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Bulgaria Travel Guide - From A To Z

Bulgaria Travel Guide - From A To Z

. 13 min read

Typical dishes? What to see in Bulgaria? What do you need to know before you come? Prepare your trip to Bulgaria by following the steps and tips in this tourist guide.

Bulgaria is one of those countries that can offer a lot to its visitors, but not always the traveler has access to all the necessary information that can be very useful during his trip. The country is much more than those points so popular and that each one of us has seen in the travel guides or the tourist products of the travel agencies.

Photo by Hector Montero

Blogs are a perfect place in which you can find almost everything, but what we have not been able to find in any of them, is a guide in which you can find everything you need in the same publication. 

We have been preparing this guide for several months and have tried to make it as summarized as possible so that it can be read quickly and at ease. We hope it will help you on your journey. Immerse yourself in what can be this beautiful country and its people.

Practical information

1 – The national currency is BGN, or said in Bulgarian, “lev” although Bulgaria is within the European Union, the currency maintains a fixed exchange rate with the euro for a few years now, and always the exchange rate will be 1 € = 1.95 lev (is almost double). It will be very difficult to find BGN outside Bulgaria, so most likely you will have to exchange money in Bulgaria. If you plan to change money at the airport, change the minimum to pay for the taxi (like taking a taxi in Bulgaria) or buy something.

2 – Always change money in verified places. At the airport, there are cash machines and if you plan to have some cash, at the beginning it is advisable to withdraw little money to avoid high commissions. Once in the city, the best places to exchange money would be the banks open even on Saturday and Sunday in shopping malls. The exchange houses in the city have good exchanges so you can trust them as long as they can offer you about 1.95 BGN for every Euro. You can go to the www.oanda.com website or download their app to check the currency exchange rate at any time.

3 – Wifi and mobile data work great around the country. Not everywhere you can find open Wifi, so if you need it, ask for the password. The telephone companies A1, Telenor, and Vivacom offer you SIM cards with mobile data only. It is recommended if you are going to have a stay longer than 3 days or you need the internet for work purposes or national routes if you travel around the country. If you come from an EU country, according to the latest changes, you can use your mobile data here too.

4 – Some things to keep in mind are:

Urgent telephone number – 112.

In Bulgaria there is no vaccination required to visit the country.

Always carry your passport or national identity card with you.

The time in Bulgaria is UTC +2 and if we compare it with Spain, we simply add an extra hour.

Take the European Health Insurance Card with you to receive the same treatment as any Bulgarian citizen.

The sockets are the same as those used in Europe, except in Great Britain and are of type C and F.

Tap water is safe and drinkable, but drinking bottled water is always a better option.

5 – Holidays:

  • 1 January – New Year’s Day
  • 3 March – Day of the liberation of Bulgaria.
  • 26, 27, 28 and 29 April: Easter.
  • 1 May: Workers’ Day
  • 6 May – Day of Courage and the Bulgarian Navy
  • 24 May – Day of Education, Bulgarian Culture and Slavic Writing
  • 6 September – Day of the union of Bulgaria
  • 22 September – Bulgarian Independence Day.
  • 1 November: All Saints’ Day
  • 24, 25 and 26 December – Christmas Eve and Christmas

6 – Very useful mobile applications for your trip to Bulgaria that we recommend you download. They will help you to be more relaxed depending on the situation.

  • (YES) You plan to use public transport in Sofia > Moovit
  • (IF) You want to save yourself the trouble with fake taxis > TaxiME
  • (IF) You want to see more places around Sofia and you need a car > Spark
  • (YES) You are in the restaurant and the menu is only in Bulgarian > Google Translate
  • (IF) You want to see the events in the city > Events (Facebook App)

7 – Security and documentation are an essential part of the trip. Bulgaria is ranked 28th for country insurance. If you travel alone the country is safe enough for you to travel safely. As far as the necessary documentation is concerned, any citizen from an EU country needs nothing more than his or her identity card. However, Bulgaria is not part of the Schengen treaty and some nationalities need visas and here you can check if you need it.

Itineraries and travel proposals

8 – Depending on how many days you want to stay, we believe that the best option for a complete view of Bulgaria would be to visit the country for at least 5-7 days. In this way, the country can be crossed passing by the most outstanding places and to know better the culture, the traditions, and the environment. Some of the regions that require more time and can be realized in this period of time are the mountain of Rodope, the coast and some regions of the northeast of the country.

