I love my home country Bulgaria and I can’t emphasize enough how much it is worth visiting and exploring it. For its rather small size, Bulgaria can offer a lot – from high mountain peaks and a stunning coastline to some of the best spa and winter resorts and beautifully preserved historic towns. I truly believe that if I wasn’t Bulgarian and happened to visit the country as a tourist, it would have turned into a favorite destination to me.
And I suppose that the fact that you’re reading this means that you are interested in visiting Bulgaria and wondering where to go and what to do. To help you decide what to see, I complied this extensive list of 52 places to visit in Bulgaria for your inspiration. Hopefully, you’ll visit as many of these places as possible.
To be honest, there are many more places to visit in Bulgaria, but for the purpose of this article, I gathered the ones that, in my opinion as a local are worth seeing and exploring the most as a tourist. In this article, you’ll find the best cities, most charming villages, the biggest and most important sights and monuments, beautiful mountains and beaches, as well as top spa and winter resorts to pay a visit to when visiting Bulgaria.
|Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness in December 2020.|
Cities to visit in Bulgaria
Plovdiv is the second-largest city in Bulgaria and Europe’s oldest inhabited city – it’s history can be traced to 8 000 years. Ancient monuments such as the Ancient Theater, the Roman Odeon, the Roman Forum, and the Roman Stadium have been very well preserved.
The Ancient Roman Theater, which is the greatest achievement in the field of restoration of monuments of antiquity in Bulgaria and one of the best-preserved ancient theaters in the world might be even more than 8, 000 years old, but it’s still in use! Every year the Amphitheatre hosts the Plovdiv International Folklore Festival and other theatrical plays and music shows. It can host between 5 000 and 7 000 people.
Plovdiv is often called ”the city under the hills” because the town was been built in the foothills of seven hills. The city was the European Capital of Culture in 2019.
There are many reasons to visit Plovdiv, and although there’s enough to see in the city in a few days, the city is a perfect day trip destination. A day trip to Plovdiv from Sofia is one of the most popular and best ways to explore the highlights of this wonderful city.
Some of the main things to do in Plovdiv include wandering the ancient houses and cobblestone streets of the Old Town, hiking on of the city hills for a beautiful panoramic view, and losing yourself in ”The Trap” (Kapana) – Plovdiv’s artistic district.
#2 Veliko Tarnovo
Veliko Tarnovo is the historical capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, often referred to as the ”City of the Tsars”. It is located in North Central Bulgaria.
The city attracts many tourists with its unique architecture, cobblestone streets, colorful houses, and red rooftops cascading down the hills. The old part of the city is situated on three hills, the tallest of which is Tsarevets, rising amidst the meanders of the Yantra River. Veliko Turnovo is one of the largest urban areas in the country. It is a foremost cultural and educational center and home to the two major universities and extensive artistic activity.
Veliko Tarnovo is undoubtedly one of if not the most beautiful city to visit in Bulgaria and is a perfect weekend destination.
The most popular landmark is the historical hill Tsarevets along with the Tsarevets fortress. Some of the other tourist attractions include the Monument of Asenevci, the Monument of Independence, Trapezitsa Hill, Arbanasi, numerous medieval churches, and more.
Varna is the third-largest city in Bulgaria and the largest one on the Black Sea Coast. The city is a perfect summer destination because of its nice beaches and a great place to visit all year round as it’s also home to numerous attractions and sites.
The city has deep historical roots going thousands of years back in time – the ruins of Europe’s fourth-largest preserved Roman baths lie in the city’s heart and the world’s oldest processed gold was found during excavations just outside Varna.
Spending a weekend in Varna is a great way to explore the city’s highlights and then continue exploring the coast. You can also base yourself in Varna and explore nearby amazing places as a day trips from the city – I’ll cover some of these places in the following categories, so keep on reading.
When listing down all the best places to visit in Bulgaria, I can not miss mentioning the capital city Sofia.
I love Sofia, it is the city where I was born and lived all of my life so far (okay, technically, I live in the outskirts of the city), but it really saddens me when people come to Bulgaria and visit only Sofia. Yes, Sofia is a great destination, but knowing how much the country has to offer, I feel like people are missing out and don’t get a real idea of what Bulgaria is really like.
But don’t get me wrong, there are many reasons to visit Sofia and you shouldn’t exclude it from your places to visit in Bulgaria list. Sofia is one of the cheapest European destinations and has it all: cultural and historical heritage, plenty of green areas, a flavorful food scene, exciting nightlife, and even its own mountain!
In fact, the free things to do in Sofia are actually the best things to do to experience the city. And on top of Sofia’s having its own mountain in the backyard, the city is also a great base and starting point for many day hikes in the area.
