Varna is the third largest city in Bulgaria. It is home to a naval base and a maritime port, connecting the country with the rest of the world.
Aside from its commercial prominence, Varna is also a top tourist destination. With stunning beaches dotting the Black Sea Coast, a string of world-renowned parks and museums, and some of the most vibrant nightlife in the region, the city completes your vacation.
For starters, head north to the Golden Sands and Sveti Konstantin for a relaxing time at the beach. It is said that the waters contain rejuvenating properties that improve the skin.
When the sight of the beach gets old, a trip to the Sea Garden allows for a change of scenery. It is the largest park in the city, with rows of trees planted by cosmonauts, an open-air theater featuring ballet dances, a dolphinarium, and the Naval Museum, which displays some of Bulgaria’s old machines of war.
Varna has some of the finest and oldest museums in Bulgaria. The Varna Archeological Museum displays artifacts from the Thracian, Greek, and Roman Periods.
The museum’s most important exhibit is the Gold of Varna. Excavated in 1972, it is the oldest gold treasure collection in the world.
Another important museum is the Ethnographic Museum. Housed in a mansion built in 1860, the galleries exhibit agricultural and fishing implements and costumes from the late 19th century.
Sofia is the heart and soul of Bulgaria. It is a city of many contrasts – with Neo-Baroque buildings standing alongside communist-era blocks. It is where somber museums and onion-domed churches coexist with the trendiest dance clubs and pubs in Eastern Europe.
Sofia is a place where Soviet Armies once paraded in its city square. Decades later, the whole country embraces the capitalist beat of Western Europe.
The city has many sights to see. The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. The gold-plated dome is 45 meters high. Built in the Neo-Byzantine style, the cathedral was built in memory of the soldiers who died during the Russo-Turkish War.
The National Historical Museum has the largest collection of artifacts in Bulgaria. More than 500,000 rare pieces, including Thracian gold jewelry, medieval armory, and church relics dating back to the Byzantine era, are on display.
Vitosha National Park
Vitosha lies at the outskirts of Sofia. It is a huge mountain range whose snow-capped peaks climb up to 2,000 meters above sea level. Known for its excellent hiking trails, alpine climbing sites, and stone rivers tumbling down the slopes, it is the closest ski resort to the capital.
Vitosha was once covered by thick coniferous trees that were inaccessible to outsiders. There were also Thracian settlements along the foothills, whose sites are now a boon to archeologists.
Known as the Great Bulgarian Forest, Vitosha stretches from the Black Sea to the Adriatic coastline. The narrow valleys along the Vladayska River have scenic spots frequented by hikers.
Bansko’s reputation as a top winter destination attracts tourists all the way from London to Moscow. Hotels and lodges get fully booked as early as November, as the town’s population swells with visitors coming to ski and snowboard on the white slopes of the Pirin Mountains.
Bansko’s prominence as a winter resort was a recent addition to the long list of things the town is known for. It was once a trading post for caravans coming from the Aegean coast going to the Danube hinterlands.
The town was also the birthplace of the eighteenth-century monk Otets Paisii Hilendarski. His literary works helped shape Bulgarian ethnic nationalism.
Bansko is also home to the Belitsa Bear Park, a huge park that offers sanctuary to bears rescued from their human owners.
Plovdiv, the Paris of the Balkans, inspires tourists and locals alike with its Roman-era entertainment venues, eccentric art galleries, and fully restored nineteenth-century buildings that house museums, fine dining restaurants, and even classy hotels.
A walk along the narrow, cobbled streets of Stariot Grad lets you explore the old town and see the centuries-old St. Marina Church.
The Djumaya Mosque at the city center is one of the oldest in the Balkans. The mosque was constructed during the Ottoman period.
A walk further into the old town leads you to a restored Roman amphitheater, where opera performances still run during cultural events.