9 – Weekends are also a good option, and you can see much more than, the Bulgarian capital. The capital Sofia is an interesting place to see in a day, but if you want to see something else, you should think of a route. Below are some interesting combinations that can be seen in more detail here,

  • Sofia – Koprivshtitsa – Plovdiv
  • Sofia – The 7 Lakes of Rila – Rila Monastery
  • Sofia – Rila Monastery – Melnik

10 – 3 day trip from Sofia:

  • North; Prohodna Cave – Cherepish Monastery – Ritlite – Vratsa – Belogradchik – Sofia
  • Centre; Koprivshtitsa – Plovdiv – Asenova Fortress – Bachkovo Monastery – Sofia
  • South; The 7 Lakes of Rila/Rila Monastery – Melnik – Stobski Piramides – Rozhen – Sofia

11 – 5 day trip from Sofia:

Sofia – Koprivshtitsa – the city of Plovdiv – Shipka and Buzludzha Monument – Etar Village Museum – Veliko Tarnovo – “Prohodna” and “Devetashka” Caves – Sofia 

Sofia – Plovdiv – Asen Fortress and Bachkovo Monastery – precious bridges – Shiroka Laka villages – Dospat Reservoir or Yagodina Cave – Rila Monastery – Sofia

Accommodation and transport

11 – If you have already stayed with hosts on platforms such as Airbnb, HomeAway and Couchsurfing here you should not hesitate to do so or not. This type of accommodation contributes in an interesting way to the experience during your trip. The best thing would be to find a flat/room with a nice host who can advise you on different activities and interesting places around. Take a good look at the travelers’ opinions about the hosts and pay attention to the way they treat you before you arrive.

12 – Hostels are a good option for those who have a low budget and want to socialize in the different cities where you stay. You meet other travelers and the service is friendly in almost all cases. There is a chain called Hostels Mostel which is very popular with travelers and you have accommodation in Sofia, Plovdiv, and Veliko Tarnovo. Often, routes such as Free Walking Tours are among the brochures you can find at the reception. A couple of tips: remember to keep your things well when you share a room and respect the other people in your room.

13 – Without going into details about the hotels of a lifetime are not a particularly expensive service, but neither will you always find what you have booked or what you expected in terms of customer service or product. It would be best to book a hotel with more than 3 stars, as prices are not as high, and because anything less than that category can end up in a not-so-pleasant experience. Once you leave Sofia, you may find places that have a relatively low level of English at the receptions.

14 – We almost forgot about the guest houses. You’ll find a service similar to HomeAway or Airbnb but it’s very likely that the English spoken by the landlords isn’t very good or they just don’t speak it. However, if they have something ready to eat at any time of the day, they won’t hesitate to invite you to their table. A word of advice: don’t refuse for two reasons; the food will be great and they want their guests to feel comfortable at home. Without a doubt, it is the best accommodation option for those who want to immerse themselves in Bulgarian customs. 

15 – Flying to Bulgaria does not have to be any luxury. Like many destinations, when it is cheaper to travel to Bulgaria it is in the low season and on single days during the week. The low season is usually October, November, January, February, and March. Although it is not a very expensive destination in high season. You can find round-trip tickets for less than €150.

16 – There are 3 low-cost airlines flying to Bulgaria; Ryanair, Wizzair, and EasyJet. Always be careful with hand luggage that allows you to get on the plane. At Skyscanner, you can choose the cheapest month and find something really cheap. Sometimes it can even cost you less than a 60€ round trip by plane. Flights from Spain, England, France or Germany usually take no more than 3 hours.

17 – The car is the best option if you want to enjoy everything, move when and how you want. It is essential to be very attentive to the conditions and policies of the use of each company. Bet on a safe company even if you have to pay a little more. It is not usually very expensive to rent a car, but bear in mind that the behavior of Bulgarian drivers is quite liberal. Always be careful when driving in Bulgaria. The main road network is in good condition, the rest leave a lot to be desired.

Now comes the interesting, are you ready?

If you can’t rent a car or you just don’t feel like it is the option to travel by public transport. You have to bear in mind that the transport network is not excellent and you can find yourself in different situations, so be patient. These are the websites you should visit for the use of different types of public transport.

18 – Trains (www.bdz.bg) in Bulgaria are many years old and speed is not their strong point. It is usually punctual. To give you an idea, a distance of 100km, can take up to 1 hour and 45 minutes. Still, it is very nice to try at least once if you get the chance. The interior is comfortable and through the windows, you can enjoy the incredible scenery. 

Train prices for:

  • Sofia – Plovdiv (8 cams and takes 3h and 20 min)
  • Sofia – Veliko Turnovo (15 cams and takes 4h and 30 min)
  • Sofia – Burgas (20 cams and takes 6h and 30 min)

One note: there are trains with fewer stops than others and that directly infringes on the travel time, so watch closely when you book them. The duration of the trains mentioned above is considering those that have fewer stops.

19 – Buses (avtogari.info) are a faster means than trains, but also more expensive. Most of them are new vehicles and the biggest national company is Union Ivkoni.

The prices of buses for:

  • Sofia – Plovdiv (10 LEV and 1h 30min trip)
  • Sofia – Veliko Turnovo (20 LEV and 3 hours travel time)
  • Sofia – Burgas (28 LEV and 4h 30min trip)

20 – There is also the option to make AUTOSTOP and the truth is that in Bulgaria you can easily find someone to take you. Keep in mind that the distances in Bulgaria are not great. Take a sign with you with the destination city. Don’t take too much luggage with you if you are hitchhiking. It is good that you know some Bulgarian words at least so that people gain a little trust with you. Always keep your safety in mind when hitchhiking and look for safe places on the road.

