What to visit in Bulgaria?
15 amazing places to see in the country
Written by Claudia Pecoraro, edited by Mila Boshnakova, photos by Ilias Iatropoulos, Scott Green, Andrea Vushkova, and Pixabay
As the spring season is fast approaching, you might want to take advantage of your free time and travel around. Whether you’re looking for some weekend trips or planning a more extended holiday, this article about what to visit in Bulgaria will help you discover the best tourist attractions the country has to offer.
Visit Bulgaria: plenty of choices for everyone
Bulgaria is a beautiful country located in Eastern Europe, offering many options for tourism. There is almost everything: historical towns, big cities, mountains, glacial lakes, beaches, UNESCO world heritage sites, and much more.
While most tourists travel to Bulgaria to visit Sofia or enjoy the Black Sea, many other places are also worth visiting. If you’re looking for advice on what to see in this beautiful country on the Balkan peninsula, here is a list of the best places to visit in Bulgaria.
If you are planning an extended stay and want to visit more than one place, you might need to know how to make the most of your journey in terms of transportation. You can have a look at our article about how to move around in Bulgaria.
For many people, Sofia is the first stop in Bulgaria because it is the country’s capital, and most of the international flights arrive at Sofia airport. However, despite being the biggest city, some travelers prefer other destinations like Plovdiv and Varna; nevertheless, Sofia is charming and it’s worth spending a couple of days there.
Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe, and traces of old civilizations are still present, especially in the archeological complex near Serdika. You can also find many orthodox churches, museums, and monuments. The city is also rich in parks and green spaces where you can escape from the capital’s busy vibes.
For sure, the gorgeous Alexander Nevsky Cathedral tops the list of the places to visit. This cathedral, located in the city center, is a perfect symbol of orthodox architecture. You can then have a walk in the cathedral’s surroundings and visit Parliament Square, the National Theater, and Serdika Archeological Complex.
If you want to dive into art and culture, you can stop at the National Museum of Modern History and the National Archeological Museum. While walking down Vitosha Boulevard, Sofia’s most touristic street, you can enjoy shopping or explore the side streets to discover some typical Bulgarian restaurants.
There is another interesting way to know more about Sofia: you can take a free walking tour to see the most popular attractions in the city center and discover anecdotes that you alone wouldn’t know.
But, if you want to escape from the city vibes, you can hike up Vitosha mountain, located right outside the city.
Belogradchik is located in the northwestern part of the country, and it is one of the most picturesque natural spots in Bulgaria. There are two main attractions to visit in Belogradchik: the rocks and the fortress.
Belogradchik Rocks are a group of huge rocks characterized by strange shapes. The whole complex covers a vast area of around 50 km2, some rocks are associated with old legends and myths.
Belogradchick Fortress is the town’s main attraction; it is located on the slopes of the Balkan Mountains and dates back to the Roman Empire. The fortress has been reconstructed in recent years and today is one of the most popular Bulgarian monuments.
The best way to get to Belogradchik is to take a train or a bus from Sofia or to rent a car. You can go during the day or spend the night in a guesthouse or a nearby hotel.
If you travel to Bulgaria, you can’t miss out on a visit to the Rila Monastery. The monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the country’s most famous attractions. Rila Monastery is located in the Rila mountains, around 120 km south of Sofia.
The first thing that you’ll notice is how well-preserved the monastery is. You can enjoy beautiful and colorful frescos and stunning architecture, and you can still feel the magic atmosphere of the place.
You can find Bulgarian restaurants and shops all around. There, you can buy typical Bulgarian sweets and souvenirs.
If you don’t have a car, you can join a daily tour to visit the monastery. Tours depart from Sofia and Plovdiv mainly, but you can also find some from Bansko. Otherwise, renting a car is the best option to get to the monastery because you can take advantage of your trip to the Rila mountains and explore the beautiful Seven Rila Lakes.
Seven Rila Lakes
The Rila Mountains hold some of the most beautiful hiking trails in Bulgaria. The trail to Musala Mountain is one of those, but it is pretty demanding since Musala is the highest Bulgarian peak.
Alternatively, you can enjoy a stunning view hiking around the Seven Rila Lakes. The trail is physically less demanding than climbing Musala, but the views over the valley are awe-inspiring.
