Last updated on August 24th, 2023 at 07:34 am
When thinking about Bulgaria, I am sure that most of you are only familiar with one place, and that is Sofia. And even though the capital is worth visiting, I can’t emphasize enough how many other gorgeous places there are to see in this country.
Don’t get me wrong, Sofia is definitely one of the must-sees here. However, if you only decide to visit the capital, you won’t get a true idea of what Bulgaria is really like. This place has so much more to offer – from pristine sandy beaches, to high mountainous peaks and endless valleys. Not only that, but Bulgaria is also among the oldest countries in Europe. History and culture has played a huge role in the development of the country. And Bulgarians love preserving their culture and talking about their history.
If you’re still not getting the picture of what’s expecting you here, then keep reading. I have compiled a list of 25 gorgeous places to visit in Bulgaria, apart from Sofia. May the inspiration for your next trip start flowing… now!
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Best cities and towns to visit in Bulgaria
Plovdiv has been claimed as one of the oldest cities in the world and the oldest city in Europe, even older than Athens. This can mean only one thing – incredibly rich history, roman ruins, beautiful old architecture and unreplicable ‘old-town’ vibes.
This is the number one must-see place in Bulgaria (at least according to me and many others), and I’d even recommend spending more days in Plovdiv than in Sofia. The reason is simple – it has more to offer.
Reaching Plovdiv is easy, even if you don’t have a car. No matter whether you land in Sofia or Varna, you can take a bus from the central bus station of the city, which will take you directly here. Communing by train is also an option, though bus is usually faster.
Check out my detailed guide about the best things to do in Plovdiv!
2. Veliko Tarnovo
Along with Plovdiv, Veliko Tarnovo is one of my most favourite cities in all of Bulgaria. Being a former capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom between 12th and 14th century, this place has quite a bit to offer as well.
The city is located on the beautiful Yantra river, and it also lies on three hilld, the tallest one being Tsarevets. Tsarevets is also the main attraction of Veliko Tarnovo – you can visit the remains of a massive medieval fortress with a beautiful view over the city.
Check out my detailed guide about the best things to do in Veliko Tarnovo!
Welcome to the sea capital of Bulgaria! This is the third largest city of the country and the biggest seaside resort, attracting many tourists during the summer season thanks to its beautiful coastline and city vibes.
Fun fact – the oldest gold treasure in the world, dating back to 4200 – 4600 BC, was found in Varna. The artifacts can be seen at the Varna Archeological Museum, as well as at the National History Museum in Sofia.
Varna offers something for anyone’s taste – sandy beaches, lively bars and clubs, beautiful gardens, lots of restaurants and shops and fun activities to do. Nowadays low-cost flights with Wizz Air and Ryanair make reaching Varna easier than ever, but you could also catch a bus/train from Sofia, or any other city in the country for that matter.
Here is a detailed list of the best things to do in Varna in a weekend.
Photo credit: Andrey Andreev
Koprivshtitsa is known for its old authentic Bulgarian architecture, folk festivals and important historical sights. It’s certainly a favourite among locals, but quite underrated when it comes to foreign tourists.
Along with the Old Town of Plovdiv, Koprivshtitsa is one of the best preserved and most characteristic Bulgarian towns, still holding the atmosphere from the Bulgarian National Revival period. The history of this place has a lot to do with the uprising against the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, hence why it holds a special place in the hearts of many Bulgarians.
Ever since 1965 the National Festival of Bulgarian Folklore is being held every 5 years in Koprivshtitsa and gathers musicians, dancers and artists from all around the country.
Otherwise called “the Little Vienna”, Ruse lies on the Danube river, bordering the Romanian city of Giurgiu. Its architecture is strongly influenced by the Neo-Baroque and Neo-Rococo style, which gives it a unique Middle-European touch, which can’t be seen anywhere else in the country.
There are many things to see around the city as well – the Natural Park Rusenski Lom, the Rock Churches of Ivanovo, which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the medieval town of Cherven and more.
Best seaside resorts to visit in Bulgaria
Are you visiting in the midst of a cold winter or beautiful sunny summer and you’re looking for a place to enjoy your holiday? Here are a few suggestions for each of these seasons!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Sozopol is one of my most favourite seaside resorts in Bulgaria. If you’re looking for a chill holiday in a beautiful place with a historical touch – this is for you. Sozopol has a lot to offer to its visitors – there is a wide choice of sandy beaches, numerous restaurants with delicious traditional food, as well as a historical Old Town, which gives you a good feeling of what Bulgaria used to look like in the past.
