Bulgaria (Bulgarian: България), officially the Republic of Bulgaria (Република България), is a country in the Balkan region of Europe, west of the Black Sea. Bulgaria boasts sublime beaches on its seaside, lovely churches and winter sports opportunities in its mountains, as well as a unique combination of architectural styles in each of its cities and towns. A medium-sized country (approximately the size of Cuba, Portugal or the US state of Virginia), it is one of Europe’s oldest nations and it offers a wide diversity of landscapes, as well as numerous historical sites, each possessing its own unique beauty. There are a great number of tourism opportunities in the country.
|North Bulgaria |
A rolling plain spreads between the Danube river to the north and the foothills of the Balkan Mountains to the south. Still sometimes called by its ancient Roman name Moesia, the land is dotted by the remains of ages past, such as the Baba Vida fortress in Vidin, one of the best preserved medieval fortresses in Bulgaria, and the ruins of the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire in Veliko Tarnovo. During the Bulgarian National Revival, the towns of Ruse and Pleven were centres of Western culture in the region.
|Southern Dobruja |
Called the Granary of Bulgaria, the region produces most of the country's world class wheat among other grains grown locally. The first two Bulgarian capitals, Pliska and Veliki Preslav, are in Dobruja. Veliki Preslav was said to be one of the greatest cities of the early Middle Ages comparable only to Constantinople.
|Bulgarian Black Sea Coast |
The Bulgarian seaside has some of the best sandy beaches in Europe. With settlements ranging from small calm villages, through luxurious five-star resorts, to modern urban cities, the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast can satisfy any taste and during the days of the hot Bulgarian summer. Most of the towns and villages along the coastline can be traced back to Ancient Greece: the town of Nesebar, for example, has a central ancient part that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Varna to the north, is the third largest city in Bulgaria. As an economic and tourist centre, it is called the sea capital of the country. Sunny Beach is the largest beach resort in Bulgaria, in the southern part of the Bulgarian Black Sea Riviera stretching along a beautiful semicircular bay facing east.
A relatively low mountain, Strandzha is known for the specific architecture that can be observed in Malko Tarnovo, Brashlyan and most other villages, the rich folklore and distinctive rituals, such as nestinarstvo (barefoot dancing on live embers), that preserve numerous pagan elements. Strandzha is an area with a large concentration of ruins of Thracian sanctuaries and sacrificial altars, dolmens and other archaeological objects. The mountain is also the home of the Strandzha National Park.
|Upper Thracian Plain |
Some of the most developed cities in Bulgaria, such as Plovdiv and Stara Zagora are found in the region. Northern Thrace is an area of lowlands along the rivers Maritsa and Tundzha, that are very fertile and rich in fossil fuels. The region is also rich in historical heritage: the Panagyurishte Treasure one of the best known surviving artefacts of Thracian culture, the Thracian Tomb of Kazanluk dating back to 4th century BC is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and Plovdiv (the second largest city in the country) is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe.
|Rhodope Mountains |
While not very high mountains, the Rhodopes are a preferred destination by many tourists because of the limited number of roads and the steep hills and the deep forests. The winter ski resort of Pamporovo is in the Rhodopes. "The home of Orpheus", the Greek mythological poet that went to hell to save his loved one, is a region with a distinct cultural influence. Rhodope music is world famous: many foreign musicians have been fascinated by the sounds of Rhodopes and even the song "Izlel e Delyu Haydutin" performed by Valya Balkanska is one of the few performances included in the Voyager Golden Record selection of music, part of the Voyager 2 space probe, that is expected to play across space for at least 60,000 years.
|Pirin Macedonia |
Named after the mountain Pirin the area includes the mountain, and the valleys of the Struma and Mesta rivers. The national park Pirin and the popular ski resort Bansko are part of the attractions of the region. The town of Blagoevgrad is the largest town in the area. It is known as a student town because two of the largest universities are in it. Pirin Macedonia is also a popular wine region.
|Bulgarian Shopluk |
The capital Sofia, as the largest city of Bulgaria, dominates the economy of the region. Vitosha mountain just south of Sofia is a popular tourist destination used as a "get-away" from the hectic urban life. The "roof of the capital" as Vitosha is sometimes called, is convenient for weekend picnics and tourist strolls in the summer and skiing and snowboarding in the winter. Shopluka, however, also includes the highest mountain in the Balkans: Rila. Rila is the home of the ski resort Borovets, some beautiful glacier lakes, and another UNESCO World Heritage site the Rila Monastery.
|Balkan Mountains |
The soul of the Bulgarian people. The mountain has a special meaning of a symbol in Bulgarian folklore and culture. It is the home of heroes and victories, the guardian fortress of the people, the cradle of all that is Bulgarian. The small towns in the foot of the mountain were the revolutionary centres of Bulgarians during the times of the Ottoman Empire and many of the biggest heroes and cultural idols of Bulgaria were born in those towns. The Central Balkan national park is in the mountain and there are many places along the chain that are suitable for winter sports and tourism.
- 1 Sofia (Со́фия) — The capital and largest city in Bulgaria, sprawling under the slopes of Vitosha Mountain. Its pedestrian-friendly central part features an eclectic mixture of architectural styles: 19th/20th century European revivalism, Communist Neo-Classicism and modern office buildings, as well as the ruins of ancient Roman Serdica.
- 2 Burgas (Бургас) — A Black Sea port and the fourth largest city in Bulgaria, it's popular with tourists as it serves as a hub for the southern seaside resorts (such as Sunny Beach) and the picturesque towns Sozopol and Nesebar. The city hosts the popular music festival "Spirit of Burgas".
- 3 Gabrovo (Габрово) — A mid-sized city at the foot of the Balkan Mountains, famous in Bulgarian jokes for the stinginess of its residents (hence the local Museum of Humor and Satire). The nearby Nature Park Bulgarka contains the Uzana mountain resort and the architectural-ethnographic reserve Etara.
- 4 Pleven (Плевен) — A major economic hub in Northwestern Bulgaria that played a key role during the liberation of Bulgaria, which is commemorated in various ways throughout the city. The most notable of those is the Pleven Panorama that houses a huge (115 × 15 metre) panoramic painting depicting the 1877 Siege of Pleven.
- 5 Plovdiv (Пловдив) — Bulgaria's second largest city and one of the oldest in Europe, it was chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2019. Once known as Philippopolis, it holds an ancient Greek amphitheatre, a Roman stadium, an Old Town with Bulgarian Revival architecture, an artistic neighborhood covered in street art, and a large monument of a Soviet soldier overlooking the city.
- 6 Ruse (Русе, also romanized as Rousse) — A port town on the Danube, a gateway to Romania (via the Danube Bridge) and the fifth largest city in Bulgaria. Because of the beautiful Neo-Baroque and Neo-Rococo architecture in its central part, it's sometimes called the "Little Vienna". The Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site site, is 20 km south of the city.
- 7 Varna (Варна) — A Black Sea port and the nation's third largest city, it also serves as a tourism hub for the northern seaside resorts (such as Golden Sands) and the historic towns Balchik and Kavarna, though it does also have beaches of its own and a large seaside park, the Sea Garden.
- 8 Veliko Tarnovo (Велико Търново) — A very picturesque city, with its Old Town built on the steep banks of the meandering Yantra river. In the Middle Ages, it was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire and the slightly restored ruins of its fortresses still crown two peninsulas right next to the modern city. A light-and-sound show is projected onto the fortress walls on certain dates.
- 9 Vidin (Видин) - A river port on the Danube and a gateway to Romania via the New Europe Bridge. Notable for one of the few well preserved medieval fortresses in Bulgaria, Baba Vida. Nearby is the town of Belogradchik, with its Belograchik Rocks and the fortress nested into them that look like something out of fantasy fiction.
- 1 Central Balkan National Park — situated in the centre of Bulgaria, surrounded by the mountains of the Balkan Range. The territory of the park includes parts of five Bulgarian provinces: Lovech, Gabrovo, Sofia, Plovdiv and Stara Zagora.
- 2 Dragoman Marsh — home to a wide variety of plants and rare bird species.
- 3 Etar Architectural-Ethnographic Complex (or just Etara) — the open-air museum of Bulgarian crafts and culture of the 18th century in "Bulgarka" National Nature Park, near the town of Gabrovo
- 4 Pirin National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular ski resort.
- 5 Rhodope Mountains
|Currency||Bulgarian lev (BGN)|
|Population||7 million (2019)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Schuko)|
|edit on Wikidata|
|“||Dear Motherland, / you are a paradise on earth. / Your beauty, your loveliness, / oh, they have no end.||”|
—Chorus of the Bulgarian national anthem
Being close to the Turkish Straits, the key land routes from Europe to the Middle East and Asia pass through Bulgaria. Thanks to this location, the territory of the country has been of interest to many peoples that have left their impact on the land. Remains of various civilizations and epochs are scattered all across the country and can still be seen today. From the tombs of the mighty Thracian kings, through the theatres of the ancient Greeks and the stadiums of the Roman Empire, to the medieval castles of the kings of the First and Second Bulgarian Empire, and the mosques from the Ottoman rule.
The largest ethnic group in the country are ethnic Bulgarians, at around 85% of the population, followed by Bulgarian Turks (about 10%) and Roma (about 5%, locally often referred to with the exonym tsigani). Smaller ethnic minorities (around 10,000 or less) include Russians (mostly 20th and 21st century immigrants) and Armenians (mostly dating back to the Ottoman Empire), as well as even smaller contingents of other Balkan ethnicities. Most Bulgarian Jews survived the Holocaust but left Bulgaria after the Second World War.
The majority of Bulgarians are Eastern Orthodox Christians, represented by the autocephalos (self-headed) Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The second most popular religion is Islam (almost entirely Sunni), practiced by the Turkish minority and the Bulgarian Muslims, an interesting Bulgarian-speaking sub-ethnic group that likely dates back to conversion attempts during the Ottoman reign and lives mainly in the Rhodope Mountains (they are sometimes referred to with the exonym pomatsi, considered undesirable by them). There's a small minority of Protestants (about 1%) due to the efforts of foreign missionaries in the 19th century and after the fall of Communism. The even smaller minority of Roman Catholics (about 0.6%) consists of the remnants of a local population dating back to the Middle Ages and modern immigrants.
