What to see in Bulgaria

What to see in Bulgaria – Guide to Bulgaria

Guide to Bulgaria for first-time visitors

I had never wondered what to see in Bulgaria , because I never thought I would one day be able to visit it far and wide. On the other hand, the whole long journey in the Balkans began by pure chance and without great enthusiasm, and then transformed into an epic journey full of many surprises including the wonderful Dubrovnik and the marvelous Sarajevo.

Of all the countries in the Balkan region, Bulgaria is one of the largest and probably one of the most underrated and least visited. Have you ever heard someone say, I chose Bulgaria as a travel destination!?, No. Me neither.
Yet the country reserved days full of surprises for me, so much so that I stayed longer, much longer, than expected.

If you are looking for a complete post on all the places not to be missed and to see in Bulgaria in a few weeks, you are in the right place. After almost two months of travel , with rather long stops in some of the most pleasant destinations where you can extend your stay, I wrote about the 10 places not to be missed in Bulgaria and the experiences I recommend having.

If you are planning a trip to Bulgaria be sure to read:

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Read also: Exploring Bulgaria: Local Tales and Treasures!

Why travel to Bulgaria

There are numerous reasons to travel to Bulgaria. Firstly it is an economical country, which never hurts, the food is delicious, the Bulgarians are very welcoming and the country is an interesting cultural melting pot.

When different influences – such as Greek, Slavic, Ottoman and Persian – are mixed, the result is obviously astonishing and can be found practically everywhere. In dance and music, in cuisine, in architecture and also in the way of life.

What many don’t know is that Bulgaria also has numerous particularly interesting historical sites, the Black Sea coast is stunning , the main cities are full of life and alternative venues and those who love nature will be able to choose from many hiking and trekking routes . In short, there is something for everyone in Bulgaria. Surprised right?
It was difficult to narrow down the list but I have selected 10 places to visit in Bulgaria that you shouldn’t miss if you have at least 2 weeks!

If you’re in a hurry – Tips for visiting Bulgaria

Bulgaria has just 8 million inhabitants, traffic is not a problem when driving on its somewhat bumpy roads, but otherwise moving within the country is quite simple. If you are in a hurry and want some practical tips for organizing your trip to Bulgaria, here is some information that I am sure will be very useful to you.

  • Renting a car – Car rental in Bulgaria is cheap , I recommend taking a look at CHEAP CAR RENTAL to find the best offer. The rental cost starts from €12 per day (the more days you rent the cheaper it costs)
  • Traveling by buses and trains – If you prefer to travel by public transport you can rely on bus companies and you can also travel by train.
  • Tour from Sofia – If your stay in Bulgaria is for a few days and your base will be Sofia then I recommend you dedicate a few days to the surroundings of the city. By relying on guided tours you will not waste time and you will be able to see something new and different every day.  
  • Spas in Bulgaria – You can’t leave Bulgaria without dedicating a few hours to the thermal baths which are found in so many places. In particular, I recommend Sapareva Banya if you stay near Sofia or Varna.
  • If you like culture you must not miss Plovdiv
  • If you are looking for a nice and quiet beach destination then go to Balchik .

What to see in Bulgaria – 10 places to visit and include in your itinerary

Having made the necessary introductions, let’s get into the heart of the 10 places to see in Bulgaria , the best of the country if it’s your first time and if you want to go beyond the usual weekend destinations.

In fact, beyond Sofia and Plovdiv, there are many other places to visit and, all together, they will give you a vision of Bulgaria that goes beyond stereotypes and which, I assure you, is much better than you can imagine. In particular its coast which can be phenomenal!

Sofia the capital of Bulgaria

The trip to Bulgaria will most likely start from the capital Sofia, a small city with a rather compact center but with a nice vitality.

Of the 8 million inhabitants, 1.2 million live in the capital, a quiet but lively city at the foot of the Vitosha mountain , halfway between the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea.
Sofia boasts Imani settlements dating back over 30,000 years, making it the second oldest in Europe .
The first inhabitants were the Thracians and the Celts, then the Romans arrived who made Sofia the most important city in the region. Subsequently dominated by the Ottomans, it eventually became the capital of independent Bulgaria .

Sofia is a rather small city and its most important sights can be seen in just one day.
Places to visit include the neo-Byzantine Alexander Nevsky Cathedral , one of the largest Eastern Orthodox churches in the world, the underground remains of the Serdika fortress , and the underpass used to travel from the Presidency to the Council of Ministers, the Archaeological Museum National with collections from ancient Thrace to the Middle Ages and pleasant walks along Vitosha Boulevard.

