BULGARIA What to See and Do

BULGARIA What to See and Do – Guide 2024

Things to see in Bulgaria offer incredible places to visit and things to do in this wonderful Balkan country . Nation with a varied territory, from the coasts of the Black Sea , to the mountainous area and the plains. Furthermore, there is a rich historical legacy here thanks to the Ottoman, Persian, Slavic and Greek cultures that passed through the country. In addition to magnificent landscapes , in Bulgaria we find an incredible cultural and artistic heritage . From the capital Sofia , to the Orthodox monasteries and arriving at the seaside resorts. So let’s discover in our guide the best things to do and see in the country, thus discovering it during a wonderful trip to Bulgaria!

Bulgaria, Why Visit It

Visiting Bulgaria also means taking a journey through its history and uncontaminated landscapes. It borders the Black Sea, Greece and Turkey, as well as Macedonia, Serbia and Romania , from which it is divided by the Danube . Thanks to its position, throughout its history it has been influenced by various cultures, becoming a crossroads of civilizations and today a land that preserves many archaeological sites. From the Thracians to the Greeks and Romans, it was the hub of Slavic culture in the early Middle Ages, reaching its greatest splendor under Byzantine rule . There are many reasons to visit the country, thanks to Bulgaria things to see and do. From the beaches to the high mountains , arriving at the lively cities, a trip to Bulgaria satisfies everyone’s tastes.

From its capital, Sofia , among domes, Ottoman mosques and monuments of the Red Army, the icon of the city is the Alexander Nevski Cathedral. We then find the fairy-tale Rila Monastery , on the mountains of the same name, one of the most important spiritual places in the country and the ancient capital Veliko Târnovo . Furthermore, between Shipka and Kazanlak, there is the Valley of the Thracian Kings , which preserves numerous tombs, including that of Sveshtari. Furthermore, in recent years Bulgaria is increasingly entering the hearts of travelers looking for trekking routes, thanks to its mountains, and numerous traditional festivals are held , to better immerse ourselves in its folklore.

Between culture, landscapes and history let’s find out what to see and do in Bulgaria!

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Read also: What to see in Bulgaria – Guide to Bulgaria

After the introductions, let’s go and see together what to see in Bulgaria during our trip. This wonderful Balkan country, in fact, offers many things to see and do.

1. Sofia

Our journey among the things to visit in Bulgaria can only start from its capital , Sofia. In addition, this is also the largest and most populated city in the country, the cultural and administrative center. Its birth is during the Thracian period , with the name of Serdica , then passing to the Romans, Byzantines, Bulgarians and Ottomans. These peoples and cultures have profoundly marked the characteristics of Bulgaria, but especially of Sofia, before becoming the capital of the Principality in 1878 . Located at the foot of Mount Vitoša , it is located in the western area and, among the main things to see here in Bulgaria, we find the Boyana Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Church of Hagia Sophia and Saint George. Furthermore, how can we forget the icon of the city, the Alexander Nevski Cathedral .

Among the things to do in the capital of Bulgaria, stroll along Vitosha Avenue , which runs through the historic center, arriving at Yuzhen Park , loved by locals on weekends. Furthermore, the avenue is also the best place to buy your Bulgarian souvenirs and look for typical restaurants. Here, we also find the National Palace of Culture , which hosts numerous events. Finally, to admire a unique view of the city, reach the top of Mount Vitosha, 8 km from the city centre. This place is a ski resort in winter, but in summer the chairlift is open to the public.

Cattedrale di Aleksandr Nevskij sofia
La Cattedrale di Aleksandr Nevskij di Sofia

2. Veliko Tarnovo

In the northern area of ​​Bulgaria, among the things to see and visit during your trip, go to Veliko Tarnovo. On the banks of the Jantra River , from 1185 to 1393 and from 1878 to 1879 it was the capital of Bulgaria as Tărnovgrad . The first populations to arrive here were the Thracians, while the Romans fortified the city, remaining until the 6th century and then giving way to the Byzantines, Slavs and Bulgarians. Among the things to see and do in the ancient capital of Bulgaria, start from the Tsarevets fortress , from medieval times, with a dominant position over the city and inaccessible to enemies, being surrounded by the bends of the Jantra. Today we can see remains of this ancient place.