The town of Koprivshtitsa is one of the best places to visit in Bulgaria for history and culture.
Koprivshtitsa is a historic town situated in Sredna Gora Mountain. The town is best known for its authentic Bulgarian architecture and as one of the center’s of the April Uprising in 1876. Koprivshtitsa is home to many architectural monuments from Bulgarian National Revival times, collections of ethnographical treasures, old weapons, fretworks, national costumes, and typical Bulgarian jewelry.
If you include a visit to Koprivshtitsa in your Bulgaria itinerary don’t miss The First Rifle Shot Bridge, which is one of the most important historic sites in Bulgaria. This was the place where the first rifle went off and marked the start of the April Uprising on 20th April 1876.
What else is really interesting to be seen is witnessing the making of ”plasti” – handmade colorful covers made from wool.
Hiking lovers often visit Koprivshtitsa as the town is the starting point for the hike leading to Bogdan peak (1, 604), the highest one of Sredna Gora Mountain.
#6 Stara Zagora
Stara Zagora is the fifth-largest city in Bulgaria and the administrative capital of the homonymous Stara Zagora Province. The city was founded in 342 BC on the site of a Thracian settlement and has a rich history illustrated by the many ancient Roman buildings and ruins, which are preserved in the city’s center.
It’s usually not a typical tourist destination, but I decided to included it in the list because, in my opinion, Staza Zagora is a great place to visit.
The city is home to the one and only pre-Bulgarian survival school, the Antique Forum Augusta Traiana, the Regional History Museum who was built on the remains of the ancient Roman city, and some of the best-preserved expositions of people of Antiquity in Europe just to name a few. It is also the city where the greatest Bulgarian revolutionary Vasil Ivanov Kunchev known as Vasil Levski started his education and has the biggest brewery in Bulgaria – Zagorka.
Stara Zagora is called the city of Linden – the best time to witness Linden is from May to Mid-July.
The city is also called ”the center of the Universe” and it’s located in south-central Bulgaria, at the crossroads between North and South, West and East.
Not far away from Stara Zagora, or 33 km to be exact, at the foot of the Balkan Mountain range is the town of Kazanlak. There are a few reasons why you should visit Kazanlak:
Valley of the Roses – The Rose Valley of Bulgaria has been a rose-growing area of great importance for centuries. Bulgaria is the number 1 producer of rose oil in the world! Kazanlak is the center of the rose oil industry and there’s even a Rose Museum in the city which you can visit to learn more about the history of roses and the rose oil production in the country.
The rose oil is used for beauty products and perfumes – perhaps one of the best souvenirs that you can bring to your loved ones back home. Bulgarians are very proud of the Rose Valley and the rose oil production and it is now one of the most widely recognizable national symbols.
The best time to visit Kazanlak and the Rose Valley is during the Rose Festival.
The Rose Festival is a unique event that has been celebrated for over 100 years now and it lasts from May 19th till June 24th. There are many activities and smaller events that are included in the festival, but the most interesting and important ones are the parade along the streets of the town, the election of Queen Rose, and the early morning ritual in the rose fields.
Thracian tombs – The country’s largest and best-preserved Thracian tombs are found here. They are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, along with the Museum of Roses.
There are two nature reserves and five protected areas in the vicinity of Kazanlak, preserving natural wonders and age-old forests. Kazanlak is also the closest town to Buzludzha and Shipka Monument & church, but I’ll share more about those places separately.
Melnik is located in the skirts of Pirin mountain, among sand pyramids with bizarre forms. It’s the smallest city in Bulgaria. It was found during the ancient artifacts bear witness to centuries of history.
Melnik attracts with its history, ancient houses, and aromatic wines. The town was declared a cultural-historical reserve. It’s part of the Hundred Tourist sites.
As Melnik is known as the wine capital of Bulgaria when you visit it, don’t miss to check out its wineries and try as many local wines as possible.
The town is the perfect weekend getaway and has romantic charm, so it’s also the perfect place to escape to with your other half.
Charming villages to visit in Bulgaria
I love the Bulgarian villages – they are so charming and remind me of my childhood. Sadly, most of the villages in Bulgaria are deserted or only the elderly are left. However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth the visit. In fact, those villages are actually some of the most beautiful places to visit in Bulgaria.
There are over 5, 000 villages in Bulgaria, so it isn’t easy to choose the best among so many. For the purpose of this article, I have gathered some of the Bulgarian villages that are of best tourist interest + one of my favorites! There is not much to see and do in them, however, those villages are attractions on their own.