Sofia Church

Plovdiv – The cultural capital of Bulgaria

Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria but is also an important economic and cultural center. It was once known as Philippopolis, a name due to Philip II of Macedonia who conquered it in the 4th century BC

Nestled on seven hills on the banks of the Maritsa River, Plovdiv is a beautiful city, perhaps the most beautiful in Bulgaria, and with a truly remarkable offer of places to see, especially in the old part, known for its cobbled streets and architecture of the Bulgarian National Revival , a movement which saw Bulgarians regain their cultural identity from the Ottomans.

The visit generally starts from ancient Plovdiv where you can see the ancient Roman stadium, right near the Tourist Information Center in Dzhumaya Square . The stadium, which lies below the level of the modern city, was commissioned by Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century and originally held around 30,000 spectators . Today only 14 rows of marble remain of this enormous stadium. The highlight of the city, and perhaps the most famous place of all, is the beautiful Roman theater still in perfect condition where, during the summer, evening shows are held.
To end the evening, don’t forget to pop into the lively Kapana neighborhood .

plovdiv moschea

The Valley of Roses and the Valley of the Thracian Kings

The rose is one of the main symbols of Bulgaria , it is no coincidence that the country has been producing the best rose oil in the world since 1664, when the first rose bushes, Kazanlak rose (from the Damascus rose family), were imported from Syria via Ottoman Turkey .

One of the most fascinating places in Bulgaria is the Valley of the Roses which geographically also covers the Valley of the Thracian Kings , a group of Indo-European tribes who inhabited a vast area in south-eastern Europe between the 3rd millennium BC and the 6th century AD
Bulgaria is very rich in impressive Thracian tombs, temples and sanctuaries within which numerous gold, silver and bronze handcrafted masterpieces have been found.

In this region make sure you reach Kazanlak . Here, a visit to the Kazanlak Rose Museum is a must , the only museum of its kind in the world that delves into almost all aspects of rose oil and rose water production, and the local Iskra history museum which houses more than 50,000 pieces originals.

The highlight of this region, so much so that it is a UNESCO site, is the Thracian tomb of Kazanlak with unique frescoes dating back to the 4th century BC. The tomb consists of a narrow corridor and a round burial chamber with exceptionally preserved frescoes on the dome. It must be said that to preserve the precious frescoes inside, the original tomb is closed to tourists who however see a faithful reproduction.

Another Thracian tomb worth visiting is the Golyama Kosmatka , one of the largest mounds ever found on the Balkan Peninsula.
It dates back to the end of the 5th century BC and around 20 gold objects were found inside and are exhibited in the historical museum of Kazanlak . Archaeologists believe they have found the tomb of the greatest Thracian king Seuthes III.

Not too far away, near the town of Shipka at the foot of the Balkan range, is the Shipka Memorial Church , an outstanding Russian Orthodox temple built between 1885 and 1902. The Shipka Monument complex is dedicated to Russian, Ukrainian and Bulgarian soldiers who died for the liberation of Bulgaria in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78.

Veliko Tarnovo

The ancient capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, Veliko Tarnovo, with its rich 7,000-year history, many churches and lovely old town center is another very pleasant town in Bulgaria. However, the city is famous for hosting one of the most famous medieval monuments in Bulgaria: the Tsaravets fortress , the main fortress of the Second Bulgarian Empire from 1185 to 1393.
Beyond the fortress, I recommend walking through the center of the town and stopping by the church of the 40 martyrs .
The city built on three hills – Tsaravets, Trapezitsa and Sveta Gora – with the river running through the center providing excellent places to take beautiful photos.

Veliko Tarnovo


Sozopol is an ancient seaside town in Bulgaria quite famous for hosting the Apollonia Art and Film Festival every early September . The city is also one of the oldest in Bulgaria on the Black Sea coast with evidence of settlement dating back to the Bronze Age.

Known by the Greeks as Antheia , it became Apollonia following the construction of the temple of Apollo. The city walls are still clearly visible around the city today, while the remains of the Greek settlement have been excavated off the coast.

The historic center of Sozopol has been declared  a Nature Reserve  and includes more than 180 houses, built of stone and wood and conforming to the so-called “Black Sea School of Architecture” , built from the mid-18th century to the beginning of 19th.

The yacht Davina – On the trail of the Crypto Queen
If you have read the post on what to see in Sofia you will have also read about the Crypto Queen which left some traces in Bulgaria. In fact, if you can see the One Coin building in the center of Sofia , her gigantic and beautiful yacht Davina is moored in the port of Sozopol and has been in a state of abandonment since her disappearance.
Not a tourist stop therefore, but if you are passionate about this story it is worth taking a walk to admire this beautiful beast with two jet skis on board and dream of one day being able to take a ride on it.