In one word: varied. The green Balkan Mountains form the spine of the country, running along Bulgaria's length from its northwestern corner to the middle of the Black Sea coast in the east. They are a natural barrier that separates North from South Bulgaria. The Iskar is the only river that crosses them (at the picturesque Iskar Gorge), and the longest river that runs wholly in Bulgaria.
In the north, a rolling plain spreads between the foothills of the Balkan Mountains and the Danube river (the border with Romania) - the Bulgarian part of the Danubian Plain. Despite the name, it's not quite flat, as it features numerous river valleys and low hills and plateaus.
In the south, a chain of smaller mountains runs parallel to the main Balkan Mountains, forming a series of mountain valleys between the two ranges - the Sub-Balkan Valleys. Further down south, in the south-western corner of the country, the valley of the Struma river runs north-south and separates the mountains on the western border from the rugged Rila and Pirin mountains, the tallest in Bulgaria. Immediately to the east of them are the lower but more extensive Rhodope Mountains that spill over the southern border into Greece. The fertile valley of the Maritsa river drives a wedge between the Rhodopes and the Balkan Mountains; it widens to the east and south-east to form the Upper Thracian Plain, the most extensive lowlands in Bulgaria. Two low mountains, Strandzha and Sakar, mark the south-eastern tip of the country.
The landscape of the country's Black Sea coast is also varied, featuring both rugged cliffs and sandy beaches, as well as marshy river estuaries and brackish sandbar lakes (limans). The highest point of the country is Mount Musala in the Rila mountains. At 2,925 m (9,596 ft), it is both slightly taller than Olympus and the highest peak on the whole Balkan Peninsula.
Interior: Continental in most of the interior: moderately cold winters with occasional heavy snowfalls; hot and dry or mildly humid summers.
Coast: Temperate on the coast: mild autumns, cool winters, mild springs and warm and breezy summers. Subtropical in its southwest: mild winters with more rain than snow in the lower grounds; hot and humid summers.
Winter: The temperatures during the winter period average between −5 °C (23 °F) and 0 °C (32 °F) in the plains, between −2 °C (28 °F) and 3 °C (37 °F) at the seaside, and between −10 °C (14 °F) and −6 °C (21 °F) in the mountains. The winter extremes usually reach −15 °C (5 °F) in the inhabited areas, with the occasional −25 °C (−13 °F) during cold years.
Summer: In the summer, the temperatures vary from 25 °C (77 °F) to 30 °C (86 °F) in the plains, from 21 °C (70 °F) to 28 °C (82 °F) on the coast of the Black Sea, and from 18 °C (64 °F) to 21 °C (70 °F) in the mountains. The extremes in summer pass 40 °C (104 °F), and occasionally there are temperatures in the plains near the rivers reach 46 °C (115 °F)–48 °C (118 °F).
Politics and administration
Bulgaria is a democratic parliamentary republic, with traditional separation of powers - legislative (parliament), executive (government) and judicial (independent judicial system).
The supreme power belongs to the unicameral National Assembly. It consists of 240 members who are elected by proportional representation (with a 4% exclusion threshold) and serve simultaneous 4-year terms. The government consists of a cabinet of ministers led by a Prime Minister, who is considered the head of government. The National Assembly has to confirm any proposed government and can hold it accountable via votes of no confidence. The President is elected by a separate popular vote; they are considered the head of state and serve mostly ceremonial functions, except in a war (when they are the Supreme Commander) and during the process of forming a government - if there's no functioning government for some reason, the President appoints a caretaker government until the next (snap) elections.
Administratively, Bulgaria is divided into 28 oblasti (provinces or regions). Each oblast is named after the major city that is its administrative center, and there are two separate provinces for the capital due to its size - Sofia Province and Sofia City (Sofia-grad). Each province is further subdivided into a number of obshtini (municipalities, singular: obshtina).
Prehistory and antiquity
Due to the favourable natural conditions, the region has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Remains of early humans have been found in several local caves. Excavations have revealed some of the earliest known organized settlements in Europe, dating back to the 7th-6th millenniums BCE. In the 1st millennium BCE, the territory of modern Bulgaria (as well as parts of Greece and European Turkey) was inhabited by the Thracians, who left behind the rich tombs of their kings and nobles, hidden under barrows that dot the landscape (two of them are now UNESCO Heritage Sites). The seafaring Ancient Greeks established colonies on the Black Sea coast, some of which still survive as cities and towns to this day. The Roman Empire conquered the region in the 1st century CE, establishing the provinces Moesia, Thracia (Thrace) and Macedonia. In the 5th century CE, Slavic tribes settled in the area, merging into the local population; at the same time, the Roman Empire split in two, and what would later become Bulgaria remained in the eastern half, the Byzantine Empire. In the 7th century, the Bulgar people, semi-nomadic Turkic-speaking mounted warriors, arrived from their previous state by the Volga and established the first Bulgarian state on the Balkans.
First and Second Bulgarian Empires
In the following centuries, the Bulgarian and the Byzantine Empire fought intermittently for dominance in the region, each having its successes and setbacks. In the 810s, the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros I managed to burn the Bulgarian capital, but his forces were ambushed on the return trip and the Bulgarian ruler Krum had Nikephoros's skull made into a drinking cup - as a sign of respect. Those pagan beliefs didn't last much longer, though, as a few rulers later Bulgaria was Christianized in the 860s under Boris I, for which he was later canonized as a saint. Boris's patronage of scholars, including some of the disciples of Saints Cyril and Methodius ("the apostles of the Slavs"), lead to the creation of the Cyrillic script in the 880s and its official adoption. The rule of Simeon I shortly thereafter (893-927) is considered the peak of the First Bulgarian Empire, when it rivalled the Byzantine Empire in power, splendour and scholarship. Less than a hundred years later, the Byzantine Emperor Basil II managed to subjugate Bulgaria in 1018, earning the nickname "the Bulgar Slayer" because of his cruelty.
Two noble brothers successfully rebelled against Byzantine rule and established the Second Bulgarian Empire in 1185. Under the Asen dynasty, Bulgaria once again played a major role in the region. After the Fourth Crusade ended with the sack of the Byzantine capital Constantinople in 1204, the Bulgarian tsar Kaloyan defeated the crusaders at the battle of Adrianopolis (1205) and captured their leader Baldwin of Flanders, who had crowned himself emperor of the Byzantine Empire. The Second Bulgarian Empire reached its peak during the rule of Ivan Asen II (1218-1241), when its territory extended across parts of today's Romania, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. This is reflected in a slogan popular among Bulgarian nationalists today - "Bulgaria on three seas!" (the Black, the Aegean, and the Adriatic). But again, it was not to last - a series of weaker rulers led to curiosities such as a former swineherd, Ivaylo, assuming the throne after a peasant revolt in the 1270s, and the Empire gradually fell apart into smaller feudal holdings.
- See also: Ottoman Empire
In the second half of the 14th century, the Bulgarian feudal states were conquered one by one by the Ottoman Turks in a series of military campaigns. The Bulgarians, along with the other Balkan peoples, became unwilling subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Being Christians, they were considered a part of a lower, subjugated class (rayah) and had to bear the weight of additional taxation (including the devshirme tax, the forced enslavement of children to train them as elite Janissary troops) and various regulations limiting clothing and even the allowed height of churches. During the five centuries of Ottoman reign, the regime gradually became more lax as the Empire developed, but Bulgarians (like its other Chrisitan subjects) never lost their second-class position. That's why the period is also colloquially called the "Ottoman yoke" (Osmansko igo), as well as other, even less charitable epithets.
In an attempt to make Bulgarians remember their history and national pride, the monk Paisius of Hilendar wrote the Slavonic-Bulgarian History in 1762. This marked the beginning of the Bulgarian National Revival, a period of renewed social, economic and political development of the Bulgarian people within the confines of Ottoman rule. One of its manifestations (and later, drivers) was an increased interest in secular education in Bulgarian language. As a result, educators such as Petar Beron, Vasil Aprilov and Petko Slaveykov are celebrated today almost as much as the more militant freedom fighters of that era, like Georgi Rakovski, Vasil Levski, and Hristo Botev. Increased nationalistic sentiments lead to a rise in revolutionary activity against Ottoman rule, culminating in the large April Uprising of 1876. It was quickly and bloodily suppressed, but the atrocities shocked the Great Powers of Europe and they didn't object when the Russian Empire declared war on the Ottomans in 1877. The multi-ethnic imperial army included a contingent of Bulgarian volunteers (opalchentsi), and they distinguished themselves in the key battle of Shipka Pass, preventing an Ottoman army from crossing the Balkan Mountains to relieve the besieged city of Pleven.
The war ended with the signing of preliminary peace treaty of San Stefano on 3 March 1878, celebrated ever since as the Liberation of Bulgaria. During the follow-up Congress of Berlin in the same year, the Great Powers pared down the originally proposed borders: the newly created free Principality of Bulgaria included only what is now Northern Bulgaria and the region of Sofia, and it would still be a vassal of the Sultan; the other territories immediately south of the Balkan Mountains became Eastern Rumelia, an autonomous province within the Ottoman Empire; the rest remained under Ottoman rule. This decision had vast consequences, as the course of Bulgarian history for the next century would be set directly or indirectly by various attempts to unite all "Bulgarian lands". Internally, the young monarchy was marked by turmoil for most of its existence - throughout the decades that followed, Bulgaria experienced rapid economic and educational progress, but also political intrigues and assassinations, failed and successful coups d'état, popular unrest and periods of political repression.
The first parliament convened in Tarnovo in 1879. It composed a constitution and selected a young German noble (and relative to the Russian Emperor), Alexander of Battenberg, as the first knyaz (Prince) of Bulgaria. In September 1885, a clandestine revolutionary movement managed to bloodlessly unify Eastern Rumelia with the Principality of Bulgaria. As a result, Bulgaria became politically isolated and was almost immediately attacked by... Serbia - and won the war. The Great Powers accepted the fait accompli, but the new Russian Emperor was livid and Prince Alexander was forced to abdicate in a coup by pro-Russian military officers. Despite being quickly restored, he decided to give up the throne.