Located in the Rhodopes Mountain, at an altitude of 1, 500 meters above sea level, Ortsevo is the highest permanently inhabited village in Bulgaria and in the Balkans. The village is quite remote and although you can reach it by car, the best way to get there is on foot from Avramovo – the highest train station on the Balkan Peninsula.
Ever since I visited this village, I believe that it is one of the absolutely best places to visit in Bulgaria not just because of its beauty, but also because of the local’s hospitality. Between 120 and 200 people live in the village scattered in a total of 13 mahali (neighborhoods).
According to the locals, the village’s name comes from the word horo (orce) – traditional Bulgarian folklore dance. Ortsevo offers stunning views of the Pirin Mountain range.
Leshten is a mountainous village in Rhodopes Mountain. In the early 20th century, Leshten was home to over 500 inhabitants. Nowadays, very few permanent inhabitants live in the village, but many of the old houses have been renovated as guest houses to welcome tourists. The village is a protected area, so no new houses are allowed to be built. Almost every house features a spacious terrace, inner courtyard, and its own tavern.
Wandering along the narrow cobblestone streets of the village is one of the nicest things to do in Leshten. The most popular attraction of the village is the ”The Clay House”. The house is made entirely of clay, wood, and straw, and it is built in resemblance to the house of the popular cartoon character Fred Flinstone. You can spend the night in it.
Other popular activities include mountain hiking, herb and mushroom gathering, fishing, and day trips to nearby places such as the village of Kovachevitsa which is next on our list.
The village of Kovachevitsa was founded by refugees from different villages, who tried to escape the Ottoman assimilation in the 17th century. An interesting fact is that the village never had Ottoman administration, therefore it preserved traditional and unique Bulgarian traditions.
The village keeps the same architectural style from the period of the Bulgarian National Revival and has been designated as an “Architectural and Historical Reserve of National Importance”.
A village and architectural reserve in Gabrovo Province, in central northern Bulgaria, Bozhentsi is noted for its well-preserved Bulgarian National Revival architecture and history.
There are around 100 houses in the village, all of which are well-preserved and most of which have been turned into museums, shops, and guest houses. Similar to Leshten, Bozhentsi is also protected from constriction as it is part of UNESCO’s cultural monuments.
Some of the most interesting places to visit in Bozhentsi are the old church The Holy Prophet Elijah, the Cell school, the New school, the museum houses Grandma Rayna and Doncho the Priest.
The village is surrounded by forests and is incredibly peaceful.
Another village situated in the Rhodopes Mountain. The village of Gela is surrounded by three of the highest peaks of the mountain – Golyam Perelik (2, 191), Orpheus (2, 188), and Turlata (1, 825). The registered population of Gela is about 50 people.
There are two legends related to the history of the area and the village: The first is that this is the birthplace of Orpheus and the second states that after his exile in the Bachkovo Monastery, Patriarch Evtimii was buried in a secret place in the local monastery, which was demolished in the 17th century by the Ottomans.
Every year the meadows in the village of Gela host the Gela Bagpipe Contest. The festival aims to promote authentic Rhodope folklore and preserve the local traditions and visiting it is one of the best free things to do in Bulgaria.
#14 Shiroka Luka
Located at the heart of Rhodopes Mountain, the village of Shiroka Laka is a proclaimed architectural and folklore reserve. The village is home to one of Bulgaria’s best schools for folk music and is just under the village of Gela.
You can visit them both in a single trip, but unfortunately, public transportation options to these places are very limited, so traveling by car is the best and most convenient way to get there.
Read this post for more information about driving and traveling around Bulgaria by car.
17 km southwest of Tsarevo on the territory of Strandzha Nature Park, you’ll find the village of Bulgari. The village is the only one in Strandzha with the status of a folklore reserve. It is most famous for the traditional Nestinarstvo fire dancing ritual – one of the oldest traditions in Bulgaria.
Every year a festival dedicated to this tradition is held in the village of Bulgari. The culmination of the festival happens after sunset when people would build up a massive fire and dance traditional Bulgarian folklore dance – horo. At this stage of the festival, nestinari in a state of trance enter the ring of fire and start dancing on it.
The festival is part of UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
SPA resorts to visit in Bulgaria
Velingrad is one of the most popular and biggest Bulgaria balneological resorts and is also known as the Spa capital of the Balkans. The city is home to over 80 mineral water springs, which all vary considerably in temperature, mineralization, radon, silicic acid, and fluorine content, and are suitable for the treatment of a wide range of diseases.
Moreover, Velingrad is home to a real natural phenomenon -Kleptuza, the biggest karts spring in Bulgaria. The water is ice-cold, but also drinkable and part of it is captured and used for the water supply of the city.
In my personal opinion, the best way to reach the city of Velingrad is by The Rhodope Narrow Gauge.