Sozopol Bulgaria


The old town of Nessebar, originally called Nessebae, a UNESCO World Heritage Site , is located on a small rocky peninsula in the Black Sea and is connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus.
Nessebar has a rich historical and architectural legacy and, like many other places in Bulgaria, resembles the crossroads of old empires.
The old part of the city is full of monuments dating back to the 19th century, including the church of St. Stefan , the Old Metropolitan Church and the Christ Pantocratus , which can be discovered while walking through the cobbled streets and the romantic walk along the it costs.
If the modern part of the city is characterized by hotels and tourist facilities, the northern and southern parts of the city have beautiful natural beaches and dunes, so much so that they are considered among the most beautiful in the country.

If you have time and like museums, don’t miss the Nesebar Ethnographic Museum , which displays everyday objects from the past, local crafts and an exhibition of traditional costumes.

Varna and the thermal pools

Varna is the third largest and most populous city in Bulgaria and is also known as the Pearl of the Black Sea .
Although the city is nothing special, pleasant but not really worth mentioning as an obligatory stop during a trip to Bulgaria, unless you have time and want to walk in its center which you can solve in a few hours – it is more the time needed to find parking than for walking to the center. Here it is worth visiting the ancient Roman baths , the largest ancient building discovered so far in Bulgaria.

The uncovered part includes all the main rooms of the baths, covered with marble slabs and multicolored mosaics had been used to decorate the marble walls. I really liked Varna especially for the variety of thermal baths .

For a very “local” and simple experience you can reach the small public swimming pool on the seafront near Rapongi Beach , it is very rustic and small but the pool is directly on the sea.
If instead you want to spend an afternoon, or even a whole day, then reach Saints Constantine and Helena , where the small but famous monastery is also located – it seems that it is the only monastery in the world where there is a water source under the altar miraculous – and without hesitation head to the Aquahouse Termal Beach , where you can peacefully spend even a whole day bathing in pools with water of different temperatures.


About 30 km north of Varna is the delightful Balchik, a small town just above Varna famous for the Balchik Palace , also known as the Quiet Nest Palace . It is a palace built during the Romanians’ occupation of the region and designed by Queen Maria of Romania .
The palace is actually a complex of residential villas with a beautiful garden, a monastery, a sacred source, a chapel, greenhouses of succulent and tropical plants and a cellar.

Balchik Bulgaria

The 7 lakes of Rila

The seven Rila lakes are one of Bulgaria’s natural treasures. Although the trail around the lakes is extremely popular and sometimes even crowded, those who love trekking cannot miss this approximately five-hour walk among the Seven Rila Lakes : Dolnoto (the lower lake), Ribnoto (the fish lake), Trilistnika (the clover), Bliznaka (the twin), Babreka (the kidney), Okoto (the eye) and Salzata (the tear). The seven lakes flow into each other starting the Djerman River .

To do this trek it is possible to reach the Rila Lakes hut with a funicular, from Pionerska Hut , which in about 25 minutes takes you to the start of the route (be careful that if it is windy the funicular does not work) or in about 2 hours it is possible to reach the starting point of the circuit directly from the funicular box office.

7 rila lakes

The Rila Monastery

If you have a few days and you need to choose what to see in the surroundings of Sofia I recommend you reach the Rila Monastery which can also be visited in a day from the capital and which is usually combined with other interesting destinations on a tour.
This is the largest and best-known Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria, it is located almost 1,200 meters above sea level in the Rila Monastery Nature Park .

The monastery was founded in the 10th century and is both an important historical and architectural site, with stunning interiors and a beautiful exterior, where around 60 monks still live today. Its importance to the country has earned it the title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site .

You can visit Rila Monastery in a day trip from Sofia . If you don’t have a car I advise you against trying public transport, you wouldn’t have much time available. 

rila monastery

BONUS – Bolata beach and the Kaliakra Natural Reserve

I promised to write about 10 places but I have to make an exception to the rule by mentioning Cape Kaliakra , considered one of the most beautiful and historic capes in Europe , a protected area since 1941 and one of the few places where rare species of marine life and birds.
Here there is a fortress, which according to legends, the fortress guarded the treasures of Lyzimah , successor of Alexander the Great, which was used by Thracians, Romans, Byzantines and finally the Bulgarians.

In this splendid place overlooking the sea there are remains of all the ancient settlements and there is also a small but interesting museum.

Nearby you must not miss Lake Durankulak, famous for its home to more than 250 rare species of fish, reptiles, amphibians, marsh birds and plants, and an archaeological park called the “Bulgarian Troy” .

The famous Bolata Beach can be reached on foot with a rather simple hike , a very beautiful bay in which you can swim in one of the most evocative stretches of coast in Bulgaria.

The list doesn’t end here, but since I had to limit myself to 10 places (I went overboard by one) then these are my favourites.
If you have extra time available then I recommend you also include Bansko , a well-known ski destination in Bulgaria, and Burgas , a rather large coastal city but loved by kitesurfers, in your itinerary. .

Read also: Explore Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia): A Visitor’s Guide

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