BULGARIA

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Bulgaria Insider

Today we will present, perhaps, an “exotic” country for you. With a territory just a little over 110 000 sq km, It is Europe’s 16th largest countries. Being the country of roses and also my place of birth, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you Bulgaria– The Jewel of Eastern Europe. Writing this page with a hint of patriotism, passion, and eagerness to show you a glimpse of what has been my home for 24 years. Mountain ranges, rivers, waterfalls, rich culture and dark history are just a few of Bulgaria’s most striking characteristics. You will be wowed by the stunning views, the hospitality of the local Bulgarians, the fantastic food, and rich folklore.

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Bulgaria

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5 Most Favorite Experiences

Visit Plovdiv Bulgaria

Visit Europe's Oldest City

The city that sits on 7 hills remains relatively unknown to most travelers, but it's beginning to appear on more and more Balkan itineraries. Plovdiv was a crucial inland route from Western Europe to Constantinople (Istanbul) and Asia Minor, Bulgaria's second city has been held over the centuries by Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans. Remnants of a theater and a stadium as old as the Roman empire are one of the many fascinating sites in what is soon to be the European Capital of Culture. Traveling there now offers the best chance of exploring before it becomes as famous as it deserves to be.

Folklore Festivals

Surva is an international Kukeri Festival that was recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site. Kukeri ( masked and dressed man) from all over Bulgaria and other countries gather for a 3-day “mummery” celebrations. It is indeed a stunning view. It reminds me a lot of the Huli People in Papua New Guinea. Nestinarstvo is the festival of fire dancing! It is one of the oldest traditions in Bulgaria. It is not a dance with fire, it is a dance ON fire. The festival is held to ensure well- being and fertility. It involves a barefoot dance on smoldering embers, and the dancers are called Nestinari.

Open Air Ethnographic Museum

The Ethnographic museum Etar is the first open-air museum of this kind opened in Bulgaria nestled in the mountainous region close to the town of Gabrovo. Do you want to feel the whiff of the past, to enjoy the Renaissance architecture, to observe ancient national customs, then the Ethnographical Museum "Etar" is the place to be. The aim of the museum display is showing the architecture, the lifestyle and the economic past of Gabrovo region during the Revival period - the second half of 18 and the 19 centuries. More than 26 main crafts were developed in the town, and the goods were sold in different parts of the country and in the region - Bucharest, Vienna, Marseille, Anatolia and other.

Rila National Park

Rila National Park

Rila is the largest national park in Bulgaria. It is Located in the central regions of the Rila mountain, about 100km from the capital Sofia. The Park contains rare and endangered wildlife species and communities, self-regulating ecosystems of biological diversity, as well as historic sites of global cultural and scientific significance. Some of the largest rivers in the Balkan Peninsula originate here. The name Rila is derived from the Thracian word "roula", meaning ‘lots of water.’ Bulgaria's fauna diversity is considered to be the biggest in Europe, so expect to see some fascinating animals here. Unfortunately, 9 species of birds had stopped mating and now are in the red book of extinct animals.

Veliko Tarnovo, Tsarevets Fortress

Old Capital- Tarnovo

If you are interested in history in general, head to the old capital of Bulgaria- Veliko (Great) Turnovo where you can find the remnants of the Tsarevets Fortress. Once this was the citadel of the Second Bulgarian Empire and an important center for culture and enlightenment of the Bulgarian people. The Museum of National Revival is also a great place to visit in Veliko Tarnovo. Samovodska charshiya is a market that has a unique character, and it is an intriguing place to spend some time at in the old capital. There you can observe a lot of traditional crafts and have some regional food.

Other SEEs and DOs worth mentioning

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  • Old Town Nessebar
  • The City of Kazanlak
  • Climb Vitosha Mountain
  • Wonderful Bridges
  • Rilski Manastir
  • Go Skiing

Nesebar is an ancient town (the 2nd oldest in Bulgaria, after Plovdiv) and one of the major seaside resorts on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. The small coastal town is charming, full of history and character. One part of it, though, is where the magic really is. Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Centre and more than 3000 years old, the Old Town of Nessebar was a Thracian settlement called Menebria. Fortress from the middle ages and a basilica are just a few of the fascinating monuments left on sight.