World-class spa centers and Roman ruins make Hisarya a great destination for those of you who are looking to combine both leisure and history on your holiday.
Situated only 40 km away from Bulgaria’s second-biggest city Plovdiv, Hisarya has 22 mineral springs with temperatures between 41 °C and 51 °C, and with proven healing abilities.
Even during Roman times, Hisarya was a spa hub and you can also visit the remains of the largest Roman bath dating back to the 4th century.
#18 Sapareva banya
Home to one of Europe’s very few hot water geysers, Sapareva Banya is a small town located at the north foot of Rila Mountain.
The geyser water temperature is 103°C and you can observe the geothermal spring that pushes out an 18-meter jet of mineral water every 20 seconds. The geyser is in the center of the town and it is surrounded by a public garden.
From all mentioned here, Sapareva Banya is the closest spa destination to the Bulgarian capital, just about 75 km away from Sofia.
With its abundance of hot springs and spa resorts in the area, Devin is known since antiquity for the healing properties of its mineral springs. The waters have been claimed to treat and heal a variety of maladies.
The town of Devin is located in the Rhodopes Mountain in close proximity to the winter resort of Pamporovo.
Winter resorts to visit in Bulgaria (for skiing and snowboarding)
The first Bulgarian ski resort Borovets offers 19 ski slopes with different difficulty and a total length of 58 km. It is one of the most preferred winter resorts by locals because of its proximity to the Bulgarian capital. Borovets is 70 km away from Sofia. A day ski pass for the season 2020/2021 costs 62 BGN.
Borovets is located on the northern slopes of Rila Mountain, at the foot of Musala peak (2, 925). It is nestled among centuries-old coniferous forests, at an altitude of between 1, 230 – 1, 390 meters above sea level.
Pamporovo is a ski resort in Rhodopes Mountain. It offers 18 slopes with different difficulty each of which begins at the highest peak in Pamporovo – Snezhanka, 1 926 meters above sea level. One of the best things about Pamporovo is that your ski pass covers 2 ski zone – Pamporovo and Mechi Chal. The price for a day ski pass for the season of 2020/2021 costs 62 BGN.
Apart from skiing or snowboarding, there’s not much else to do in Pamporovo. I recommend checking out the city of Smolyan, about 15 km away from the ski resort. Smolyan is said to be the longest city in Bulgaria and has numerous attractions including a theater, a cinema, and a few bars.
P.S. Head to the village of Smilyan to try the traditional bean soup made of Smilyan’s beans. There is even a museum dedicated to the Smilyan bean in which you can find the bean board – a candidate for the Guinness World Records. Each visitor glues a bean on the board to complete the canvas. Over 18, 000 people have participated in the bean board so far.
Bansko is known as the best and most famous ski resort in Bulgaria. Situated in Pirin Mountains, Bansko ski resort offers 18 slopes for both beginner and advanced skiers and snowboarders. The slopes are around 80 km in total. The ski area in Bansko is situated at an altitude of 2, 000 – 2, 600 meters above sea level.
The town of Bansko has everything that a ski destination should have – a great variety of hotels and guest houses, traditional restaurants offering mouth-watering food, spas, and nice bars. There is also a 24h a day emergency ski patrol service, first aid, and an ambulance available.
Bansko is also one of the priciest and most touristic winter destinations in Bulgaria A day ski pass for the season of 2020/2021 costs 70 BGN – this is expensive for Bulgarians, but a budget alternative for tourists coming from Western Europe, and especially the UK.
The town of Bansko is also a great destination to visit in any other season as the town has a rich cultural history.
# 23 Dobrinishte
Neighboring the ski resort of Bansko, the ski resort of Dobrinishte (or Bezbog) is one of the local’s favorite. It is a cheaper and not touristy alternative to Bansko with 5 km of slopes and it’s also a freeriding destination. A day ski pass for the season of 2020/2021 costs 35 BGN.
You can stay at the huts at the beginning or the end of the lift, or down in the town in one of the many guest houses. There are several restaurants, a lot less than in Bansko and no bars. I recommend heading to the thermal spring of Dobrinishte after a day of skiing or snowboarding.
With this being said, if you’re looking for a budget and non-mainstream winter resort to visit in Bulgaria, Dobrinishte is your place.
National Parks to visit in Bulgaria
#24 Pirin National Park
Encompassing the larger part of the Pirin Mountains, Pirin National Park has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Its highest peak is Vihren peak (2, 914), second-highest in Bulgaria, and third highest in the Balkans.
In the area of the Pirin Mountains, there are more than 1, 300 plants – rare, endemic, glacial relicts, and endangered. The oldest tree in Bulgaria Baikushev’s pine, (1, 300 years old) is also located in Pirin! While visiting, you can come across wild goats, falcons, and eagles. Pirin is famous for its 118 glacier lakes.