On the top of the fortress hill is the Patriarchal Church of the Ascension , renovated and preserving huge murals by the painter Teofan Sokerov , in a dark cubist style. Continuing the visit we find the King’s Palace , where events and shows are held in a green setting. At its end, we find the Palazzo delle Esecuzioni , where in the past the condemned were thrown from the cliff, today a unique panoramic point overlooking the hills. Along the walls of the fort, we can observe reconstructions of the ancient towers , understanding the structure better, going up to the Asenov district . In the area we find the church of the Holy Forty Martyrs, dating back to King Ivan Asen II, built after the victory against the king of Epirus. Finally, in its historic center, don’t miss the historic buildings and statues of illustrious people.

Veliko Tărnovo - what to see in bulgaria - what to see in bulgaria
Vista are Veliko Tarnovo

3. Nessebar

We continue our journey among the places to visit in Bulgaria and arrive on the beaches of the Black Sea , in the Burgas area, in the city of Nessebar. Also known by the ancient name of Mesembria , today it is a popular tourist resort full of hotels, especially in its northern area . The history of the city is very rich, as it was often found on the border of the Bulgarian Empire and, the oldest area, is on a peninsula connected to the mainland by an artificial isthmus. Thanks to the numerous things to see that we can find here in Bulgaria, the city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 . Originally a Thracian settlement in the 2nd millennium BC , from the 6th century BC it became a Greek colony with the Dorians of Megara, becoming a center for trade, clashing with Apollonia .

Characteristic of Nessebar is the high number of places of worship in the small space of the pedestrianized historic centre. A true pearl for those who love medieval art. Among the most important to see, we find the remains of the church of Santa Sofia and, among others to see here in Bulgaria, don’t miss that of Santo Stefano , with its 16th century frescoes, and of San Giovanni Aliturgetos , with a wonderful sea-view. Stroll along Slavyanska, observing the ancient Bulgarian houses and the remains of the Basilica of the Merciful Virgin. Finally, among the things to do here in Bulgaria, visit its ethnographic and archaeological museum .

Church of Christ Pantocrator
The Church of Christ Pantocrator in Nessebar

4. A lot

Shumen or Choumen, in northern Bulgaria, is one of the main crossroads of the country, absolutely among the Bulgaria places to visit during your trip. Its history begins in the 12th century BC , with the first settlements discovered by recent excavations. Among the things to see here in Bulgaria, the city is popular for its fortress , a historical site very important for its battles and dating back to the 5th century . Thanks to its position on the hill, it also offers an excellent panoramic point. Also, don’t miss the disc-shaped Buzludzha monument building, dedicated to the founding of the Bulgarian Communist Party and built in 1981. Among the things to do if you are here in Bulgaria, stroll through its historical park of Madara, which is home to the Madara Rider .

A UNESCO site that preserves a rock carving of a Byzantine knight, dating back to the 9th century. visit the Shumen Regional Museum and the Monument to the Victims of All Wars . Furthermore, Shumen boasts a long tradition of traditional Bulgarian cuisine and is the best place to enjoy dishes such as tarator , a cold soup, or Shopska salata , a typical salad. Finally, near the city, visit the Sinite Kamani National Park , loved by hikers, and the Church of St. Elias in the center. Dating back to the 20th century, this Orthodox church is famous for its icons.

The tower of Shumen fortress - what to visit in bulgaria - things to visit in bulgaria - places to visit in bulgaria - bulgaria places to visit - bulgaria what to visit
The reconstructed tower of Shumen Fortress

5. Plovdiv

Also known as Plovdiv , Plovdiv was the historic capital of Thrace and is the second most important city in Bulgaria. A cultural and historical point of reference, as well as rich in beauty in its center in full Bulgarian Renaissance style . Since 1983 the city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in 2014, with Matera, it was the capital of European Culture. Among the things to visit in this wonderful city in Bulgaria, don’t miss its Old Town , one of the most fascinating places. Among medieval and prehistoric houses, steep streets and colorful houses, stairs leading to small squares, museums and shops. An important historical site is the Roman Theater of the city, built under Trajan and is still one of the best preserved Roman theaters. In fact, events are still held here.

