Bulgaria is a mix of dramatic mountains, pristine beaches, conifer forests, mineral springs, and ancient villages. The Danube River cuts across its northern edge, and the Black Sea sparkles blue along its eastern coast. Travelers will adore seaside resort towns like Albena, Balchik, Burgas, and Varna with miles of sandy beaches and panoramic views of the crystal-clear sea. Bansko and Borovets mountain ski resorts provide winter sports adventure, and the cosmopolitan culinary and cultural scene of Sofia is hard to beat. There is wilderness galore for the outdoor enthusiast at places like Central Balkans National Park with 250 miles of hiking trails, or Vitosha Mountain with two premier nature reserves. Be it healing natural spring baths, historic seaside fortresses, or peaceful mountain monasteries, they can all be found among these 25 places to visit in Bulgaria.
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In Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, there are so many things to see and do, visitors will need to prioritize by interest. Sveta Nedelya Square is a good place to start. The square is surrounded by an Orthodox church, a Jewish synagogue, an Islamic mosque, and a Catholic church, giving travelers a sense of Sofia’s history, but also of its openness. The St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is a historical and architectural must-see. Twenty-eight other architectural monuments include the National Gallery, the National Assembly Hall, the National Archaeological Museum, and the Palace of Justice. From the palace, visitors can take a free 2-hour tour of 35 important city sights.
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Albena is a magnificent seaside resort town on the Black Sea roughly 20 minutes from Varna, the third largest city in Bulgaria. This picturesque coastal town sits along a nearly 4-mile stretch of beach just under 500 feet wide and featuring fine, soft, white sand. The eco-friendly town climbs from the beach to the hills behind it, offering panoramic views of the sea, which is calm, crystal clear, and warm. Nearby Baltata Forest, several mineral springs that stay at 86 degrees, mineral spa centers, and beautiful flower gardens add to the charm of Albena. The resort town also has tennis courts, bars, restaurants, casinos, and a wide range of water sports facilities.
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Balchik is a quaint seaside town that combines historical romance, cultural attractions, and steep streets with the majestic beauty of the sea. Located in northern Bulgaria, it has long been known as the White Town due to the mostly white color of its lime rocks. It is 25 minutes outside the third largest city in Bulgaria and seaside capital, Varna, and just under 7 minutes from the one of Bulgaria’s biggest resorts, Albena. Aside from its stunning beaches, there is much to do and explore within the city, including a botanical garden, the Temples of Balchik, the Archealogical Museum, and the State Cultural Institute.
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Bansko is a Bulgarian mountain ski resort town unlike any other. It’s surrounded by high stone fences, crisscrossed with charming narrow streets, and dotted with beautifully restored ancient houses. One of their main points of attraction is Pirin Street, a bustling area lined with quaint souvenir shops showcasing artisanal products made of wood, metal, and leather by local craftsmen. Visitors will often see the locals walking the streets in their traditional Bulgarian garb as they speak to one another in a dialect known only to those who live in Bansko. A visit to this town wouldn’t be complete without a trip to one of the local taverns for authentic food, drink, music, and dance.
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Belchin Bani (Belchin Baths) is a resort town nestled in a beautiful valley between the Verila, Plana, Vitosha, and Rila mountains. It is near the Palakaria River, 8 miles from Samokov, and roughly 35 minutes from Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia. Belchin Bani is known for its natural splendor and relatively untouched landscape, and it is near many natural, environmental, and cultural tourist attractions. The Palakaria Valley is a diverse plain and mountain terrain and has a multitude of forests. Belchin is most famous for the mineral springs that stay at about 104°F and are proven to have healing properties and also provide geothermal energy. Just above this village, the ruins of an ancient hilltop fortress, Tsari Mali Grad, are worth a visit.
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Borovets is an upscale resort on Rila Mountain. It began as a mountain resort, the first of its kind in Bulgaria, in 1896, and expanded to a winter sports center in the ‘60s, and developed into the modern four-season resort it is today. The mountain resort offers six prominent hotels, three of the most desirable fine dining restaurants, and two of the hottest night spots in the Balkans. The adventure center offers ski, snowboard, and lift packages, carriage rides, a snow park, and a kids’ snow park in winter. During summer the center switches to hiking and mountain biking tours, rock climbing, archery, paintball, and horseback riding.
