18 reasons you should book a trip to Bulgaria

If you’ve been wondering what your next travel destination should be, why not consider Bulgaria

This underrated gem on the Balkan Peninsula has a rich history, diverse nature, and unforgettable experiences waiting for you to discover them! 

If you still haven’t decided whether or not to book a trip to Bulgaria – we’re here to show you some of the magic you’ll discover when you visit Bulgaria. 

 

1. Air travel is easier and cheaper than you think

If you are traveling from Europe, chances are you will find affordable airfare to BulgariaIn the case that you are traveling from North America or other continents further away from Europe, you might need to pay a bit more. While your flight to Bulgaria might be expensive, the cost of living and travel is relatively low here. It’s likely that your transportation to the country will be the biggest cost on your trip. 

When is the most affordable time to visit Bulgaria? The cheapest time to book a flight to Bulgaria is during the off-peak season when the country is relatively free from tourists. This off-peak season is between the months of October and February. During these months, you can enjoy the most authentic and affordable stay in Bulgaria. 

 

Bordered on the east by the Black Sea, Bulgaria has some incredible coastal beaches. From marine towns to quaint villages, the Bulgarian seaside is truly worth a visit. Ideally, for longer than a couple of days so you can fully take in the atmosphere. 

Without a doubt, there are multiple party spots on the Black Sea coast, like Sunny Beach. However, you can also enjoy the luxury Bulgaria beach resorts that make for a pleasant family vacation. On the other hand, if you are looking to connect with nature and enjoy the wilderness, you have plenty of options with camp sites across the whole coast.

Cacao beach party

While it is not rare to find people partying until the sunrise on the Black Sea coast, welcoming the sun rays of the first July day is actually a Bulgarian tradition called “July Morning.”

3. Breathtaking mountains and forest trails

It’s practically impossible to visit Bulgaria without catching a glimpse of some of the awe-inspiring landscapes. To say the least, they are hard to miss. As soon as you arrive at the capital city of Sofia, the wide view of Vitosha mountain expands above the city. 

There are five main mountains in the country, if we don’t count the smaller ones. In fact, mountains take up 30% of Bulgaria’s total territory. The biggest mountains in Bulgaria are Rila, Pirin, the Rhodopes, Stara Planina, and Vitosha, which extends above the capital of Sofia. Hundreds of trails will lead you through serene meadows, lush greenery and towering, breath-taking peaks

4. Clear lakes and flowing rivers

If you want really want to have the full experience of Bulgarian nature, you can’t go without seeing one of the picturesque lakes, rivers, or waterfalls in the country

Some of these natural riches you will find in the mountainside, while others are more accessible and don’t require much walking. If you’re fine with a bit of forest hiking, you can try a moderate hike close to Sofia, which will lead you to the gorgeous Boyana Waterfall. In the case that you are spending multiple days in Bulgaria and want to venture out, the seven pristine lakes in the Rila National Park are certainly a must-see sight. 

Another option to take in the rivers of Bulgaria is on a boat cruise along the banks of Bulgaria’s rivers. You can choose from the border-crossing Danube river, or the coastal rivers of Ropotamo, Kamchia, or Veleka

 

5. Cultural festivities and village fairs

Bulgarian tradition and history are very much alive in local cultural festivals. Organized by the local communities, local fairs and festivals are each region’s way to preserve the distinct customs, cuisine, and traits that originate from that part of the country. Many of these festivals involve Bulgarian folk music, our traditional horo dance, and a solid amount of eating. You can expect to find food at most Bulgarian culture festivals. However, some of them are specifically dedicated to a local crop. Try the best cherries from Kuystendil, or sample the best plum rakia in Troyan at one of these local food gatherings.

By far, the most popular of the festivals is the rose festival in Kazanlak and the Surva festival, a folklore festival in Pernik. At the rose festival, you can trace back an olden tradition of rose-picking in the valleys of Bulgaria. Witness dozens of flower petals go through the process of becoming a highly sought-after essential oil. On the other hand, the Surva festival is a unique cultural experience you cannot miss. This folk tradition dating back to Pagan times includes animal costumes, heavy cowbells and folk dancing to ward off evil spirits. 

