Traveling Bulgaria by car is the best way to get around the country, especially if you want to visit remote villages or national parks. Before you hit the road, though, here are some things you need to know about driving in Bulgaria and suggested places to go to on the way.
When you’re visiting Bulgaria, you’re most likely to start your trip around the country in Sofia. Sofia is a great city to explore, but Bulgaria has a lot more to offer outside its capital city. If you want to explore more of the country, to visit some remote villages, national parks, or monuments, the most convenient option for you, for a comfortable and pleasant trip, is to rent a car in Sofia and make your own travel schedule.
Bulgaria is a small country and it can be easily traversed by car from end to end. Traveling around the country by car is the best option because you can quickly move around checking out the history, the landscapes and whatever you’re interested in. Also, if you’re just a tourist in Bulgaria, there are places that you cannot visit without a car and others that you can, but only if you hire a private guide or book a tour.
If you already decided that you want to travel to Bulgaria by car, there are countless car rental companies that you can choose from. Most of the car rental companies have offices in the big cities, as well as at the airports. But before you go to the car rental company office and rent your car, you should introduce yourself to the rules of traveling around Bulgaria by car.
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What do you need to know before traveling around Bulgaria by car?
Although you can legally drive a car in Bulgaria after you turn 18, to rent a car, you must be at least 21 years old and have had a driving license for at least one year.
The car rental company could also require insurance, a passport, and some paperwork. Make sure to check what would you need in order to rent a car in Bulgaria with the company you have chosen to rent a car from.
In Bulgaria, as in most European countries, you should drive on the ride side of the road and overtake from the left.
Seat belts are required for all passengers in the car, even for the ones on the back seats.
Children aged 12 or below are not allowed to sit on the front seat. Local people often break that rule and drive their kids in the front seat. However, as a foreigner, you better don’t do it.
When you’re traveling around Bulgaria by car, you should know that your headlights should be ON all the time, even during the day, all year round. This law was accepted a few years ago.
A vignette sticker is required when you drive outside of the city. Rental cars should have a vignette sticker, but make sure to double-check.
Unless otherwise specified, the speed limits in Bulgaria are as follows:
- Within the city: 50 km/h
- Outside of the city: 90 km/h
- Highway: 140 km/h
All cars should be equipped with a warning triangle, reflective jacket, first-aid kit, and fire extinguisher.
The blood-alcohol limit in Bulgaria is 0.05%. Anything above that limit will get you a fine and you can even lose your license for six months to one year. For a bigger amount of alcohol in your blood, you can get into jail.
In case you go out with the car, but you want to consume alcohol, you can later call for a Drink & Drive service. Those are available in big cities such as Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, and Burgas. Anywhere else, just leave the car, get a taxi and go get the car back on the next day.
Most of the route signs in Bulgaria are written in both Cyrillic and Latin alphabets.
Gas stations can be found everywhere around the country and most of them are open 24/7.
In case of an accident, you must wait in the car, call the local police, and call 112 (emergency phone).
When you’re staying in Sofia, I don’t recommend getting around by car. Parking spots are not always easy to find and you should be aware of the parking zones – blue and green.
To pay for your parking, you should send an SMS with your car’s license plate.
- Operation hours: 8:30 AM to 7:30 PM, Monday to Friday & 8:30 AM to 6 PM on Saturdays
- Maximum parking time: 2 hours
- Price per hour: 2 Lev
- SMS to 1302
- Operation hours: 8:30 AM to 7:30 PM, Monday to Friday / Free on the weekends
- Maximum parking time: 4 hours
- Price per hour: 1 Lev
- SMS to 1303
- The parking zones are marked with road signs.
READ NEXT: Free Things to do in Sofia
Places to go to in Bulgaria by car:
Now you know the most important things about driving in Bulgaria. Where to go on your trip traveling to Bulgaria by car? Here are some of my top suggestions. Let’s start driving around Bulgaria:
Traveling around the Rhodopes region
The Rhodopes region is one of my favorite regions in Bulgaria. I spend 4 years studying for my bachelor’s degree in tourism in the biggest city in that area, Smolyan. Smolyan is a small and lovely city that doesn’t offer too much itself, but it’s a great base to explore the surroundings and try some typical foods of the Rhodopes region.
And although this is an article about traveling in Bulgaria by car, the Rhodopes region is actually one of the best places in the country for bicycle touring – there are plenty of biking trails!
Places to visit in the Rhodopes region: Smolyan city, Pamporovo, Shiroka Luka, The Eagle Eye panoramic view, Momchil fortress, The Canyon of Waterfalls, The Wonderful Bridges, Uhlovitsa Cave, Ygodinska Cave, The Devil’s Throat Cave.