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Burgas is a coastal resort town on the edge of the Black Sea. Less touristy than its neighbors to the south, it makes for an affordable home base to explore the area. Visitors will find museums and galleries, theaters, and interesting landmarks like the Clock, the Compass, the Lighthouse, and the Gramophone. Major attractions include the Castle of Ravadinovo, the Fairy Tales Wall, Stenograffika – a street art wall – St. Anastasia Island, the Seaside Park and Pier, and Aquae Calidae – the fully renovated bath of Suleiman the Magnificent. Visitors to Burgas in early July will see the annual Burgas Sand Sculptures Festival.
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There’s hardly a more eerie sight than an abandoned UFO-shaped monument high on a hilltop, a contrast of power and fragility. Buzludzha Monument, located on Mount Hadji, was built during the reign of the Bulgarian Communist government to commemorate communist socialism. After the government fell from power, it was vandalized and sealed off from the public. There is an opening to the auditorium, but the structure is unstable, so visitors enter at their own risk. Inside the Buzludzha Auditorium, most of the artwork has been damaged or taken, although the Communist hammer and sickle emblem still adorns the domed ceiling. Outside, a lone tower stands tall, emblazoned with a red star. Architecture buffs and photographers will find this monument impressive.
9.Central Balkan National Park
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Central Balkan National Park covers the most central portion of the Balkan mountain range, including Botev Peak, the highest point in Bulgaria at 7,795 feet. The park is a mixture of old-growth beech forests, mountain meadows, rocky mountain peaks, plunging waterfalls, and deep gorges. It was established to protect the area’s wilderness diversity and the cultural traditions of local communities, both of which are endangered. With early 250 miles of hiking trails, one of the most memorable and challenging is to Botev Peak. Hikers break it into two parts, the first to Raj Hut near Rajskoto Purskalo – the highest mountain waterfall – to spend the night, and the second through Tarzan’s Trail to the peak.
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Cape Kaliakra, situated near the Romanian border, is one of the most historic and magnificent of European capes. It is a nature preserve that sits 70 meters above sea level on the Black Sea Coast and is home to rare birds. A highlight at the cape is Kaliakra Fortress, an important part of the Kaliakra Archaeological Preserve. The fortress’s storied past includes occupations and warring factions. Legend has it that treasures of Lysimachus, successor to Alexander the Great, are still hidden in headland caves. The most tragic story is of 40 maidens who threw themselves from the cliffs to avoid rape during the Ottoman invasion. Visitors can still see the archaeological site as well as a small museum.
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Nesebar is an ancient town located on a rocky peninsula that is over 2,700 feet long and 985 feet wide, connected to the mainland by a slender causeway. The town has existed for more than 1,000 years and prominently showcases its rich history through preserved architectural monuments from all its periods. Among them are the remains from Bulgarian and Byzantine churches, 18th and 19th-century homes, and Roman and medieval walls. It has such significant historical value that in 1956 is was declared a museum-town – an archaeological and architectural reserve. The town is most proud of its churches, which include the Old Metropolitan Church and the Church of St. Sofia.
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The town of Obzor is located at the midpoint of Burgas and Varna just beyond a hilly wooded area that opens onto this coastal community. It’s an easy stop along the E87 coastal highway. This town, which ancient Greeks once referred to as Heliopolis, the town of the sun, sits tranquilly along a 4-mile stretch of beautiful beach. A small park marks the location of an ancient Roman temple honoring Jupiter; sanctuary fragments and columns are among the ruins. A Roman fortress once used to protect sea trade routes between the Danube and Constantinople, and there is a medieval Bulgarian Kozyak fortress close by.
13.Pirin National Park
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Pirin National Park is an area of more than 66,000 acres reaching altitudes of between 3,307 feet and 9,650 feet in the Pirin Mountains of southwest Bulgaria. This mostly coniferous forest has an extremely diverse terrain, with limestone mountains, caves, waterfalls, and glacial lakes. More than 98,800 acres of the Pirin mountain range were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, overlapping with Pirin National Park and adjacent to two developed tourist ski resorts. Visitors will enjoy hiking through this massive park filled with rocky mountain slopes, alpine meadows, and alpine lakes.
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Pleven is a town nestled in the heart of the Danubian Plain in northwest Bulgaria just slightly north of the Vit River. It is most notable as one of the greatest ecologically clean cities in all of Bulgaria, which extends to the area outside of Pleven too, including forests and parks that work to filter out air pollution. The town has a rich history and is home to many historic monuments, the Kailak fortress, the Pleven Epopee Panoramic Exhibition, and the tumulus within Skobelev Park. It is also well known for the old bridge that crosses the Vit River and the Pleven Epic 1877 Panorama.