Be sure to also check out my blog post about the best beach resorts in Bulgaria (as well as which to avoid).
Another great choice on the Black Sea coast is Nesebar. I know you’ve all heard of Sunny Beach… Well, Nessebar is located extremely close to it (less than 10km) and, unless you’re looking for crazy party nights, it’s a much better alternative. Just like Sozopol, Nesebar has a beautiful Old Town. Are you looking for a place where you can do some sightseeing in the morning and enjoy the sun rays at the beach in the afternoon? Consider Nesebar for your next vacation!
Famous for its beautiful botanical gardens, Balchik is another beautiful coastal town that is worth visiting. Surprisingly, Balchik is not amongst the most popular seaside resorts, which makes it a perfect getaway from other busy places. Don’t miss the palace with its gorgeous gardens, located a couple of kilometers west along the promenade.
Best mountain resorts to visit in Bulgaria
Moving on to the perfect vacation spots for winter and ski lovers, Bansko surely takes the top place. In fact, Bansko has the longest ski runs in the country. The place offers excellent conditions for skiing and snowboarding, and if you’re not really into that, there are also a few other things you can do. Walk around the Old Town, pamper yourself at a spa, or just indulge in all the delicious food at the local traditional restaurants.
Pamporovo is another very popular ski resort, which is told to be very suitable for families with children, as well as complete beginners at skiing. The winters in Pamporovo tend to be mild and sunny, while the snowfall lasts for a long time, which makes it a perfect winter getaway.
Beautiful natural wonders and historical sights to visit in Bulgaria
11. The Seven Rila Lakes
The Seven Rila Lakes is one of the most iconic places in Bulgaria and a definite must-see for all nature lovers. Even if you’re not much of a hiker, you should still go see it! This beautiful area consists of seven glacier lakes high in the mountains – between 2,100 and 2,500 meters above sea level.
Locals are obsessed with these lakes and most of them have hiked to the very top at least a few times in their lives. No wonder – the view is absolutely stunning. The main walking route takes approximately 2.5 – 3 hours to get the last and highest lake, and the level of difficulty is not considered high. You can either sign up for an organised tour from Sofia or get your own vehicle and drive to the Rila Mountains yourself. Whichever way you choose – you won’t regret it.
12. The Rila Monastery
Another gem located in the Rila mountains is the Rila Monastery – one of Bulgaria’s most important cultural, archeological and historical monuments. It is also one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country. The monastery dates back to the 10th century and, as impressive as it is on the outside, it is even more impressive inside. Beautiful frescos, rich collection of icons and wood carvings, many preserved cultural items are some of the things that can be seen.
Shared shuttles run every day from Sofia and the drive there takes about 2 hours. You can also reach the Rila Monastery with your own vehicle – the roads are well maintained and there is parking in close proximity.
13. Belogradchik Rocks
The Belogradchik Rocks is a group of impressive rock formations, located in the Western part of the Balkan Mountains, near the town of Belogradchik. Many foreigners I’ve talked to, who have visited this site, admitted that it is one of their absolute favourite places in the whole country. Getting to the top and observing the view from above can be a very humbling, yet extraordinary experience – endless mountain peaks, lush forests and almost no people around.
The formation of the rocks started about 230 million years ago, during the Permian period, and has been developing ever since. Belogradchik was named as one of twenty finalists by the European Commission as a “European Destination of Excellence” in 2008. The Belogradchik Rocks were even named as Bulgaria’s nomination in the campaign for the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2009. They are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Arbanasi is small village, known for its many historical monuments and rich history. It is located in very close proximity to Veliko Tarnovo (only about 4km), which makes it a perfect day trip location if you’re in the surroundings. The town is representative of old Bulgarian National Revival architecture, which makes it a popular tourist destination, especially among locals.
15. Pobiti Kamani
Another rock phenomenon on the Bulgarian territory is so-called Stone Desert. Located close to Varna, Pobiti Kamani is one of the few deserts found in Europe. Not only that, but it is also one of the few places where desert type plants, such as cactus, are growing, and desert animals are found. The place consists of dunes and natural rock formations, mostly in the shape of columns.
