If you are keen on art and culture, Bulgaria is the ideal destination for you. Churches dating back centuries, Greek and Byzantine ruins, mountain villages, seaside resorts of the Black Sea, museums full of priceless treasures, walks in the fragrant Rose Valley and cities with lovely old houses spread out over cliffs - there's more to Bulgaria than words can conjure.
Sofia, the capital city, has something for everyone. A vibrant nightlife, the best East European architecture, excellent museums and even a ski resort - little wonder that there are hordes of tourists in the city throughout the year.
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BULGARIA QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Sofia
- Currency: lev (BGN)
- Area: 110,910 sq km
- Population: 7,000,000 (2009 est.)
- Language: Bulgarian
- Religion: Bulgarian Orthodox 83.8%, Muslim 12.1%, Roman Catholic 1.7%, Jewish 0.1%, Protestant, Gregorian-Armenian, and other 2.3%
- Electricity: 220V/50Hz (European plug)
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BULGARIA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
1 Jan New Year’s Day.
3 Mar National Day (Day of Liberation).
1 May Labor Day.
6 May St George’s Day (Day of Bulgarian Army).
24 May St Cyril and Methodius Day (Day of Culture and Literacy).
6 Sep The Unification of Bulgaria.
22 Sep Independence Day.
1 Nov Day of the Bulgarian Revival Leaders.
24 Dec -25 Dec Christmas.
31 Dec New Year’s Eve.
FESTIVALS IN BULGARIA
Bulgaria hosts its most famous event- The Festival of Masquerade Games in Pernik in the month of January. People from all over Europe and other parts of the world come to attend and join the festivities. It is a festival which brings about 90 folklore groups from the regions of Bulgaria and all around the world to perform the ritual games of “kukeri” (masked men) to honour the god Dionysus - god of wine and ecstasy. Participants dress in their rural traditional costumes and dance to compete with others. This festival is fun of fun and energy. They also perform the ancient rite of chasing away evil and celebrate the beginning of spring and hopes for a successful harvest and a better life.
International Puppet Theatre Festival takes place every September to entertain both young and the old. Professional companies from all over come to participate in the event.
BEST TIME TO VISIT BULGARIA
Bulgaria is characterised by two climatic regions: a continental climate in the North and a Mediterranean climate in the south. The continental climate is generally humid and characterised by cool summers. The continental North also tends to have higher variation in temperature and precipitation compared to the coastal regions.
The best time to visit Bulgaria is in the summer, around July or August; when it’s least cold and average temperatures hover around 30 degree Celsius. It can be pleasant and rarely gets excessively hot. Spring (April and May) with an average temperature of 23 degree Celsius and autumn (September and October) with an average temperature of 17 degree Celsius is a good time to be in the country if you don’t mind the slightly chilly weather. What’s particularly good about visiting Bulgaria in the spring or autumn is that its off-season and you won’t find yourself being jostled about by crowds of fellow tourists. Winter (December to April) is good only if you like winter sports- especially skiing- and don’t mind the cold.
February - Pop your cork at Melnik's Golden Grape Festival.
June - Celebrate the sweetest harvest at Kazanlâk's Rose Festival.
July to September - Spend lazy days on the Black Sea beaches and nights at Bulgaria’s best clubs.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN BULGARIA
The snow sports season in Bulgaria is from December until April when the snow is thick and consistent.
HIKING & CYCLING IN BULGARIA
The best time for outdoor activities in Bulgaria is from April to October, with plenty of options for guided and self-guided hiking routes.
BEACH OPTIONS IN BULGARIA
Bulgaria has some beautiful beaches with a summer beach season stretching from May to October.
SURFING IN BULGARIA
Despite the inconsistency in summer and cold waters in winter, Bulgaria can offer some good surf throughout the year. These are the best surf spots in Bulgaria: Shabla, Kabakum Beach, Harmani, Arkutino and Melnitsa.
KITESURF IN BULGARIA
The best winds for kitesurfing in Bulgaria are usually from March to October, making it a great summer kitesurfing destination for all levels of kiters.
BULGARIA TRAVEL COSTS
For long distance travel across Bulgaria, trains and buses are the cheapest and most extensive choice- they spread over nearly all of the country and fares are quite reasonable. The only problem is that they tend to be unreliable, usually behind schedule and sometimes a bit of a culture shock. If you’re very particular, you might prefer to use your own car , or hire one; a hired car is, anyway, one of the best options within cities, although most have a fairly convenient bus network and taxis .
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF BULGARIA
There is a wide variety of historical, natural, religious and artistic sights around Bulgaria. All across the country, there are remains of different epochs and eras, societies and peoples, spiritual and artistic personae that create a beautiful mix of ethnic culture full of unique traditions and rituals combined with a sense of belonging to the movements that have shaped the world as we know it today. The Bulgarian tourist movement, established more than one hundred years ago, has promoted the acknowledgement of all the sights that form the distinguished Bulgarian identity through its so-called "100 Tourist Sites of Bulgaria" program that covers most of Bulgaria's must-see attractions. Of course, nowadays the program includes more than two hundred and fifty one-of-a-kind places of interest but the name still remains.
