Bulgaria is an up-and-coming summer destination for travelers who are looking to explore Europe on a budget. It’s no secret that Eastern Europe offers lower prices and draws fewer crowds than many countries in Western Europe. However, there is no shortage of things to do and see in Eastern European countries like Bulgaria. Bulgaria is beautiful year-round, but in the summer, travelers can head to the coast, explore the capital, or embark on some hiking adventures. Get off Europe’s well-worn tourist track by exploring the best of Bulgaria.
10 Visit Rila Monastery
Rila Monastery is named for Saint John of Rila and is a large Eastern Orthodox monastery between the Rilska and Drushlyavitsa rivers. It’s possible to drive here from Sofia, and renting a car is the best way to reach this tranquil destination. The monastery has stunning architectural features from the 10th Century and represents awareness of the Slavic Cultural Identity. Travelers can spend the night here, sleeping in the monastery and enjoying the natural surroundings.
9 Relax In Varna
Heading to the far East coast of Bulgaria, travelers will find themselves on the beaches of Varna. This seaside resort town overlooks the Black Sea. Varna is the third-largest city in the country and a popular destination for locals who want a vacation close to home. Varna’s sandy beaches and blue waters are a hidden paradise in Eastern Europe that many international travelers aren’t even aware of.
8 See Tsarevets Fortress
The Tsarevets Fortress is an important historical structure in the Bulgarian town of Veliko Tarnovo. The medieval fortress and its castle were integral to the Second Empire of Bulgaria, but today they are a tourist attraction with sound and light shows to entertain the public. This beautiful piece of Bulgaria’s past is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily.
7 Dine At A Traditional Tavern
Taverns are the local style of a traditional restaurant in Bulgaria and are where travelers can find authentic dishes like banitsa, shopska salad, and tarator (a yogurt-based cucumber soup). Top taverns to try in the capital city, Sofia, are The Hadjidragana Tavern, Moma Bulgarian Food and Wine, and Shtastlivetsa. In Plovdiv, travelers can try Pavaj, Jägerhof, or Hemingway Restaurant for a taste of the local cuisine.
6 Hike To Seven Rila Lakes
The Seven Rila Lakes hike is one of the most popular trails in Bulgaria. It’s a 10 km loop that takes 3 hours and 39 minutes to complete with 545 meters of elevation gain. The route is ranked as moderate, so it’s suitable for intermediate hikers and beginners of a good fitness level. Travelers can rent a car from Sofia and drive to Seven Rila Lakes, which takes 1.5 to 2 hours. They can also take a bus from Sofia for just $3, and the drive is a little over 2 hours.
5 Go Caving At Devil’s Throat Cave
Devil’s Throat Cave, also called Dyavolsko Garlo, is in the western Rhodopes on the Bulgarian border with Greece. This cave is near the Trigrad Gorge and has a 42-meter-high waterfall inside. The name of the cave comes from the legend that it’s the entrance to the underworld or the Gate to Hell. Travelers who are brave enough to enter can embark on an exciting caving adventure as part of an organized tour.
4 Swim At Sunny Beach
Travelers who want to spend time at the beach while in Bulgaria can do so without visiting Varna. Instead, they can opt to stay further south at Sunny Beach on the Black Sea. Sunny Beach is a resort that is famous for its water sports and vibrant nightlife. Young solo travelers and couples seeking adventure and relaxation will love it here. There is a huge stretch of sandy beach where visitors can try paragliding, wakeboarding, or jet skiing in the water. Head inland for go-karting, a water park, and paintballing.
3 Visit Plovdiv
Plovdiv is frequently cited as a more interesting and historically rich city than the capital of Sofia, so travelers should make an effort to visit Plovdiv when exploring Bulgaria. This ancient city is constructed around seven hills in the south of the country. Plovdiv has old-world European charm with colorful buildings and cobbled walking streets in its old town.
Visit the Theatre of Philippopolis and the Ancient Stadium of Philipopolis for a glimpse of well-preserved ruins. Plovdiv was named Bulgaria’s cultural capital in 2019 and has a history dating back 8000 years. It is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe.
2 See St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
This Bulgarian Orthodox Cathedral is located in the capital city of Sofia and is a gorgeous architectural feat, built in a Neo-Byzantine style. The cathedral was constructed in the 20th century to commemorate 200,000 soldiers who died at war between 1877-1878. The cross-domed design of the cathedral emphasizes the central dome, which stands 45 meters high. The building is massive and is one of the biggest Eastern Orthodox structures in the world.
1 Take A Wine Tour
Bulgaria isn’t typically top of mind when considering destinations with fantastic wineries; most people traveling Europe for wine will head to Bordeaux or Tuscany. But Bulgaria has several wine regions, the largest of which is the Thracian Valley Wine Region. This area runs along the country’s border with Greece and Turkey and is one of the two PGI destinations in Bulgaria that export wine within the EU. There are several grape varieties grown in the Thracian Valley, with both red and white wines produced here. The typical white grape varieties include Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat Ottonel, Vrachanski Misket, and Traminer. Red grape varieties in the Thracian Valley include Pamid, Gamza, Cabernet Sauvignon, Traminer, and Merlot.