Bulgaria is probably more known for its Black Sea resorts and partying tourists who descend upon its coastal resorts but the country has so much more to offer than sun, sea and sand. It is one of the most biodiverse countries in Europe and is geared at the eco tourist with lots of trails, historical sites and mineral spas to make solo travel in Bulgaria both interesting and rejuvenating.
If you travel to the Black Sea there are plenty of towns if you don’t fancy the neon lights of Sunny Beach that promises plenty of cheap drink and fun. Burgas is quieter and untouristy and without the masses of nightlife that the livelier resorts bring, plus the historic town of Nesebar is just a short bus ride away. Varna is the sea capital of Bulgaria and just 20km away is the fine golden sand and mineral waters of Albena. Zlatni Pyasatsi is known as one of the best sand beaches in Europe or you can visit the oldest Bulgarian seaside resort of St. Constantine and Helena (over 100 years old!) named after the monastery with the same name.
As well as its beaches, the country is known for its skiing and the ski resort of Borovets is world-famous. At the foot of Rila and Pirin you’ll find winter sport tracks. Choose Razlog for heritage landmarks as well as ski tracks or Bansko for skiing all year round (and good hiking too).
Lions are the national symbol and they are all over the capital; Sofia, the second most ancient European city. Sofia is a fusion of modern and history and you’ll find a museum in the metro station and a 14th century church by an underpass. If you’re looking for the ‘wow’ factor, the Church of St George hidden away in the courtyard of the Presidency will surprise you. At night take a stroll to the National Theatre for the beautifully lit fountain but steer clear of the city garden if you don’t want to mingle with the youngsters who come here to drink at night.
Plovdiv is the oldest living city in Europe and the old town is beautiful. Known as the ‘city of the seven hills’ Plovdiv is surprisingly great for clothes shopping but the clothes aren’t as cheap as you would expect for the country. Once you’ve shopped you could join the locals who sit in the ‘gossip cafes’ in the main square and enjoy a cheap lunch. This is our favourite city in Bulgaria and to get a picturesque view take a stroll to the top of the hill for a panoramic sight including the ruins of the Roman stadium.
Not just great for shopping, Bulgaria is also well known for its wine production and you can taste a glass of their finest grapes in the main wine regions of Danube Valley, Upper Thracian Plain, and Struma River Valley. You’ll find spa hotels near the wineries and you can even have a wine extract bath to unwind or take in the rose scents at Rose Valley, the source of the most sought-after rose oil. The Rose Museum in Kazanlak is the only one of its kind in the world and is perfect for a girl who loves flowers.
If you’re in need of a wellness break, prepare to be pampered. Over 600 mineral springs have been discovered here and some are famous for their healing properties including: Bankya, Sandanski, Velingrad, Kostenets, Devin and Sapareva Banya. Women also flock to Pomorie for its medical tourism and famous mud which comes from one of its five lakes. Balneotherapy is also popular within the private lodging and hotels in Vellingrad, a town situated in the Rhodope mountains with 80 springs.
There’s plenty of countryside for exploring and Bulgaria has a diversity of animal and plant life along its eco trails with many of the trails well marked. Rila National Park is the largest or explore Ropotamo Conservation Park famous for its water lilies, go bird watching at Kamchia Conservation Park, take a boat to Belene, the biggest Bulgarian island in the Danube River or spot wild cats and wolves in Silkosiya. Hike in the Central Balkan National Park, fish in Koprinka Dam, visit the Byala Reka eco path or spot an ostrich at the Four Seasons Ranch. Stroll around Shiroka Polyana lake reserve or count the Seven Rila Lakes – one of the must-sees in the country. There’s plenty of caves and unusual sites from stone mushrooms in Melnik (Bulgaria’s smallest town) to a lion’s head but if you only get a chance to see one, make it the Belogradchik Rocks in the same named region.
Trek through the Rhodope Mountains and past local villages or even choose to stay in one to experience the hospitality of the Bulgarian people. They’ll teach you to horse ride, how to make pottery, weave or if you really fancy it; wood-carve. You may even be lucky enough to be invited to one of the folklore nights that Bulgaria are known for. If you don’t fancy making crafts yourself you can pay a visit to Etara near Gabrovo and watch the skilled craftsman do their thing (and pick up a handmade piece of jewellery in the process) or visit Sopot‘s craftsmen's complex for wooden sculptures and carvings.