21- As for transport in the cities, apart from Sofia, the other cities are relatively small, so walking around the city would be the best option. And in the worst case, taxis are cheap enough. It’s not worth waiting, looking and worrying about where to stop if you use public transport. According to many travelers, the best way to immerse yourself in the place is to let yourself get lost, so get ready to walk and discover the cities. For what Sofia is, public transport is recommended if you want to get out of the center. There is a company “Spark” that offers the rental of electric cars and it is not a bad option if you want to visit places a little far from the central part of the city. 

Expenses and currency exchange

The country is not an expensive destination. Compared to other places in Europe, it is relatively cheap to spend a few days. However, if you don’t really try to save on depending on the situation, you can also spend a lot. The capital has its corners and services that have high prices even for people who come from a country with a better quality of life than Bulgaria.

If you want to spend a little follow some of these tips and you won’t regret it:

23 – Have breakfast in local bakeries and for the rest of the meals look for local restaurants in the center with low prices. In the Jewish quarter of the city, there are several places with good food and very affordable prices. (Make a post about these places)

24 – If you have rented an apartment or are staying in a hostel use their kitchens and prepare the food yourself.

25 – Free tickets for museums or combinations of tickets such as the Bulgarian History Museum and the Boyana Church (both €5, separately, only the Boyana Church is €5).

26 – There is no city in Bulgaria that you can’t do on foot for the most interesting places. Forget about public transport or taxis if it’s not really necessary.

27 – With Couchsurfing your accommodation is free. Check if someone wants to accommodate you and don’t hesitate to do so.

28 – Do Free Walking tours instead of paying for a private guide. They are at your disposal in all the big cities of Bulgaria. Be careful because in winter there are some that do not take place.  Here is the list of all the free tours in Sofia.

These tips are entirely at the choice of the traveler. Everyone has their own tricks.

29 – Tips in many bars and restaurants are not included in the price and are usually 10% of the final bill. Of course, depending on the service you have found, you can leave nothing (if you didn’t like it) or leave more than this 10%, as in many of these establishments salaries are around 400-500€ per month excluding tips.

30 -Negotiating in Bulgaria is not very popular and especially when it comes to very small amounts. If you want to try, nobody prevents you and sometimes you might get away with it, but this does not mean that it is well seen. If you think that something you want to buy has a higher price than you would pay for it, try it, because it doesn’t. If you think that something you want to buy has a higher price than you would pay for it, try it.

31 – ALWAYS change money in verified places. At the airport there are ATMs and if you plan to have some cash, at first it is advisable to get little money to avoid high commissions. Once in the city, the best places to exchange money would be the banks open even on Saturday and Sunday in shopping malls. You can go to the website www.oanda.com or download his app to check the currency exchange at any time.

32 – Always carry something in cash with you. There are many establishments (including restaurants and bars) that do not accept cards or their payment terminal simply does not work well.

The language and the people

33 – One of the first things you will notice when you arrive is writing. We use the known Cyrillic alphabet created by the brothers Cyril and Methodius of Bulgarian origin. It is different but there are some letters that have the same meaning. Bulgarian is not a simple language and pronouncing some of the words below will not be an easy task. What you should not doubt is that it will be very useful to you and will also help you to break the ice with people. Here are a few easy ones:

  • Zdravei – Hello
  • Blagodaria – Thank you
  • Da/Ne – Yes/No
  • Nazdrave – Health
  • Dovizhdane – Goodbye 

Let’s just leave it here. For those who are curious to know more words in Bulgarian, this dictionary has prepared useful words for your trip to Bulgaria. And for those who really want to try to learn some Bulgarian, The Bulgarian Turtle and its blog can help you.

34 – Sincerely smiles are not the strong point of people here in Bulgaria but this doesn’t mean anything. It won’t be difficult that with a nice conversation you realize that you are already talking to a friend and not to a person you only met a few hours ago. Let yourself be carried away and you can make very good friends during your trip. Where everyone agrees, both Bulgarians and foreign tourists are that in the Rhodope mountains is where visitors are best treated. Here are some features about Bulgarians:

Sometimes they can be quite pessimistic, but you should never characterize them as sad.

They’re not very good at arriving on time, so if you meet a Bulgarian, keep that in mind.

To say NO they move their heads up and down and from right to left to say YES. 

They use the word “Opa” to apologize or ask for forgiveness.

They are very proud of their yogurt, their roses and their history.

They are a bit closed to people who are sexually attracted to the same sex.

In the queues be careful because there are some who sneak in very fast.

35 – Etiquette

They are good hosts and give importance even to small details. Remember to take off your shoes when you enter your host’s house.

When you go out for a drink or dinner, try to be well dressed. Bulgarians are always trying to be as formal and elegant as possible. Of course not always and you will also see exceptions.

Bulgarians are gentlemen and always try to make a girl feel important and safe. You should also know that when you meet a girl, you have to shake her hand and not, as in other countries, one or two kisses.