Some of the most popular sites include:
- UNESCO's World Heritage sites - Ancient City of Nessebar, Boyana church, Madara Riderstone carving, Rila Monastery, Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo, Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak, Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari being the historical, and Pirin National Park, Srebarna Nature Reserve being the natural.
- Monasteries of Bulgaria that have been centres of Bulgarian culture during the Ottoman rule such as Bachkovo Monastery, Troyan Monastery, Dryanovo Monastery, Osenovlag Monastery, etc.
- Natural creations in the Bulgarian mountains that are a combination of awe to the beautiful natural forms and the exciting feeling of danger in the face of the sharp edges and deep ravines created solely by wind and water. Some of the most popular natural creations are the caves Dyavolsko Garlo (The Devil's Throat), Ledenika (The Ice-Cold), Magurata which has cave paintings on its walls and Snezhanka (Snow White), the canyons of Trigrad and the river Erma, Chudnite Mostove (The Marvellous Bridges) rock phenomena, and the natural pyramids near the town of Melnik and the ones near the village Stob.
- Fortresses from the Middle Ages such as Tsarevets in Veliko Tarnovo, Baba Vida in Vidin, Tsari Mali Grad near Samokov, the Fort of Samuil near the village of Strumeshnica and the Fort of Asenevtsi near Asenovgrad.
- Remains from the cities of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire in Sofia, Plovdiv, Nessebar, Sozopol, Razgrad and many many other cities and towns.
- Architectural historical reserves like the towns of Koprivshtitsa, Bozhentsi, or Daskalolivnitsa in the town of Elena, Plovdiv's Old Town, the Varosha neighbourhood in Blagoevgrad and the neighbourhood of Arbanasi in Veliko Tarnovo.
- Sacred places of Perperikon and Rupite, the many ancient and medieval churches in the country, and the tombs of the Thracian kings.
Sofia — the capital and largest city in Bulgaria, one of the oldest in Europe, featuring a nice town centre with Renaissance and modern influences, many parks including the National park "Vitosha" (which is just minutes away from the city centre), a vibrant nightlife, over 250 historic landmarks and architectural monuments, and plenty of cultural places of interest.
Burgas — known for its commercial port (Port of Burgas) and oil refinery, the city has a picturesque waterfront, nearby downtown and rich shopping areas that make it popular with tourists. In recent years the city hosts the popular music festival "Spirit of Burgas".
Gabrovo — A popular tourist destination near the geographic the centre of the country, providing quick access to other cities, such as Veliko Tarnovo and Kazanlak, as well as the Balkan Mountains and the ski-resort of Uzana. The architectural-ethnographic resort Etar is situated near the town.
Pleven — a historical city, famous for its Panorama monument and for its beautiful parks and fountains in the city centre.
Plovdiv — Bulgaria's second-largest city, situated on both banks of the Maritsa river, it boasts a lovely shopping promenade and many parks. It's an ancient city with influences from many epochs including a preserved ancient Greek amphitheatre, a Roman stadium, a "Bulgarian revival" style Old Town, and a variety of mosques, catholic cathedrals and orthodox churches all across the city. Plovdiv is also famous in the country for its hectic nightlife. Though the city has a modern lifestyle it is one of the oldest in the world and debatable - the oldest in Europe. Be sure also to take a side trip to Bachkovo Monastery which is about an hour away.
Rousse — known as the "Small Vienna", the town centre offers an impressive architectural Baroque ensemble that cannot be found anyplace else within Bulgaria. The city boasts various places of interest among which the Sexiginta Prista Roman Castle, Rousse's Theatre, The House of Caliopa, and the Pantheon.
Varna — the nation's third-largest city is a lovely combination of a beach resort with a famous nightlife and an urban centre. Varna's coast garden is filled with entertainments and can also be appreciated by art lovers.
Veliko Tarnovo — picturesque university city near the Yantra river that was the capital of the medieval Bulgarian Empire and still has one of the best-preserved medieval fortresses on its background.
WHAT TO EAT IN BULGARIA
Bulgaria’s food is a rather rustic fare, wholesome, well balanced and with a good mix of flavours, sometimes surprisingly spicy for European cuisine. The local people consume a large amount of meat and fish - there’s a particularly good fish soup from the Danube region, and Sozopol-style mussels are famous throughout the country and lots of vegetables. Foods are often stewed or grilled and served with a wide range of cheeses, bread rolls and wines.
Among Bulgaria’s best-known dishes - many of which are shared with, or influenced by, nearby Greece, are Bansko-style kapama, a meat and vegetable stew, banitsa (cheese pie), stuffed vine leaves, moussaka, baklava, and pancakes with honey and walnuts. Coffee is a speciality of the Bulgarians and is consumed in almost as large quantities as the wines are.
LGBTQ IN BULGARIA
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Bulgaria may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Bulgaria does not recognise any type of same-sex unions and The Constitution of Bulgaria defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, effectively prohibiting the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
Although same-sex sexual activity is legal in Bulgaria and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been banned since 2004, Bulgaria still holds socially conservative attitudes when it comes to such issues as homosexuality and only about 15% of the population is accepting of same-sex relationships.
Bulgaria does host an annual Gay Pride Parade in Sofia, which is very slowly gaining public support. However, keep in mind that hate crimes against LGBT people are not uncommon in Bulgaria, and are often ignored and go investigated by authorities.