Another German noble, Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, was chosen as his replacement. In September 1908, he declared Bulgaria's de jure independence from the Ottoman Empire, claiming the title of Tsar (i.e. King). Several years later, the Tsardom of Bulgaria joined an alliance of Balkan nations in the First Balkan War (1912-1913) against the Ottoman Empire, gaining further territories. Afterwards, in a series of disastrous decisions, Bulgaria started (and lost) the Second Balkan War (1913) and entered World War I in 1915 on the side of the Central Powers (and lost). As a result, Bulgaria lost almost all of its recent territorial gains, and even unrelated lands - Romania annexed Southern Dobrudzha (including Silistra, Dobrich and Balchik; it was diplomatically regained in 1940). After all these failures, in 1918 Ferdinand abdicated in favour of his eldest son, Boris III.
The consequences of the Second Balkan War and World War I had catastrophic effects on Bulgaria's economy and society, leading to the rise of both far-left and far-right ideologies in the 1920s and 1930s. Boris III had to deal with Communist uprisings and military coups; revanchist elements in the ruling class favoured retaining close ties with Germany. When World War II erupted in Europe in 1939, Bulgaria declared neutrality, but it was gradually eroded, and in March 1941, Bulgaria formally joined the Axis. Unlike Romania, Bulgaria didn't send troops to the Eastern Front; instead, its soldiers occupied the conquered territories on the Balkans, freeing up Axis forces. After Bulgaria declared war on the UK and the US, Allied aviation bombed Sofia several times. Members of the Bulgarian elite managed to stop the deportation of Bulgarian Jews, saving about 48 thousand from the Holocaust; nevertheless, 11 thousand in the Bulgarian-occupied territories were deported and perished in the Nazi death camps. Boris III died suddenly in August 1943 under somewhat suspicious circumstances shortly after returning from Germany, leaving his 6-year-old son on the throne as Simeon II, under a council of regents. After the Soviet Union started advancing towards the Balkans, German forces retreated from the country. Bulgaria declared war on Germany; at the same time, the USSR declared war on Bulgaria, and Soviet forces entered the country without any resistance. A day later, on the 9th of September 1944, a pro-Communist coup d'etat toppled the government. Bulgarian troops ended up fighting along the Soviets against the Axis across Yugoslavia and Hungary. The regents were convicted by a "People's Court" and executed, and the little tsar was sent into exile.
- See also: Cold War Europe
After World War II, Bulgaria was occupied by the Soviet Army and fell within the Soviet Union's sphere of influence during the Cold War. It became a People's Republic in 1946, with the Communist Party in control. Its first leader was Georgi Dimitrov, one of three Bulgarian communists who had been accused by the Nazis of setting fire to the Reichstag in 1933, and General Secretary of the Communist International between 1935 and 1943. After his death in 1949, a mausoleum was built for him in a prominent place in the capital, just like the mausoleum of Lenin in Moscow.
During Communist times, the Black Sea was a popular destination for travellers from both sides of the Iron Curtain, and many of the resorts in the country were built in this era.
Matching the decay of its patron, the Soviet Union, the Communist regime lost power and held the first multi-party elections in 1990, though the Bulgarian Communist Party simply rebranded as the Bulgarian Socialist Party and remained a major factor in politics. As a result of the elections, in 1991 Bulgaria adopted a new constitution and began a painful transition towards a market economy. The 1990s were marked by a prolonged economic crisis and the rise of organized crime, the results of poorly thought-out reforms, international economic factors and political corruption. In the winter of 1996, hyperinflation and the price of bread lead to bitter protests that forced snap elections in 1997, which removed BSP from power. The following right-of-center government adopted a currency peg to the Deutsche Mark, demolished the Mausoleum of Georgi Dimitrov, and tried to "clean house" in other ways, with mixed success. In an amusing twist of fate, the former tsar, Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, returned from exile and governed as the Prime Minister of Bulgaria between 2001 and 2005.
Bulgaria joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007. Despite having a relatively stable economy and low debt, Bulgaria is the European Union's poorest member. The country has also been in a demographic crisis since the early 1990s, and its population has been declining faster than that of any other nation.
In addition to Christmas, New Year's Day and Easter, the Bulgarian state recognizes another seven national holidays: 3 March (the national holiday: Liberation Day); 1 May (International Workers' Day a.k.a. Labor Day); 6 May (feast of St. George and thus Day of the Bulgarian Armed Forces, usually celebrated with a military parade in the capital); 24 May (Day of Bulgarian Education and Culture and the Cyrillic Alphabet); 6 September (Unification Day); 22 September (Independence Day); and 1 November (Day of the National Enlighteners - only a school holiday). If one of those days occurs during the weekend, the Monday afterwards is officially a non-working day to "compensate".
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church celebrates fixed holidays according to the Gregorian calendar, and "floating" holidays (i.e. Easter and its related holidays) according to the Julian calendar. This means that in Bulgaria, Christmas is celebrated on the same date as in most of the West - 25 December, but Easter is usually a week "late" (it falls on 16 April in 2023 and 6 May in 2024). Christmas and Christmas Eve, as well as four days around Easter (Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and the Monday afterwards), are also official holidays.
Another religious holiday that may be amusing to travelers is the feast of the Epiphany (6 January) - the religious ceremony of the "Blessing of the Waters" involves a priest tossing a cross in a local body of water, and a number of local men competing to retrieve it. Sometime in the late 20th century an additional, non-religious tradition was established in some places: the "ice horo", men dressed in traditional costumes dancing horo (line dance) in the cold water of a local river (usually having to break the ice first, thus the name). It seems to have originated in Kalofer, but it has since spread to other towns and villages (Blagoevgrad, Kazanlak, Panagyurishte, etc).
- See also: Bulgarian phrasebook
The official language of the country is Bulgarian, a Slavic language that is written using its own variant of the Cyrillic script. Bulgarian is mutually intelligible with Macedonian (considered a dialect of Bulgarian by many Bulgarians) and also closely related to Serbo-Croatian. Russian and other Slavic languages are more distantly related but still similar.
Turkish is the country's second most widely spoken language, as it is the mother tongue of the Turkish minority. You are more likely to encounter Turkish speakers in the North-East (around Razgrad and Isperih) and in the Rhodope Mountains in the South (around Kurdzhali).
The most popular foreign language among the younger generations is English, though language competence can vary greatly. Unsurprisingly, you are more likely to find English speakers in tourist areas and the largest cities.
Older Bulgarians (45+) who speak a foreign language are more likely to speak Russian, as it was the most commonly taught foreign language during the communist years. Relatively few people have maintained a level good enough to keep a conversation, though.
In churches, the liturgical language is Old Church Slavonic which differs considerably from any modern Slavic language. That said, Bulgarian is more similar to Old Church Slavonic than any of the other modern Slavic languages.
It is also important to remember that Bulgarians shake their head for Yes and nod for No! Ask for verbal confirmation if you are confused by an answer.
Bulgaria is committed to implementing the Schengen Agreement although it hasn't yet done so. For citizens of the European Union (EU) or European Free Trade Area (EFTA) (i.e. Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), an officially approved ID card (or a passport) is sufficient for entry. Other nationalities will generally require a passport for entry.
Travel to/from any other country (Schengen or not) from/to Bulgaria will result in the normal immigration checks, although customs checks will be waived when travelling to/from another EU country.
Inquire with your travel agent or with the local embassy or consulate of Bulgaria.
Citizens from the following countries do not need visas to enter Bulgaria: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, The Bahamas, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Mauritius, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Paraguay, South Korea, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Singapore, Ukraine, UK, USA, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela, Hong Kong and Macao.
Citizens from all other countries will require a visa, which can be obtained from a Bulgarian embassy or consulate in your home country. Different types of visa can be obtained, including a short-stay, 90-day visa (type "C"). A visa application form is available online here, from the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
There are four international airports in Bulgaria, located in the cities of Sofia (SOF IATA), Varna (VAR IATA), Bourgas (BOJ IATA), and Plovdiv (PDV IATA), but most traditional flag carriers (like Lufthansa, British Airways, Turkish Airlines) fly only to Sofia International Airport. There are many charter and last-minute flight offers, however, to Varna or Bourgas leaving from Western Europe (especially Germany and Great Britain). Using those, you can go from German airports to Bulgaria and back for less than €100, if you are lucky.
Several low-cost airlines offer regular flights to Bulgaria. They change their schedules every season, so check for flights at the airline's website.
- Wizz Air has direct regular flights to Sofia from 35 destinations, mostly in Western Europe but also from Israel and Dubai, as well as flights to Varna from 13 destinations and Burgas from 4.
- Eurowings offers direct flights from Düsseldorf and Stuttgart to Sofia.
- EasyJet flies to Sofia from 5 airports in the UK as well as to Varna from Gatwick and Berlin.
- Ryanair flies to Sofia from 28 airports, to Burgas from 13 airports, to Varna from Vienna as well as to Plovdiv from London Stansted.
- Flydubai flies from Dubai to Sofia.
Charter flights can offer very good prices to the Black Sea airports of Varna and Burgas from a large variety of European cities in the summer (such as: Thomson, Balkan Holidays Air, Condor, UTair and many others). In winter, charter airlines may offer good bargains to Sofia and Plovdiv.
From the USA, major airlines offer excellent connections to Bulgaria via Europe. The airports that you can get to with a major airline are Sofia and Varna. From Asia, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airlines offer the best connections and prices.
From Romania, a train runs daily from Bucharest at 12:00, taking ten hours; the return train leaves Sofia at 09:00. June to Sept this is a through-train, Oct-May you have to change at Ruse at the border. There's no longer an overnight train.
From Greece, a train runs daily from Thessaloniki at 07:00 reaching Sofia by 14:20; the return train leaves Sofia at 15:00 to reach Thessaloniki (shown on departure boards as "Solon") for 22:20. You need to stay there overnight for connections to and from Athens, Piraeus and the ferries to the Greek islands.
From Turkey, a sleeper train departs Istanbul Halkali at 21:40, running via Edirne, Kapikule on the border where you get out for passport control, and Plovdiv, to reach Sofia by 09:40. The eastbound train leaves Sofia at 18:30 to reach Istanbul for 05:40. Second class single fare is €30 (April 2022), plus supplement of €10 for couchette or €15 for a sleeper berth.
From Serbia, from mid-June to mid-Sept a direct train runs daily between Belgrade Topcider and Sofia, taking ten hours. However the Budapest-Belgrade line is disrupted throughout 2022 for engineering works, so it's difficult to reach Bulgaria from western Europe by train.
A cheap way of travelling to Bulgaria is the Balkan Flexipass.