Nearby we find the Old Plovdiv Stadium, on Džumaja Square, where the games were originally held. Today, only an excavated section is open. Among the things to do to discover the past of this city in Bulgaria, visit its Roman Forum in Central Square, near the Tsar Simeon Gardens : the largest forum in the country. Furthermore, in the historic center there is the Nebet Tepe archaeological complex , a hill that preserves the first settlement from 4000 BC. Learn more about its history at the Regional Archaeological Museum and the Ethnographic Museum . Finally, to observe the lively side of the city, go to the Kapana district , the heart of the nightlife.

Roman theater of Filippopoli
The Roman Theater of Philippopolis, in Plovdiv

6. Kazanlak

In the Stara Zagora region , in the plain of the same name at the foot of the Balkans, we find the Rose Valley and the city of Kazanlak. This location, usually among the things to visit in Bulgaria, is popular above all for the extraction of rose oil and its roses, symbol of the country and famous throughout the world. The best time to travel here is certainly during the Rose Festival , an event from May to June that animates the center and is one of the most important traditions of the country. Among the most important sites to see here in Bulgaria, we find the Tomb of the Thracian , a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a creative masterpiece of the Thracian period. Discovered in 1944, it is possible to visit the one dating back to the 4th century BC. The tomb is underground and in the round-plan funerary chamber there are splendid frescoes .

Another place to visit in Kazanlak is the Rose Museum , inside a wonderful rose garden, a unique place in the world to discover how essential oil is extracted. In fact, it was the Ottomans who began the cultivation of roses in the valley in 1740 . Other important museums in the city are the Kulata ethnographic complex and the historical one in Iskra . A unique location in Bulgaria where, among the things to do, it is also possible to attend the coronation of the Queen of Roses during the festival and discover the soul of the country through its traditions.

Thracian tomb of Kazanlăk - things to see in bulgaria - bulgaria things to see
La Tomba trace di Kazanlak

7. Cry

Among the things to visit during a trip to southwestern Bulgaria we find the Rila, a mountain complex. Furthermore, in this massif we find the highest mountain in the country, Mussala , at 2,925 m above sea level. Furthermore, the Rila is the sixth European group in terms of altitude and includes the protected area of ​​the Rila National Park . Rila, a word of Thracian origin , meant a mountain rich in water , in fact there are many lakes of glacial origin, and some of the longest rivers in the country, such as the Mesta and the Marizza . As regards archaeological sites, however, here we find one of the most important sites to see in Bulgaria, namely the Rila Monastery , the largest in the country dating back to the 10th century. Founded by the hermit Saint John of Rila and built by his disciples, under Tsar Peter I of Bulgaria.

Furthermore, the relics of the saint are exhibited here and the monastery has always had many privileges. Indeed, Bulgarian kings from Ivan Asen II brought gifts here, enriching it especially from the 12th to the 14th century. With the arrival of the Ottomans , it was destroyed, rebuilt in the 15th century , receiving many funds especially during the national Risorgimento. Always a central place for the culture and spirituality of the Bulgarians, arts and literature developed here and, in 1976, it became a national monument and in 1983 a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here is also the tomb of Boris III of Bulgaria and there are many icons.

rila monastery
The Rila Monastery

8. Sozopol

Let’s return to the shores of the Black Sea to discover, among the things to see in Bulgaria, the town of Sozopol. Among the main cities of the country and among the oldest on the Bulgarian coast. In fact, the first settlement dates back to the 4th century BC and features important sites for underwater archaeology . Furthermore, artefacts dating back to the 2nd millennium BC have been found in the bay and it is considered the heir of Apollonia pontica , founded in 600 BC by the Greeks. In 2010, during excavations at the ruined medieval monastery on the island of San Giovanni, opposite the city, the relics of Saint John the Baptist were found . According to historians, the remains arrived from Constantinople by sea. Today we can observe them in the church of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Sozopol, among the things to visit in Bulgaria.