The hiking opportunities in Pirin are endless. Hiking lovers can enjoy the many stunning trails across the mountain with the hike to Vihren peak being the most famous one. Other interesting and panoramic peaks are Sinanitsa, Todorka, Muratov, Polezhan, Kamenitsa, and Dzhano, to name a few.
Pirin National Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Bulgaria for me and of the top European national parks. I love going there hiking all-year-round.
#25 Rila National Park
Rila National Park is the biggest one in Bulgaria. It is home to Musala peak, the highest one in Bulgaria and on the Balkans standing at 2, 925 meters above sea level. On the territory of the park, you can also visit the famous Seven Rila Lakes – one of the most beautiful places in all of Bulgaria.
The national park is one of the largest and most valuable protected areas in Europe. The four nature reserves on the territory of the park are included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves under UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme.
In the area of the park, you can find rare and endangered wildlife species, self-regulating ecosystems of biological diversity, and historic sites of global cultural and scientific significance.
The name Rila is derived from the Thracian word roula, meaning ”lots of water”.
Two of the most popular hikes in Rila are the peaks of Musala and Malyovitsa. I don’t like doing these hikes in summer as many people do them too and get too crowded for my taste. However, I love doing both of these hikes in winter.
#26 Central Balkan National Park
Central Balkan National Park is in the heart of Bulgaria. The highest peak here is Botev, rising at 2 376 meters above the sea level. Situated in the park, Raiskoto praskalo waterfall /literally translated to ”heavenly spray”/ is the highest waterfall in Bulgaria and in all of the Balkans – 125 meters.
Forests occupy 56% of Central Balkan National Park and it’s home to 59 species of mammals, 224 species of birds, 14 species of reptiles, 8 species of amphibians, and 6 species of fish, as well as 2387 species of invertebrates.
Mountains to visit in Bulgaria
Because I’ve already mentioned the biggest mountains in the previous section of the National Parks, I’m not going to repeat and mention them again here. However, I just wanted to note that those same mountains are equally amazing outside their national park boundaries. More than 30% of the territory of the country is covered in mountains. Here are the other incredible mountains that you should visit in Bulgaria:
#27 Rhodopes Mountain
This is one of my favorites! Rhodopes Mountain is the largest mountain in Bulgaria with over 83% of its area in southern Bulgaria and the rest in Greece. The highest peak of Rhodopes Mountain is Golyam Perelik standing at 2, 191 meters above sea level.
The mountain range is about 240 km long and about 100 to 120 km wide, with an average altitude of 785 meters. Rhodopes can be divided into two parts: Eastern and Western Rhodopes. The region is notable for its karst areas, deep river gorges, and large caves. There are many dams in the area and that makes the Rhodopes a significant part of Bulgaria’s hydropower resources.
Rhodopes Mountain also has a rich cultural heritage. Thracian tribes inhabited the Rhodopes for centuries. On the territory of the mountain, there are lots of remains of their culture and you can check out some ancient Thracian sites such as Belintash, Perperikon, and Tatul.
The Rhodopes are the most important breeding area for griffon vultures in Bulgaria and home to wolves and jackals among other animals.
In geomorphological aspect, the Rhodopes are the oldest mountain range in Bulgaria. Fifteen reserves have been established in the region, some of which are under UNESCO protection.
Sofia’s own mountain is the favorite place for sofiyantsi to spend their free time at. The highest peak of Vitosha Mountain is Cherni Vrah (Cherni peak), rising at 2, 290 meters above sea level.
This mountain massif emerged as a result of volcanic activity and has been shaped by the slow folding of the granite rock layers and a series of gradual uplifts of the area. Vitosha is the oldest nature park on the Balkan Peninsula. 61 types of habitats were identified on the park’s territory – natural spruce forests, the peat areas, the moraines, and the caves are of greatest interest.
The mountain is home to a diversity of bigger and smaller mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, and amphibians. In the different seasons, 200 bird species can be observed, 120 species of which nesting within the park’s territory.
Vitosha is the closest mountain to the capital city where locals and tourists can go for hiking, alpinism, skiing and snowboarding, as well as paragliding. The hiking trails in Vitosha are endless, there are many huts where you can spend the night at or just grab some food, and is easily accessible from Sofia with convenient bus lines.
The longest cave in Bulgaria – Duhlata (18, 200 meters long), is situated in Vitosha near the village of Bosnek.
One of the best mountains to visit in Bulgaria is Strandzha. This mountain massif is quite different and lower than the rest of the mountains in this list, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth visiting. Situated in Bulgaria’s southeast corner, neighboring the Black Sea and extending beyond the border to Turkey, Strandzha is the mystical mountain of the Thracians.