If you want to reach Bulgaria from Western Europe by car you will have to pass through either Serbia or Romania, or you can take a ferry from Italy to Greece.
The shortest distance path from Western Europe to Bulgaria is through Serbia. However, you should make sure that you have a green card with you as Serbia is not a part of the EU. The most used Serbian path to Bulgaria (through Niš) was a narrow mountain road that can be exhausting to drive on because of the heavy traffic. Motorway A6 however has been finished and now the whole trip through Serbia can be made by motorway.
The other roads-only path to Bulgaria, through Romania, is longer in distance but can take up much less time as Romania has highways connecting its borders with Western Europe to Bulgaria and as a part of the EU, citizens of the union have less formalities on Romanian borders. This route is also very suitable for people travelling from Northern Europe. Bulgaria is connected to Romania with two bridges (at Vidin and Ruse) and several ro-ro ferry crossings (Bechet–Oryahovo, Turnu Magurele–Nikopol, Zimnicea–Svishtov, Călărași–Silistra).
Travelling through Greece, after passing Thessaloniki you can choose from three paths depending on your final destination. If you are going towards Sofia, Western or North Bulgaria, the fastest and shortest route is towards Serres and then to the border Promahonas - Kulata. If youur destination is somewhere in the Rhodopes (Smolyan, Pamporovo, Kurdzhali) or near Plovdiv, the shortest route is towards Xanti (passing near Kavala) and then to the border Thermes - Zlatograd. This route however still needs reconstruction in Greece. Finally, if going to the Bugarian seaside the fastest route is towards Komotini (parring near Kavala and Xanti) and then to the border Ormenio - Captain Petko Voyvoda.
In Bulgaria you have to pay road tax at the border (around €5 for 7 days). You will get a special sticker that you have to place on your car. There are no toll stations on Bulgarian roads.
Besides the sticker, you may need to pay the Bulgarian authorities health insurance (€2 per person for 3 days, slightly more for more days). Make sure you get a receipt! Expect long queues on certain days coinciding with some Bulgarian holidays.
Buses to and from Sofia go to most major cities in Europe - while Bulgarian bus companies will be cheaper (and mostly offer less comfort), the tickets are hard to come by if you are travelling to Bulgaria, so Eurolines buses are recommended. Don't be surprised if an extra "border fee" is asked from each traveller by the bus driver - it makes your border passing quicker. Most buses from Western Europe will pass through Serbia, so be sure to check if you need a transit visa beforehand (Serbian visas for citizens of the EU have been abolished).
There are regular ferries[dead link] across the Black Sea between Varna, Chernomorsk (near Odesa, Ukraine) and Poti (Georgia) as well as between Burgas and Batumi (Georgia), run by PB Management. There's talk of fast passenger ferries between Burgas and Istanbul. Occasionally there are cruise ships docking in Varna and Burgas.
The fastest way to travel around the country is by bus. Buses frequently connect all the larger cities. Timetables information in English can be found online (avtogari.info or bgrazpisanie.com). Always confirm times locally as online resources may be incomplete or out of date. Most bus station agents (except at the Black Sea and in Sofia) as well as the drivers will not speak or understand any languages except Bulgarian (and, if you are lucky, Russian) and the destinations will be written exclusively in Cyrillic. You can look up bus schedules for the Sofia New Central at the bus station.
Buses depart on time and don't wait for late passengers.
Travelling from Sofia to major cities in Bulgaria by bus is good value. A one way ticket to the Black Sea from Sofia costs €12-15. Several companies operate regular routes serviced by new and modern buses. Timetables and prices in English for couple of the major companies can be found at GRUP Plus and Biomet[dead link].
Ticket: You will always receive a ticket your origin and destination (in Cyrillic), in the rare case that you feel you have been cheated. Short distances with buses outside of cities are a bit more expensive (per km) than inner city and long distance trips.
Using the train is a convenient, inexpensive and great way to travel the country, even if it's usually slower than the bus. Bulgaria has an extensive railway network that connects every major city, with the exception of the mountainous Smolyan. The only passenger service provider are the Bulgarian State Railways (BDZh or BDZ, БДЖ in Bulgarian). During the Communist period, the railways were prioritized as the main mode of mass passenger transport, but in the 1990s the advent of personal automobiles and private bus companies caused a large decline in ridership. As a result, due to corruption, mismanagement and the general economic woes of the country, BDZ has struggled to modernize or even maintain its services, though there has been improvement in the last decade.
Trains are most efficient when traveling along the two major train routes: Sofia - Varna and Sofia - Burgas. You can travel both routes overnight, but you should make your reservations early because these night trains are often fully booked.
The official website of the Bulgarian State Railways (BDZ) is available in English and can be quite helpful: it offers an online timetable/route planner, information about delays and other disruptions in English, a virtual arrivals/departures board (many stations don't have electronic boards), and a live tracker of train locations. Another train planner is available on bgrazpisanie.com.
If you are traveling "off the beaten track" (almost synonymous with using anything but the long-range fast trains targeted at tourists going to the seaside), it's a good idea to learn Bulgarian Cyrillic well enough to read place names (it's relatively easy, as it's phonetic) and some basic Bulgarian phrases to deal with the ticket offices at the smaller stations. Though you might be able to cope using the BDZ website and apps such as Google Translate that can do both verbal conversations and signs.
Also be aware that most Bulgarian train carriages are more than 20 years old, are a mixture of older Bulgarian stock and old German rolling stock (mainly former Interregio coaches) and not always well maintained. In particular the toilets will appear primitive to most western users.
There are newer, quite comfortable, Desiro trains built by Siemens (identical to those in use in countries further west) being introduced on the: Sofia to Plovdiv; Plovdiv to Karlovo and Asenovgrad; and Sofia to Blagoevgrad routes. BDZ has also renovated some older carriages and uses them for their premium product now, called IC, which is a fast train with obligatory reservations and 2+1 seating even in 2nd class, and pretty comfortable with clean seats.
Buying train tickets is pretty simple, though most people will buy a ticket 20 to 30 minutes before departure, as your ticket is usually valid for a specific train; ticket sales are halted 5 minutes before the arrival or departure of that specific train. If you board "in the last moment" or from a stop that doesn't have a ticket office, you should board *the first* carriage and you should be able to buy a ticket from the ticket inspector without penalty. If your journey starts at the same point as the train starts, you might also be able to buy a reservation for a specific seat on a specific train a small surcharge (0.30 лв). Though it never seems to work from stations in between. First class usually cost about 30% more than 2nd class and is usually not notably more comfortable (3 seats in a row instead of four).
If you buy a return ticket, you might get a discount of 30% for the full journey,compared to buying two separate tickets. If you do this you need to get the ticket stamped at the station ticket office before your return journey, as it might be invalid otherwise. Also, there are group discounts.
When the schedule says to change train, often the same train just changes numbers and you have to remain in the same train. Best to ask the conductor.
There is a picturesque narrow gauge train (760 mm) in the Rhodope Mountains, which starts at Septemvri and goes up to Dobrinisthe, passing through a very scenic landscape, climbing up the mountain slope, reaching the top at Avramovo, the highest station on the Balkans (1,267 m (4,157 ft) above sea level), and then going down again through Bansko. The full length of 125 km (78 mi) takes about 5 hrs. The train is slow, but it is a really good way to see some rural Bulgarian life. On special occasions, it is operated by a steam engine. Tickets are very cheap, just 6.60 лв for the whole distance.
Taxis are usually a convenient and affordable way to get around cities. Many taxi drivers know only limited English so it is useful to write out your destination or carry a map. In most cases, payment is possible only in cash. If the driver suggests using any currency other than Bulgarian leva, that's a telltale sign of a scam.
In Bulgaria, taxis are legally required to have a sign reading ТАКСИ (taxi) on the roof and to be painted yellow (green if the car is electric or hybrid). Fares are determined by the taxi's meter, based on initial fee(s) plus distance travelled. The proliferation of scams has led to regulations that are sometimes ridiculously detailed. Price stickers indicating the day and night prices per kilometre, initial fees, dispatch fees (if summoned by phone or app), waiting fees (per minute), and the price per km outside of a city must be visible on the front and side windows, as well as on the dashboard. As of 2023, prices are regulated on municipal level - each year, municipal councils set the price range per kilometre (sometimes different for day and night operations). For each time of day: the initial fee should be in the range 2x-3x of the minimal municipal price per km; the dispatch fee should be at most 150% of the taxi's price per km; the waiting fee per minute should be at most 50% of the price per km.
As prices vary by city, foreigners have been often targeted by dishonest taxi drivers. Common scams involve using a highly inflated price per km, asking to be paid in foreign currency using a false exchange rate, rigging the meter, or simply taking a longer route than necessary. To avoid the worst, familiarise yourself with the most reputable taxi operators in your area, your route and expected bill. It's less risky to order a taxi by phone or app, to use a taxi from the official taxi stands at the airports (they contract specific companies), or to hail a moving taxi. The taxis hanging around at tourist hotspots and major hotels are riskier. It's not advisable to follow a tout who offers you a taxi at airport arrivals, bus and railway stations, as some predatory companies mimic others' logos and labels on their cars. If you have to take a taxi from a taxi stand, you can "shop around" by looking at the stickers on the windows and comparing prices between the different companies. If you suspect that you are being scammed with the fare, ask for a receipt (kasova belezhka or faktura) - if you complain to law enforcement after the fact, there's little they can do if you don't have proof of the transaction.
Uber has been banned in the country since 2015.
- Taxi Maxim. An app that allows you to hail taxis in Bulgaria. Works in four cities: Burgas, Plovdiv, Sofia, and Varna.
If travelling by car, it would be helpful if you can read the Cyrillic alphabet at least a bit. Most signs at the major roads have the direction shown in Latin letters, but the signs in the internal road system are exclusively in Cyrillic, so if you are planning a road trip, GPS navigation or a road map are recommended.
If you are a foreigner, its best to rent a car. If you decide to rent a car bear in mind that for any bump or scrape to the car, whether involving a third party or not, you must immediately call the police to come and establish the damages of the incident for the insurance companies, otherwise you will find that your insurance will not cover the damage. Check the Terms & Conditions of your rental agreement closely.