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Plovdiv is the oldest city in Europe to be continuously inhabited, a place where culture and history are paramount, and art and music festivals are frequent. This ancient city sits along seven hills and is well known for its romantic ambiance, thanks to the colorful 19th-century mansions that serve as house-museums, guest homes, and galleries. Plovdiv is Bulgaria’s second-most cosmopolitan city, only behind Sofia, where cobblestone lanes are commonplace. The city’s highlights include the Tsar Simeon Gardens and the artistic quarter, Kapana. The city is also known for having an energetic nightlife, popular among young adults.
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The 10th-century Rila Monastery was founded by St. John of Rila, known for being an ascetic. He was consecrated here by the Orthodox Church. His tomb and austere dwelling became a holy site and were eventually transformed into a secluded complex. This monastery became an important element in the spiritual and social lives of medieval Bulgarian people. During the 19th century, a fire destroyed this important complex, but it was rebuilt to its previous splendor between 1834 and 1862. It continues to be a symbol and example of the Bulgarian Renaissance, and brings an awareness of the Slavic cultural identity of this time.
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The town of Ruse is steeped in rich Bulgarian history dating back to the early 19th and 20th centuries. It is located along the bank of the Danube River just under 200 miles northeast of Sofia, over 120 miles northwest of Varna, and 62 miles northeast of Veliko Turnovo. Known as “Little Vienna” due to its architecture, Ruse is also a town of firsts. The first Bulgarian paper was printed here, the first railway road was completed here, and the first navy school and weather service were established here. The town has 19 amazing museums, archaeological reserves, the Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo, Cherven Fortress, and the Bassarbovo rock monastery.
18.Seven Rila Lakes
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The Seven Rila Lakes are located on Rila, the highest mountain in the Balkans at over 9,500 feet. The lakes themselves are between 6,800 and 8,200 feet above sea level. Each of the seven lakes has its own name that is reflective of their characteristics or shape. This includes The Tear, which is the highest, and The Eye, which is the deepest. The Kidney has the steepest shores, The Twin is overall the biggest, and The Trefoil has the lowest shores. The Fish Lake is the shallowest, and The Lower Lake is at the lowest elevation of the seven. The lakes are just outside Sofia, making an excellent daytrip for travelers who love to hike.
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Sliven is a historically, archeologically, and architecturally rich town east of the Gornotrakiiskata lowland at the base of the Sliven Balkan Range. It is most notable for its landscape, which is a fusion of mountain, field, and three rivers that separate the town in three large parts. These lands go back to the neolithic, roughly 5,000 to 8,000 years prior to the Common Era. Visitors will find several archeological sites here, including Roman tombs. Various coins and glaze-kilns can be seen at the Sliven Museum of History, among other artifacts. It also features historical monuments like the century-old elm tree – Stariya Bryast.
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The village of Starosel in the Thracian Valley is the epitome of the Bulgarian countryside. A must-see for archaeology buffs is the Thracian cult complex of Starosel, referred to by locals as the “Machu Picchu” of Bulgaria. The 2,500-year-old religious complex of six temples was unearthed in 2000 and is among 100 things to see in Bulgaria. Since this is also wine country, a stop at the winery complex of Starosel for Thracian wines and regional dishes is in order. The winery is an example of the Bulgarian Renaissance architectural style. Wine tasting here is in the Temple of the Wine. Visitors can also book lodging, spa treatments, and local tours at the winery.
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Troyan is a small village situated at the foot of Troyan-Kalofer Mountain along the Beli Osum River. The mountain resort has a reputation for having the right climate for healing pulmonary diseases. It is also known for Troyan-style pottery and is home to the Museum of National Artistic Crafts, featuring ten exhibition halls of pottery, woodcarving, pyrography, metalworking, copper-working, and other traditional crafts. Other local highlights include the Ivan Hadjiyski House-museum that exhibits photos, writings, and artifacts of the famous Bulgarian journalist and sociologist, and the Seryakova Kashta art gallery with five exhibition halls and the Art Club coffee-bar. Alpine and cross-country skiers will love nearby Ski Resort Beklemento, which offers an annual 170 days of skiing.
