|Population||6,924,716 (July 2014 est. )|
|Electricity||220V/50Hz (European plug)|
Bulgaria, officially the Republic of Bulgaria (Bulgarian: Република България) is a country in the Balkans on the western side of the Black Sea. It's surrounded by Romania to the north, Serbia to the northwest, the Republic of Macedonia to the southwest, Greece to the south, and Turkey to the southeast.
| North Bulgaria |
The region is situated between the river Danube to the north and the Balkan to the south is entirely a plain region. Also called Moesia by the name of the area during Roman times, the Bulgarian North is full of remains form ancient forts most notably the great harbour city of Sexaginta Prista in Rousse and the fortress Baba Vida in Vidin. The capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire Veliko Tarnovo - home of Tsarevets, one of best preserved medieval castles preserved up to day - is situated in the North. During the Renaissance the towns of Rousse and Pleven were the centres of Western culture in the region.
| Southern Dobruja |
Called the Granary of Bulgaria, the region produces most of the country's world class wheat among other grains grown locally. The first two Bulgarian capitals - Pliska and Veliki Preslav - are located in Dobruja. Veliki Preslav was said to be one of the greatest cities of the early Middle Ages comparable only to Constantinople.
| Bulgarian Black Sea Coast |
The Bulgarian seaside has one of the best beaches in Europe. With settlements ranging from small calm villages, through luxurious five-star resorts, to modern urban cities, the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast can satisfy any taste and during the days of the hot Bulgarian summer. Most of the towns and villages along the coastline can be traced back to Ancient Greece - the town of Nessebar, for example, has a central ancient part that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Varna to the north, is the third largest city in Bulgaria - as an economical and tourist centre it is called the sea capital of the country.
| Strandzha |
A relatively low mountain, Strandzha is known for the specific architecture that can be observed in Malko Tarnovo, Brashlyan and most other villages, the rich folklore and distinctive rituals, such as nestinarstvo (barefoot dancing on live embers), that preserve numerous pagan elements. Strandzha is an area with a large concentration of ruins of Thracian sanctuaries and sacrificial altars, dolmens and other archaeological objects. The mountain is also the home of the Strandzha National Park.
| Upper Thracian Plain |
Some of the most developed cities in Bulgaria, such as Plovdiv and Stara Zagora are situated in the region. Northern Thrace is an area of lowlands along the rivers Maritsa and Tundzha, that are very fertile and rich in fossil fuels. The region is also rich in historical heritage: the Panagyurishte Treasure one of the best known surviving artefacts of Thracian culture, the Thracian Tomb of Kazanluk dating back to 4th century B.C. is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and Plovdiv (the second largest city in the country) is arguably the oldest city in Europe.
| Rhodope Mountains |
While not very high mountains, the Rhodopes are a preferred destination by many tourists because of the limited number of roads and the steep hills and the deep forests. The winter ski resort of Pamporovo is in the Rhodopes. "The home of Orpheus" - the Greek mythological poet that went to hell to save his loved one - is a region with a distinct cultural influence. Rhodope music is world famous: many foreign musicians have been fascinated by the sounds of Rhodopes and even the song Izlel e Delyu Haydutin performed by Valya Balkanska is one of the few performances included in the Voyager Golden Record selection of music, part of the Voyager 2 space probe, that is expected to play across space for at least 60,000 years.
| Pirin Macedonia |
Named after the mountain Pirin the area includes the mountain itself, as well as the valleys of the rivers Struma and Mesta. The national park Pirin and the popular ski resort Bansko are part of the attractions of the region. The town of Blagoevgrad is the largest town in the area. It is known as a student town because two of the largest universities are in it. Pirin Macedonia is also a popular wine region.