Driving in Bulgaria can be a bit precarious - many roads do not have well defined lanes as they are not well marked, and are in poor conditions with bumps and holes on them. On all but the major roads, expect to find significant pot holes and uneven surfaces. Due to the poor road surfaces, you will often find cars driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid these holes, so be cautious when driving around blind bends. Locals often do not observe speed limits, do not signal when changing lanes, take up dangerous manoeuvres on the road and are very nervous on behind the wheel. When travelling on the road Sofia-Greece, be very careful. There are extensive road reconstructions and you can meet some really dangerous drivers.
If you observe the rules, police will not bother you. Bulgarian police have white Opel Astra patrol cars, marked "POLICE" with blue letters - keep that in mind, because in the past there have been several cases of fake police officers stopping cars and robbing travellers. Should you ever doubt the authority stopping you, you have the right to ask them to identify themselves with a certificate issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Министерсво на вътрешните работи - МВР).
Never ever drink and drive in Bulgaria! This is always dangerous, and in Bulgaria it is a criminal act: your first offence will result in a long prison sentence or at least - a very significant fine. The once-common practice of bribing a police officer to get out of a speeding or parking ticket is becoming rare. Do not attempt to bribe the police.
Car theft isn't much of a risk, but shouldn't be underestimated. In rural areas leaving your car should be safe, but in the big cities or tourist spots, it is advisable to stay on the safe side by parking either on the major streets or on guarded garages, where fees range from 6 лв a day to 2 лв an hour. If you plan to spend more time in one city, it might be better to rent a parking space, which on the average costs 60 лв a month. Most hotels have their own parking, and even at private lodgings it is often possible to park the car in the garden, so just ask.
Not as common as in Soviet times, but still pretty easy to find someone, especially if you look like a tourist. Especially in remote areas, hitch hiking is often better than taking a slow and irregular bus that takes half a dozen detours.
Bulgaria has many hiking destinations, many with huts along the trails (see § Hiking below). For reliable maps, city bus routes (at least for Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna), comprehensive trails and general tourist information, consult OpenStreetMap, which is used by this travel guide and by many mobile apps like OsmAnd (complex, with many add-ons) and MAPS.ME (easy but limited). Specifically for hikers, BGMountains.org provides greater detail than the base OSM, including the color markings of hiking trails, and while their online map has only Cyrillic place names, they also have downloadable maps for Garmin GPSr in English that can also be loaded in mobile apps like OruxMaps.
There is a wide variety of historical, natural, religious and artistic sights to see in Bulgaria. All across the country there are remains of different epochs and eras, societies and peoples, that create a beautiful mix of ethnic cultures and unique traditions and rituals.
With government support, the Bulgarian Tourist Union has compiled a list of "100 National Tourist Sites of Bulgaria" to promote internal tourism (list in English; official website in Bulgarian). Nowadays, the actual number of sites in the list is over 250 due to the number of alternative locations, but it still can be used a rough guide for what is worth seeing. Some of the most popular sites include:
- Nine UNESCO World Heritage sites: seven cultural heritage sites (Ancient City of Nesebar, Boyana church, Madara Rider bas-relief, Rila Monastery, Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo, Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak, Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari), and two natural heritage sites (Pirin National Park and the Srebarna Nature Reserve).
- Other great monasteries of Bulgaria that were centres of Bulgarian culture during Ottoman rule such as Bachkovo Monastery, Troyan Monastery, Dryanovo Monastery, Osenovlag Monastery, etc.
- Natural formations in the Bulgarian mountains, including a number of caves - the Devil's Throat cave (Дяволското гърло, Dyavolskoto garlo), Ledenika (Леденика, "The Ice-Cold"), Magurata (with cave paintings on its walls) and Snezhanka (Снежанка, "Snow White"), the canyons of Trigrad and the river Erma, the Marvelous Bridges rock formation (Чудните мостове, Chudnite Mostove), and the earth pyramids (hodoos) by Melnik and the village Stob (near Kyustendil).
- Medieval fortresses such as Tsarevets in Veliko Tarnovo, Baba Vida in Vidin, Tsari Mali Grad near Samokov, the "Samuil's Fortress" near the village of Strumeshnica and the "Asenevtsi's Fortress" near Asenovgrad.
- Remains of Ancient Greek and Roman cities in Sofia, Plovdiv, Nesebar, Sozopol, Razgrad and many, many other places.
- Architectural historical reserves like the towns of Koprivshtitsa, Bozhentsi, or the Daskalolivnitsa in the town of Elena, Plovdiv's Old Town, the Varosha neighbourhood in Blagoevgrad and the neighbourhood of Arbanasi in Veliko Tarnovo
- Ancient sacred places such as Perperikon and Rupite, the many ancient and medieval churches in the country, and the burial mounds of Thracian kings
- Sites of historical significance for the Bulgarian people, because of the acts of those who have been on those places such as the Shipka pass, the Okolchitsa peak, the Oborishte area, the homes of Vasil Levski and Ivan Vazov, and the church in Batak among many other places
A number of Bulgarian traditions can be spectacular public events; some of them have been around since pagan times and are still performed. Some of the most interesting rituals are:
- nestinarstvo - a fire ritual originating from the villages in the mountain Strandzha that involves barefoot dancing on smoldering embers. Originally it was performed on the square of some Strandzhan villages, but nowadays it can be viewed in many places throughout the country on the night of Sts. Constantine and Helen - 3 versus 4 July. It is a unique mixture of Eastern Orthodox Christian beliefs and pagan rituals in the Strandzha mountains
- surva - a new years ritual for good luck and health. It is performed by young children (up to the age of 12) on New Year's Day, by tapping the older than them relatives on the back with the help of a survachka (a rod made of cornel tree sticks, decorated with wool, dried fruit and popcorn) and reciting a text for their fortune
- kukerstvo - a traditional Bulgarian ritual performed to scare away the evil spirits. The ritual is performed by men wearing grotesque masks and clothes made out of animal furs, horns and hooves, and belts with large bells. The men are dancing, making loud sounds with the bells on their belts, chasing away the evil spirits in order to ensure a good harvest, health and good luck throughout the year. The ritual is usually done around New Year at night when "the monsters lurk"
- Winter sports – There is a large number of winter resorts all around the Bulgarian mountains. Some of the most popular are Bansko, Pamporovo, Borovets and Chepelare.
- Enjoy the beach – The Bulgarian seaside is full of enchanting resorts mixing the modern hotels and wild night life with ancient sights and traditional culture. Famous resorts include Albena, Golden Sands, Nesebar, Primorsko, Sveti Vlas, Sozopol, and of course Sunny Beach.
- Enjoy the nightlife – Bulgaria has a wide variety of entertainments to offer to any generation and that can satisfy any taste. However, one of the things the country is most famous of is its nightlife. A mix of oriental passion, European vision and unique Bulgarian seasoning that can be found throughout all the summer beach resorts at the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, the mountain resorts, and almost any city and university town including Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, Haskovo, Veliko Tarnovo, Blagoevgrad, and many others.
A popular activity in Bulgaria, where a big choice of regions for a day or multiday walking trips is available. The best time for hiking in the highest parts of the mountains is in summer, between late June and September as the snow is already melted and the weather is generally dry. In winter, snowshoeing and ski trips are possible between December and March, depending on the current snow and weather conditions. The main hiking areas are:
- in the Balkan – this mountain chain gives the name of the Balkan Peninsula. It stretches all along the country and is popular among the fans of the long distance hiking trips. One of the famous European Long Distance Routes (E3) follows its main southern ridge all the way from the west border of the country to the seaside. One of the three national parks in Bulgaria - National Park Central Balkan - is situated here. Also, on the northern side of the mountain is Nature Park Bulgarka. Both parks are protected areas as they contain rare and endangered wildlife species and communities, self-regulating ecosystems of biological diversity, as well as historical sites of global cultural and scientific significance.
- in Rila Mountain – The highest point of the Balkans (Mount Musala - 2,925 m) is situated in Rila. Beside it, the northwestern parts of the mountain are a popular hiking destination, rich to nature and cultural sights as the Seven Lakes Cirque, Skakavitsa Waterfall (the highest in Rila), the Rila Monastery and the area of Malyovitsa. National Park Rila, which is the biggest in Bulgaria, is situated here.
- in Pirin – Located south from Rila and close to Greece and the Mediterranean Sea, these mountains are famous with the biggest number of sunny days per year among the mountain ranges in Bulgaria. The most popular hiking area is Northern Pirin. Its highest peak (Mount Vihren - 2,914 m) is the third highest the Balkans, after mount Musala in Rila and mount Mitikas in Olympus, Greece. Another popular route follows the main ridge of the mountains, crossing a landmark, called "The Foal" - a very tiny part of the ridge, which is secured and accessible for hikers. National Park Pirin is established to protect the nature in these mountains. Pirin is also famous with a number of blue high mountain glacier lakes.
- in the Rhodope Mountains – Located in South Bulgaria, the Rhodopes take up nearly one-eight part of the territory of the country. The landscapes here are quite different than in those of Rila and Pirin - there is no such a jagged peaks, but endless "sea" of green hills and a number of small villages between them. The Rhodopes offer a lot of opportunities for easy hiking in combination with getting to know the local culture and traditions. The area is inhabited from an old time and nowadays both Christians and Muslims live here and contribute to the unique local culture. The Rhodopes are known as the home of Orpheus - the mythical Greek musician and poet who entered the underworld to revive his beloved wife Eurydice.
There is an extensive network of marked hiking trails available and this allows a large number of different routes. The main accommodation in Balkan, Rila and Pirin mountains are the mountain huts and lodges, which usually offer rustic conditions, but there are also numerous three- and four-star hotels near popular tourist destinations. In the Rhodopes it is possible to stay in local guest houses.
Hot mineral springs and spas
Bulgaria is rich in mineral water springs, easily illustrated by the number of cities, towns and villages with names that contain the word banya ("bath"), though this is somewhat more poorly advertised to international tourists than the country's sea-side and skiing resorts. Most mineral springs are concentrated in the mountainous areas, but some pop up in unexpected places - there are steaming drinking fountains in the center of the capital, and heated swimming pools right by the beach of coastal Varna. Cities with mineral springs and outright health resorts include Devin and Velingrad in the Rhodope Mountains, Bankya (very close to the capital), Hisarya (between Karlovo and Plovdiv), Sandanski (in South-Eastern Bulgaria), Sapareva Banya (under the slopes of Rila, south of Sofia) and Varshets (in the Balkan Mountains, close to Montana); on the black sea coast, mineral springs can be found in the resorts north of Varna (Golden Sands and Albena), and the southern town of Pomorie is famous for its mineral-rich mud.
