On the contrary, it is the local’s most beloved hobby during winter, and the habit is often picked up with enthusiasm also by winter tourists.

You will find top-class ice skating rinks all over the country, some for professional ice skaters, where you can enjoy some free time gliding on the ice or making new friends. Many local ice skating rinks have free entry or very low-priced entry tickets.

11. Enjoy A One-Of-A-Kind Carnival

Unlike any other carnival celebration around the world, Carnival in Bulgaria is deeply rooted in the country’s ancient traditions, pretty much everywhere, but especially felt in smaller villages.

The celebration features unusual ancient rituals intertwined with religious beliefs and folk traditions thought to be essential to send away scary evil spirits.

The celebrations include dances along the streets with participants dressed as spooky wild animals. They also wear a traditional bell tied to their waist in order to send evil creatures away.

12. Visit Stara Planina

Stara Planina is known as The Old Mountain, and it’s a beautiful spot to visit. There are many small villages and amazing scenery to check out, and of course, it’s covered in snow during the winter months.

You should also head to Rai Hut, which will give you an Insta-worthy shot of a huge waterfall known as Heaven’s Spring.

13. Hike The Seven Rila Lakes

Amazing panorama of The Seven Rila Lakes, Rila Mountain

Going hiking in the Seven Rila Lakes area during the winter months is possible, but you should always check the weather before heading out. The journey around the lakes should take around five hours, but ensure you have everything you need in case the weather turns. Despite that, the winter views are jaw-droppingly beautiful, and you’ll undoubtedly get a good workout. 

14. Warm Up Tasting Bulgarian Wines

Blond Woman Drinking Red Wine In Restaurant

The country has produced delicious wineries since ancient times, and the choice of wine tasting activities and wineries to visit is quite wide.

Dating back to the Thracian times, winemaking has been one of the leading agricultural activities in Bulgaria; this age-old tradition has gained admirers from all over the world who come to the country to sample unique wines.

The best time to go wine tasting is winter, mainly around Christmas, a few months after the harvesting season when the new labels have just been introduced to the market.

15. Eat Bulgarian Food

Eating Bulgarian food in winter is a delightful experience that offers a taste of hearty and warming dishes perfectly suited for the cold season.

Traditional Bulgarian winter cuisine features an array of comforting options. One popular choice is “banitsa,” a flaky pastry filled with cheese or other savory ingredients, often enjoyed with a cup of hot tea or yogurt.

Chicken soup served in a bread roll is a heartwarming classic that provides both nourishment and comfort. Another winter favorite is “moussaka,” a layered dish of minced meat and potatoes, topped with a creamy sauce.

Don’t miss trying “kebabche,” small grilled sausages seasoned with spices, for a flavorful and satisfying meal. Bulgarian winter cuisine embraces the use of local ingredients and spices, creating a unique culinary experience that warms both the body and the soul, making it a must-try during your winter visit to Bulgaria.

Bulgaria In Winter Travel Tips

As you may have read, the winters in Bulgaria are cold and can get very cold up in the mountains. Do not overlook the weather and pack accordingly.

If hiking or exploring natural areas are part of your plans, trust a local guide to walk trails you’re unfamiliar with. Always pack enough water and supplies, and carry a map you can access if your phone is not working or you’re out of coverage.

Planning a trip can be pretty exciting, but it can also make it easy to forget obvious things.

For example, in winter, days are shorter, and there is less daylight quite early in the afternoon. Remember this when booking tours and accommodations, especially if you’re traveling solo and don’t feel safe walking alone on dark streets in town… at 4 pm!

Also, remember that the most important celebrations in winter include Christmas and New Year’s. Bulgaria is a very religious Orthodox country; here, the population feels and respects both holidays and traditions, and I suggest you pop in to see an Orthodox church during this time of year.

Try to participate in a midnight mass, join a Christmas dinner, or visit a Christmas market to get the real feel of the holidays in Bulgaria.

Although most of the country sees abundant snow, traveling by car is convenient, provided you rent a well-equipped vehicle for the snow and includes snow chains for your tires, especially when you are near those majestic snow-covered peaks.

Check the state of your tires, lights, and breaks before getting on the wheel. If driving is not for you in the winter, then organized tours can save your day when trying to visit different points in the country.

And… above all, enjoy! Have fun and breathe in this fairy-tale season’s magnetic atmosphere, explore the mountains, get lost in the cities, taste the local dishes, and have fun in the markets. Bulgaria is a perfect winter destination that will not disappoint you at all.

Winter In Bulgaria: Does It Get Very Cold

In short, yes, it does. With snowfall as early as the beginning of December, the country can be freezing cold during the whole winter season until early March. Temperatures drop close to 0 °C (32 °F) and below.

If you visit Bulgaria in December, you’ll be heading to the scene of a Christmas film, a true winter wonderland kind of vibe. There are Christmas trees and twinkling lights everywhere, plus you’ll be able to visit Christmas markets and services throughout the month.

This is the first month of winter when it gets really cold, and it’s mostly below freezing up the mountains. It’s a little milder along the Black Sea Coast; however, you’ll see snow if you head to the hills.

This is also when you can enjoy New Year celebrations and see concerts, fireworks, and parties all over the country. Knyaz Batenberg Square in Sofia is the central point for celebrations.

January is the month when you’re definitely going to see snow, and in the mountainous regions, it’s all about hot chocolate, skiing, and snowboarding. Bulgarians also celebrate Orthodox Christmas in early January, and you can participate in celebrations and traditions.

What To Pack For Bulgaria In Winter

Packing the right clothes for such weather conditions can make the difference between spending a miserable or fantastic winter vacation.

Don’t forget thermal underwear, cozy socks, and snow boots or waterproof hiking boots to keep your feet warm and dry. Layering is also vital to keeping you warm; choose natural fibers and dry fast for further comfort.

Pack gloves, a scarf, and a wool hat for further protection against cold weather, snow, and rain. Also, a good, insulated winter jacket will be your best travel companion when the wind blows up in the mountains or snow falls in town.

If you plan to hit the thermal baths (and you should), do not forget your bathers, slippers, and a robe.

Bulgaria has reasonable prices year-round, but when the winter weather hits, the prices look as good as the Christmas decorations.

Comments (6)

  1. Wow, what a fantastic list of things to do in Bulgaria during the winter! I’ve always wanted to visit, and now I have even more reasons to plan a trip. The Rila Monastery and Bansko Ski Resort sound absolutely amazing. Any recommendations for must-try Bulgarian dishes to warm up during the cold season?

    1. We always drop our rental car at Sofia Airport and then take a taxi to Sofia – as you can walk almost any places. That said, driving isn’t crazy like Rome or London so go for it.

  2. I have only been to Sofia once and that was in spring. I have such fond memories of my first visit and always wanted to go back and see the city in a different season. Bulgaria can be quite cold in the winter and this post ushers some warmth on a Bulgarian winter visit. The Kukeri festival is high on my list ;-)

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