Several Thracian civilizations (one of the oldest in the world!) flourished on the territory of Strandzha Mountain. Nowadays, a large concentration of Thracian sanctuaries, dolmens, archeological objects, and sacrificial altars could be seen while exploring the mountain.
Strandzha Nature Park is the largest protected area in Bulgaria encompassing about 1% of the country’s territory. 50% of Bulgaria’s flora can be observed in Strandzha Nature Park. There are also over 400 species of vertebrates, 41 species of freshwater fish, 10 species of amphibians, over 20 species of reptile, more than 130 species of breeding birds, and over 60 species of mammals.
P.S. One of the best things to do in Strandzha is a bicycling tour. Tour Strandzha is a multi-day route through the entire Bulgarian part of Strandzha Mountain. The tour starts from the pier of Tundzha River in the town of Elhovo and ends in the port of Ahtopol on the Back Sea Coast. Tour Strahndzha is 180 km long and one of the best ways to explore the region.
Places to visit in Bulgaria on the Black Sea Coast
Bulgaria coastline is 378 km long and covers the entire eastern bound, stretching from the Romanian Black Sea in the north to European Turkey in the south. Here are the best places to see on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast:
This ancient seaside town is nowadays one of the main Black Sea resorts in the country. The first settlements on the site dates back to the Bronze Age, making Sozopol one of the oldest towns on the Bulgarian Thrace’s Black Sea coast.
Sozopol’s Old Town has both a historic and romantic atmosphere. The wooden houses with upper stories that are over 100-years-old are a must-see. Actually, a lot of them are turned into guest houses, so you can even book your stay in one.
The nearby beaches of Gradina, Smokinya, and Kavatzi are some of the best on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast.
Don’t miss to try the local seafood delicates and the fig wine!
Nessebar is among the oldest towns in Europe and one of the biggest historical depositories and the most abundant town with medieval architectural monuments in Bulgaria.
Located on the Black Sea coast, Nessebar is one of the declared museum towns and architectural, and archeological reserves of national significance and a cultural monument included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The biggest wealth of Nessebar is the 60 preserved houses from the Revival period.
Sinemorets is one of my favorite places to visit in Bulgaria on the Black Sea Coast. With its beautiful Veleka beach where the Veleka River flows into the sea, the village of Sinemorets is attracting more and more people each year now.
And although it’s getting more and more popular, Sinemorets is still calmer than most resorts on the coast and it’s a perfect place for a relaxing vacation.
#33 Cape Emine
Separating the northern from the southern Black Sea Coast, Cape Emine forms the tip of Stara Planina. This is the endpoint of the Kom – Emine trail (part of the European walking route E3), the longest one in the country. Approximately 650 kilometers long, the trail goes through the ridge of Stara Planina, crossing Bulgaria from West to the East.
There are remnants of the Emona fortress, monastery, and a lighthouse.
#34 Cape Kaliakra
Cape Kaliakra is a long rocky peninsula that juts out about 2 km into the sea. The slopes of the cape are about 60-70 meters high and descent straight into the water.
The cape is a natural and archaeological reserve and one of the first protected areas in Bulgaria. The only one in Bulgaria that includes a protected sea water area.
Cape Kaliakra has a very long and rich history too. The rich history and the stunning landscape make Cape Kaliakra one of the most attractive spots on the Bulgaria Northern Black Sea Coast.
The earliest settlements here date back to the 4th century BC. At that time the area was populated by the Thracian tribe of Tirisi, which also gave the cape its first name – Tirisis.
The cape is also the place where the Russian-Turkish war came to an end. The largest battle the Black Sea has ever seen.
Balchik is a small town and a seaside resort on Bulgaria’s northern Black Sea Coast.
The town is known for its beautiful Balchik Palace and Botanical Garden. The Balchik Palace was constructed between 1926 and 1937, during the Romanian control of the region. The palace was built to serve the needs of Queen Marie of Romania. In the palace complex, you can find a wine cellar, monastery, a holy spring, chapel, residential villas, smoking hall, and a power station.
Balchik’s Botanical Garden was established at the place of the palace’s park. There are over 2, 000 plant species and its collection of large-sized cactus species are of the garden’s top attractions.
The beaches in Balchik are nice but not the best.
One of the most fascinating spots along Bulgaria’s Northern Black Sea Coast is the rocky arch in Tyulenovo.
Tyulenovo is a village that’s famous for this arch in particular. Sadly, like many other villages in Bulgaria, Tyulenovo is almost deserted.