Gold is not a traditional sport in Bulgaria - the first golf course was established almost exactly 10 years after the fall of the communist regime - but a number of entrepreneurs have decided to use the country's scenic views to create all-inclusive (?) golf resorts with "tournament-level" courses designed by foreign specialists. Three of them are on the limestone ridges by Balchik, overlooking the Black Sea; another one is tucked below the Balkan Mountains, in Pravets (next to Botevgrad, 55 km (34 mi) north-east of Sofia); and the last one is right next to the busy mountain resort of Bansko. There's also a somewhat smaller golf course near Sofia itself, by the town of Elin Pelin.
Exchange rates for Bulgarian leva
As of January 2023:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The Bulgarian unit of currency is the lev (лев, plural: leva), denoted by the symbol "лв" (ISO code: BGN). It is divided into one hundred stotinki. The lev is pegged to the euro at 1.95583 лв for €1. Bulgaria is officially on track to join the Eurozone, but adoption of the Euro keeps getting postponed.
Coins of Bulgaria are issued in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 stotinki, and 1 and 2 leva. Banknotes of Bulgaria are issued in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 leva. You can see what they look like on the website of the Bulgarian National Bank (ignore the big red stamp across the designs, it just says "sample").
Acceptance of other currency
Shopkeepers and other businesses in Bulgaria will usually not accept foreign money, although many will accept the euro. Bulgaria remains a largely cash economy in rural areas; but in major cities, credit cards are generally accepted.
Never exchange money out on the street. Beware of people on the street who offer high rates of exchange or who may ask you to make some change for them.
In most cities there are many money exchange offices which are marked with signs that say "Change". Most are legitimate, but some may rip you off. For example, they advertise a very competitive rate on the outside, but on the inside, there is a tiny sign with the "official" rates, and these are much worse – so always make sure to ask how many leva you will get for your money before you hand it over, and calculate yourselves (e.g., using your mobile phone) how much money you would expect to get. If you refuse the transaction because the rate suddenly changed, they will make all kinds of unjustified assertions (e.g., "I already entered it into the computer, it cannot be stopped"), but you if threaten to call the police immediately while raising your voice so that other tourists look your way, they usually will let go immediately.
It is much safer to exchange your money at a bank. Banks apply little or no commissions, and generally offer good rates, although they are slightly worse than at a (non-criminal) change bureau. Higher commissions may be applied to traveller's cheques. Old, dirty or very worn bank notes may be refused.
Bulgaria has an extensive ATM network, making it relatively easy to obtain cash in all major cities and resorts. The national credit/debit card circuit Borica, to which all ATMs in the country are hooked up, accepts Visa/Plus, Visa Electron, MasterCard/Cirrus, Maestro, American Express, Diners Club, and a number of other cards. The word for ATM is bankomat (банкомат).
Prices in Bulgaria for some items are around half that of Western Europe, and good bargains are to be had on shoes and leather goods as well as other clothing. Clothes from famous international brands, perfumes, electronic equipment, etc. often are more expensive than in other parts of Europe.
In Sofia and a few major cities you can find branches of international hypermarket chains like Kaufland, Hit, Billa, Metro, and other. There are also many local supermaket chains such as BulMag and Fantastiko. All Bulgarian supermarkets sell products of European quality.
Waiters in Bulgaria usually get paid a minimum wage, because they make up the rest of their salary on tips (bakshish, бакшиш). Tips are not added to the bill, so give 5-10% if you like. However, many restaurants are run by their staff, so it is not necessary to tip.
Change is ресто (resto) and Service charge is такса обслужване/сервиз (taksa obsluzvane/serviz).
Bulgarian cuisine is a representative of the cuisine of Southeastern Europe. It has some Turkish and Greek influences, but it has some unique elements. The relatively warm climate and diverse geography produce excellent growth conditions for a variety of vegetables, beans, herbs and fruits. Bulgarian cuisine is particularly diverse.
Famous for its rich salads at every meal, Bulgarian cuisine is also noted for the diversity and quality of dairy products and the variety of wines and local alcoholic drinks. Bulgarian cuisine features also a diversity of traditional hot and cold soups, and numerous main dishes featuring a myriad of local grown vegetables. The meat appetizers that are typically served after the main dish are not to be missed out on. Bulgaria is also famous for the abundance of pastries in its cuisine.
A traditional Bulgarian meal starts with a salad of choice and some strong alcoholic beverage. The Bulgarian likes to drink wine or beer with its main dish continuing with the chosen drink by the end of the meal. This is why in most restaurants a salad is considered to be the best combination for strong alcoholic drinks.
Restaurants serving international cuisine have a presence in the country, offering various options such as Chinese, French, Italian, and international contemporary.
Because of Bulgaria's geographic location and the slow technological progress in the agricultural sector of the economy, the plant products used in the typical Bulgarian kitchen are all organic.
Most common foods
Most Bulgarian dishes are oven baked, steamed, or in the form of stew. Deep-frying is not very typical, but grilling - especially different kinds of meats - is very common. Turkish-influenced dishes do exist in Bulgarian cuisine with most common being moussaka, gyuvetch, and baklava. Pork meat is the most common meat in the Bulgarian cuisine. Fish and chicken are widely eaten, while beef is less common.
Yogurt (Kiselo mlyako) is very popular. It is mixed with water (drink called ayryan or airian) and it is added to main dishes (especially liver based or with minced meat). White cheese (brine) is a very popular ingredient in the Bulgarian cuisine too. Salads are often topped with it and it is often added to soups and main dishes.
- Banitsa (also diminutival called banichka) is a traditional Bulgarian food prepared by layering filo pastry with various ingredients. Cheese is the most popular one, but there are also spinach, potatoes, minced meat or kraut (in the winter season). Usually people eat it for breakfast but it goes at any time of the day.
- In the bakeries there are also various flour based cakes like kozunak (sweet bread, Easter cake with raisins), kifla (rolls with chocolate or marmalade) and some salty variations with white or yellow cheese.
- Tarator is a cold soup made of yogurt and cucumber (dill, garlic, walnuts and sunflower oil are sometimes added) and is popular in the summer season.
- Shkembe chorba (tripe soup) is widely believed to be a hangover remedy. There are a few 24/7 places in Sofia where young people go early in the morning after a party, to have a Shkembe.
- Shopska salad is a traditional Bulgarian cold salad popular throughout the Balkans and Central Europe. Its name comes from the people born of Sofian descent called "shopi". It is made from tomatoes, cucumbers, onion/scallions, raw or roasted peppers, white brine cheese and parsley.
- Snezhanka salad or Snow White salad is made from yogurt and cucumbers. Snezhanka (Snow White) salad derives its name from the fairy tale character Snow White but the only reason for the name is the predominantly white color of the salad.
- Trushia is served predominantly in the winter season - pickled vegetables. It is a traditional appetizer (meze) to go with the alkoholi drink rakia. It is often served in restaurants or it can be bought prepared from supermarkets. There are different recipes made with garlic, chili peppers, celery, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage and other vegetables, and dried aromatic herbs pickled in vinegar, salt, and different spice mixtures, which usually include whole black peppercorns, ginger, etc.
- Kyopolou salad is a popular Bulgarian and Turkish relish made principally from roasted eggplants and garlic. Bell peppers, tomatoes, parsley are added.
- Green Salad, very popular in the spring season and Easter, is made of lettuce, radish, cucumber. Boiled eggs are added on Easter. Sometimes it is served topped with yogurt.
- Lyutenitsa (Ljutenica or Lutenica) is a vegetable relish. The ingredients include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, onion, garlic or black pepper. It comes in many varieties. Lyutenitsa comes in a jar and is often used as a spread on toast and breads. It is also popularly eaten with many meats, meatballs and kebapcheta.
- Kebapche (plural Kebapcheta) is grilled minced meat with spices (black pepper or cumin). The meat is shaped into an elongated cylindrical form, similar to a hot dog. Typically, a mix of pork and beef is used. Kebapche is a grilled food. It is never fried or baked.
- Kyufte (also Kiufte, plural Kiufteta) is minced meat, with traditional spices, shaped as a flattened ball.
- Sarma is a dish of grape or cabbage leaves rolled around a filling usually based on minced meat.
- Musaka (Moussaka) is potato-based dish with pork mince, and the top layer is usually yogurt mixed with raw eggs.
- Yogurt is popular dessert served with jam, dried or fresh fruits or honey. In the Sofia area it is often called Vezuvii (Vesuvius) or given other "marketing" names in the restaurant menus.
- Baklava is very popular dessert but it is rarely served in the restaurants in Sofia. It can be found in boxes in the supermarkets.
- Garash cake is commonly found in patisseries and restaurants. It is made of ground walnut kernels, sugar and topped with chocolate icing.
There are a number of traditionally vegetarian dishes in Bulgarian cuisine including salads, soups, and some main dishes.
Salads - main ingredients in Bulgarian salads are tomatoes, cucumbers and white cheese. The most popular Bulgarian salad is Shopska salad, which is a mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, raw or roasted peppers (preferably roasted), white cheese and is typically seasoned with parsley. The dressing for Shopska salad is salt, sunflower oil and wine vinegar.
Soups - Traditional Bulgarian vegetarian soups include: Bob Chorba (боб чорба) which is a minty bean soup, Leshta Chorba (Леща чорба) which is minty lentil soup and Tarator (Таратор) - a cold yoghurt and cucumber soup.
Main dishes - there is a wide variety of boiled, fried, breaded, or roasted vegetarian dishes.
- Panagyurski style eggs (Яйца по панагюрски) - Boiled open eggs served in yoghurt and white cheese with red pepper and garlic seasoning
- Mish-mash - fried mixed eggs with peppers (and onions) seasoned with fresh spices
- Byurek pepper (Чушка бюрек) - baked pepper stuffed with seasoned eggs and white cheese mix, breaded and fried
- Vegetarian sarmi (посни сърми) - rolls of either vine leaves or pickled cabbage leaves filled with seasoned rice and served with yoghurt
Traditional milk products
There are only two native kinds of cheese: the yellow-colored Kashkaval (Кашкавал) - more or less akin to the Dutch Gouda - and the more popular white Sirene (Сирене) - a kind of Feta cheese, similar to Greek Feta in taste but more sour. Originally made from sheep milk, it is available from cow or goat milk, or mixed.
