Bulgaria is an up-and-coming destination in Europe which is mostly known for the Black Sea resorts, the Rila Monastery and its capital Sofia. The country is a real hidden gem offering beautiful mountains, unparalleled nature, great ski-resorts, quaint little villages, thriving cities, and lovely beaches. Let me take you on a journey along the most beautiful places in Bulgaria.
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Selecting the places to feature in this post wasn’t easy. The first criteria I used was the places that I personally love, the second one was which places would be of interest for you as a visitor. Places, that will showcase the beauty of the nature and the rich cultural and historical heritage.
So, here they are, the best places to visit in Bulgaria, carefully selected by a native Bulgarian, divided into 6 categories. And believe me, I could have added at least 10 items per category and at least 5 more categories, but the point is to show you the best of the best, so that you will fall in love with Bulgaria.
- 1 5 Most beautiful cities in Bulgaria
- 2 5 Most beautiful small towns in Bulgaria
- 3 5 Most beautiful villages in Bulgaria
- 4 5 Most beautiful historical places in Bulgaria
- 5 5 Most beautiful nature wonders in Bulgaria
- 6 5 Most beautiful places at the Black Sea
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5 Most beautiful cities in Bulgaria
I know I’ve said this would be the 5 most beautiful cities in Bulgaria, but I can add some more to the list, like Smolyan, Burgas or Blagoevgrad. But for now, let’s just focus on the must-see ones: Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv, Sofia, Varna and Ruse. There’s always been this rivalry between Veliko Tarnovo and Plovdiv for the title of the most beautiful city in Bulgaria. For me, Veliko Tarnovo will always be the most beautiful one. Well, I need to confess that I am pretty partial as I used to live in Veliko Tarnovo.
1. Veliko Tarnovo
Veliko Tarnovo (Велико Търново in Bulgarian) was Bulgaria’s capital during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396) and the whole city breaths history. But this is not what it makes it the most beautiful place in the country. The city is actually built on a few hills along a horse-shoe bend of Yantra River, which allows for some picturesque views of the houses perched on the hills. For the most beautiful views go to the Stambolov Bridge.
When in Veliko Tarnovo, do not miss visiting Tsarevets Fortress (it’s included further down at the important historical places section) and Samovodska Charshia – the old market street with lovely handcrafts shops.
1. Best things to do in Veliko Tarnovo – a complete travel guide
2. Off-the-beaten-path places in Veliko Tarnovo – a guide to the city’s hidden gems
3. A complete guide to the hotels in Veliko Tarnovo
The layers of history are visible everywhere in Plovdiv (Пловдив in Bulgarian). When in Plovdiv do not miss the impressive Ancient Roman Theater, built in 1st century AD. Take a stroll in the quaint Old Town and admire the colorful houses in National Revival Style. Plovdiv is a real hub for arts and culture, and the best place to discover this is the Kapana district with its numerous art galleries. For the most beautiful views of the city get to Nebet tepe (one of the 7 hills on which the city was built).
1. From North to South Bulgaria – a Road Trip to Remember – an itinerary for a road trip in Bulgaria featuring some of the most beautiful places in Bulgaria
Sofia (София in Bulgarian) is Bulgaria’s capital – busy, thriving, hipster and yet full of historical heritage. Some of the best museums are located in Sofia. Visit the National Museum of History to see the famous Panagyurishte Treasure (400 BC – 300 BC) and take a look at the National Art Gallery to learn more about Bulgarian art.
When in Sofia, do not miss the imposing Alexander Nevski Cathedral and walk around the Serdika Excavations – a free open-air museum of the Ancient Roman City of Serdika. Take a stroll along the recently renovated Vitosha Boulevard and if you are spending more time in the city go for a walk in the nearby Vitosha Mountain.
They call Varna (Варна in Bulgarian) the Sea Capital of Bulgaria and indeed Varna is a beautiful seaside town which in the summer months is one of the most visited destinations in Bulgaria. My favorite place in the city is without a doubt the Sea Garden – a lovely park that stretches a level up along the coastline. The beaches in Varna are public and they are an absolute must in the summer. Also there are numerous cafes and restaurant along the beach, where you can relax or grab a bite.
