If Bulgaria’s not on your bucket list, it should be. If it is, this may spark your imagination and encourage you to book that trip. If you’re already going – this should be a helpful itinerary including some tricks and tricks for this crazy beautiful country.
I spent the last 2 weeks of May travelling across Bulgaria; exploring cities, towns, mountains and beaches. I experienced insane landscapes, striking architecture, friendly locals and delicious food. I can’t recommend Bulgaria enough and I would love to spend another couple of weeks out there.
We managed to squeeze 16 blissful nights out of our Bulgarian voyage. This is how we spent our time:
- Sofia, 3 nights
- Sapareva Banya, 3 nights
- Plovdiv, 3 nights
- Veliko Tarnovo, 3 nights
- Sozopol, 4 nights
We had a good amount of time in each place to get to know them well and move slowly across the country. As with everywhere, I could’ve spent double or triple the time there. Read on to here more detail about each place on our route!
Sofia – 3 nights
We flew into the capital and spent the first few days of our trip enjoying this amazing city and visiting the most popular tourist attraction for Bulgaria. You should not skip Sofia, and if I could’ve had longer I would’ve. There’s a lot to see and do, it’s always a buzz of activity and it has a very unique character worth getting to know.
Top things to do
- Stroll around the boulevards, visiting the churches, museums and galleries
- Experience City Garden in the evening where you’ll find lots of people, a great atmosphere and possibly some live music
- Visit Rila Monasetery
- Get a bus 2 and a half hours into the countryside to experience the sheer serenity and spellbinding architecture of Rila Monastery
See my helpful post about Rila Monastery for the details! Rila Monastery from Sofia
- The airport is only a short distance from the city centre. There is a bus but this doesn’t run late at night, in which case you’ll need a taxi. I am told these are not too expensive – like everything in Bulgaria.
- There are a few bus stations so make sure you get the right one. Ask in one of the tourist info centres about the route you need and they will help you.
- There is the big central bus station, the *** next door and the West bus station which is in the opposite direction (and is where you get the bus to Rila Monastery from)
- The metro is great and will get you to the central bus station. It’s very cheap and simple
- The no. 5 tram will get you to the west bus station and to lots of other places around the city
See my delightful account of Sofia in this post: Expect the Unexpected in Sofia
Sapareva Banya (for the Rila mountins) – 3 nights
In my opinion, you can’t do Bulgaria properly without visiting one of the mountain ranges and attempting a hike. Bulgaria is mountains and countryside, so you can’t miss it. The Rila Mountains are closest to Sofia, are easy to get to by public transport and are surrounded by quaint towns and villages full of friendly locals. It’s a very different experience to staying in the cities and it’s well worth it.
- The seven lakes walk is a popular one for tourists and locals alike and is therefore not too challenging and is well signposted with fantastic rewarding views at every turn. I have a full post on this so I won’t go into detail here.
- However I will say that if you are visiting before mid-June ish, expect snow, sun, rain, wind and everything in between.
- Sapareva Banya itself has a lot to offer including a geothermal geyser and thermal spa. Accommodation is cheap and food is good and local so you can’t go wrong.
- To get to Sapareva Banya you will need to get a small local bus from either Dupnitsa (coming from Sofia) or Samotov.
- To get to the lift for the seven lakes you’ll need to take a taxi. For us it cost 32lv return
I wrote about my time in Sapareva Banya here: Hiking Bulgaria’s Stunning Seven Lakes in May
Plovdiv – 3 nights
I would say that, on balance, this was my favourite city. It has bags of charm, a long list of things to do and is both a beautiful place to look at and a history lesson. I would definitely return.
Top things to do:
- Get a 5-attraction ticket, which only costs 5lv for students
- I would recommend visiting the small basilica, the ancient theatre and the pharmacy museum
- Go for an evening drink in TRAP. It’s buzzing.
- Wander the old town streets
- Like in most Bulgarian cities, there are 2 bus stations, so wherever you’re going make sure you know which one you need.
- Buses to/from Sofia come into the most central bus station.
- Buses to/from Veliko Tarnovo come into the further away one (north)
- Get there early to get a ticket because these buses are packed!
The story of Plovdiv from me: Visiting the European Capital of Culture 2019 – Beautiful Plovdiv
Veliko Tarnovo – 3 nights
Veliko Tarnovo, or Tarnovo as it’s affectionately known by the locals, is a hillside rolling town of mismatched styles and colours. This patchworked town is paired with a dominating fortress which is no doubt the star of the show. As this is the old capital, you’ll find bundles of history from both the town and the country. I didn’t, but you can hike from the centre very easily and is I had been there longer, I would’ve.
Top things to do:
- Free walking tour taking you around the whole town, filling you in on all of the history and local customs (meet outside tourist info centre at 11am)
- Explore the fortress, including the unique church at the top (go inside!)
- Spend some time on the central ‘island’ which provides views to the theatrical town
- Once again, there are 2 bus stations. The South is pretty central, about a 10 minute walk from the ‘centre’ – although Tarnovo doesn’t really have a centre.
- The west one is abut a 40 minute walk from the town, or a short bus journey or taxi ride. To get to/from Plovdiv or Bourgas you’ll need this one. Sometimes buses headed for the far away one will make a stop in the centre so keep your eyes peeled and get off earlier.
- I didn’t use it but you can get the train. I believe it is cheaper but slower than the bus.
Tales from Tarnovo: Explorations of Bulgaria’s old capital and Marilyn Monroe moments
Sozopol (Black Sea) – 4 nights
When in Bulgaria you must dip your toes in the Black Sea. We travelled to Bourgas and took the short bus to the old town of Sozopol, which was very pleasant. The winding streets take you around the traditional buildings and views over the water. There are some perfect spots to watch the sunset. The beaches are lovely and sandy, but beware that in May the weather can be unpredictable. There are a number of places you can stay around Bourgas, we chose Sozopol, but there is also Nessebar, Pomorie and of course Sunny Beach.
Top things to do:
- Wander the old town and watch a sunset
- Relax on the beaches
- Again, there are 2 bus stations in Bourgas – why won’t Bulgarians keep it simple?
- The bus from Tarnovo comes into the one that’s further away.
- The airport bus leaves from the central station which is next to the train station.
Lastly, sunny Sozopol: Black Sea Musings
I hope this record of my 2-week itinerary has wet your appetite for Bulgaria. It truly is a wonderful country full of goodness.
This post was incredibly delayed – about 3 months actually – but I got there in the end. I hope you have enjoyed it and found it useful. I will soon upload a Bulgaria budget guide – which I can’t wait for because Bulgaria is VERY good for the budget traveller.
Thanks for reading, and for being patient with me and my slow-coming letters.
All the love,