You can’t leave Bulgaria without seeing the monasteries either: Rila Monastery is the largest in the country, Backovski Monastery is the second largest with an important church from the sixteenth century and Rozhen Monastery is the biggest in the Pirin Mountain region. There’s over another hundred to choose from!
Other places to see are: the towns of Devin and Varshets surrounded by forests and woods, Zlatograd near the Greek border known for its crafts, the Vienna style buildings of Ruse, Kyustendil for cultural monuments, mosaics and public baths and the Yagodinska cave (where you may even see a romantic wedding ceremony). You’ll find hotels, bars and arbors at Hisarlaka Park, the remains of the biggest Roman bath at Hisar, and hardly any international tourists at Kardzhali. It’s not just about the coastal resorts.
Bulgarians say ‘merci’ as thank you.
Some of the mountain roads are closed from mid September as the road is too slippery so check before you go.
Private clinics along the Black Sea tend to not work with insurance companies and a European medical card only covers state hospitals.
Trains do operate in Bulgaria but they are slower than the buses. There are fast trains but unless you can speak Bulgarian they are tricky to find and the names of the cities and towns are in Cyrillic. The train from Plovidv to Sofia takes 3 hours, costs 9 Levs and is a scenic journey. The train from Plovdiv to Bansko takes 6 hours and the route from Vratsa to Sofia is really picturesque. The buses are really good in the country and are easier to work out with many frequent ones along the Black Sea coast. Taxis may try to overcharge you so use local companies with a licence or ask your accommodation to call if you’re unsure.Eurolines operate in Bulgaria but their offices are closed on Sundays.
Bulgaria Adventures & Tours
If you are looking for some company on all or part of your trip, both G Adventures and Intrepid Travel are responsible tour companies and have group tours in Bulgaria including Hungary and Romania (and more) from 10 days to 25 days with prices starting at £999. I have personally used G Adventures and recommend them as a solo female friendly company.
From the Airport
Sofia – Taxis should cost €8 for the 15 minute ride but they are known for overcharging. To walk takes 25 minutes or take the number 84 or 284 bus (from 0500 to 2300) into the city centre for €1.
Varna – Take the number 409 bus. Taxis are available for the 8km journey but cost more at night.
Plovdiv – Taxis cost €5 for the 12 km drive.
Burgas – Buses run every 20 mins for the 8 mile drive.
* Resorthoppa operates a cheap airport shuttle that will take you to the city centre or your hotel.
How long do I need?
It really depends on what you want to see. If you’re combining Plovdiv with Sofia and a coastal resort or another area in the country then at least one week if not ten days.
Travelling onwards (check visas before you travel)
To Romania – It takes 2 hours from Ruse and you can either take a private car for 85 Lev or a bus which leaves from Ruse station at 1.30pm. (The bus station is next to the train station). ‘Exactly Right Taxis’ will take you across the border from Ruse. Buses also go from Sofia and Varna to Bucharest.
To Turkey – Buses from Sofia to Istanbul take 10 hours and arrive at the border at approx 1.30am or a train runs at night at 19.30. The buses are cheaper and also depart from Burgas and Varna.
To Macedonia – Buses operate from Sofia to Skopje in Macedonia three times a day and will take approx 5 hours.
To Serbia – There is a day train and an overnight one for the 10 hour journey or the bus is a faster option.
To Greece – From Sofia you can reach Thessaloniki by train in 6 hours. There is also a bus service.
- Can I drink the water? There are many spa springs where the water is okay to drink but in other areas it is recommended to buy bottled water instead.
- Is tipping expected? Yes from 5-10%.
- Fixed price or barter? Generally fixed price.
- Any ATMs? Yes.
- Which side of the road do they drive? Right.
- Good for vegetarians? They eat a lot of meat but you can get salads all over and different types of food at the Black Sea. There are now more and more vegan and vegetarian restaurants opening up.
- Any seven wonders of the world? No.
*This is accurate at time of writing but we appreciate things can change. Please let us know if you experience anything otherwise. Thanks…
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