A pride of the Bulgarian people, yoghurt has Bulgaria for its motherland. The native Bulgarian original yoghurt (kiselo mlyako) contains Lactobacilicus Bulgaricus, a bacterium which serves as the basis for active culture "plain" yoghurt in other countries. Normally made from cow or sheep milk, it can also be prepared from buffalo milk, with a remarkably stronger taste.
Being a staple, and quite favourite around the country, Bulgarian yoghurt also is an ingredient to many dishes, the most famous one being the cold soup Tarator and the drink Ayran. Yoghurt is also a main ingredient of a white sauce used in baking.
There are a lot of dishes served with yoghurt on the side since Bulgaria is the homeland of the product.
Traditional meat appetizers
There is a large number of traditional meat appetizers from all kinds of meat in Bulgarian cuisine. The most widely consumed, however, have been pork. Traditional meat appetizers are made from either the meat of the animal or from its intestines, but some of the delicacies include both. Other ingredients include leek, garlic, sometimes rice and a wide variety of herbs and spices such as savoury, thyme, parsley, cumin, dill, black pepper, red pepper, and others.
Cooked traditional meat appetizers include fried liver ( typically chicken, pork or lamb), roasted lamb intestines in herbs and spices, breaded veal tongue or veal tongue with mushrooms in butter, and veal stomach in butter or with mushrooms and cheese. Other popular cooked meat appetizers are sazdarma (саздърма) and bahur. Sazdarma is made of chopped meat and usually is seasoned with Daphne leaves and black pepper and can be from veal, lamb or mutton, while bahur is made of chopped pork meat and liver, with added rice and seasoned with allspice, savoury and black pepper. Although, some may think that those appetizers do not sound attractive at all, many of them fin out that they are a jewel once they have tried them.
Smoked and/or dried meat appetizers can be generally divided into two types: pastramis and salamis.
Some of the most popular pastrami-type appetizers are the pork Elena fillet (a salted air-dried fillet covered in savoury, thyme and other herbs) and Trakiya fillet (again, salted and air-dried fillet which is more juicy than Elena fillet and is covered in red pepper). There is also a wide variety of conventional pastramis (air-dried and then smoked and steamed) made from pork, veal, mutton, lamb and turkey. Pastrami in Bulgaria is transcribed as пастърма (pastarma). Another popular fillet appetizer is air-dried mackerel (in Bulgarian veyana skumriya (веяна скумрия) and it can be found in restaurants all around the seaside.
Salami-like appetizers are mostly made of pork and are only air-dried. The most popular are lukanka (made of minced pork with black pepper and cumin), ambaritsa (made of minced meat with red pepper, black pepper and garlic), babek (chopped meat and belly with red pepper, black pepper and either dill or savoury), and starets (chopped meat and belly with black pepper, cumin, allspice and rarely leek or garlic).
Bulgarians have a long tradition of making meat appetizers and many of them vary in recipe across the country. Much of them can be found in different varieties in restaurants and food stores. Most of the most popular appetizers have regional recipes that give the distinct flavour of the area.
Popular local dishes with meat
The most preferred Bulgarian salad is the shopska salad. However, there is another traditional salad that includes the ingredients of the shopska salad and adds it own distinct touch. The ovcharska salad is a mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onion, parsley and white cheese combined with mushrooms, boiled eggs, yellow cheese and most significantly - ham. The dressing again is salt, sunflower oil and wine vinegar.
As a main course you can have:
- Bulgarian moussaka - a rich oven-baked dish of among other ingredients: potatoes, minced meat and white sauce of eggs and yoghurt served traditionally with chilled yoghurt;
- Gyuvetch - typical ingredients include chopped potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, peas and some meat done in a clay pot called gyuvetch (from where the name of the dish comes
- Sarmi - rolls of vine or pickled cabbage leaves with rise and meat
- Drob sarma - a dish of lamb liver, belly and kidneys with rice covered white sauce and baked, served with yoghurt
- Kavarma - fried meat with tomatoes, onions and peppers
- Kapama - rolls of pickled cabbage leaves filled with four types of meat and at least one type of sausages in tomatoes and onions baked in a gyuvetch
In Bulgaria there are traditional bakeries that prepare different kinds of pastry products. Banitsa and mekitsa are the favorite salty and sweet (respectively) pastries among others like tutmanik, milinka and kifla. Also, a traditional fast food option in Bulgaria is the grilled foods, such as kebabche and kufte (made of minced meat), karnache (a variety of sausage) and shishche (a king of shish-kebab made with chicken or pork meat).
Pizza, dyuner (döner kebab), sandwiches and toasts, or hamburgers are also very easily found on the streets of Bulgaria. There are also many local and international fast-food chains. While the local vary across regions, some of the internationally recognised McDonalds, KFC, Subway and Burger King are in every big city.
There is also a chain of fast food restaurant made by Syria Bulgarian all over Bulgaria offering fried chicken and pizza called 'Shami' and it offers halal cheap food.
Another recommended chain is 'HAPPY' and it is available all over Bulgaria. It is always worth a try, promising good and clean service.
There are more than six hundred mineral water springs around the country, which are safe to drink. However, tap water is not safe to drink in some regions.
Some of the most popular traditional non-alcoholic beverages in the country are ayran/ayryan (yoghurt, water and salt) and boza (sweet millet ale).
Another popular non-alcoholic drink is the fizzy drink "Etar" that has a distinct caramel flavour.
Also, Bulgarian are coffee addicts. You will find automatic coffee machines even in the remotest village and in cities at every corner, with Lavazza and Nespresso being the most common ones. Most provide not instant coffee but properly ground beans—around 0.50 лв.
Grape growing and wine production have a long history in Bulgaria, dating back to the times of the Thracians. Wine is, together with beer and grape rakia, among the most popular alcoholic beverages in the country.
Some of the well known local wine varieties include:
- the red dry wines Mavrud, Pamid, Gamza;
- the red sweet wines Melnik, Dimyat, Misket, Malaga (made of raisins), Muskat, Pelin (with sour notes), Kadarka;
- and the white wines Keratsuda (dry) and Pelin (sweet with sour notes).
Beer (bira: бира) is produced and consumed all around the country. You can find readily available excellent local varieties like Kamenitza (from Plovdiv), Zagorka (from Stara Zagora), Ariana (from Sofia), Pirinsko (from Blagoevgrad) and Shumensko (from Shumen), as well as Western European beers produced under license and produced in Bulgaria like Tuborg, Heineken, Stella Artois and Amstel.
- Rakia/rakiya (ракия) is the Bulgarian national alcoholic drink. It is served neat, usually at the beginning of a meal with salads. It is strong (40% vol) clear brandy that is most commonly made from grapes or plums. However, there are as many varieties of the alcohol as there are fruit. Some of the best special selections are either made of apricots, or pears, or cherries, or peaches.
In many regions people still distil their rakia at home. Home-made rakia may include some special ingredients such as anise, honey, milk, natural gum and lozenges. Home-made rakia is then usually much stronger (around 50% to 60% vol).
- Another quite popular drink is mastika (мастика). It is a strong (47 - 55% vol) anise-flavoured drink very similar to Greek ouzo. It is usually consumed with ice, with water in a 1:1 mixture.
- Menta (мента) is a Bulgarian peppermint liqueur. It can be combined with mastika getting the Cloud cocktail (Oblak). Menta can also be combined with milk for a weak alcoholic, but tasty cocktail.
Finding accommodation in Bulgaria is very easy, for any price. You can find everything, from hostels in Sofia and Plovdiv, very cheap boarding houses along the coast to inexpensive hotels in all cities and luxury hotels in large cities. There are many "mountain huts" (10-20 лв) or villas available for rent all around the mountains in the country. Overnight accommodations can also be acquired at about a dozen of the monasteries. There are also plenty of guest houses and villas. Bulgaria is famous for offering quality budget accommodation for rural and ecological tourism in charming small towns in its mountains as well as at the seaside. In some of the coastal villages, elderly ladies often approach tourists disembarking from coaches and trains, offering accommodation in boarding houses. These can often be excellent value for money (from as little as 10 лв a night) and can offer an authentic experience, however check these out before you agree on a stay.
Don't bother about going to any accommodation without reserving online, expecting to get a discount or even to get the discounted price from your favourite hotel reservation website. It will more likely get more expensive this way or end up in unnecessary discussions.
There are many serviced camp grounds around Bulgaria, especially along the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast.
Pitching a tent anywhere else (free camping) is not legal, but if done in an inconspicuous place, no one will bother you.
Bulgarians value education and they typically attain excellent results at international competitions around the globe.
Bulgarian universities charge low tuition fees for all students, including international students. Living costs in Bulgaria are quite low as well.
The oldest and most prestigious university in Bulgaria is Sofia University, which was founded in 1888. Some programmes at the university are conducted entirely in English.
Some of the universities that offer education entirely in English are the American University in Bulgaria, the New Bulgarian University and the Technical University of Sofia. The last one offers also degrees in German language.
Secondary education entirely in English is offered by the American College in Sofia.
Finding a job in Bulgaria can be difficult if you're not a citizen of an EU member state; Bulgaria is known for its very low intake of immigrants, and very few Bulgarian companies are willing to hire non-EU and non-Bulgarian individuals (the two groups that have an edge in the Bulgarian labour market) because the process of sponsoring a non-EU citizen for employment in Bulgaria is complex.
Bulgaria is generally a very safe country, and people are quite friendly. You should however behave according to common sense when you are outside of the main tourist areas, i.e. don't show too openly that you have money, don't dress too much like a tourist, watch your things, don't walk around the suburbs (esp. those of Sofia) at night, avoid dark streets at night. Stepping in a hole is a much greater danger in Bulgaria than getting robbed.
Emergency phone numbers
Bulgaria uses the pan-European standard number 112 for all emergency calls. If you can not connect to 112, dial 166 for police, 150 for ambulance and 160 for the fire department.
Navigating the roads of Bulgaria can be a stressful experience. In 2019, there were 628 deaths related to road accidents, which is still one of the highest rates in the EU, despite being lower than in previous years. Reckless driving, inadequate infrastructure, and a combination of new and old highway vehicles contribute to the high fatality numbers. Additionally, the Bulgarian road system is not very well developed, and many roads are in disrepair and have numerous potholes. All passengers must wear seatbelts in Bulgaria, except for pregnant women, though these rules are often disregarded. Take extra care when crossing streets, as drivers in this country tend to be impatient and will likely not stop for you.