However, as we were saying, the city is also famous for its beaches , such as Harmanite with its golden sand and Smokinya . Among the most scenic places, we find the Kavatsite cliff and the Sozopol Panoramic Trail, where many attractions are also located. Such as its Roman ruins and the Archaeological Museum, which houses finds from ancient Apollonia, sculptures and artefacts from ancient Greece, as well as a collection on the city’s medieval period. Additionally, art lovers will find the Sozopol Art Gallery , which houses works by Bulgarian artists. Finally, if you want a moment of peace in nature, the Ropotamo Nature Reserve awaits you or treat yourself to a walk along the seafront at sunset.

sozopol fortress - what to do in bulgaria - things to do in bulgaria - things to do in bulgaria
The ancient fortress of Sozopol

9. Varna

Also known as the Pearl of the Black Sea , an important port and near the lake of the same name , we find the city of Varna: absolutely worth visiting in Bulgaria. Founded as a trading colony by the ancient Greeks, also famous for the Battle of Varna in 1444, today it is the third most populated city in the country. Also famous for the Varna gold , found in a necropolis , among the things to do here in Bulgaria we also find wonderful beaches, art and history, it is one of the most renowned seaside resorts on the Black Sea thanks to its climate and landscapes. Among the most important beaches, Golden Sands stands out and, among the main things to see, we find the medieval rock monastery of Aladzha , the Cathedral of the Virgin and the astronomical observatory. Furthermore, there are also wonderful spas dating back to the Roman period, spread over over 7,000 m2, among the most majestic on the Balkan peninsula.

Walking through its historic center, among the things to do in Bulgaria you can observe murals by street artists that contrast with the Art Nouveau villas and architecture of the socialist period. Furthermore, it is a lively city and a university center that comes alive with numerous events and beach parties. Finally, among the activities that cannot be missed, relax at its spa with ancient thermal treatments or visit the city zoo . The beaches are also a popular destination for windsurfers , thanks to the often present wind.

Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Varna - Bulgaria what to see and do to visit
The Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Varna

10. Balchik

Finally, among the things to visit in Bulgaria, we find Balchik in the north , also overlooking the Black Sea. The name of the city derives from Balik , a medieval warrior and nobleman from the 14th century. Yearly, among the things to do here in Bulgaria, many cultural events are held, including the important International Short Film Festival In the Palace , inside the Palace . This place was originally the summer residence of Queen Maria of Romania . Among the most important things to do in the city, we find the architectural complex of the botanical garden and the palace, an Italian design from 1924. Starting from the queen’s Tenha Yuvah villa , a chapel, several Moorish-style patios and a Renaissance nymphaeum developed around it.

The garden is best known for its collection of giant cacti and various types of plants. Furthermore, the villa today is an exhibition-museum with artefacts, documents and photographs. Furthermore, we can also find finds from the Thracian mounds. The former library has instead been converted into an art gallery. Furthermore, don’t miss the castle , built in 1924 to give prestige to the city, in Roman-Byzantine-Venetian style. St. Nicholas Cathedral , dating back to the 20th century, is one of the few Orthodox structures in Balchik and its dome is visible from the sea.

Balchik Botanical Gardens - Bulgaria what to see and do to visit
The Botanical Gardens of Balchik

What to do in Bulgaria, the 5 experiences not to be missed

During your stay in Bulgaria, in addition to visiting the main attractions and places described previously in our guide, we also want to point out the activities to do in the country, thus making your trip unique. Between culture, adventure, tradition, history and local food, an experience in Bulgaria will be able to unite the desires of all travellers.

So let’s not waste time and discover together the 5 experiences to have in Bulgaria !

1. Discover Bulgarian cuisine

Among the first things to do in Bulgaria to deepen its culture, you cannot miss a taste of its typical cuisine. It has many elements of Balkan cuisine and, thanks to its diverse geography, there are many ingredients . There is no shortage of dishes with herbs, vegetables and fruit , offering a great variety. Among the main dishes to taste during your trip, you cannot miss its salads and numerous dairy products . Furthermore, don’t forget to also enjoy the delicious Bulgarian wine and traditional drinks, such as rakia and mastika . Furthermore, we will also find soups , both hot and cold, and delicious desserts .

Among the main cooking methods we find stew for dishes based on pork , which is the most consumed, or grilled, or steamed and baked. Furthermore, here we can also find many influences from Turkish, Greek and Romanian cuisine . One of the main ingredients we will find is sirene, the typical white Bulgarian cheese in brine, present in savory and sweet dishes. Furthermore, yogurt , produced with the unique method of Lactobacillus bulgaricus , is also very popular . It is important to know that there is also a wide use of spices , such as chilli pepper, garlic, onion and bay leaves, but also dill, rosemary and basil in large quantities.