The town of Kazanlak and the whole Rose Valley are well worth the visit. If you don't know yet, Bulgaria is the #1 producer of Roses and Lavender (surpassing France by a lot for the last 3 years) You owe it to your senses. When you start getting closer, you will smell roses and lavender everywhere, and the town is very picturesque.

Vitosha is one of the most accessible mountains in Bulgaria. Conveniently located just forty-five minutes outside the capital of Bulgaria- Sofia, and offering all summer and winter mountain sports, makes it the perfect getaway from the city.

The "bridges" are a natural wonder in the Rodopi Mountain. They were formed by the erosive power of the Erkyupryia river. There are only two bridges that remain today due to an earthquake that demolished the others. The larger one is about 15 meters wide and 96 meters long. Definitely a fascinating site.

Maybe you already know that Rila is the tallest mountain in Bulgaria, but it is also the home of the largest Eastern Orthodox Monastery in Bulgaria. It is situated in the southwestern part of the mountains and just seventy miles south from the capital. The monastery is a stunning architectural wonder, best is to see for yourself. Nowadays it houses 60 monks, and it bears the name of its founder hermit Ivan from Rila village.

Bulgaria is an excellent country for all winter sports but most of all skiing. Almost all mountain ranges have ski resorts, and on a good year, a lot of snowfall makes riding the board or skis an enjoyable and fun way to spend some time out in nature with friends and family. Bansko is my preferred ski resort! It is also home to some international ski competitions.

  • Devil's Throat Cave
  • Vrah Shipka
  • Raisko Praskalo
  • Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak
  • Madara

The Devil's throat is a spectacular cave. It is located in the Rodopi mountain very close to the border with Greece. This cave does not offer dazzlingly beautiful rock formations, but it reminds more of an underground kingdom. The Trigrad river falls from a height of forty-two meters down the cave, making it the highest underground waterfall on the Balkan Peninsula.

Mount Shipka is indeed labeled as a National Park (Shipka). This beautiful peak is located in the Old Balkan mountain range that stretches across the country from west to east separating it into two climate zones. Out of many unusual places in Bulgaria, this one is held very dear by a lot of people simply because here, one of the most critical battles of the Russia- Turkish had taken place. The fight for Shipka Pass. All over the park, there are a lot of monuments commemorating the fighting of Shipka.

Another natural wonder in the Central Balkan Region that is worth visiting is Raisko Praskalo Waterfall. It is not only the highest one in Bulgaria, but also on the whole Balkan Peninsula – with a total height of 124.5 meters, it collects waters from the eternal snow-drift, located almost at Botev peak (2,376 meters high) and descends from the Heavenly rocks, located northwest of Ray (Heaven) hut. The waterfall launches a small inflow of Byala river, which winds its forms through alpine pastures, inaccessible precipices, cliffs and rock ridges.

In the town of Kazanlak, which is located in the Rose Valley, an original Thracian tomb from 4th – 3rd century BC is situated in the Tyulbeto park. It is commonly known as the Kazanlak Tomb. It is under a special storage regime. A duplicate, constructed in scale 1:1, which presents the architecture, the archaeological materials and the wall-paintings of the Kazanlak Tomb, is situated next to it. This Tomb is one of the most significant monuments of the Thracian culture in the Bulgarian lands, included in the list of the global cultural inheritance of UNESCO in 1979.

Simple- A horseman carved on a rocky slope. The national historical-archeological reserve “Madara” is located northeast of the city of Shumen, just outside the village of Madara. Towering cliffs, beautiful natural surroundings, and plentiful water drew people here from the dawn of history. The first settlement in the area was during the last Stone Age, and it has been occupied ever since. Rock sanctuaries were found here over the centuries. Palaces, fortresses, temples and hermit's retreats and places for communal celebrations are just some of the sights you can observe here. The earliest inhabitants were Thracians, Romans, Byzantines, Slavs, then Bulgars and Turks. Today dozens of monuments and artifacts from all epochs can be seen.

