*Modifying this information may result in a different fare.
Welcome to the land of snow-clad mountains, endless beaches and laid-back vibes. Thanks in no small part to the recent revamp of the country’s tourism infrastructure, Bulgaria is slowly but surely changing from off-the beaten-track to must-visit. Its crown jewel, Sofia, is a hidden gem among European capitals and a perfect entrée to the exciting blend of untamed natural beauty, cultural diversity and unforgettable adventures that is Bulgaria. Fly there to get your ski fix at 1,800 metres on Mountain Vitosha, just six kilometres from the capital city, or soak up your Vitamin Sea in a chilled-out Black Sea coastal city, like Bourgas or Varna. Or stroll the country in its full medieval glory among the millennium-old fortress-like walls of Rila Monastery. And savour as many local delicacies as you possibly can: they come with legendary hospitality on the side and history bound up in every bite.
With a history spanning thousands of years, Bulgaria deservedly comes in third among the wealthiest European countries in archaeological riches. In a quite literal sense: the world’s oldest gold treasure, dating back more than 6,000 years, was discovered by accident in the country’s maritime capital, Varna. You can get a glimpse into Sofia’s Roman days of yore at the Ancient Serdica archaeological complex or go right into the heart of Bulgaria's Roman heritage in Plovdiv. Enjoy a few quiet moments in one of the world’s largest Eastern Orthodox Cathedrals, Aleksandâr Nevsky Cathedral, and get up close to the masterpieces of Socialist Realism at the Museum of Socialist Art. But whatever you do, don’t let the country’s bite size fool you. Home to Bulgarians’ long-life elixir, yogurt, 85% of the planet’s rose oil production, the Cyrillic alphabet, plus one of the few peoples in the world who mean ‘yes’ when shaking their heads and ‘no’ when nodding, Bulgaria is jam-packed with surprises.
Bulgaria’s beckoning Black Sea beaches and turquoise waters are a fun and wallet-friendly option for holidaymakers. Top favourites include Primorsko, a gorgeous seaside resort that boasts 2,300 sunshine hours a year and neighbours not one but two breathtaking nature reserves, Ropotamo and Snake Island. Want some big city life with your seaside beauty? Opt for Varna, Bulgaria’s maritime capital with soft-sand natural beaches, manicured green spaces and the ruins of the country’s biggest Roman Thermae. Or head to Bourgas, a port city with a vibrant urban atmosphere, wrap yourself in the healing mud and pink waters of Atanasovsko Lake, walk its dreamy beaches and find out who truly loves you at the Gramophone. The country’s seven majestic mountain ranges, carved by fast-flowing rivers, will make any hiker’s heart skip a beat. And winter sports enthusiasts can glide on some of Bulgaria's highest ski slopes and enjoy its finest ski resorts on the capital’s backyard mountain, Mount Vitosha.
Local cuisine is one delicious potpourri of fresh ingredients, rich flavours and nods to Persian, Turkish and Greek fare. Kick your day off with the ultimate Bulgarian breakfast: banitsa. Sweet or savoury, hot or cold, this flaky cheese pie will certainly fuel you up for a busy day of adventures. Come noon, take a cue from the locals and continue your gastro-adventure with their signature dish, shopska salad. Pair it with some rakija, Bulgarians’ fiery national drink, best consumed ice-cold in the summer and mulled when the temperature drops. For meat-lovers, meshana skara, a grilled medley of classic kebapche, kyufte and pork steak, is a must-order. Bulgarians take pride in their wine-making, too. That’s no surprise from a country that allegedly gave birth to Dionysus, the Greek god of grape-harvest and wine. Go with the classics, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, or treat yourself to a glass of Mavrud, a chocolate-y nectar or Rubin, a plummy red made from local grape varieties.
Sofia is a great starting point to explore the many layers of Bulgaria’s past and vast cultural heritage, with its Roman ruins and bulky Soviet-era architecture, gold-domed churches and Ottoman mosques, Neo-Renaissance historic buildings and incredible street art. The country’s former capital, Veliko Târnovo, is well worth seeking out, too. Looking down the Yantra river, the city is a medieval time capsule with cobbled lanes, antique houses and the magnificent Tsaravets Fortress. Culture vultures should also pay a visit to Bulgaria’s beloved second city, Plovdiv. Sitting atop seven hills, Rome-style, it’s home to one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheatres, the Theatre of Ancient Philippopolis, and offers a show-stopping view over the Rodopi Mountains. A 1.5-hour drive from the capital, the stone walls of Rila Monastery (Rilski manastir) are brimming with history and spectacular Bible-inspired frescoes. And devoted urban explorers shouldn’t miss Buzludzha, a massive UFO-shaped house-monument, once used as Communist Party Headquarters.