In general, organised crime is a serious issue throughout Bulgaria, however it usually does not affect tourists and ordinary people. Bulgaria is safer than most European countries with regard to violent crime, and the presence of such groups is slowly declining. Pickpocketing and scams (such as taxi scams or confidence tricks) are present on a wider scale, so be careful, especially in crowded places (such as train stations, urban public transport).
Car theft is probably the most serious problem that tourists may encounter. If you drive an expensive car do not leave it in unguarded parking lots or on the streets as these locations are likely to attract more attention from criminals. If, by any chance you do leave it in such a location, you need to be sure that the vehicle has a security system.
Travellers should also be cautious about making credit card charges over the Internet to unfamiliar websites. Offers for merchandise and services may be scam artists posing as legitimate businesses. An example involves Internet credit card payments to alleged tour operators via Bulgaria-based websites. In several cases, the corresponding businesses did not exist. As a general rule, do not purchase items from websites you are unfamiliar with.
Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy. Due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity, credit cards should be used sparingly and with extreme caution. Skimming devices, surreptitiously attached to ATMs by criminals, are used to capture cards and PINs for later criminal use, including unauthorized charges or withdrawals, are very common in Bulgaria. If you are unsure which ATM to use, it's best to use cash instead of a credit card.
Also, be careful with the cash you are dealing with. Bulgaria is one of the biggest bases for money forging of foreign currency, so pay attention to your euros, dollars and pounds. Do not exchange currency on the street. It is a common scam to offer you fake money as exchange in tourist areas such as stations.
On occasion, taxi drivers overcharge the unwary, particularly at Sofia Airport and the Central Train Station. Foreigners are recommended to use taxis with meters and clearly marked rates displayed on a sticker on the passenger side of the windshield, as generally these taxis charge a normal amount, and the taxis with no meters charge for very unfair prices. One useful tip is to check the price for your trip from a trustworthy source beforehand, such as a friend or an official at station or tourist bureau. If you are trying to be lured into such rogue taxis, it is best to reject the offer, or just walk away.
Bulgaria has very harsh drug laws, and the penalties are perhaps more severe than in any other country in Europe.
According to the reports of the Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), Bulgaria is the country with the least tolerance of LGBT people in the European Union for 2009 and 2011. After mass protests at the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, the Istanbul Convention was officially rejected. Be careful in conversations and refrain from public displays of affection with same-sex partners — otherwise you could be attacked by skinheads or nationalists. The same applies for visitors who are visibly transgender.
Stray dogs are common all over Bulgaria. While most are friendly and are more scared of you than you are scared of them, they have been responsible for a number of accidents, so do keep on guard. There is rabies in Bulgaria, so any animal bites should receive immediate medical attention.
Wild bears and wolves can sometimes be seen in woods, so be careful.
Bulgaria has been repeatedly identified by Transparency International as the most corrupt member of the European Union.
Corruption exists in Bulgaria as in many other European countries. For example, some policemen or officials may request bribes. If this happens, decline the proposal and ask for the name & ID of the individual. Corruption in customs was also once a problem, but has dropped drastically since the country's entry into the EU.
The government has fiercely fought the corruption with a huge success. Should you appear in a situation to which you are asked to bribe, or you feel that you are being exploited, you can either fill out an online query with the police here https://mvr.bg/nocorr[dead link], or call 02 982 22 22 to report corruption.
Unfortunately begging and unsolicited sales are quite common in Bulgaria. In the holiday resorts both in the mountains and on the coast there will be numerous people trying to sell you various things such as roses and pirated DVDs. Usually a firm 'no' will get rid of them but sometimes they will persist and often ignoring it will not make them go away unless you make it absolutely clear you are not interested. Also be aware that in many cases these people can just wander into the hotel restaurants in the evening so expect to see them standing at your table at some point! In the ski resorts there are many people who sell "Traditional" Bulgarian bells. They know when tourists arrive and how long they are staying for and will pester you all week to buy a bell. If you make it clear at the start of the week that you do not want a bell they will usually leave you alone (for a few days at least) but if you do not say no, they may force the cheap plastic bell upon you to encourage you to buy one later in the week. The bell men will become your friend for the week as they try to get you to buy a bell. If you really don't want to buy a bell, by the end of the week your bell man will demand his cheap plastic bell back and won't be very happy! Don't feel bad about not buying a bell as they often charge extortionate prices unless you really haggle. If you do buy a bell however, you will find that the bell men will be genuinely friendly and chatty people and really aren't all as bad as they seem!
As a generally rich country in Europe, it's best to say that health standards are developed. However, there are potential health risks, even though the government has fought the high chances of such things with a huge success. It best to stay that the greatest risk that a traveller can encounter is air pollution. People with breathing difficulties, such as asthma are at a greater risk.
Pollution is no better or worse than in any other European city. Health risks are the same as those in other parts of Europe, so be careful of what you eat, meaning that if you purchase fruits and vegetables, wash them prior to eating. If you are inclined to purchase food from a stand that sells fast food containing meat, know that you are taking on a health risk to yourself, because there are no health codes in those establishments.
If you are at the Black Sea, mind the strong sun at the beach, especially in July and August. Wear sunscreen and do not leave the umbrella in the first one or two days. Do not drink hard alcohol at the beach, it could give you a heart attack.
Smoking is the national pastime, and evading the fumes of cigarettes is even more difficult than evading exhaust fumes in the streets. Generally, during the Summer, most people generally sit outside, which makes matters less worse. As this is a seasonally-changing obstacle, it's best to stay on guard. Since 2012, smoking is prohibited in public places, including bars and restaurants, but restrictions are rarely followed.
Eating and drinking
Most food is quite safe to eat.
Tap water in Bulgaria varies greatly in quality, taste and drinking recommendations. While it is of very good quality and safe to drink in the mountain regions, it is best to avoid drinking water in North Bulgaria and in the regions near the seaside. The mountain regions in Bulgaria have natural springs that are quite abundant and many of villages have one or more mineral water springs.
Conditions in Bulgarian hospitals may vary - from very clean with all the latest technological utilities, to the downright drab, dark and cold. There are some new hospitals, and some very old, with old technology. Doctors and nurses are usually competent and skilled.
Citizens of the European Union are covered by Bulgaria's National Healthcare System as long as they carry a Eurocard (or European Health Insurance Card), obtainable from their own national healthcare authority.
Dental procedures in private clinics in Bulgaria are of excellent quality. Many people from Western Europe come to Bulgaria for dental work for the quarter of the price they pay in their home countries.
Bulgarians are incredibly friendly and very interested in talking to foreigners. Bulgarians tend to be far more open than some other Eastern Europeans and engaging in dialogue with these people is much advised and worthwhile. In smaller towns, especially in the Rhodopes, people may invite you for lunch, dinner or even to sleep over. Often it is a pleasant gesture to give someone a "Dobar Den" when walking past a quiet stall or past a person. Kak sté (how's it going) will usually suffice for the younger generation.
For certain people, Macedonia is a sensitive subject to talk about, but feel free to ask your questions, provided you do not discuss it with those more likely to take offense (i.e. nationalists and skinheads). Many Bulgarians feel that Macedonia belongs to Bulgaria, but unless you know the subject and the people you are talking to, just asking questions is the best option.
Most of the Bulgarian people do not feel anger or resentment towards Russians (unlike people from most other former Eastern Bloc countries), and Bulgarians tend to have a much better perception of Russians than most other Europeans. Indeed, Bulgarians are largely grateful to the Russian Empire for liberating them from Ottoman rule. On the other hand, caution may sometimes be needed in discussing issues regarding Turkey. Likewise, discrimination against Turks and Roma people can be observed, but it's mostly because of certain nationalist groups that are not much different than hate groups in central and western Europe.
Avoid talking or comparing between Turkey and Bulgaria, this subject is very sensitive, and also there is a misunderstanding that Islam is Turkey and Turkey is Islam, so Bulgarians in general have prejudices towards Muslims in general.
Bulgaria is still a very conservative country, so LGBT+ travellers may need to be discreet as assaults sometimes occur.
Bulgarians don't really do chit chat, so trying to make conversation with someone at a till in a shop will probably result in odd looks (either from not understanding or not wanting to engage) or they will just ignore you. Likewise Bulgarians are quite impatient and will often honk their car horn at you if you walk in front of a car, especially in winter in the mountains as they try to keep a grip on the road.
There are three networks (A1, Yettel and Vivacom), all using the GSM/4G/3G/HDSPA standards. 5G coverage is being expanded; as of the beginning of 2023, most larger cities are covered. Phone service has almost full national coverage, with minor exceptions in the highest and the most remote parts of the mountains.
Fares are average for the European Union (€0.05-0.40 per minute, €0.70/SMS). Pre-paid cards and subscriptions are available, and special options for discounted international calls exist with some pricing plans. Prepaid cards need registration with a valid ID or passport.
Mobile phones are widely spread in Bulgaria - many people have two or three mobile phones using the different carriers.
Domestic telephone service is available in almost every population centre (no matter the size), via the PSTN or VoIP.
Free WiFi access is often available in public places such as libraries and in gas stations. Many pubs and hotels will also have WiFi that is free of charge to use. Internet cafes are mostly a thing of the past; some of the few places that still provide to the public computers with internet access are the regional public libraries in the larger cities.
Internet access is widely available in Bulgaria. Broadband internet is available through cable, ADSL, fiber optics, WiMax and LAN connections. Mobile internet access via 3G/4G/5G is available from all three carriers; as of the start of 2023, 5G coverage is mostly limited to the larger cities, but it's expanding. In all cases, coverage and prices vary with the carrier and the chosen plan.
News and opinion
The number of local media outlets that publish local news in English has shrunk somewhat in the last years.
- The Bulgarian National Radio maintains a news website and a podcast in English (but no actual radio broadcast).
- Novinite.com ("The News.com") is the English-language version of Bulgarian news site Novinite.
- The Sofia Globe is an independent news website publishing only in English.
- Vagabond is an English-language magazine and website aimed at foreign tourists, expats and "digital nomads" living in Bulgaria.
If you plan on staying in Europe for long, why not pay a visit to some of Bulgaria’s neighbouring nations?