Varna is also the Festival capital of Bulgaria in the summer months with the famous International Ballet Competition, Varna Summer International Music Festival, Love is Folly International Film Festival and Varna International Folklore Festival. If you are a museum lover, Varna won’t disappoint you either. There is the National Naval Museum, the History Museum and the Varna Aquarium – my favorite place to visit as a kid.
Ruse (Русе in Bulgarian) is quite different from the rest of the cities in Bulgaria. It has more of a ‘European’ look, the Bulgarians would say. Indeed, you won’t find in Ruse buildings in the typical for Bulgaria National Revival style (like in Veliko Tarnovo or Plovdiv), but rather in the Neo-Classical, Neo-Baroque and Neo-Rococo styles. Ruse was actually the gate where all Western influences entered Bulgaria in the 19th and the earlier 20th centuries, after the country gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878.
When in Ruse, walk along the Danube River, visit the Transport Museum (if you are into old trains, I personally love this museum) and the Ruse Historical Museum. At the Historical Museum you can see the famous Borovo Silver Treasure (383 BC – 359 BC) – one of the Thracian treasures found in Bulgaria.
5 Most beautiful small towns in Bulgaria
Bulgaria’s little towns are full of charm. Some of them are already developed travel destinations, but their international popularity is still to come. This is what it makes them real hidden gems for the international tourist. I wouldn’t exaggerate if I say that every little town deserves to be in this category if I were to judge only about its cuteness. Here are some other little places that didn’t make it to the list but still deserve to be mentioned: Troyan, Apriltsi, Kotel, Velingrad.
Kazanluk, or Kazanlak, (Казанлък in Bulgarian) is located in the Rose Valley, where roses and lavender are grown for the perfume industry. You might not know this, but Bulgaria is one of the biggest exporters in the world of rose oil. In Kazanluk you can visit the Rose Museum, dedicated to the rose growing and rose oil production. For the ultimate experience, visit the town at the end of May – beginning of June when the roses are harvested and take part in the amazing Rose Festival.
Kazanluk also boasts one of the most famous attractions in Bulgaria – the Thracian Tomb of Kazanluk (4 c. BC), a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
1. Exploring Thracian Tombs in Bulgaria – featuring 2 of the Thracian Tombs in Bulgaria which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Thracian Tombs of Kazanluk and the Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari
Not many places around the world can boast as an all-year-round tourist destination, but little Bansko (Банско in Bulgarian) can. Located in the foot of the Pirin mountain, this Bulgarian town is equally attractive in both winter and summer. A famous ski-resort in the winter, in the summer Bansko is a paradise for hikers, mountain bikers and nature lovers. Pirin National Park starts where the town ends and the Old Town is undeniably charming. Visit the lovely Velyan’s House, a fine example of Bulgarian Revival architecture, and the St. Trinity Church – the symbol of the town.
Tucked away in the Rhodope Mountains, almost at the border with Greece, Zlatograd (Златоград in Bulgarian) is Bulgaria’s Southernmost town – a real hidden gem, totally off-the-beaten-path and yet super charming and worth the visit. The Old Town has been recently restored and it is one of the most romantic places in the country. When I visited the place for the first I fell instantly in love with it and I am sure you will also do.
Tryavna (Трявна in Bulgarian) is a small town with lovely houses in the National Revival Style, that’s bustling with life. You can admire the clock tower (1814) in the middle of the square, which is the only square in Bulgaria in National Revival Style, preserved in completely intact state from those days. This place breathes and radiates history. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was an important hub where education and revolutionary ideas were bred.
Tryavna is also famous for the woodcarving and applied arts. Visit the Daskalov House to admire the masterpieces on the ceilings and hear the story of the apprentice who outmastered his master in a woodcarving competition.
Don’t even bother trying to pronounce this place’s name. The locals will forgive you any variant of it, knowing that you will be struck by the beauty of this place with its colorful houses scattered in the valley along the Topolnitsa River. Koprivshtitsa (Копривщица in Bulgarian) was one of the most important towns during the Bulgarian National Revival (1762 – 1878), where you can still find the revolutionary spirit. When in Koprivshtitsa, visit one of the many house-museums to learn about the history of the place. Once in 5 years the place welcomes folklore singers, dancers and musicians from all over the country, when the renowned Festival of Authentic Bulgarian Folklore takes place in the town.
