Bulgaria is one of Europe’s most diverse and naturally beautiful destinations. It is a small country situated in the southeast of Europe on the Balkan Peninsula. It boasts towering mountains and deep valleys, giving visitors great opportunities for skiing, hiking, walking and mountain biking. There are six different ranges with much to offer, from snow capped mountains to lush green forests with thermal springs and mineral spas. In contrast the scenic Black Sea coast has fine sandy beaches and inviting blue waters making Bulgaria a popular destination for holidaymakers and travellers alike.
The colourful culture, hospitality and folklore traditions still exist and have stayed unchanged for centuries. Throughout the summer, regular folk rituals and festivals are held all around the country, where Bulgarian culture, hospitality and friendliness shine through making any visitor feel very welcome. The Valley of the Roses is in the very heart of the country and each year is transformed with breath-taking blooms in May and June. The festival of the Roses is celebrated in towns across the region with rose picking rituals and folklore displays. Bulgaria is rapidly developing as a popular tourist destination, where you are seeking a relaxing beach break, skiing down the slopes or taking in the culture, this magical country has it all.
- Currency Lev (2.3 to £1 sterling)
- Time Zone GMT +2 (GMT +3 from April to September)
- Language Bulgarian
- Telephone Services +359
- Emergency Numbers Ambulance 150 Fire 160 Police 166
Bulgarian summers are generally comfortable, with low humidity and temperatures averaging 24 degrees. The Black Sea resorts offer sunbathing from May until October, while in winter heavy falls of snow are guaranteed the skiing resorts. It frequently rains during spring and autumn.
Things to see and do
Bulgaria’s capital Sofia is diverse and compact with a great mix of architectural styles which were mainly built after the WWII bombings. The city boasts many great art galleries, museums and opera houses and the churches in Sofia are well worth a visit, especially as some date back to the early 14th Century. From earlier times, Sofia’s main attraction has been its thermal springs which are still in public use today. The city is bursting with character, its various bazaars, markets and open air cafes give it a cosmopolitan, laid back atmosphere with plenty to see and do.
Rila is south of Sofia and provides the perfect mountain locations for hikers. The great trip across the mountains to the Rila Monastery can be done in a few days. The monastery was originally founded in the 10th century and is admired by many for its unusual architectural features. Visitors can enjoy its valuable museum collection with jewellery, textiles and old manuscripts. Rila also gives visitors an excellent starting point for discovering the surrounding areas of Bulgaria.
For beach lovers, Bulgaria has dozens of attractive resorts on the Black Sea coastline. Golden Sands, is the largest resort on the Black Sea coastline and provides a varied range of eating spots and probably the best nightlife in the area. Albena is the newest resort and is surrounded by lush forests. Its magnificent 7 kilometre long sandy beach and calm waters make it a haven for relaxing, sunbathing and ‘taking it easy’. If you feel like treating yourself, many of the hotels in these resorts offer impressive health, beauty and spa treatment that promise to help you to relieve stress and really relax. If you are feeling more energetic, there are many sporting activities on offer, including waterskiing, paragliding and volleyball. The daily costs for food and drink also make Bulgaria an attractive destination with a bottle of beer costing 50p and a two course meal for one costing £4.00.
Bulgaria is fast growing as a popular skiing destination with recent improvements in the three major ski resorts in the country. Excellent skiing conditions can be found, especially for intermediate and novice skiers. Borovets is the largest and oldest mountain resort in Bulgaria, conveniently located just 45 miles south of Sofia. There are several well run hotels with a superb network of ski runs for every ability. Many of the hotels offer indoor swimming pools, saunas and gyms and also provide much of the nightlife. There are also wine bars, folk taverns, clubs and discos for those apres ski drinking sessions.
Nature lovers might like to visit one of Bulgaria’s national parks where in recent years facilities have really improved. Outdoor and nature enthusiasts will find a variety of different types of accommodation offered, including lodges, private chalets, small hotels with camping also becoming more available to visitors.
Bulgaria’s domestic service Bulgaria Air connects Sofia with the coast and other main towns. Journeys from Sofia to Bourgas and Varna can be made in one hour by air travel and it’s fairly cheap – only slightly more expensive than rail travel.
Bus and tramway services operate in Sofia and a metro is currently being built. Tickets must be pre-purchased and flat fares are charged. Taxis are available in all towns and for inter city journeys. It is recommended that the taxi fare is agreed with the driver before the journey.
Bulgaria has a reliable and sophisticated coach service which allows visitors to travel inland between major towns and cities. A return trip from Sofia to the coast would only cost you about £10 and would normally take between 5 or 6 hours depending on traffic and weather conditions. For further details on schedules and prices contact www.etapgroup.com – one of Bulgaria’s biggest coach companies.
For information on rail travel in Bulgaria see the State Rail Office site. If you are entering Bulgaria by car you must state which border crossing you’ll be using when you leave and also pay a road tax. Route restrictions only apply if you’re in transit through Bulgaria.
For those of you watching your budget, youth hostels can be found in over 30 main towns. For further information, contact the USIT Colours (Affiliated to the International Youth Hostel Federation) or our hostels section.
Campsites in Bulgaria are characterised from I to III, with the top two categories having hot and cold water, showers, restaurants, shops, sports facilities and telephones. The camping areas are located in the main tourist areas.
Hotels in Bulgaria are classified according to the European star-grading system, but some standards are comparatively low. However, some hotels have taken special measures to ensure they meet international standards with luxury hotels available in the larger cities. For further information, contact the Bulgarian Hotel and Restaurant Association. (www.bhra-bg.org)
Bulgaria has a reciprocal health agreement with the UK. If a UK passport and NHS medical card are produced, hospital, dental and other medical care will normally be provided free of charge. However, prescribed medicines must be paid for and can be supplied by public pharmacies. No vaccinations are required for entry to Bulgaria. It is advisable to drink bottled water for the duration of your stay. Generally food is safe in restaurants and hotels; however the street vendors should be avoided. It is also recommended that adequate health insurance is taken out before visiting Bulgaria.
National Tourist Information Centre 1 Sveta Nedelia Square, Sofia 1000, Bulgaria Tel: (2) 987 9778. Fax: (2) 989 6939. Website: www.bulgariatravel.org
Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria 186-188 Queens Gate, London SW7 5HL, UK Tel: (020) 7584 9400 or 9433 or 7581 4903 (tourism department) Website: www.bulgarianembassy.org.uk
British Embassy 9 Moskovska Street, Sofia 1000, Bulgaria Tel: (2) 933 9222. Fax: (2) 933 9250 or 933 9263 (visa/consular section). Website: www.british-embassy.bg