Traveling in Bulgaria is cheap, hassle-free, and immensely rewarding. In many ways, Bulgaria remains the unknown country of the Balkans. Much of Bulgaria is like an open-air museum of Balkan culture, with beautifully decorated churches, beautiful mosques, wonderfully preserved rustic villages, and a great deal of enduring folklore.
The Republic of Bulgaria is a country in southeastern Europe. It is bordered by Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, and the Black Sea. With a territory of 110,994 square kilometers (42,855 sq mi), Bulgaria is Europe’s 16th-largest country.
Bulgaria’s population of 7.4 million people is predominantly urbanized and mainly concentrated in the administrative centers of its 28 provinces. Most commercial and cultural activities are centered on the capital and largest city, Sofia. The strongest sectors of the economy are heavy industry, power engineering, and agriculture, all of which rely on local natural resources.
Bulgaria’s main lure is its long, sandy coastline, which still boasts swaths of stunning beaches and picturesque bays. But there is so much of it remainings untouched and unvisited by the tourists. Networks of well-maintained hiking trails allow you to discover Bulgaria’s lush mountainous and forested landscapes inhabited by bears, rare birds, and other wildlife that is now scarce elsewhere in Europe.
Getting around the country is easy, with cheap and efficient public transport to ferry you between the cities and into the remoter, rural corners. The traditional, slow pace of life continues much as it has done for centuries. If you’re looking to explore the place in any great depth, you’ll undoubtedly require your own wheels, especially for the more remote, rural areas.
You’ll come across old monasteries in Bulgaria, filled with fabulous icons and watched over by bushy-bearded priests. You will wander through pretty timber-framed villages with smoke curling lazily over the stone-tiled roofs. You would hear donkeys complaining in the distance, where headscarfed old ladies and their curious grandchildren still stare in wonderment at the arrival of outsiders.
The cities, too, are often overlooked highlights, from dynamic, cosmopolitan Sofia with its lovely parks, sociable alfresco bars, and fascinating museums, to the National Revival architectural treasures and Roman remains of Plovdiv, and the youthful maritime cockiness of Varna.
In Bulgaria, you’ll come across Europe’s most beautiful highland scenery in the Rila, Pirin, Balkan, Sredna Gora, and Rhodope mountain ranges, whose valleys harbor the kind of rural villages which have all disappeared in Western Europe. Many of them are time-consuming to reach by public transport, but if traditional architecture and goat-thronged, cobbled alleys appeal, any effort will be rewarded.
While the villages of Bansko, Koprivshtitsa, and Melnik have the best tourist facilities, more rustic out-of-the-way spots such as Brashlyan, Kovachevitsa and Zheravna are also well worth seeking out.
Bulgaria has a continental climate, with long, hot, dry summers and in the interior at least – bitterly cold winters. July and August can be oppressively hot in the big cities, and a little crowded on the Black Sea coast – elsewhere, you won’t have to worry about being swamped by fellow visitors.
It is a real wonder how Bulgaria has successfully managed to stay off the mass tourism radar.
Bulgaria is a breath of fresh air….literally.
One-Third of Bulgaria is Protected Green Space, one of the best value destinations on Earth.
Authenticity matters, and for better or worse, Bulgaria has plenty of it. From aromatic rose oil to mineral waters with healing qualities, and unique rock formations, this rather small country is jam-packed with natural wonders.
The newish trend of seeking out “slow food” destinations and “farm to table” restaurants gets a big chuckle here.
In Sofia, you can see a Christian Orthodox church, a Catholic cathedral, a Synagogue, and a Mosque forming a rectangle of tolerance that takes up less than 1,100 sq feet /100 sq meters.
There are more than 120 monasteries and many more churches.
Much of Bulgaria’s charm lies in the bizarre juxtaposition of ancient, medieval, and modern.
Bulgaria is well connected and offers a lot of low-cost-carrier options (London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Berlin, Rome, Barcelona, Amsterdam), making it possible to get tickets below 50€…and mostly it doesn’t take you more than 2-4h to get there!
The official language is Bulgarian and uses only the Cyrillic alphabet. However, road and direction signs in populated areas, resorts, and railways stations airports and along the main motorways are also spelled in Roman letters. English, German, French, Russian and other languages are spoken in the country.