The heritage sites in Bulgaria take multiple spots in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization‘s extensive list.  This collection of noteworthy world heritage sites has recognized a number of both cultural and natural properties across Bulgaria

Among this list are the coastal old town of Nessebar, the cliffside church complex in Ivanovo dating back to the 12th century, and the rich biodiverse habitat of the Srebarna nature reserve

Each UNESCO site in Bulgaria holds significance for our country. Whether it’s with the centuries-old history, or with impressive flora and fauna, each of these globally-recognized locations are seeing for yourself.

 

Cliff churches in the village of Ivanovo, UNESCO sites Bulgaria

The rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo are a unique church complex, carved into the cliffside. This ancient site is a remarkable achievement in the history of Christian art and Bulgarian medieval art. 

7. Bulgarian barbecue, or skara

One thing you’ll quickly notice about Bulgarians – we love our meat! Barbecue stands are scattered throughout the city, grilling skewers, steaks, and meatballs. We have a word for this grilling passion – skara. 

Some of the most popular Bulgarian barbecue items include kiufte, a minced pork meatball with spices and kebapche, and а sausage version of the meatballs, but with less spices. You can find many other grilled meats on the menu, as well. In order to do skara the right way, (there is no wrong way, really) combine your protein with a serving of french fries and a heaping spoonful of Bulgarian liutenitsa. 

Bulgarian skara is a cheap, quick and filling bite to grab while you are on the go. Of course, you can enjoy these Balkan flavors in most restaurants, while some even specialize in grilling. Some spots we recommend are Q-ftetaria and BDS (Bulgarian delicacies on skara) in Sofia. 

8. Subculture and international communities

Bulgaria has multiple cities that combine a number of subcultures into lively, bustling hubs. Of course, one of them is the capital Sofia and two others we recommend exploring are Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo. At these hot spots, you’ll find people expressing themselves in all sorts of ways – from fashion and hobbies to sports

In recent years, Bulgaria has become a popular destination for expats. Like digital nomads following their instincts, second-home owners, or people who simply fell in love with Bulgaria and decided to stay. In turn, bigger cities have become all-embracing of new cultures and overall more diverse.

Most international residents have formed communities among themselves and are always happy to share their knowledge or experience in Bulgaria.

Young people in Plovdiv

In the subculture hubs of Sofia, Veliko Tarnovo and Plovdiv, you will find  people expressing themselves, openly sharing and welcoming people into their communities. 

9. Traditional Bulgarian breakfast

While you can catch Bulgarians eating banitsa at any given moment of the day, the most ideal time to enjoy this savory pastry is in the morning. Combine it with the yogurt drink, ayran for the ultimate Bulgarian breakfast. You’ll notice that a lot of our breakfast foods include kiselo mlyako, (traditional Bulgarian yogurt)   The best part is that in case you get bored of banitsa, (as if that’s possible) there are so many other doughy pastries at every neighborhood bakery. 

It’s worth saying that not all Bulgarian breakfast is bread. If dough or gluten is not in your diet, you can still start your day with a good meal. You can try a dinner favorite for breakfast – Panagyurski poached eggs with a garlic yogurt sauce. For a healthy Bulgarian breakfast, you can pair any seasonal fruit from a local market with our beloved yogurt for a homemade parfait. 

 

10. Rich religious history and architecture

Along the topic of Bulgarian history and significance, we cannot fail to mention the deeply rooted religious history that can be found here.

Scattered across the country are many early churches, monasteries and temples. Some of these religious sites date back to the 4th century, like the St. George Rotunda, which is located in downtown Sofia and is the oldest church in Bulgaria

We recommend you check out the picturesque Rila monastery, which is the biggest in the country, as well as the Troyan monastery. There are also smaller monasteries that are worth a visit, like the Cherepish monastery near Vratsa, and Draynovo monastery close to Veliko Tarnovo. 

11. Eventful winters with snowsports and traditions

Winter in Bulgaria has its positives, despite the cold weather. Actually, winter tourism is really popular here. 

Both newbie and professional snowsport lovers are drawn to the Bulgarian slopes. Affordable fares, open pistes, and lively après-ski culture make the Bulgarian ski resorts prime winter destinations. Some of the most popular ski resorts are Borovets, Pamporovo, and Bansko. Other options like Bezbog and Osogovo are less-touristy and more lowkey spots.