READ NEXT: Foods to try in the Rhodopes region
The Black Sea coast
The Bulgarian coastline is stretching from the Romanian Black Sea in the North to European Turkey in the South, covering the entire eastern bound. The are many resorts on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, one of my favorites is Sinemorets. Sinemorets is a small village in the South close to the border with Turkey. It’s much quieter than most of the resort in Bulgaria and it’s a perfect place for relaxation.
Places to visit on the Bulgarian Coastline: Sinemorets, Sozopol, Nessebar, Varna, Balchik
READ NEXT: Visiting Bulgaria's Northern Black Sea Coast READ NEXT: Long Weekend in Varna, Bulgaria: What to see & do
Buzludzha Monument, Shipka Monument & Church
Buzludzha 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. And it used to be a home for the Bulgarian Communist Party.
The Shipka Monument is a memorial to all those who died fighting for the freedom of Bulgaria during the Russo-Turkish war. The monument stands at Shipka peak and it’s not far away from Buzludzha.
The Shipka Memorial Church is a Bulgarian Orthodox Church located near the town of Shipka. Even if you’re not religious, you can stop by to enjoy the beautiful facade of the church
READ NEXT: Day trip to Buzludzha
Plovdiv & the surroundings
Plovdiv is the second-largest city in Bulgaria and Europe’s oldest inhabited city. A day trip to Plovdiv makes one of the best day trips from Sofia and it’s a favorite destination for both locals and foreigners. The city is often being called ”the city under the hills” because it was built in the foothills of seven hills. The history of Plovdiv can be traced for 8 000 years. Many ancient monuments are well preserved today.
Plovdiv is the European Capital of Culture for 2019.
Places to visit near Plovdiv: Asen’s fortress, Bachkovo monastery, Starosel, Belintash, Hisarya.
Veliko Turnovo & the surroundings
Veliko Turnovo is the historical capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The old part of the city is situated on the three hills Tsarevets, Trapezirtsa, and Sveta Gora, rising amidst the meanders of the Yantra river. Some of the tourist attractions in the city include the Monument of Asenevtsi, Monument of Independence, Trapezitsa Hill, Arbanasi, etc.
Places to visit near Veliko Turnovo: Tryavna, Hotnitsa Waterfall & Emen Canyon, Dryanovo, Bozhentsi, Gabrovo.
Stara Zagora is the fifth-largest city in Bulgaria. The city has a rich history illustrated by the many ancient Roman buildings and ruins, which are preserved in the city’s center and surroundings. Don’t miss visiting the pre-Bulgarian survival school Baga-Tur, Zagorka Brewery, The Museum of Religions, The Defenders of Stara Zagora Monument, and more.
Caves to visit in Bulgaria
Bulgaria hides many impressive sites underground. There are many caves around Bulgaria, but only some of them are developed and available for visits. Many of the caves have traces of ancient times or signs of ancient cultures.
Caves to visit in Bulgaria: Magurata, Prohodna, Devetaki, Uhlovitsa, Saeva Dupka, The Devil’s Throat, Ygodinska.
Musala is the highest peak in Bulgaria and the Balkanian Peninsula, rising at 2 925 meters above sea level. Although it’s the highest peak, it’s not difficult to conquer it. Hiking to the top is a popular activity among the local people, especially in the summer months. If you want to escape the crowds, try going there during the week, or in winter.
The hike starts in Borovets or Yastrebets if you take the lift up there.
READ NEXT: Winter Trekking - Musala peak, Bulgaria
Malyovitsa peak & Scary lake
Malyovitsa is one of the most known and recognizable peaks in Rila Mountain. Often, the peak is being called one of the most dangerous ones to hike in Bulgaria (in winter) due to the avalanche danger. If you’re well prepared and you choose the right time to go there in winter, it’s a wonderful experience. During the summer, Malyovitsa is one of the peaks that many people go to conquer.
Not popular even among Bulgarians, the Scary lake is located at the foot of the peaks Little, Middle, and Big Kupen in Rila Mountain. The lake and Malyovitsa peak can be visited together on a long day hike, or a two-day hike. Next to the lake, there is a shelter where you can spend the night for free. The shelter is equipped with an oven and supplies of fuel left from people who have been there before.
The hike for both starts at Central Mountain School ”Malyovitsa” near Govedartsi village.
One of my favorite places in Bulgaria. I’ve been there as a volunteer a few times already and I’m absolutely in love with this place. Ambaritsa is situated in the Troyan Balkan at 1 502 meters above sea level. From there, you can enjoy some stunning views of one of the most beautiful peaks of Stara Planina.
If you happen to travel around Bulgaria at the end of July, don’t miss to come here for the Blueberry festival. The Blueberry Festival is one of a kind festival that lasts for days (usually the last weekend of July) and it’s filled with music, games, and blueberries.
If you have any additional questions about traveling around Bulgaria by car or need more recommendations about places to visit, don’t hesitate to leave a comment, or contact me – I’ll do my best to help.
Thanks for reading,
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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post by Discover Car Hire. As always, opinions are my own. Thank you!