In the village of Tyulenovo, there is a fishing harbor and a small beach. It’s also a popular spot for camping. The name Tyulenovo means ”village of seals” and although I haven’t seen any, people say that you can spot them sometimes.
Silistar is among the Bulgarians most favorite beaches. Located on the South Black Sea coast, Silistar is a protected area falling on the territory of Strandzha Nature Park. Rare and protected birds such as bald eagle, black stork, holly dove, and others nest on the dunes and rocks around.
Due to the deep bay, the water is almost always calm. The beach is about 1 km long and about 50 m wide and is covered with golden sand.
Silistar is 5 km away from Sinemorets.
Tsarevo holds a very special place in my heart. It is not the biggest, nor the best or prettiest resort on the Black Sea Coast, but is the place where I have spent many summers as a child.
Long story short, my parent meet in Tsarevo when they were in their late 20’s. After my brother and I were born, our family used to visit Tsarevo for our summer vacation each year.
Tsarevo is a small resort that hasn’t changed much over the years. It is more relaxed and peaceful, so it’s perfect for families.
If you choose to visit Tsarevo, check out the nearby beach of Arapya and to take a walk in the sea garden.
Natural sights & monuments to visit in Bulgaria
#39 Shipka Monument
One of the most important monuments in Bulgaria is Shipka aka the Monument of Freedom. The monument is dedicated to the heroic Shipka battles during the Russian-Turkish War and is situated on Shipka peak at 1, 326 meters above sea level and you can reach it after climbing 894 steps.
It’s one of the most popular places where Bulgarians spend the 3rd of March – The National Liberation Day.
Perhaps the most famous Bulgarian monument of all. The Buzludzha Monument is an abandoned building on top of the Buzludzha peak in the Central Stara Planina. It is the biggest ideological monument of the totalitarian regime in Bulgaria.
The monument was erected in 1981 as a home for the Bulgarian Communist Party. Even if you’re not planning to visit this part of Bulgaria, a day trip to Buzludzha from Sofia or another city in Bulgaria is a must for the fans of abandoned buildings and thrill-seekers. The monument is closed to the public, but there’s still a way to get in at your own risk and responsibility.
P.S. You can visit Buzludzha and Shipka in a single trip. They are part of the Shipka-Buzludja National Park Museum and the distance between them both is only 12 km.
#41 Belogradchik rocks and fortress
The rocks are a group of shaped sandstone and conglomerate rock formations. They are located near the town of Belogradchik. Some of the rocks reach up to 200 meters high. Their colors vary from red to yellow. Many of them have interesting shapes and are associated with different legends.
The Belogradchik Fortress is among the renowned Belogradchik rocks. It exists since Roman times and it was built for protection.
The Belogradchik Rocks and Fortress are a major tourist destination and are among the best places to visit in Bulgaria. The Magura cave is also situated near Belogradchik. Baba Vida Fortress is another attraction in the area, it’s near the town of Vidin on the Danube river. (If you’re interested in the Danube, you can check this travel guide to the Danube Delta, which greater part lies in Romania.)
The rocks are listed in the Bulgarian National Register of Natural Landmarks and they are also on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Check this Belogradchik Rocks & Magurata Cave day trip from Sofia post by a fellow travel blogger.
#42 Rila Monastery
One of the most important cultural, historical, and architectural monuments in Bulgaria is the Rila Monastery. Founded in the 10th century, the monastery is the largest Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria that attracts thousands of tourists each year. In 2017, Rila Monastery attracted a record-high number of visitors – more than 1 million!
The Rila Monastery is nestled on the slopes of Rila Mountain in the deep valley of the Rilska River at an elevation of 1, 147 meters above sea level. With its 1000 years history, Rila Monastery is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.
#43 Pobiti Kamani (Stone Forest)
Pobiti Kamani (stones beat into the ground) aka the Stone Forest is one of the two naturally formed deserts in Europe (along with the Tabernas desert in Spain) and the only one known in Eastern Europe. It consists of sand dunes and several groups of natural rock formations as high as 10 meters.
There are several theories about the origin of the desert. One of them suggests that the place has been a sea bottom 50 million years ago.
The Stone Forest is located 18 km away from Varna.
#44 The Seven Rila Lakes
Without any doubt, the Seven Rila Lakes are one of the most beautiful natural attractions not only in Bulgaria but in the Balkans.
The lakes are a group of lakes of glacial origin. They are situated at an elevation of between 2 100 and 2 500 meters above sea level. The 7 lakes are named The Tear, The Eye, The Kidney, The Twin (the largest), The Trefoil, Fish Lake, and The Lower Lake.