When entering Bulgaria, you will need a valid passport. No entry visas are required for citizens of the EU and EFTA members if their stay does not exceed 1 month. You can check the visa requirements and also can get help with obtaining one if need from here.
The national carrier BulgariaAir, private Bulgarian airline companies, and many foreign airlines link the country to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and North America.
The country can be entered through any one of the many border checkpoints. Foreign driving licenses are valid on Bulgarian territory. Insurance is compulsory – it can either be taken out beforehand or on the Bulgarian border. The country’s speed limit is as follows: 60 km/h in populated areas, 80 km/h outside populated areas, 120 km/h on motorways. Petrol stations are located every 30 to 50 km.
January 1 – New Year;
March 3 – Bulgaria’s Liberation from Ottoman rule – the National Day;
Easter – one week after the Catholic Easter;
May 6 – Bulgarian Army Day;
May 24 – Day of Bulgarian Enlightenment and Culture and the Cyrillic alphabet;
September 6 – Bulgaria’s Unification;
September 22 – Independence Day;
December 25-26 – Christmas;
The unit of currency in Bulgaria is the lev, divided into 100 stotinki. The Bulgarian National Bank is the bank of issue and handles government funds and state-owned enterprises.
n 1991, Bulgaria chose the road to a rapid and radical economic reform. The primary objectives were to curb inflation, slow down the economy’s decline, achieve stability of the national currency, and encourage private sector growth. Within the first 4 years, the cornerstones of the market economy’s legal and institutional framework were put in place.
In 1996 and 1997, Bulgarian GDP dropped down. The main reasons for the decline were structural reform slowdown, delay in privatization, and the loss of international market position for Bulgarian companies following the disintegration of the CMEA. The embargo on ex-Yugoslavia, which caused damages estimated at more than 4 bln. $ plus debts of over 2.5 bln. $ further contributed to the negative trends in the Bulgarian economy.
In the first quarter of 1997, a new agreement with the IMF was negotiated, which marked the introduction of a currency board (July 1997). A set of radical austerity measures was implemented.
The German mark was chosen as a reserve currency, and the Bulgarian lev was pegged to it at a 1000 BGL/1 DEM exchange rate. Compared to the macroeconomic indicators’ value from the beginning of 1997, the currency board policy resulted in a considerable decrease in the inflation rate, increased credibility of the national currency, and a reduced interest rate. Furthermore, all these factors, leading to a sharp reduction in the loan interest rate within the economy, subsequently reduced the Government’s debt interest payments and the share of short-term debt issued to finance the budget deficit.
After the political changes at the beginning of 1997 and the introduction of the currency board agreement, Bulgaria became one of Central and Eastern Europe’s most remarkable economic rebounds. The achieved level of macroeconomic stabilization, the resumption of growth, curbing inflation to one-digit levels has been made possible by a combination of strong political will and timely external support from the IMF, World Bank, EBRD, and other international institutions.
The Bulgarian State was founded at the end of the VII century (681) by Slavs and proto-Bulgarians, led by Khan Asparouh, son of the ruler of the proto-Bulgarian Kingdom, Khan Koubrat.
As early as the IX century, the country emerged as one of the powerful states in Europe. During the second half of the IX century, the Bulgarians converted to Christianity, and Bulgaria joined the family of Christian nations. Further, the country adopted the Cyrillic alphabet created by the brothers Cyril and Methodius in 855. It was then disseminated in other countries as well. Even today, Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Serbs, and other nations continue to use it.
In its thirteen-century long history, Bulgaria fell twice under foreign domination. After nearly two centuries of Byzantine oppression, the Second Bulgarian State, founded in 1185, rapidly restored its grandeur. At the end of the XIV century, Bulgaria was conquered by the Ottomans, and the Bulgarian State ceased to exist for nearly five centuries. It was as late as 1878 that, as a result of the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878) and the national liberation movement, the beginning of the Third Bulgarian Kingdom was set, which lasted until 1944.
According to the so-called “Yalta agreement” between Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt, Bulgaria was given to the USSR as a political influence zone. In November 1989, Bulgaria broke with the totalitarian communist model of government rule. Today the country is a parliamentary republic.