The best option to get to the Seven Rila Lakes is to drive from Sofia. Going there by public transport is doable, but it takes more time. You need to take a bus from Sofia to Sapareva Banya and then take a taxi to Pionerska, where you can take the lift to the lakes. Once you are at Pionerska, you can take a lift to climb up to the hiking trail. The price is 18 BGN (€9) for the round trip.
The length of the hike depends on your pace and your physical shape; in general, it takes approximately six hours. Along the way, you will see the seven lakes (some of them can be frozen even during springtime) and enjoy a fantastic view from above.
You can do the hiking in a day or spend the night in a hut or hotel. Hotels are located not so far from the elevator, and there are some huts on the mountainside. It depends on your budget and needs. You can search in Google for huts and hotels in the area or ask locals for some recommendations.
Bansko and the Pirin Mountains
Mountains are among the best attractions in the country. Whether you’re a nature lover or an experienced hiker, you will likely enjoy a trip to the Bulgarian mountains.
The Pirin Mountains, located in Southern Bulgaria, are definitely worth a visit. If you love hiking, don’t miss out on the chance to get to Vihren, Pirin’s highest peak, and to enjoy the beautiful nature around it. You can also hike to several lakes nearby.
The Pirin Mountains are also a great place to ski, thanks to the ski resorts in the area. Bansko is the most famous place to ski in the Pirin Mountains, but there are many other resorts in the vicinity.
In Bansko, you can also attend cultural events, like the International Jazz Festival or the Bansko Film Festival. If you are a digital nomad, there’s an amazing international community waiting for you! You can get to Bansko by taking a bus from Sofia; the journey takes approximately three hours.
The Rhodope Narrow Gauge (Теснолинейка - Tesnolineika)
This attraction isn’t precisely a place, but it is one of the things we advise you to do during your stay in Bulgaria. The Rhodope Narrow Gauge is one of the ten best scenic rail journeys in Europe and links Dobrinishte and Septemvri, two small villages in Southern Bulgaria.
This train line crosses several picturesque places in the Pirin and Rhodope Mountains. You can enjoy breath-taking views both in summer and winter: rivers, valleys, and wild nature. You can jump on the train in Bansko and make some stops to see the landscape. You can also visit the city of Velingrad to relax at a thermal spa and come back the same day. It really depends on how you’ve planned your journey.
Taking the Rhodope Narrow Gauge from Bansko to Plovdiv is doable, but is a bit long (it takes approximately six hours). You need to take the train until its last stop (the town of Septemvri), where you can take another train to Plovdiv.
In any case, the Rhodope Narrow Gauge is absolutely worth it if you want to travel at a low speed and enjoy a slow-paced journey.
Plovdiv has become one of the favorite cities among Bulgarians and foreigners. Its popularity was enhanced in 2019 when it became a European Capital of Culture.
The city is ancient - probably the oldest inhabited city in Europe. You can still find well-preserved ancient remains, like the Roman Amphitheater or the Roman Stadium. Be sure to explore the Old Town, with its charming streets and typical Bulgarian buildings, and climb one of the hills to view the city from above.
After the long walks, you can head to the city center, with its culturally lively environment, and have dinner in one of the cozy restaurants around. As evening approaches, you can have a walk in the Kapana neighborhood to discover its street art and then relax at one of the many cafes.
You can travel to Plovdiv by plane, train, or bus. To make the most of your trip to Plovdiv, you can book a hostel or any room and spend a couple of days (or more) in the city.
Koprivshtitsa is a historical Bulgarian town located in central Bulgaria, and it is one of the best places to experience old Bulgarian traditions.
The town is one of the most famous tourist destinations, known for its historical heritage and typical Bulgarian architecture. It hosts the National Fest of Bulgarian Folklore, which gathers artisans and artists from all over the country.
If you want to travel to Koprivshtitsa, you can take a train or a bus from Sofia or Plovdiv. You can do a day trip or find accommodation and spend the night in a guest house.
Kazanlak and the Rose Valley
Kazanlak is a pretty town in the center of Bulgaria. It is immersed in the beautiful Rose Valley, which owes its name to the local rose cultivation. Kazanlak has Thracian origins, and traces of the ancient civilization are tangible all over the valley.
