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.
Known as the city of the Tsars, Veliko Tarnovo served as the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the 14th century. The medieval city with terracotta-tiled houses is surrounded by forests and divided in half by the Yantra River.
Sitting on top of a hill, like a sentry to the surrounding plains, is the stronghold of Tsarevets. Once home to Bulgarian kings, the ruins around the citadel still hold some of Bulgaria’s hidden treasures.
The city center below the Tsarevets is home to several medieval churches, including the Church of Saint Demetrius and the Forty Martyr’s Church. These churches were constructed during the Second Bulgarian Empire and were razed when the Ottomans sacked the city. Unearthed in the 1970s, the churches retain much of their Byzantine elements.
Veliko Tarnovo is also home to two important centers of learning: the Veliko Tarnovo University and the Vasil Levski National Military University. The presence of these universities adds to the vibrant culture of the city. Their youthful influence not only keeps the nightlife lively but has also contributed to the increasing number of backpackers (mostly young people from Europe) in the city.
Western tourists may find its name hard to pronounce, but they still cannot escape the charm of Koprivshtitsa.
Largely preserved as a museum village, the town showcases houses from the Bulgarian National Revival period. All of the houses have been restored to their original forms. Some of them function as guesthouses, while others have been converted into restaurants.
Museums containing National Revival works of art, jewelry, embroidery, and costumes are scattered all around the village. Monuments and memorial houses of those who led the uprising are also plentiful.
In addition to being a museum village, Koprivshtitsa is also known for its folk music festival. Every five years, musicians, artists, and craftsmen gather from all across the country to celebrate art and music in this quaint little town.
Ruse sits along the banks of the Danube River. It is known as Little Vienna for its nineteenth-century Neo-Baroque architecture. Most of the city’s buildings have broad facades and solid colonnades that define the architectural style of the period.
Places of interests include the Ruse Regional Historical Museum, which boasts of a collection of artifacts, including frescoes from the medieval period, skeletal remains from prehistoric times, and a ritual wine set known as the Borovo Treasure.
The National Transport Museum displays steam engines and carriages once used by the kings of Bulgaria. It is an open-air museum located next to the old Ruse Railway Station.
A short drive from Ruse are the rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo. The said complex features churches, chapels, and monasteries directly carved from the mountain.
One other thing these rock-hewn churches are known for is its beautifully preserved frescoes depicting the lives of the monks who once lived in the surrounding caves.
In 1979, the complex was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus is the town of Nesebar. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is abundant with historical buildings, which make it a top cultural destination.
Nesebar was already a thriving colony even during the Greek and Roman times. It was a trading port and a strategic gateway to the Black Sea.
During the medieval ages, Nesebar was a Byzantine stronghold. Part of the fortifications protecting the town still stands today.
A slew of churches, including the St. John Aliturgetos and Church of Christ Pantocrator, were constructed to highlight the town’s importance. All in all, a total of 40 churches were erected in this town. Most of them have at least partially survived.
Aside from its Byzantine-inspired churches, Nesebar is also known for its wooden houses. These were constructed during the Ottoman rule, and their architecture reflects much of the coastal surroundings.
The wooden houses are still inhabited today. Some have been converted to private galleries, while others became souvenir shops.
If you get tired of strolling around Nesebar’s living museums, you can head to the Sunny Beach (Slanchev Bryag) just across the bay. There you will find ultramodern resorts with water sports amenities – a bit of a contrast with the old town.
Kazanlâk is a small Bulgarian town that looks deceptively humble at first glance but, in fact, holds a wealth of culture and history.
Its first inhabitants, the Thracians, built within it during 4 BC the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlâk, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
This ancient tomb features a narrow corridor that leads into a round burial chamber with murals that depict a funeral feast, with splendid horses, and a touching scene of a couple tenderly grasping each other’s wrists in an eloquent gesture of farewell.
At the northern side of Kazanlâk is the village of Shipka, the site of a Turkish-Russian battle that resulted in scores of soldiers dead. There you will find a freedom monument dedicated to the Russians and Bulgarians who fought for Bulgarian independence. A memorial church with golden domes and pink walls was also erected there to honor the fallen soldiers.
Hello fellow travelers! My name is Mary and I am the main author of Traveling East. Just like any other travel enthusiasts, traveling has also been our passion! For inquiries, suggestions or anything travel related, please feel free to send us an E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.