| Bulgarian Shopluk |
The capital Sofia, as the largest city of Bulgaria, dominates the economy of the region. Vitosha mountain just south of Sofia is a popular tourist destination used as a "get-away" from the hectic urban life. The "roof of the capital" as Vitosha is sometimes called, is convenient for weekend picnics and tourist strolls in the summer and skiing and snowboarding in the winter. Shopluka, however, also includes the highest mountain in the Balkans - Rila. Rila is the home of the ski resort Borovets, some beautiful glacier lakes, as well as another UNESCO World Heritage site the Rila Monastery.
| Balkan Mountains |
The Balkan - the soul of the Bulgarian people. The mountain has a special meaning of a symbol in Bulgarian folklore and culture. It is the home of heroes and victories, the guardian fortress of the people, the cradle of all that is Bulgarian. The small towns in the foot of the mountain were the revolutionary centres of Bulgarians during the times of the Ottoman empire and many of the biggest heroes and cultural idols of Bulgaria were born in those towns. The national park Central Balkan is situated in the mountain and there are may places along the chain that are suitable for winter sports and tourism.
- Sofia — the capital and lagest city in Bulgaria, featuring a nice town centre with a Reneissanse and modern influences, many parks including the National park "Vitosha" (which is just minutes away from the city centre), a good nightlife, over 250 historic landmarks and architectural monuments, and a great deal of cultural places of interest. It is one of the oldest cities in Europe
- Burgas — though known for its commercial port (Port of Burgas) and oil refinery, the city has a picturesque waterfront, nearby downtown and rich shopping areas that make it popular with tourists. In recent years the city hosts the popular music festival "Spirit of Burgas"
- Gabrovo — A popular tourist destination near the geographic the center of the country, providing quick access to other cities, such as Veliko Tarnovo and Kazanlak, as well as the Balkan Mountains and the ski-resort of Uzana. The architectural-ethnographic resort Etar is situated near the town
- Pleven — a historical city, famous for its Panorama monument and for its beautiful parks and fountains in the city centre
- Plovdiv — the nation's second largest city, situated on the both banks of the Maritsa river, it boasts a lovely shopping promenade and many parks. An ancient city with influences from many epochs including a preserved ancient Greek amphitheatre, a Roman stadium, a "Bulgarian revival" style Old Town, and a variety of mosques, catholic cathedrals and orthodox churches all across the city. Plovdiv is also famous in the country for its hectic nightlife. Though the city has a modern lifestyle it is one of the oldest in the world and debatably - the oldest in Europe. Be sure also to take a side trip to Bachkovo Monastery which is about an hour away
- Rousse — known as the "Small Vienna", the town centre offers an impressive architectural Baroque ensemble that cannot be found any place else within Bulgaria. The city boasts various places of interest among which the Sexiginta Prista Roman Castle, Rousse's Theatre, The House of Caliopa, and the Pantheon
- Varna — the nation's third largest city is a lovely combination of a beach resort with a famous nightlife and an urban centre. Varna's coast garden is filled with entertainments and can also be appreciated by art lovers
- Veliko Tarnovo — picturesque university city near the Yantra river that was the capital of medieval Bulgarian Empire and still has one of the best preserved medieval fortresses on its background
- General information about the mountains of Bulgaria
- Central Balkan National Park
- Dragoman Marsh
- Etar Architectural-Ethnographic Complex (or just Etara) - the open-air museum of Bulgarian crafts and culture of the 18th century in "Bulgarka" National Nature Park, near the town of Gabrovo
- Pirin National Park
Being located close to the Turkish Straits means the key land routes from Europe to the Middle East and Asia pass through Bulgaria. Thanks to this location, the territory of the country has been of interest to many peoples that have left their impact on the land. Remains of various civilizations and epochs are scattered all across the country and can still be seen today. From the tombs of the mighty Thracian kings, through the theatres of the ancient Greeks and the stadiums of the Roman Empire, to the medieval castles of the kings of the First and Second Bulgarian Empire, and the mosques from the Ottoman rule.
