Italy, Germany, Spain, France… These are the countries you see tourists flying to every summer, but what about the lesser-explored countries in Europe? Take, for example, Bulgaria, which is a hidden gem in itself! This small country near the Black Sea only gets 12 million tourists per year (compared to 90 million in Paris alone) but is full of unspoiled nature, beaches, charming towns, and friendly locals.
Can’t wait to go? Here are a few places to fuel your wanderlust and help you plan a trip to Bulgaria.
Pirin Mountains –
Let’s kick off our journey with the western part of Bulgaria, which is home to the Pirin Mountains. This mountain range is named after the Perun, the Slavic god of thunder and lightning, and is home to one of the highest peaks in Bulgaria. It’s the perfect place to visit year round: in the summer, travelers can enjoy hiking and camping throughout Pirin National Park or hit the ski slopes of Todorka in the winter.
Melnik (Мелник) – If you’re traveling back from the Pirin mountains, carve out a quick stop to Melnik. Considered to be the smallest town in Bulgaria, Melnik originally had more than 10,000 inhabitants but is now down to less than 300. However, travelers can see the other “inhabitants” of Melnik – the charming and colorful houses! After strolling through the main street, stop by the famous Kordopulova house. Originally built in 1754 to produce and bottle wine, the house is now the site of a museum. Speaking of wine – don’t forget to try Melnik’s specialty before you leave! The region is historically known for its blend of wines, and almost every resident has their own vineyard.
Just 100 kilometers south of Melnik is Bulgaria’s biggest monastery and one of the most famous UNESCO sites. Rila Monastery was founded over 1,000 years ago by the Bulgarian Saint Ivan of Rila. Aside from being an important religious site, the Rila Monastery is just one example of the stunning architecture in Bulgaria: it’s hard not to get lost in the black-and-white striped arches and complex details of the buildings. One of the must-sees at the monastery is Rafail’s Cross – a wooden crucifix with more than 100 tiny Bible scenes carved into it by the monk Rafail who was almost blind when he finished it. How’s that for attention to detail?
If you’re looking to get in touch with your spiritual side, the monastery also offers overnight stays to locals and travelers.
Fun fact: The monastery is depicted on the reverse of the 1 lev banknote!
Boasting over 340,000 residents, Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria. However, it’s often overlooked for travelers who prefer to stay in Bulgaria’s capital. Make the 2-hour train trip from Sofia to Plovdiv and you won’t regret it!
Plovdiv is known for its lively atmosphere, trendy cafes and bars, and cultural heritage – in fact, it was named the European Capital of Culture for 2019! Start your trip off with a visit to Kapana, the trendy arts and crafts district of Plovdiv. Don’t forget to ask a local about what’s going on in the city – there’s usually an event or two, like international concerts, art bazaars, movie screenings, theater performances, and book fairs.
Walk along the Old Town, grab a sweet treat at Sladoledena Kashta Afreddo, and watch the Singing Fountains in the evening to top off a magical day in Plovdiv.
You probably figured out that Sofia is the capital of Bulgaria, but have you heard of it’s lesser-known capital? Veliko Tarnovo, also known as the City of Tsars, was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire for more than 200 years. Nowadays, it’s a well-preserved relic of Bulgaria’s history. Start your visit by walking up to Tsaravets fortress, the residents of many previous kings, before strolling through the streets to admire the city’s many murals (don’t miss the one on Stefan Stambolov!) and buying a handmade gift on Samovodskata Charshia (the craft street).
How could we mention Bulgaria and not include at least one beach? Although the country has more than 370 kilometers of coastline, most travelers usually stop at Bulgaria’s most famous beach called Sunny Beach. For travelers looking to beat the crowds (and avoid fighting over a lounger!), head over to Sozopol.
Not as crowded as its neighbors up north, Sozpol’s high season is between May to September. Travelers who visit the city in September can enjoy the Apollonia art and film festival while soaking up the sun’s rays, or enjoy the fusion food that Sozopol is known for. The city has three main beaches, but if you’re looking for the best, then head straight for Kavatsite Beach!
The Royal Castle of Evksinograd
If you’ve ever wanted to live the royal life, here’s your chance. Evksinograd, located a few kilometers from Varna, is a grandiose villa that was originally used as a summer palace for Bulgaria’s royal families. Travelers can join a tour throughout complex and walk through the gardens, sample some of Evksinograd’s famous wine, and even see the famous Kastritsi fortress.
Weather you’re into nature, food, ancient history, or beaches, Bulgaria has it all. We hope that you’ll add one — or all! — of these hidden gems. Добре дошъл and Welcome to Bulgaria!