5 Most beautiful villages in Bulgaria
There are so many of them and they are all cute, charming, adorable, just name it. In the last centuries a lot of villages, especially in the mountains, have been abandoned. People moved to the big cities in search for better work and education opportunities, and the villages were left to their own faith. This is why they all look as if time has stopped like a century ago. However, in the last decennium the village life is having a small renaissance and lots of young people are moving back to escape the hectic of the big cities. Here i’ve chosen 5 villages that are also famous tourist attractions.
This little village is perched on a hill above Veliko Tarnovo and offers breathtaking views of the city. Stroll along the cobbled streets and get back in time with the houses dating back to the Bulgarian National Revival (18th – 19th century). When in Arbanasi, or Arbanassi (Арбанаси in Bulgarian), do not miss the Konstantsaliev House – an ethnographic museum, where you will have the opportunity to see how the houses looked in that period and how people lived then. The indisputable gem in this cute little village is the Church of the Nativity – a richly decorated 16th century church with beautiful frescoes and the eye-catching Wheel of Life.
The ex-communist leader of Bulgaria – Todor Zhivkov (in office 1954-1989) had one of his residences in the village. Today, it’s a posh 5-star hotel, but you can still access the terrace of the building from where you will have one of those scenic views of Veliko Tarnovo.
Zheravna (Жеравна in Bulgarian) is another cute little village in Stara Planina (Balkan Mountains) with well-preserved period architecture with wooden-clad houses and cobblestone streets. When in Zheravna, visit the lovely St. Nicholas Church, the local art gallery located in a former school, or one of the houses-museums.
13. Shiroka Luka
Shiroka Luka, or Shiroka Laka, (Широка Лъка in Bulgarian) is a super tiny village in the Rhodope Mountains famous for its traditional houses with stone slab roofs, the idyllic mountain views and the school for traditional Bulgarian music. It feels as if time has stopped a century or two ago. Shiroka Luka is a perfect day trip if you are staying in Smolyan or at the nearby ski resorts Pamporovo and Chepelare.
Etara, or Etarat (Етара in Bulgarian) is one of the most picturesque places in Bulgaria and a preferred place by the locals for a day trip. Actually this village is an ethnographic museum, dotted with traditional workshops, where you can see how things were made in the past. Most of these crafts (22 in total) are pretty much extinguished, but you can see how fur caps are made, or cattle harnesses, or knives. All craftsmen sell their handmade products, which make great souvenirs.
When in Etara, you should get to the local café and try their Turkish coffee made on sand and the local delicacy Byalo Sladko (White Candy) – a sort of a fresh marshmallow mixture that hasn’t dried up yet, served in a spoon in a glass with ice water.
Let’s start with the fact that Melnik (Мелник in Bulgarian) is not a village, but the smallest town in Bulgaria with a population of only 194. Located in the Southwestern Bulgaria, in the Pirin Mountain, this place is absolutely gorgeous with the Melnik Earth Pyramids as a backdrop. When in Melnik, visit the Kordopulov House with its famous wine cellars and the local history museum located at the Pashov House. Just a short walk from the town is the Rozhen Monastery (13th century) – one of the most famous monasteries in the country. Do not miss to try the local Melnik wine, which is one of the most famous wines of Bulgaria, produced from the vine of the same name.
5 Most beautiful historical places in Bulgaria
This is perhaps the most difficult of all lists, as there are so many important (and beautiful) historical places in Bulgaria. Let me just mention the two old capitals of the country: Preslav and Pliska, Nicopolis ad Istrum, which is on the Tentative List of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Valley of the Thracian Kings, the Preobrazhensky Monastery, the Bachkovo Monastery, Asen’s Fortress… I told you, the list just goes on and on, and it can’t be otherwise, as Bulgaria is a destination with rich historical heritage.
Tsarevets Fortress (Царевец in Bulgarian) is perhaps the most famous attraction and historical place in Bulgaria. Located in Veliko Tarnovo, the capital of the glorious Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1185-1396), Tsarevets was the place where the aristocracy lived. Nowadays you can visit the ruins of the king’s palace, the ramparts, some houses and churches. On the top of the hill there’s the Patriarchal Church. When you make it to the top, take a deep breath and enjoy one of the most beautiful views you would ever see! The interior of the church is pretty sombre, it features modernist murals painted in the 80’s. Take a look for yourself and decide whether you will like them or not. IMHO, they are the most depressing thing that I have ever seen.