Christmas food
Bulgarian Christmas food

2. Trekking among the peaks

In recent years, Bulgaria has made its way among the most popular destinations for hikers thanks to its high peaks . Passing from the Rila Mountains to the Pirin Mountains , for a wonderful walking journey through the Balkans and its alpine meadows, glacial lakes, goat pastures and edelweiss. Furthermore, thanks to these trekking routes it will also be possible to cross its Natural Parks or visit the Rila Orthodox monastery. Instead, crossing the Central Balkans, visit ancient villages and monasteries, immersed in nature and in contact with the locals, arriving at the Rose Valley and Plovdiv .

Among the simplest routes, however, we find the Orehovo circuit , which passes through the villages of Smolyan , Tchepelare and the rock phenomenon of Chudnite Mostove. For winter sports enthusiasts, however, during this season don’t miss the snowshoe walk in the Vitocha Natural Park, near the ski resort. Cross the ring of the seven lakes , the mountain pastures and arrive at the Maliovista valley .

trekking catena rila
Trekking on the Rila mountain range

3. Relax al Mare

As we said in this guide on things to do and see in Bulgaria, over the years the country has become an increasingly popular destination for trips dedicated to the sea and relaxation . One of its winning factors is certainly the quality-price factor , as well as the pleasant temperatures, very similar to those of our local beaches. In summer, in fact, the average sea temperature always exceeds 20°C until September. Thanks to its over 400 km of golden and soft beach, but also of pebbles, there are beach facilities to meet all tastes and needs. Nightlife lovers will find what they love on the beaches of Ozbor, Golden Sands and Sunny Beach.

Among the most popular beaches if you are looking for relaxation , however, we find that of St. Konstantine and Helena, about 10 km from Varna . A sandy beach, surrounded by rocky headlands and hot springs. Furthermore, you will find accommodation and restaurants nearby. Also in Varna, we find Trakata Beach, a white and free beach, surrounded by lush vegetation and with a crystal clear sea, also ideal for families.

Bolata Bay, Cape Kaliakra - Bulgaria what to see and do to visit
Bolata Bay, near Cape Kaliakra

4. Attend traditional festivities

The country’s rich history has made it a place where traditions are deeply rooted. Among the things to do in Bulgaria during your trip, depending on the period of your trip, you cannot miss one of its folk festivals. Among the most important ones we find the Nestinarstvo , the ember dance, still present in the villages near the Black Sea coast and in the south-east of the country. An ancient and mysterious rite during which people dance on the embers barefoot, accompanied by bagpipes and sacred drums, reaching a state of trance and not feeling pain. An ancient Thracian rite is the kukeri parade , celebrated during the days dedicated to Dionysius .

Only men participate who, wearing traditional costumes, visit homes to wish good luck. One of the most important holidays, absolutely among the things to do in Bulgaria, is held on May 1st and is Baba Marta ; an ancient pagan tradition. In this celebration they exchange the Marteniza , a red and white fabric ornament, a symbol of happiness, health and purity. A moment of true joy for the Bulgarian people. Finally, in the Valley of Roses we find the Rose Festival , a unique event of flower dances and gastronomy. From the end of May to the beginning of June, the rose harvest begins: 300 kg of petals are needed to create just 1 liter of essential oil!

Surva Festival and Kukeri - Bulgaria what to see and do to visit
Kukeri al Surva Festival a Pernik

5. A bath at the spa

Finally, among the things to do in Bulgaria, why not relax with a day at the spa? In fact, the country is also becoming a popular destination for wellness stays, even though it is not yet very famous or fashionable. The town, in fact, has a thousand-year history regarding spa activity . The city of Hisarija , south of the Balkans, in 6,000 BC, was settled precisely for its hot springs, later renamed Diocletianopolis by the Romans . The city, in fact, still has its spas preserved today, but in Bulgaria there are as many as 700 thermal springs , which offer opportunities for relaxation and high levels of hydrotherapy.

Bulgarian spa resorts, especially those in Hisarija, offer various types of treatments for various pathologies. Furthermore, in the spa town of Pomorie there is a mud with healing properties, as in the bottom of its ultrasaline lake , excellent for the skin and the musculoskeletal system. Furthermore, a legend has it that it cures infertility. Finally, another place to visit in Bulgaria if you are looking for spas is Velingrad , at the foot of the Rhodope mountains. In fact, there are as many as 80 mineral water springs here.

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Read also: Delightful Bulgarian Cuisine: A Taste of Home

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