The only thing I'd heard about Bulgaria before visiting were tales of beautiful women. Naturally as a single guy that was enough to pique my interest. Turns out there is a lot of cool stuff in Bulgaria including beautiful countryside, coastal beaches, blue seas, ancient fortresses, and probably the best food I had in all of Eastern Europe. The influence from the Romans, Greeks, Ottomans, and Thracians over time has created a really interesting and diverse culture and cuisine. Definitely a pleasant surprise. It was even surprising to the locals who, when we said we were from America, responded with, "Why are you here?" It was perplexing to them that tourists from the U.S. would travel to Bulgaria, which was hilarious. A friend joined me and we did a road trip around the country which was fantastic. If you want something like Greece but cheaper, consider Bulgaria or Croatia.
Last Visit: Jun 2016
Cost: $80/day
Stayed: 12 days
Suggest Staying: 1-2 weeks
English: 4/5
Safety: 4/5
Currency: Lev
Transport: Taxi, metro, bus, train

My Favorites

1. Belogradchik Fortress

The Entrance

Highlights: Fortress, mountains
Suggest Staying: 1/2 day
Stay Around: Veliko Tarnovo or Sofia
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This remote out of the way spot in northwest Bulgaria is truly a sight to behold. I almost skipped it because it was out of the way, but glad I didn’t because it ended up being my favorite off the beaten path adventure in Bulgaria. The fortress isn’t huge, but it’s beautifully nestled in the mountains and a joy to wander about the fortress and nearby rocks for some amazing scenery and pictures. We saw a bride and groom having their pictures taken. Although possible to stay closer, we just went from Veliko Tarnovo and continued on to Sofia which was doable in a single day.

See & Do

  • Belogradchik (Kaleto) Fortress. Ancient fortress nestled in the mountains. Borovitsa has nice rock formations and nearby cave.
  • Magura Cave. Paleo era, inscriptions, bats, lake at the exit. About 25km from Belogradchik.


  • Magura Cave. Bring a jacket, it’s about 50°F/10°C inside the cave. Takes about 30 minutes to walk through the cave, then you can catch a small train back to the parking lot or walk about 2 miles.
  • Scenic Route. If traveling to Sofia, take 81 through the mountains for a nice scenic, windy road with a couple small waterfalls on the way.
  • Birds. On the way, as well as other places in Bulgaria, look for giant birds nesting atop telephone poles.

2. Veliko Tarnovo

Veliko Tarnovo

Highlights: Medieval town, hills, fortress
Suggest Staying: 1-2 days
Stay Around: Tsaravets (Hotel Studio)
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Beautiful medieval town nestled along a winding river, not to mention one of the coolest names ever. Great mix of medieval setting and fortress.

See & Do

  • Tsaravets Stronghold. Fortress stronghold with a church at the top of the hill that has some amazing artwork inside that is very modern style and a bit creepy. Definitely unique.
  • Old Market. European style market in the old town center.
  • Old Town on the Hill. Short drive to the hills just to the West of Tsaravets.


  • Tsaravets. Every couple days there is a light show around 9:30pm. Ask around for which days. The place we stayed had a rooftop balcony perfect for viewing.

3. Rila Monastery

Rila Monastery

Highlights: Monastery, mountains, waterfalls
Suggest Staying: 1/2 day
Stay Around: Sofia
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My favorite non-Buddhist monastery to date. Located in the mountains, the central cathedral enclosed by monk accommodations is surrounded by mountains. Just beautiful all around. Drive yourself and stop along the way to other nearby smaller attractions and waterfalls that can be seen from the road.

See & Do

  • Rila Monastery. Beautiful monastery in the mountains. There’s a tiny stream behind the monastery. Good restaurant on site. About 2 hours from Sofia.
  • Stob’s Pyramids. Rock formations that look like pyramids. Go only if you have time, otherwise skip or view from the road.
  • Waterfalls. Several can be found on the drive. Get out and walk around, there are some trails here and there.


  • Cost. There are tours that go to Rila and cost around $30 for transportation and entry. This is ok if you don’t have a car, but if you have your own transportation, it’s cheaper to drive yourself. The monastery is actually free.

4. Plovdiv

Old Town

Highlights: Old town, ancient stadium, fortresses
Suggest Staying: 1-2 days
Stay Around: Old Town
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Favorite town of local Bulgarians, this charming place will enthrall you with a variety of things to see and do. More relaxed and beautiful than Sofia.

