For us, Bulgaria was never on the bucket list, but we found a great flight and due to the COVID situation, we spontaneously decided to travel to this beautiful land. Without knowing much about this Balkan land we were excited to see what it will unfold to us.
We discovered a beautiful diverse nature of mountains, rivers, lakes, and beaches of the Black sea but also ancient history remains of all the empires that ruled this area.
At times Bulgaria felt a bit melancholic, seeing many abandoned buildings across the country. We often noticed grim people and poverty.
But overall we had an amazing time, enjoying the famous Balkan cuisine and culture, the changing terrain landscape, and the best places to see in Bulgaria that will stay in our hearts forever.
What are the best places to see in Bulgaria| What not to miss in Bulgaria:
Rila Monastery – Best places to see in Bulgaria
This religious monument is considered to be the biggest and most famous in Bulgaria. It attracts thousands of people every day, and when we arrived, the parking area was packed with tourist vehicles. The whole complex of the monastery is quite extensive and there is a lot to explore. From the main church to the four floors residential part where you can see how the monks live.
The strips design of the outside buildings goes amazing with the natural surroundings of the Rila Mountains, and it’s a good picturesque spot to keep the camera working. Besides the interesting architecture, along the yard, you can also enjoy Bulgarian food and goods from the local vendors.
For those who have the extra time, it’s also recommended to hike outside of the monastery area. The green nature around is very impressive and there are many trails to choose from in the Rila Monastery Nature Park.
Seven Rila Lakes – Best places to see in Bulgaria
For us, this place was one of Bulgaria’s highlights, nature in its prime and glory. Seven impressive glacial lakes in different shapes and sizes accompanied by mountains, rock faces, and an easy to medium level hike trail that connects all of the main spots.
We were also very lucky with the weather and during the day we had a clear and sunny sky. It is advisable to check the weather forecast before planning the hike. Because of the altitude, it can get very foggy.
The day before the track we stayed in the lovely town of Separeva Banya (30-40 min drive from the entrance to Rila lakes park). The town is peaceful and small and offers a variety of accommodations and restaurants. There are also some lodges up to the national park area for those who want to stay even closer to nature.
The next day morning we drove to the entrance of the park. We purchase tickets to the ski lifts that take you up to the beginning of the track. The ride takes about 20-30 min.
For people in good shape, it’s also possible to walk instead of taking the ski lift. You will walk approx 3 hours.
There are two main trails you can choose from to start the hike. The more popular one is to the right (you can see most hikers going in that direction). The classic trail will take you through all of the lakes and will end up at the highest point where you can view all of the park’s lakes. From there you return back (the whole track will take around 4 to 5 hours in total).
There are also more hiking possibilities around the park, but this is more suitable for people who stay inside the nature reserve. By staying in the park you are not limited by time or by the ski lifts that closes at 4:30 pm. We also advise you to get a local map if you are planning to explore more than the usual trails. We couldn’t find a decent one online.
Bansko – Best places to see in Bulgaria
Bansko is considered to be a very popular budget-friendly destination for lovers of all kinds of winter sports. The main attraction of this town is skiing. We came there off-season and on the first day, we felt like walking in a ghost town. The place was completely deserted and it was a mission for us to find something to eat because everything was closed.
On our second day, we went to explore the town center during the noon hours and were surprised to see a lot of the local crowd hanging outside, enjoying the warm sun and even some of the restaurants were open, serving local food and beers.
The center is quite small but still offers a nice walk, with some old churches and architecture. The town is surrounded by the impressive Pirin Mountains. Some of the local agencies offer outdoor activities (besides ski) to choose from to enjoy nature.
This lovely village (even though considered a town) is very small, and two days are more than enough to explore it. The settlement has only one (very charming) main street where all the guesthouses, restaurants, and vendors are gathered. All of the houses are ancient, made out of wood, and considered a Bulgarian cultural monuments.
Strolling the village feels like going back in the past. It’s a perfect place for a romantic getaway where you can just relax, have a glass of wine (one of the local specialties) with your partner and enjoy the atmosphere.
Besides the good food and wine, Melnik is also famous for its surrounding nature, especially the pyramids shape rock formations. Some close-by easy trails will take you up to a viewpoint where you can admire this unique natural phenomenon.
As the second-largest city in Bulgaria, Plovdiv didn’t disappoint. Full of restaurants, shops, cultural life and everything a big city has to offer. The most famous part of the city is definitely ‘The Old Town’. One of UNESCO World Heritage sites with its ancient architectural and historical background.