Another reason to visit Bulgaria in the winter is to witness the traditions and customs that come alive during wintertime. Of course, celebrating Christmas and New Year are some of the most widespread winter traditions. But two distinct customs mark the beginning of the year in Bulgaria, both with ancient origins and rituals. One of those is  the Surva folk festival, where locals dress up in animal headdress and perform a ritual dance to ward off evil winter spirits. A couple of days later, we celebrate one of the oldest Christian holidays Jordanovden (Epiphany). Early in the morning on the twelfth day of Christmas, young men jump into icy rivers to retrieve a cross, thrown in the water to sanctify it

Winter tourism - Pamporovo

Ski resorts in Bulgaria are a popular winter destination among both locals and visitors. Fresh powder slopes and après-ski parties bring thousands of visitors per season to Borovets and Pamporovo.

Saint Yordan or Yordanoven Tradition in Bulgaria

The winter celebration of Jordanovden (Epiphany) of Bulgaria entails a sanctification ritual, where the priest throws a cross into the nearest river and young men race to retrieve it.

12. Modern music scene and olden folk music

You might not know it yet, but Bulgarian music is fascinating. From national folklore music to pop music from the 50s and contemporary bands, we Bulgarians love our music. Chances are, you will too. 

Let’s start with the old music traditions that are preserved to this day. You can witness the unique phenomenon of Bulgarian open-throat singing techniques and folk songs at the music fairs held around the country, like the Rhozen folklore festival. Also, in the small Rhodope mountains village of Gela you can hear the mystical sound of the traditional Bulgarian instrument, gaida (bagpipe)

The most recent music wave that overcame the nation came in the 40s and 50s, in the peak of communism in Bulgaria. This genre of estrada, literally meaning stage, was the pop music of the time. Due to the regime, radio stations were limited strictly to 

Today, there are so many DJs, musicians, and bands on the music scene in Bulgaria. You will find many venues that host concerts and shows, like Bar Petak, Terminal 1 and Sofia Live Club

13. Bustling nightlife and craft drinks

If you are looking for a city with an active nightlife, lively venues, and craft drinks, then Sofia is for you. 

Craft cocktail culture is very much alive in the capital of Bulgaria, as well as other cities in the country. Skilled bartenders will happily mix a custom drink for you with homemade syrups, bitters, and quality liquor. Some top-notch cocktail spots in Sofia we recommend are the Soviet-themed Sputnik bar, the underground 3 Oz. bar and the cozy, vintage feel of BarMe

If you are more of a beer person, there are certainly craft brews for you to try, as well. While Bulgarians have about a dozen light-bodied pilsners sold in any convenience store, you have to venture a bit to find the craft beer scene in Sofia. Some shops that sell craft beers are Nosferatu and 100Beers. To sit down and enjoy your brew, you can check out KANAAL, the best craft beer bar in the capital

14. Local produce and homemade goods

In this country proud of its agronomy and various crops, you will find many fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables. Local farmers’ markets and small neighborhood produce shops sell a variety of seasonal crops and goodies. Grab a fresh snack for breakfast, or pick up a jar of homemade Bulgarian honey. 

If you are visiting at the beginning of summer, you can try some of the most decadent strawberries and cherries. Toward the months of August and September, indulge in juicy peaches and ripe figs delivered fresh from local gardens to the market. 

Another interesting find in most neighborhoods are the designated shops, like meat shops, dairy stores, and bakeries. Each of them offer fresh specialties of a much higher quality than you will ever find at the supermarket. Plus, you’ll be supporting the local artisans and farmers who pour their hearts into their production.

 

15. Shopping and thrift shops galore

Bulgarians take their shopping seriously. In Sofia and the bigger cities you will find dozens of shopping malls international brands. You will find many familiar brands like H&M and Zara in Bulgarian malls, but you can also find quality local goods. 

16. Healing mud bath rituals

Mud baths have a long traditional heritage and well-known healing properties. 

17. Ancient history mixes with modern atmosphere

For example, Sofia’s Roman ruins are juxtaposed with modern buildings that would make any architecture junkie swoon. A city tour is never boring when so many styles converge in one place.

18. Traditional cuisine with vegan and vegetarian options

Local food of the Balkan and Bulgaria region offers much more than just skara and meat. In every restaurant, you will find a number of vegetarian options, many of which can be served vegan. 

A majority of Bulgarian food is based around vegetables.