17. Rila Monastery
Rila Monastery (Рилски манастир in Bulgarian) is the most visited landmark in Bulgaria and for sure the most famous one outside of the country. Tucked away in the heart of Rila Mountain, some 100 km to the south of Sofia, this UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts about 800 000 visitors per year. The monastery was founded by Saint Ivan of Rila in the 10th century, who was the first hermit of Bulgaria. He is also patron saint of Bulgaria.
The richly fresco-ed monastery is the biggest one in Bulgaria and actually has the status of a settlement with a population of 58 people. The monastery as we know it today, dates back to the early 19th century when it was rebuilt after a fire.
18. Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo
The Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo (Ивановски скални манастири/църкви in Bulgarian) are one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria and for a reason. This unique complex of churches, chapels and cloisters is actually dug out in the rocks some 30 m above the Rusenski Lom River. The first monastery in the natural cavities in the rocks was established at the beginning of the 13th century. Today, we can admire there some of the few frescoes remaining from the glorious days of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom (1185 – 1396).
Perperikon or Perperek (Перперикон / Перперек in Bulgarian) is perhaps one the most mystical and controversial historical sites in Bulgaria. It is an ancient Thracian city which was a sanctuary or a place of worship. The archeological excavations started in 2000 and until now there are excavated a church, a giant palace, a citadel, various temples and residences. Some historians believe that the temple of Dionysus was uncovered there in 2002.
If there is one monument that’s equally dear and special to all Bulgarians, it’s for sure the Shipka Monument (Шипка in Bulgarian). The monument was finished in 1930 and is dedicated to those who died in the decisive Battle at the Shipka Pass in 1878 during the Russo-Turkish Wars.
This place is a symbol of the courage and the bravery of those who died for the liberation of Bulgaria. On the national holiday of Bulgaria – 3 March, the national celebrations are held at the Shipka Monument. The monument stands on the top of Stoletov Peak. From there you have an amazing panoramic view, as if you can see the whole of Bulgaria from there. Well, you will see a small part of it.
5 Most beautiful nature wonders in Bulgaria
This is perhaps the most difficult of all categories to choose from, as nature in Bulgaria is so diverse – mountains, valleys, plains, rivers, beaches. Here, I have selected the most emblematic places of Bulgaria and some natural wonders. There are 3 national parks in Bulgaria, 11 nature parks and hundreds of nature reserves and protected areas. A register of the natural landmarks in Bulgaria has been established, which include 345 sites with the status of protected natural monuments.
21. Seven Rila Lakes
The Seven Rila Lakes (Седемте Рилски езера in Bulgarian) are the most popular destination among nature lovers in Bulgaria. The seven glacial lakes are interconnected with each other and are located in Rila Mountains at an elevation of 2100 – 2500 m. There is a chairlift that will take you to the trailhead. The hike around the lakes takes about 4 hours and is of moderate difficulty. And the scenery is simply gorgeous.
22. Belogradchik Rocks
Belogradchik Rocks (Белоградчишки скали in Bulgarian) are a group of rock formations with weird shapes. The fantastic rock forms has inspired the imagination of the locals and they have given them names like the Mushroom, Adam and Eve, the Bear, the Lion, the Maid’s Rock. Nearby the Rocks is located the Belogradchik fortress – Kaleto.
23. Trigrad Gorge
The breathtaking Trigrad Gorge (Триградското ждрело in Bulgarian) is located in Southern Bulgaria in the Rhodope Mountain. The vertical rocks hang above the tiny road along the Trigrad River and create these exciting views. The gorge will lead you all the way to the Devil’s Throat Cave where the river just disappears, forming the biggest underground waterfall in Europe (42 m high).
24. Stob Earth Pyramids
Stob Earth Pyramids (Стобски пирамиди in Bulgarian) are a hoodoo-type of geological formation in Southwest Bulgaria. They are located a few kilometers away from the village of Stob in the foothills of Rila Mountain. Some of the pyramids are conical, topped by a flat stone like a mushroom, others end sharp. They average 10 m in height and at the base they are about 40 m in diameter. Locals have given them names like the Wedding Couple, the Brothers, the Towers.
