Bulgaria, which is often overlooked for popular Eastern European countries like Hungary or the castle-packed Czech Republic, may not be the first destination that comes to mind when booking a vacation. Bordered by five countries (Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey), the multi-cultural country is one of Europe's best-kept secrets. It boasts a mouth-watering cuisine, fascinating history, a low cost of living, and striking mountain ranges. Even better, it has not yet been bombarded by hordes of tourists. In case you need any more convincing, we rounded up eight more reasons you should move Bulgaria to the top of your travel bucket list.
1. It has a vibrant capital city
Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital and largest city, can be found at the foot of the majestic Vitosha Mountain, less than a 50-minute drive from the Serbian border. During the winter, folks flock to the snow-capped mountains for skiing, while in the summer, locals and tourists spill out onto patios on pedestrian-only streets, making for a lively atmosphere. Don’t leave without stopping by the onion-domed St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral or passing through National Assembly Square for a quick introduction to Bulgarian culture. It even has a dynamic entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, the city made The Brighton School of Business and Management’s list for top 10 places in the world to launch a start-up business.
Where to Stay:
2. It's home to one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world
Plovdiv, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world and the second-largest city in Bulgaria, is also one of the country’s most important economic and cultural hubs. The city hosts many cultural events and festivals throughout the year, including the International Fair Plovdiv. Having been invaded by the Persians, Greeks, Celts, Romans, Turks, and more, Plovdiv has endured a long and tumultuous history. At one point, it even became the capital of the Ottoman region, Eastern Rumelia, before joining Bulgaria in 1885. In addition to a fascinating past, the city also boasts a scenic landscape with seven syenite hills. When you’re not admiring the scenery, spend time at the Ancient Theatre, a well-preserved open-air Roman theater, or explore the local museums and galleries that offer late-night hours and free admission.
3. There are seven stunning lakes to explore
The Seven Rila Lakes, a group of glacial lakes situated in the Rila Mountains, are about two hours away from Sofia by car. Each lake has been named after a defining feature. For example, Okoto (or The Eye) is almost a perfect oval shape, while Dolnoto Ezero (or The Lower Lake) is the lowest of the lot. Small streams of water feed from one into the other, creating little waterfalls. The hike to the top takes a full day, but the hard work pays off with rewarding views of all seven lakes. Set out early, bring snacks, and wear comfortable shoes.
4. Plus, one breathtaking monastery
Rila Monastery, the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria, is located in the Rila Mountains. With a stunning facade, it’s no surprise this structure (and UNESCO World Heritage site) is one of the country’s top tourist attractions. After a fire destroyed the building in 1833, the entire complex was rebuilt between 1834 and 1862. The monastery, which now houses approximately 60 monks, was named after its founder, the hermit St. Ivan of Rila. His students built the church as a place to stay when they came to absorb his wisdom. Today, the monastery consists of an inner courtyard, a five-dome church decorated with colorful frescos, a museum, and residences for monks.
5. You can go bungee jumping in a cave
The Prohodna cave, which is best known for the two almond-shaped holes in the ceiling, makes for a great day trip from Sofia. Located in north central Bulgaria, it’s about 859 feet long, making it the country’s longest cave passage. The karst cave also features two entrances — one big and one small. Bungee jump from the top of the big cave entrance, if you dare, or venture along the rock bridge. This popular tourist stop is adored by both hardcore climbers and rookie adventurers.
6. Or visit the seaside towns
Varna, the largest resort town on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, is home to the oldest gold jewelry in the world (some of the treasures were discovered in prehistoric graves). The city also features almost 13 miles of golden beaches plus plenty of seaside hotels. For those who are looking to do more than just laze on the sand, there’s the Varna Archaeological Museum and several golf courses.
Where to Stay:
7. You can relax on Sunny Beach
Sunny Beach, another top beach destination, swells during the summer. The closest airports are in Burgas and Varna, making it a relatively easy journey into town. For those looking to party at beach bars until the sun comes up, Sunny Beach will fill the void. Play at one of the area’s two water parks, unwind on the beach, or venture to nearby Nesebar, an ancient town and UNESCO World Heritage site. As for where to stay, choose from one of the seaside hotels that dot the coastline.
Where to Stay:
8. And ski epic slopes
From sand to slopes, Bulgaria offers the best of both worlds. Bansko is a popular choice among skiers and snowboarders, thanks to its long runs and ideal climate. After a long day on the mountain, enjoy some apres-ski action at one of the many traditional restaurants or bars in town. For those who would like to soak in some more scenery, the picturesque resort village of Banya is a quick three-mile journey away and home to 27 thermal mineral springs.
- 5 European Destinations You Should Visit This Winter
- 5 Under-the-Radar European Towns to Visit Now
- 6 Hip Neighborhoods in Europe That Need to Be on Your Radar