16. Cape Kaliakra
Cape Kaliakra is a historical place at the Black Sea Coast, a narrow piece of land going into the water, offering a mesmerizing view of the seemingly endless sea, remnants of fortified walls and dolphins swimming around. The place is associated with an old famous legend about 40 Bulgarian girls, who decided to tie their long hair together and jump into the Black Sea, instead of being captured by the Ottomans during the Ottoman rule back in the days.
Nowadays Kazanlak is a small industrial centre, but what sets it apart from other places in the country are a few interesting facts. For one, it is located on lands, which were previously ruled by the Thracians! You get what that means? You can find Thracian remnants here, and more specifically – the Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak. Secondly, the city is the centre of rose oil extraction in Bulgaria, as it is located very closely to the Rose Valley.
In Kazanlak you can find the only museum in the world, dedicated to roses. There is also a Rose Festival being thrown during the last week of May – beginning of June. People parade and dance around with roses, a Rose queen is being crowned, and you can actually observe the process of rose picking. Needless to say, Kazanlak has been attracting quite a few tourists, especially at the time of the festival.
The Architectural-Ethnographic Complex Etar, or the so-called “Etara”, is essentially neighborhood which serves as an open-air museum. It is located in Northern Bulgaria in the city of Gabrovo. The complex aims at illustrating the architecture, economy and way of living in the region during the Bulgarian National Revival period in the 18th and 19th century. You can see typical Bulgarian revival houses and learn about old Bulgarian culture, customs and craftsmanship.
Caves, caves and more caves to visit in Bulgaria
Yes, Bulgaria is a very ‘cave-y’ place. So let’s look at some of the most beautiful and visit-worthy places that fit into this category.
19. Magura cave
The Magura cave is home to over 700 drawings from different ages, dating back to the Stone age. You can see drawings of humans, animals, cult rituals and even one of the first calendars from the Neolithic age with 366 days in a year.
If you’re visiting the Belogradchik Rocks mentioned above, put this cave on your itinerary as well, as both places are located in close proximity to each other.
20. Devetashka Cave
In my opinion, this is one of the most impressive and beautiful caves in all of Bulgaria. It is not a typical cave, and it’s probably something you’ve never seen before. The place is massive and it makes you feel kind of insignificant.. But in a good way. The Devetashka cave is actually so awesome that it was shown in the action movie The Expendables 2.
21. Prohodna cave
Kind of similar to the Devetashka cave, but yet also very different, Prohodna cave is famous for the Eyes of God formation. The name of the cave literally means “the Passage cave”, and that’s what it actually is – a passage underneath the mountains. There is no fee to enter. It can also be considered a rock climbers’ paradise, as rock climbing is allowed and it’s perfect both on a nice day and for when it’s raining outside.
22. Dyavolski Most
Dating back to the 16th century, the bridge was built by a local man during the time of the Ottoman occupation. Getting there requires some walking, but the views on the way and once you get there are unbeatable. Pack some food and drinks and have a picnic in the surroundings while enjoying this historical place.
Perperikon is an ancient Thracian city, where human activity dates back to 5000 BC. Even though only discovered a couple of decades ago, Perperikon embodies history that covers several eras. It can easily be said that this is one of the most valuable archeological discoveries on Bulgarian territory – Thracians, Romans, Byzantines and Bulgarians have left their marks here.
With its 12 square km, Perperikon is also the largest megalithic complex in the Balkans.
24. Krushuna Falls
The Krushuna Falls is a series of waterfalls located in Northern Bulgaria. The hike there is known as the shortest eco-trail in the country, so wandering around is not physically demanding and quite pleasurable. The colour of the water in the lakes varies and it can get so crystal blue, that at some point you might think you’re on an exotic island somewhere in Asia.
If you’re visiting the Devetashka cave, make sure to stop by the Krushuna Falls, as they’re only 15 km away.
25. Eagle’s Eye Viewpoint (Yagodina)
If you’re not afraid of heights and you love mountainous views, the Eagle’s Eye viewpoint is for you. It’s a platform, built at the edge of a cliff, with an altitude of 1563 metres. The views of the surrounding area are incredible, to say the least.
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This article is also available in Bulgarian.
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