Eats and Drinks- What and Where?

Banitsa

Banitsa is one of the best things that can happen to your senses. A beautiful mixture of eggs and feta cheese and occasionally spinach or leeks layered between sheets of filo dough and baked to perfection then drizzled with melted butter on top. Sometimes, for New Year's Eve, for example, Bulgarians put written lucky charms on each piece of banitsa.

Bulgarian Cold Soup Tarator

Tarator

Cold soup? Yes, maybe it sounds strange but let me tell you, there is nothing else you would wish for on a hot summer night (other than beer) You probably already know that yogurt is the real deal in Bulgaria. Well, the base ingredient of the cold soup Tarator is yogurt! Then you add finely chopped cucumber, dill, a lot of garlic and sprinkle crushed walnuts on top. Finish it off with a drizzle of olive oil, and voila, you have a refreshing summer soup.

Chuska Burek

Chushka Burek

This dish is one of my favorite and would highly recommend it. Chuski Burek is usually considered an appetizer, but for me was always the main course growing up. It is made with marinated bell peppers that are stuffed with feta or cottage cheese. Then the pepper is dipped in an egg and flour mixture and deep fried to seal the cheese inside. Oh! Delicious!

Rakia in shot glasses

Rakia

Rakia is the Bulgarian "National Spirit Drink." If you ask any Bulgarian about Rakia, they will take you home and serve you homemade version of the drink. It is a clear spirit drink reminding a little bit of vodka but infused in a way similar to gin production. It is usually made out of grapes or plums through fermentation and distillation. Then some fruits, herbs and tree branches are used for infusion to intensify the flavor and smell.

Special wine grape sorts in Bulgaria

Wine

We are very proud of our wines, because of our beautiful, as a lot of winemakers would call, grapes. Different regions in Bulgaria produce different types of grapes that are suitable for different kinds of wines. Our country is famous for the production of Mavrud wine from the Asenovgrad region. I would highly recommend visiting Starosel, very close to Plovdiv, where you can taste fantastic wine and just have a relaxing day at the winery- hotel resort.

Insider Tips Bulgaria

Transportation

Depending on whether you are going to be hopping between multiple cities or just enjoying the culture and heritage of one- there will be different transportation methods that I would suggest. If you are exploring the beauty of the country from the city to the mountain villages, through plains to the coast- I would recommend renting a car as it gives more freedom and flexibility. However, if you are just staying in Plovdiv, Sofia or Varna, for example, the public transportation is well developed, and you can quickly reach all destinations with it.

Budget

Budget is always a grey area because every person would spend different depending on what they can afford, but Bulgaria is not going to rip a hole in your pocket in any way. The food is affordable- a nice meal at a restaurant can be between 15-20 leva. Which is about 10-12 USD. If you are visiting museums or national heritage sites, the entrance fees are symbolic or free. Want to enjoy Bulgaria's nightlife? It is not going to cost you an arm and a leg.

Documents

Entrance in Bulgaria is permitted without a tourist visa for up to 90 days as long as you have a valid passport with 6 months or more. It is always best to check whether you need a visa or not based on your citizenship before you leave. I use an app called Travisa that gives me a good idea of whether a visa is required or not but it is also best to double check with official authorities such as the Embassy.​

Currency

The official currency of Bulgaria is the Bulgarian Lev. Cash is the preferred method of payment, although credit and debit cards are also widely accepted nowadays. Checks do not exist as a form of payment in Bulgaria. EUR is more likely to be accepted in some places rather than USD, so its better to just get the local currency LEV. There is a lot of street ATM type of currency exchange machines where you can easily exchange money from many different currencies.

Etiquette

There is no specific etiquette here when it comes to everyday life. Most important I would say is table manners and respect to the elders. Generally, I would try to veer away from saying "no" or refusing if locals are inviting me for a drink or lunch/ dinner, you will never regret you answered with "yes", the cuisine is fascinating.

Travel Tips and Resources

We have put together original articles to further help you with your travel planning! In the links below, you can find information about transportation, lodging, insurance, planning and booking tips and tricks that we use to make our trip ideas come to life.

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