See & Do

  • Old Town. Charming, medieval area of the city.
  • Ancient Stadium of Philipopolis. Ruins, and if you go inside you can see the excavation exhibit which is really neat.
  • Roman Amphitheater. In good condition and still used for events. Nice view of the city outskirts.
  • Thracian Fortress. Located at the top of the hill, you can walk around the ruins.
  • Park Tsar Simeon. Park with gardens and fountains.
  • Bochkovo Monastery. Can park at the bottom or at the top (limited).
  • Assenova Krepost. Super cool fortress in the mountains with some ancient weaponry and amazing views. Pay for parking and site entrance separately. About 30 minutes outside the city.


  • Sunset. The Thracian Fortress has the most amazing view of the city at sunset. Don’t miss it.

5. Black Sea Coast


Highlights: Beach, old towns, nightlife
Suggest Staying: 2-3 days
Stay Around: Sozopol (chill), Nessebar (old town), Golden Sands (party)
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The beautiful Black Sea Coast is a great place to unwind and relax on the beach. Some parts are a bit touristy, but beautiful beaches, beautiful women, and other random activities make this area a great getaway for a few days.

See & Do

  • Nessebar. Popular old town that can be a bit touristy, but it’s very nice with old small churches, shops, great food, and a really cool cave bar you must check out for a drink called Michael’s Eco Bar.
  • Sunny Beach. Club area located on the beach (i.e. Bedroom, Cacao). Limited parking there or ask to pay at the hotel parking lot down the street.
  • Golden Sands. The party spot along the coast. Lots of foreigners. I typically don’t like these types of places, but I had a blast here. There are tons of bars, clubs, strip clubs, and carnival activities along the main strip. Kind of odd they have strip clubs next to children’s games on the same street. Tons of places along the beach to sunbathe. Check out Mega Park Dolphin (entertaining bar with a pool), PR Club (club), Rock n’ Roll Bar (live music).
  • Sozopol. Beautiful beach if you just want to chill, but not quite as much going on as Nessebar or Golden Sands.
  • Primorsko. Walk along the coast’s walking path to see various famous people painted on the rocks (i.e. Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, etc.).
  • Baglik Tash. Thracian sanctuary among various boulders telling an ancient tale.
  • Perla Beach. Nice semi-secret little beach.
  • Varna. Large coastal city. Slivnista walking street is popular. Primorski park has a cool reptile exhibit featuring snakes and lizzards.
  • Burgas. Popular city port. Not worth spending much time, but good place to stop for a break or meal.
  • Cape Kaliakra. On the edge of a cliff holds a fortress with sweeping views of the Black Sea. When walking around, look closely for tiny snails. You’ll see hundreds of them clinging to plants. There is a rock gate off to the side.
  • Bolata Cove. Beautiful secret beach well worth checking out and taking some time to relax. Will likely meet some locals.


  • Partying. The Black Sea coast is a great place to relax and/or to enjoy some nightlife. Golden Sands was definitely the best if you’re looking for some lively nightlife whether it be clubs, bars, live music, or drunken banter.
  • Bolata. If swimming, watch out for sea snakes. No idea if they’re poisonous or not.

Other Considerations


Downtown Sofia

The capital of Bulgaria, Sofia is a very pretty city. Relaxed and with all the charm of a typical major European city at a fraction of the cost. Lots of touristy stuff to do and the metro will help you get around easily and cheaply.

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See & Do

  • Lozenets. Main area for sightseeing.
  • Sredets. Hipster neighborhood.
  • Vitosha Street. Open air walking street with shops and restaurants kind of like Las Ramblas in Barcelona but less crowded and no annoying street vendors.
  • Statue of Sofia. Right in the middle of the street propped up on a pedestal.
  • St. Sofia Basillica. Church.
  • Necropolis. Free Thurs.
  • Monument to Tsar the Liberator. Monument area with interesting story.
  • Eagles’ Bridge. Sculptures on the bridge.
  • St. George the Victor Rotunda. Ruins.
  • Alexander Nevsky Church. Famous, popular.
  • Happy Bar & Grill. Huge, wide ranging menu including European, American, and Asian. I thought it would be cheap bar food, but it was fantastic and reasonably priced. Great sushi among other things. Can be found all over Bulgaria.