25. The Stone Forest
The Stone Forest or the Desert Forest (Побити камъни in Bulgarian) is a rock formation near Varna that looks as if someone has planted stone columns in the sand. This is also why they are called that way Bulgaria. The area is one of the two naturally formed deserts in Europe and is quite extraordinary. You can find there reptiles and cacti typical of a desert. The stone columns average 5-7 m in height and are up to 3 m thick at the base.
5 Most beautiful places at the Black Sea
Unfortunately, there aren’t left many of them along the Black Sea Coast. The short-sighted Bulgarian governments in the last 30 years contributed to the disappearing of lots of beautiful and unique places along the Black Sea Coast aiming at developing the tourism in the area in the wrong direction. A direction that wipes out everything that makes the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast unique and special and turns into an all-inclusive resort for binge-drinking stag and hen parties.
I can’t write about the most beautiful places in Bulgaria without that bitterness in the voice, as I am witnessing how places have been ruined, hotels have been built and abandoned unfinished, just for the sake of attracting more foreign tourists at any cost. You can still develop the tourism in an area but in a sustainable and responsible way with respect to the local communities, which unfortunately hasn’t been among the priorities of the Bulgarian governments in the last 40 years.
Nesebar, or Nessebar (Несебър in Bulgarian), is an absolutely adorable little town at the Southern Black Sea Coast. Located on a tiny rocky peninsula, Nesebar is perhaps the most popular destination at the Black Sea in Bulgaria. Because of its historical significance and well-preserved ancient churches (there’re more than 40 of them!) it has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Nesebar visit the ramparts of the ancient fortress Mesembria and the Ethnographic Museum. The whole Old Town actually is an open-air archeological museum.
Sozopol (Созопол in Bulgarian) is another lovely seaside town. With its wooden-clad fisherman houses and cobblestone streets it attracts a lot of tourists in the summer months. The roots of the town go way back in the past to the Bronze Age, when the first settlement appeared there. The Old Town is simply gorgeous! When in Sozopol, visit the old ramparts, the Archeological Museum and the Ethnographic Museum. At the beginning of September one of the most popular annual art events in Bulgaria takes place in Sozopol – the Apollonia Festival of Arts. Apollonia is the ancient name of the town, as there was a temple dedicated to Apollo.
Balchik (Балчик in Bulgarian) is located to the north of Varna and is a famous tourist destinations among the Bulgarians. The city had a turbulent past changing hands a few time between Romania and Bulgaria at the beginning of the 20th century. The most famous attraction in Balchik is the Palace – the summer residence in oriental style of the last Queen of Romania (1914 – 1927) – Marie of Edinburgh. As this was her favorite place, her heart stayed buried there until 1940, when it was moved to the Bran castle. Adjacent to the Palace of Balchik is another famous attraction – the Botanical Garden, which has the second-largest collection of cactus species in Europe.
Cape Kaliakra (Калиакра in Bulgarian) with its 70m-high steep reddish cliffs is one of the most picturesque places on the Black Sea coast. Besides being of great historical importance, the narrow, 2-km long, headland sits on 2nd largest bird migration route from Europe to Africa, making it a really special place. The whole area is a natural reserve also because of the steppe grasslands and the unique flora and fauna found there.
At Cape Kaliakra you can visit the ramparts of an old fortress, dating back to the 4th century BC. There is an archeological museum in one of the caves there, where you can see artefacts found in the area. There is also the Chapel of St Nicholas, dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Myra, patron-saint of sailors and fishermen, among others. One of the legends about Kaliakra is connected with the name of the saint.
At the beginning of the 21st century there was built a wind turbine park on the shore. It not only pollutes the view, but also has a huge negative impact on the environment. In 2017 the European Commission sued Bulgaria because it allowed the building of the wind farm, a golf course and a holiday village in the protected area. It is sad to see how unique nature is turned into an attraction park without a view to sustainability and responsible management of the natural resources.
Ropotamo (Ропотамо in Bulgarian) is one of the most beautiful nature reserves in the country. The Ropotamo River flows into the Black Sea and its wide estuary (liman) is home to rich flora and fauna. There you can find about 100 endangered species. The Ropotamo reserve is famous for the water lilies and the fantastic rock formations. There are forests, swamps, beaches and dunes. You can visit the reserve by boat or follow one of the 8 marked routes.