Travelling in Bulgaria is cheap, hassle-free and immensely rewarding.
In many ways, Bulgaria remains the unknown country of the Balkans. As with many little-known destinations, there’s a great deal to discover here: much of Bulgaria is like an open-air museum of Balkan culture, with beautifully decorated churches, fine mosques, wonderfully preserved rustic villages and a great deal of enduring folklore.
The Republic of Bulgaria, is a country in southeastern Europe. It is bordered by Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the east. With a territory of 110,994 square kilometres (42,855 sq mi), Bulgaria is Europe’s 16th-largest country.
Bulgaria’s population of 7.4 million people is predominantly urbanised and mainly concentrated in the administrative centres of its 28 provinces. Most commercial and cultural activities are centred on the capital and largest city, Sofia. The strongest sectors of the economy are heavy industry, power engineering, and agriculture, all of which rely on local natural resources.
For most foreign holidaymakers, Bulgaria’s main lure is its long, sandy coastline – which still boasts swaths of stunning beaches and picturesque bays. But there is so much more to this country, and so much of it remains largely untouched and unvisited by the tourists. Networks of well-maintained hiking trails and horse-riding routes allow you to discover Bulgaria’s lush mountainous and forested landscapes, inhabited by bears, lynx, rare birds and other kinds of wildlife now becoming scarce elsewhere in Europe.
Getting around the country is easy, with cheap and efficient public transport to ferry you between the cities and into the remoter, rural corners, where the traditional, slow pace of life continues much as it has done for centuries. If you’re looking to explore the place in any great depth, you’ll certainly require your own wheels, especially for the more remote, rural areas.
In Bulgaria you’ll come across multicoloured monasteries, filled with fabulous icons and watched over by bushy-bearded priests, and impossibly pretty timber-framed villages with smoke curling lazily over the stone-tiled roofs and donkeys complaining in the distance, where headscarfed old ladies and their curious grandchildren still stare in wonderment at the arrival of outsiders. The cities, too, are often overlooked highlights, from dynamic, cosmopolitan Sofia with its lovely parks, sociable alfresco bars and fascinating museums, to the National Revival architectural treasures and Roman remains of Plovdiv, and the youthful maritime cockiness of Varna.
In Bulgaria you’ll come across some of Europe’s finest highland scenery in the Rila, Pirin, Balkan, Sredna Gora and Rhodope mountain ranges, whose valleys harbour the kind of bucolic villages which have all but disappeared in Western Europe. Many of them are time-consuming to reach by public transport, but if traditional architecture and goat-thronged, cobbled alleys appeal, any effort will be rewarded.
While the villages of Bansko, Koprivshtitsa and Melnik have the best tourist facilities, more rustic out-of-the-way spots such as Brashlyan, Kovachevitsa and Zheravna are also well worth seeking out.
Bulgaria has a continental climate, with long, hot, dry summers and in the interior at least – bitterly cold winters. July and August can be oppressively hot in the big cities, and a little crowded on the Black Sea coast – elsewhere, you won’t have to worry about being swamped by fellow visitors.