The whole complex is all built on Roman roads. While strolling we saw a lot of interesting colorful old buildings, museums, and many ancient monuments.
We especially liked the well-preserved ‘Roman theatre of Philippopolis’ so be sure to check it out. Beside The old town, along with the city, we also noticed several archaeological sites just being discovered due to the fact this city is dated back to 6000 BC (we even saw one just in front of our guesthouse).
Overall we stayed in Plovdiv for 3 days. We spend time with friends, eating in international restaurants (we even found a Hummus place), and enjoyed the mix of modern Bulgaria with ancient roman times.
Located in the scenic central mountains, lies Buzludza, a structure that reminds of a spaceship. The huge monument which is visible from tens of kilometers was built in 1981 in honor of the Congress of the ruling Bulgarian Communist Party.
After the government’s fall from power in 1989, the site was abandoned and left open to vandalism. The main entrance has been sealed and therefore closed to the public. Even if it was possible to break in and explore the inside of Buzludza a couple of years ago, now this is not the case anymore. A police guard has been put in place 24/7, so it is no longer possible to break inside. Still worth the visit.
Veliko Tarnovo – Best places to see in Bulgaria
Another highlight of our Bulgarian trip, we immediately fell in love with this amazing town. The center part of the place is built on small hills, packed with charming narrow alleys (be aware if you come with a car), boutique cafes, bars, restaurants, and old churches.
The town is mostly known for the ‘Tsarevets’, an impressive fortress complex with 3,000 square meters of medieval construction surrounded by stone walls. From the walls and the towers, you can get an amazing view of the surrounding nature and the Yantra River.
Nesebar and Sozopol – Best places to see in Bulgaria
We were looking forward to visiting the coastline of Bulgaria. Seeing the Black Sea for the first time and enjoying a relaxing time at the beaches. Equipped with our swimsuits and sunscreen we headed towards Nesebar, a seaside resort city just 10 min drive from Burgas (the capital of Burgas Province).
Unfortunately, even though we arrived in September (still consider as the season), the weather was not in our favor, with cold temperatures, strong winds, and gray skies. We had to give up chilling at the beach and went to explore a bit around.
The main things to see are on the ancient part (UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites) along the city docks. This area is dated back to Roman and Ottoman times, packed with old churches and ancient architecture. The complex also has many touristic restaurants and shops and it’s a nice place to spend a couple of hours.
After exploring Nesebar we headed to Sozopol which is another ancient seaside town. Due to the bad wheater and end of the season, this place was completely abandoned. All the restaurants were closed, we barely saw any people on the street. Honestly, there wasn’t so much to see or do in general.
We weren’t impressed at all and until this point, the Bulgarian coast was quite a disappointment, so we can only recommend avoiding these places, at least off-season times.
Sinemorets – Best places to see in Bulgaria
Sinemorets is a tiny seaside village, along the coast of the Black Sea, a couple of kilometers from the border with Turkey. The lack of public transportation and the many touristic beach towns in the area gives the village its mystic and uniqueness.
Most of the beaches along the village are untouched beauty of nature that will take your breath away. Especially Veleka beach. A beautiful sandy beach that has also a natural lake, surrounded by green terrain. Full of trees, wildlife, and horses running free.
Besides the stunning beaches, this lovely village had the nicest people we met through all of our Bulgaria travel, everyone was smiling and happy and the local food was beyond our expectations. Sinemorets has changed our perception (for the good) of the Bulgarian coast and we highly recommend visiting it.
The charming capital city of Bulgaria was a perfect place to finish our Bulgaria travel. This laid-back capital is often missed by travelers coming to Bulgaria. Most of the visitors head directly to the beach or the mountains and don’t spend any time in Sofia. But in our opinion, Sofia is not a city to skip. It’s a modern and vibrant city with lots of things to do there.
We could pick from many churches, mosques from Ottoman times, and even Red Army monuments.
The walks in the city center were very enjoyable. We especially enjoyed the strolls on Vitosha Boulevard, which is full of posh stores, nice restaurants, and loud bars. It is the main commercial street in the city.
For a perfect end of your Bulgaria trip, we booked ourselves a spa day. Tjasa also booked an appointment at the hairdresser. Much cheaper than in our country.
Not on the radar of many travelers
Outstanding mountains, Black Sea beaches, vibrant cities, and ancient history made us ask ourselves why this country is often overlooked by tourists. Not that we complain, this actually worked in our favor – no crowds anywhere and lots of things to do.
In two weeks we explored a lot that this wonderful country has to offer but we could easily stay more.