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Bulgaria Travel Guide

Updated on February 2, 2013
Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Bulgaria is one of the newest members of the European Union and went through major changes in the past few years. In many resorts a construction boom occurred which tempted the western European buyers with relatively cheap properties. As a result, the Bulgarian sea shore and the ski resorts are developing rapidly. The big cities have shed the communist aspect and they became vibrant and attractive, with large and clean avenues, large shopping areas and an intense night life. The spectacular mountains cover half of the country’s territory and the golden sand beaches attract loads of tourists every summer.

The Bulgarian culture is a mixture between the Thracian, Slav and Bulgarian culture, but there are also Byzantine, Turkish and Greek influences. Bulgarian is a Slavic language written in the Cyrillic alphabet, this fact being the strongest connection between Bulgarians and Russian; besides, Russian is the second spoken language for the elder inhabitants. You can get familiarized with Bulgaria’s prehistoric culture by looking at the exhibits in the ArcheologyMuseum and National Museum of History in Sofia, as well as in the local museums in Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, Varna, Ruse, Veliko Tarnovo, Razgrad, Vidin, Bourgas, etc. The artifacts indicate the locals’ skills in using materials like clay, argil, stone, wood, bronze and iron. The ceramics date from the Paleolithic and Neolithic. For this reason the area where they were discovered, Karanovska Hill near Nova Zagora, was called Noah’s Arc.

Filled with beauty, joy and passion, the Bulgarian festivals and customs date from ancient times, when people tried to tame the nature’s forces. Some of the most cheerful festivals take place on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, when the so-called “Sourvakari” go around the houses, wishing prosperity and good fortune. Other festivals are Ladouvane, the Shrovetide Games and Mummers, that originate in the Thracian Dyonisos festivals, Lazarouvane, an Orthodox festival dedicated to family and St. George’s Day, which is connected to health and prosperity.

Bachkovo Monastery, Bulgaria
Bachkovo Monastery, Bulgaria

Bulgarian Cuisine

The cooking customs in Bulgaria are illustrative for the south-east of Europe and contain influences from Turkey, Greece and the Middle East. Famous for the rich salads that accompany every meal, the Bulgarian cuisine is remarkable through its diversity and the quality of its dairy products, wines and sprites like gin, mastic and mint. On the Bulgarian tables you’ll see lots of hot or cold soups and pastry products. The traditional dishes include sour milk, shopska salad, moussaka, haricot, tommy, stuffed cabbage, cake, lamb tripe, bean soup, halva, baklava and compote.

Bulgaria Tourist Attractions

  • Discover the Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Turkish architectural styles from the capital city, Sofia, where you can also visit countless museums, churches, art galleries and concert halls. The most famous attraction is the Nevski Cathedral, with its golden steeples.

  • Visit the vast collection of painting, engravings, old weapons and Bibles written on parchement, from the Rila monastery, located 121km away from Sofia. A fire destroyed most of the 10th century architecture, and the present building dates from the 19th century, except the KhrelioTower which is from the 14th century.
  • The city of Melnik, with houses from the 18th and 19th century, built on limestone, is famos for its wine cellars. At the end of the week the Bulgarians gather here for the traditional food and beverage.
  • The old city of Plovdiv is the second largest city in the country and is divided by the river Maritsa. Take a walk along its narrow cobblestone streets, admire its old houses and its Roman amphitheater.
  • Explore the Batchkovo monastery, located 8km away from Plovdiv, dating from the 11th century. Here you can find rare frescoes and manuscripts. The monastery is located in the area known in ancient times as Thrace. Here many artifacts were discovered and even objects made out of gold from that period.
  • The Valley of Roses undergoes a magical change in the months of May and June, when the Festival of Roses takes place. For centuries the Bulgarians have planted roses and extracted their perfume essence.
  • Visit the old museum-city of Veliko Turnovo, the capital city of the second Bulgarian Empire (1187-1393), located on three hills and surrounded by the river Yantra. The city has extraordinary collections of historical art works and old churches.
  • Discover the nine sites that are enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, that include the very well preserved 14th century walls of the Thracian tomb in Kazanluk, the Sveshtari tomb near Razgrad, the 13th century Boyana church on capital Sofia’s outskirts and Ivanovo monastery near Ruse.
  • Try Black Sea’s waves. Bulgaria has over 370km of coastline with beautiful beaches. Try the resorts SunnyBeach and Golden Sands, the scenic city of Albena, the historical city of Nesebar, Varna and the Mediterranean ambiance of the port Bourgas.
  • Try the ski slopes as well. The most recent resort is the quaint Bansko, located in a historical city, at the foothills of mountains Pirin. Pamporovo, from the mountain chain Rhodopi is the southernmost ski resort in Europe and Borovets, from the RilaMountains, is the oldest and the biggest mountain resort in Bulgaria.
  • Cover the hiking trails that sum up 35.000kilometers. There are organized trips of one or two weeks. Usually you are offered a guide and accommodation in lodges and camping sites.
  • There are also mountain trips, in the areas of Vratsa, Veliko Turnovo, Trojan, Maliovitza and Roussenski Lom. The rocks in Pirin, Rhodope, Rila and Stara Planina are popular for the experienced climbers.
  • Traveling is a traditional activity in Bulgaria. Itineraries can include the Danube’s Valley, the Balkans, RilaMountains and Stara Planina and the Valley of Roses.
  • Bulgaria has many spa resorts. The healing properties of the mineral springs are known and used for centuries.
  • The traditional music festivals are an important part of the rural life in Bulgaria. During the Pirin Pee festival you can see the Pirin Folkloric Ensemble from Blagoevgrad.
  • Return to the nature, in Bulgaria’s national parks. These include the old Bailusheva pine forests and the limestone rocks from the PirinNational Park, the seven lakes and the 10th century monastery from the RilaNational Park and the Raiskoto Praskalo waterfall, the highest one in the Balkan Peninsula.

Nessebar, Bulgaria
Nessebar, Bulgaria

Bulgarian History

Despite having a troubled history, Bulgaria is the oldest European state that has survived until today and has also kept its name, from the year 681, when the first Bulgarian kingdom was established by Khan Asparouh. The kingdom was located in present Bulgaria’s north-east and was inhabited by the Slavs that lived inside the Byzantine Empire. The Cyrillic alphabet invention by the Cyril and Methodius brothers in 862 and establishing the Christianity as a state religion in 864 contributed to the Bulgarian nation’s development and established favorable conditions for Bulgarian literature and culture. From 1018 to 1185 Bulgaria remained in the Byzantine Empire. The second Bulgarian empire was declared in 1185, after the Byzantine Empire’s fall.

After a long war and a fierce resistance in 1393 Bulgaria had fallen into Turkish hands. After an unsuccessful revolution in 1876 Bulgaria was unbound due to the Russian-Turkish Independence War. After the Berlin Conference in 1878 the Bulgarian state was divided in three parts and in 1989 the country went through an unprecedented change, from a communist leadership to a democratic system. The new parliament, elected in 1990, established one of the most democratic constitutions in Europe. Bulgaria’s geographical position, between Europe and Asia, is reflected in its rich history, culinary traditions, customs and traditional Bulgarian outfit.

Useful Info

A hand shake is a usual form of saluting, and the clothing should be conservative but casual. If you are invited to some local’s house, a small gift for his children is always welcomed. Don’t forget that the gestures for “yes” and “no” are different compared to the rest of Europe: left-right means “yes” and nodding means “no”. Bulgaria’s official time is GMT+2 and GMT+3 (summer time). Electricity is: 230 V, 50 Hz.


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