If you are going to Kazanlak, you can visit the museums to discover more about the production of oil from roses. But, for sure, the city’s most famous attraction is the Thracian tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the biggest Thracian tombs in the region, with beautiful and well-preserved frescos.
If you have a car, take some time to explore other Thracian tombs in the valley and reach the historical village of Shipka or head to Buzludzha Monument.
We have dedicated an entire article to Kazanlak and its surroundings if you want to read more about it.
Shipka and Shipka pass
Shipka is a small village only 15 km from Kazanlak, and it’s easily accessible by car.
You can take a day trip and visit the Shipka Memorial Church, a memorial for all the victims of the Russo-Turkish War. The war opposed the Ottoman Empire and the Eastern Orthodox Countries and led to an autonomous Bulgarian state.
Located close to the village, is Shipka Pass – an impressive pass in the Balkan Mountains, separating the provinces of Stara Zagora and Gabrovo. This pass was the scene of four battles between the Turkish and Russian armies, and there is a memorial to commemorate all those who died fighting against the Ottoman Empire.
Not only can you see the monument for the victims of the Shipka battle, but you can also enjoy a breathtaking view over the surrounding valley. You can get to Shipka Pass by taking the highway that connects Gabrovo and Kazanlak.
This place is loaded with history and also a pinch of mystery. It is located on the top of the Buzludzha Mountain and was built during the communist regime. You can notice it from far away because of its peculiar and futuristic architecture.
Today, the monument is abandoned and mostly degraded, but in the past, stunning mosaics decorated the building, which was used for communist events. In recent years, a restoration project has started to preserve the monument from abandonment and degradation.
You can get to Buzludzha monument by car either from Kazanlak or Gabrovo.
The city of Veliko Tarnovo is rich in history: it was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, and it was known as “The city of Tsars.”
The city’s location is breathtaking. It has a magnificent view of the Yantra River, and the old part is divided between three hills. The Tsarsevets fortress dominates one of the hills.
You have so much to see if you travel to Veliko Tarnovo. You can visit the Tsarevets Fortress, the monument to the Asen dynasty, the green Sveta Gora park, and the historical city center. To know more, read our dedicated article.
You can get to Veliko Tarnovo by bus or train from Sofia; the trip is around three hours. The city is easily accessible, and there are plenty of things to do and places to visit. This makes Veliko Tarnovo one of the best places to go for a weekend trip.
Varna is the third-largest city in Bulgaria and one of the most popular tourist destinations. It is located on the Black Sea, which is the main attraction and makes Varna one of the most visited places during the summer season.
But that’s not all about the Black Sea. You can also visit the cathedral in the city center, have a long walk along the sea promenade, or go to a museum (like the Archeological Museum or the National Maritime Museum). In the evening, you can enjoy the city’s lively atmosphere and grab a drink in one of the many bars in the city center.
You can travel to Varna by plane or take a train from Sofia or Plovdiv.
Together with Varna, Burgas is a must-see on the Black Sea. The city lies on the southern Black Sea coast, around 130 km away from Varna. Burgas is small, but it has everything: the sea, shops, and restaurants on the beach. Be sure to take a walk in the beautiful sea garden, and if you have time, visit Atanasovsko Lake, also known as the Pink Lake.
From Burgas, you can easily reach some of the most popular destinations on the Black Sea coast, like Sunny Beach and Sozopol.
You can get to Burgas by plane or take a train from Sofia. You can also travel to and from Varna by bus or train.
If you go to Burgas, you have the chance to visit the town of Nessebar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose origins date back to the 6th century BC.
Exploring Nessebar's old town is like going back in time in an open-air museum. You can find monuments from various historical periods and see the typical wooden houses from the Black Sea architecture in the 19th century.
Several bus lines link Burgas and Nessebar, so you can make it a day trip during your stay in Burgas.
There’s much more to visit in Bulgaria
In this article, we have unraveled the most picturesque and popular travel destinations in Bulgaria. But that’s not the end, Bulgaria holds many more breathtaking landscapes and impressive monuments.
There’s so much more to see in Bulgaria, such as hidden villages in the middle of the mountains, caves, hiking trails, and more. Stay tuned for more places to visit in Bulgaria; meanwhile, enjoy your trip!
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