The hike to get to the top and have a view of all lakes is pretty easy and takes about 2 – 2 and a half hours. Most people visit this incredible natural attraction as a day trip from Sofia. In fact, the hike to the Seven Rila Lakes is one of the best and easiest hikes near Sofia.
#45 Asen’s fortress
Situated on a high rocky ridge at 279 meters above sea level, Asen’s fortress is a medieval fortress in the Rhodopes Mountain. The fortress dates back to Thracian times and has been inhabited by the Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Crusaders, and of course, Bulgarians. Each era has left its archeological record, all preserved in the historical museum in Asenovgrad, 3 km away from the fortress.
The best preserved and most notable feature of Asen’s Fortress is the Church of the Holy Mother of God from the 12th-13th century.
#46 Ovech fortress
Located about 50 km away from Varna, the Ovech fortress is a stone stronghold the remains of which stand on a plateau next to the town of Provadiya, in the northeast part of the country. Archeological research established that the fortress has been in use between the 3rd and 7th centuries and then from the 10th – 11th centuries until the end of the 17th century. During these periods, the fortress was inhabited by Thracians, Romans, Byzantines, Bulgarians, and Turks.
#47 Madara Rider
The list of places to visit in Bulgaria won’t be complete without the Madara Rider, an early medieval large rock relief carved on the Madara Plateau east of the city of Shumen. This UNESCO-listed site dates back to the late 7th century and it’s attributed to the ancient Bulgars, a nomadic tribe of warriors which settled in northeastern Bulgaria around this period, and after merging with the local Slavs gave origin to the modern Bulgarians.
#48 Aladzha Monastery
Aladzha is a medieval cave monastery complex dating back to the 12th century. The monastery was inhabited by hermit monks during the XII-XIV centuries.
It is one of the few cave monasteries in Bulgaria where the different premises and their functions are clearly distinguishable. Aladzha caves are hewn on two levels to a height of almost 40 meters. The complex includes two small nearby catacombs.
Aladzha Monastery is only 14 km away from Varna.
#49 Ivanovo Rock-Hewn Churches
Different from any other monastery complex in Bulgaria, the Ivanovo Rock-Hewn Churches are a group of monolithic churches, chapels, and monasteries hewn out of solid rock in the valley of the Roussenski Lom River. The complex is situated 32 meters above the river and is a UNESCO-listed site.
The caves in the region had been inhabited by monks from the 1320s to the 17th century. Ivanovo Rock-Hewn Churches owes much of its fame to 13th- and 14th-century frescoes, preserved in 5 of the churches, which are great examples of Bulgarian medieval art.
#50 Wonderful Bridges
The Wonderful Bridges are natural arches in Western Rhodopes Mountain situated in the karst valley of the river Erkyupriya on 1, 450 meters above sea level. The rock phenomenon used to be a cave, but with time parts of it started collapsing and the bridges were formed.
#51 Prohodna Cave (the Eyes of God)
The cave is a natural 262 meters long rock bridge. It has two entrances that lie opposite to each other and are known as the Small and the Big Entrance. Prohodna is most notable for the two equal-sized holes in the ceiling of its middle chamber. The holes let in light into the cave. The cave is located near the village of Karlukovo, Lovech.
The cave is also a popular destination for climbers. There are climbing routes with different levels of difficulty. From the big entrance, you can also do a bungee jump.
#52 The Meanders of Arda River
Arda is the longest river in the Rhodopes Mountain. The river is almost 280 km long, 250 km of which are on Bulgarian territory. It supplies three of the largest dams in Bulgaria – Kurdzhali, Studen Kladenets, and Ivailovgrad.
The river stream flows through the Rhodope Mountains, forming impressive curves along the river valley. The meanders of the Arda River are one of the most beautiful natural sites in my opinion and an incredible place well worth the visit.
There are a few places where you can witness the meanders, the one that I have been to is located between Madzharovo and the village of Borislavtsi.
WOW! So many beautiful places to visit in Bulgaria, I know! Hopefully, by reading till the end, you found a place or two to include on your Bulgarian itinerary.
I know that the information gathered in this post is far from enough to cover everything that each place has to offer, so if you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to contact me – I would love to help with any additional tips and recommendations, and why not even join you on the trip, or at least take you out for a beer!
Thanks for reading,
Images credits: Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo, Sofia, Koprivshtitsa, Melnik, Leshten, Kovachevitsa, Bozhentsi, Shiroka Luka, Velingrad, Hisarya, Sapareva Banya, Devin, Pamporovo, Bansko, Rhodopes, Sozopol, Nessebar, Balchik, Tsarevo, Buzludzha, Belogradchik rocks, Asen’s fortress, Ovech fortress, Madara Rider, Ivanovo Rock-Hewn Churches, Wonderful Bridges
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