  • Metro. Ask for day passes which are unlimited for a 24-hour period.

Madara Rider

Madara Rider

An old rock carving of a Madara Rider on a horse. At first glance, this appears to be a place you just drive up to, take your pictures, and then be on your merry way. However, there is more to explore.

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See & Do

  • Old Cliff Carving. Madera rider.
  • Fortress. What a blast wandering around this mountaintop fortress ruins. Incredible views and you can get creative with fun pictures pretending to be an old Thracian warrior. See if you can find the “secret route” at the top.
  • Cave. Somewhat short hike in the opposite direction of the sanctuary.
  • Pagan Sanctuary. Looks kind of like a cemetery.


  • Time Management. The main attraction is the carving, but the best part is the fortress at the top of the mountain which is a steep 20-30 minute climb up stairs. Plan to spend 1-2 hours.

Rock Hewn Churches

Rock Hewn Church

Several churches carved into the mountains with caves along the trek up.

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See & Do

  • Churches. There is one main church carved into the side of the mountain you can go into. It contains old mystical inscriptions from an old religious era.
  • Caves. Several small ones along the hike up to the main church.
  • Hiking. There is a park with nature trails you can hike around if you like.


  • Expectations. Since the site is plural, one would expect to see many churches, but at the time we visited at least, only one was open. Was still cool and worth the visit. If you were to see the others anyway, it would require a couple hours of hiking. You can also do other nature hiking around the area.



The first capital and once most populated town in medieval Bulgaria. The grounds are quite large. Nice and quiet when we visited. Of course it was closed, but it’s pretty out there and not really talked about much in guidebooks. So it’s a bit off the beaten path, but may not be too far off your route.

Cost Breakdown

  • Flights: $125 (from Poland)
  • Lodging: $302 (AirBnB, apartments, hotels)
  • Transportation: $268 (rental car, taxi, metro)
  • Activities: $30 (monasteries, churches, tombs)
  • Food: $240 (estimated $20/day)

Total: $966

Note: A friend joined me so we opted for nicer accommodations. We also rented a car which added cost but was well worth it. Amounts above are for 1 person.

General Tips

  • Peak Season. Specifically along the Black Sea, the most popular time is July/August or summer weekends when the weather is nice. Otherwise it's pretty dead.
  • Itinerary. We started in Sofia and stayed during the weekend, then drove east to the sea during the week. In summer, Sofia is populated during the week when people are working and going out, then everyone heads to the coast for the weekend. This is great if you hate crowds, but I would instead start the weekend in Sofia, drive north to sites there and then head east over to the coast to ideally arrive during the weekend or even late in the week. This way you can take advantage of a more exciting nightlife.
  • Rental Car. Sixt is a very well run car rental company with cheap rates. I've used them several times now in Europe and they are usually, but not always, the cheapest. Very reliable and great customer service. You can book online and/or at Sofia Airport. Downtown offices no longer exist despite being on Google Maps. Ask for the Wifi device. It costs extra, but may be worth it to you. It's basically a portable hotspot emitting wifi your phone can connect to for Internet connectivity. Good for GPS as well as general Internet access wherever you take it.
  • Locals. People seem very serious at first, but if you get to talking to them, most are very friendly. Such is true of many places in Eastern Europe. Bulgarians seem to love Americans though, at least the ones we met.
  • Discounts. If you're a student, bring your ID to get 25-75% off!
  • Food. Due to the Roman, Greek, and Ottoman influences over the years, there is some of everything in Bulgaria with respect to food and it was all amazing. We didn't have a bad meal ranging from street to food to fine(ish) dining. I especially loved the fresh fish.
  • Camping. Noticed many places around the country.
  • Hookers. Along the northwest part of route E79. This isn't really a tip, just a funny observation as we were confused why we would occasionally see women all dressed up just standing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Although, I guess depending on what you fancy, this might be a tip after all.
  • Traveling to Romania. You can go by train from Sofia Central Train Station, open from 7am-10:45pm to purchase tickets. There is an 8am De Bahn train to Bucharest that costs about $30. It stops in Veliko Tarnovo and Ruse, so you could take the train from those places as well. Bring food for the long ride from Sofia. There are charging outlets on the train. When you get to the border, stay on train. Passport control will take everyone's passports inside to stamp and check. This happens on the Bulgaria side and then again when you cross the river into Romania.

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