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Located on the Black Sea coast, Varna is Bulgaria’s third largest city and its maritime capital. The trendy port city is part seaside resort and part naval base. Consequently, it’s a wealth of Bulgarian history, with a lively cultural and culinary scene and a long, beautiful beach. Visitors will want to visit the ruins of the Roman Thermae, Bulgaria’s largest Roman baths complex. Varna Archaeological Museum, open since 1906, holds over 100,000 objects from the region in over 7,000 square feet of exhibition space. Marine Gardens, the Naval Museum, the Natural Science Museum, the Copernicus Astronomy Complex and Planetarium, the Varna Zoo and Terrarium, and a children’s complex are other attractions, and are all located near one another.
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Viliko Tarnovo is a 7,000-year-old city that was the old capital of Bulgaria for 300 years. The romantic town showcases steep cliffs lined with beautiful, traditional Bulgarian houses. The Stambolov Most bridge over the Yantra River takes travelers to the Asenevtsi Monument, which offers the best views. Charshia is a high-energy museum complex of arts and crafts, and traditional Bulgarian food and taverns. Visitors will also want to see Tsarevets Fortress, a well-preserved significant monument to the Second Bulgarian State. It features watchtowers, dungeons, fortification walls, dwellings, and churches. Nature lovers will want to see Emen Canyon, Momin Skok Waterfall, Krushuna Falls, and Devetashka Cave outside of town.
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Velingrad sits at the western edge of the Chepino Valley in the Rhodopean Mountains of south-central Bulgaria. The town is easily among the most beautiful of the Bulgarian natural springs resorts. With 70 sources of curative mineral water, it is also among the most famous. It is rich in archaeological findings as well, with numerous tools made from bone and stone, and bronze artifacts. One such archaeological site is the Thracian Sanctuary in the upper part of Byalata Skala, which is worth the hike up to the sanctuary and fortress. The Velyova bathroom in the Ladshene quarter is a must-visit, as is the Historical Museum of Velingrad.
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Vitosha is the fourth highest mountain in Bulgaria, just over 6 miles outside the capital city of Sofia. This nationally declared Nature Park, established in 1934, is the only one of its kind on the Balkan Peninsula. It is also the only dome-shaped mountain within the country. There are two nature park reserves on the Vitosha Mountain, the Torfeno Branishte and the Bistrishko Branishte. Both are excellent locales for trekkers, whether they are looking for a relaxed hike or one that requires a lot of vigor. It is also an ideal locale for skiers and snowboarders at all levels, from bunny hills to advanced slopes.
25 Best Places to Visit in Bulgaria
- Sofia, Photo: Courtesy of Kisa Markiza - Fotolia.com
- Albena, Photo: Courtesy of Maksym Gorpenyuk - Fotolia.com
- Balchik, Photo: Courtesy of olya6105 - Fotolia.com
- Bansko, Photo: Courtesy of Kisa Markiza - Fotolia.com
- Belchin Bani, Photo: Courtesy of intsys - Fotolia.com
- Borovets, Photo: Courtesy of snowturtle - Fotolia.com
- Burgas, Photo: Courtesy of eugenesergeev - Fotolia.com
- Buzludzha, Photo: Courtesy of roibu - Fotolia.com
- Central Balkan National Park, Photo: Courtesy of RDimitrova - Fotolia.com
- Cape Kaliakra, Photo: Courtesy of Aleksandar Todorovic - Fotolia.com
- Nesebar, Photo: Courtesy of Kisa Markiza - Fotolia.com
- Obzor, Photo: Courtesy of niki spasov - Fotolia.com
- Pirin National Park, Photo: Courtesy of tonovavania - Fotolia.com
- Pleven, Photo: Courtesy of Stoyan Haytov - Fotolia.com
- Plovdiv, Photo: Courtesy of fotofritz16 - Fotolia.com
- Rila, Photo: Courtesy of ivan varyukhin - Fotolia.com
- Ruse, Photo: Courtesy of dechevm - Fotolia.com
- Seven Rila Lakes, Photo: Courtesy of ivanmateev - Fotolia.com
- Sliven, Photo: Courtesy of ecobo - Fotolia.com
- Starosel, Photo: Courtesy of ollirg - Fotolia.com
- Troyan, Photo: Courtesy of nerksi - Fotolia.com
- Varna, Photo: Courtesy of ValentinValkov - Fotolia.com
- Veliko Tarnovo, Photo: Courtesy of Dejan Gospodarek - Fotolia.com
- Velingrad, Photo: Courtesy of vili45 - Fotolia.com
- Vitosha, Photo: Courtesy of photoenthusiast - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of VILevi - Fotolia.com