Present-day Bulgaria is one of the few remaining exotic destinations of Europe, because it boasts sublime beaches on its seaside, lovely churches and winter sport opportunities in its mountains, as well as a unique architectural ensemble of modern, classic and ethical styles in each of its cities and towns, to name a few. Although it is not as well travelled as other countries in Europe, it is a beautiful place, with a wide range of activities for the traveller to do. Despite not being a large country (approximately the size of Cuba, Portugal or the state of Virginia), Bulgaria offers a wide diversity of landscapes, each possessing its own unique beauty. Because of its natural diversity there is a great number of tourism opportunities in the country.
"When God gave the peoples of the world their lands, He had forgotten about the Bulgarians, and because there was no land left for them, He tore a piece of Heaven for them." - a Bulgarian saying.
The Balkan mountain chain separates North from South Bulgaria as it goes all the way from the furthest northwestern parts of the country to the east ending on the coast of the Black Sea. In its South, the terrain of Bulgaria is dominated by high mountains and river valleys taking up almost all of the western and the southernmost areas of the country. The South also includes the Thracian plain and the low mountains of Strandzha and Sakar. The territory of North Bulgaria is entirely lowlands. Eastern Bulgaria is all coasts and beaches of the Black Sea.
Highest point: Mount "Musala" in Rila mountain - 2925m (highest peak in Eastern Europe)
Continental in most of the interior: moderately cold winters with occasional heavy snowfalls; hot and dry or mildly humid summers. Temperate on the coast: mild autumns, cool winters, mild springs and warm and breezy summers. Subtropical in its South-West: mild winters with more rain than snow in the lower grounds; hot and humid summers.
The temperatures during the winter period average between -5°С and 0°С in the plains, between -2°С and 3°С at the seaside, and between -10°С and -6°С in the mountains. The winter extremes usually reach -15°С in the inhabited areas, with the occasional -25°С during cold years.
In the summer the temperatures vary from 25°С to 30°С in the plains, from 21°С to 28°С on the coast of the Black Sea, and from 18°С to 21°С in the mountains. The extremes in summer pass 40°С and occasionally the temperatures in the plains near the rivers reach 46°С-48°С.
Excavations have found artefacts dating back to 5000 B.C. The territory of the country has been continuously inhabited from then on and various peoples and communities have lived on the grounds of present-day Bulgaria. In ancient Greek times the region had numerous towns established in it, with some of them still standing as cities and towns in Bulgaria. In later ages the area of modern Bulgaria was part of the Roman Empire with tree provinces. In the beginning of the Middle Ages some Slavic tribes settled on the Balkans, and in the late 7th century a branch of them merged with the Proto-Bulgarians - a Central Asian tribe coming along with the last waves of the Great Migration - to form the first Bulgarian state on the Balkans.
First and Second Bulgarian Empires
In succeeding centuries, Bulgarian and the Byzantine Empires dominated South-East Europe, with constant changes in the proportion of power and influence that the empires had in this part of the world. At times the Bulgarians were days away from conquering the cradle of civilization of that period: the Byzantine capital Constantinople; and at times, the Byzantines made fatal blows on the Bulgarian state. During the Middle Ages Bulgaria was the centre of Slavic culture and one of the focal points of Christianity. Religious literature and fine arts were developed in Bulgarian schools and the country was famous for its hand crafts. Bulgaria was the first state to adopt the Cyrillic alphabet (in its primal form) as its own writing system in 886 A.D. The first "Golden Age" of Bulgaria lasted from about 811 A.D. to 924 A.D. during the rule of knyaz Boris I and of tzar Simeon the Great, kings of the First Bulgarian Empire. The second Golden Age in the state was from 1200 A.D. to 1241 A.D. in the reign of tzar Ivan Asen II, king of the Second Bulgarian Empire. He was a ruler of the Asenevtsi dynasty, a house that re-established the Bulgarian state after it had fallen from the Byzantine Empire and was "absent from the map" for nearly two hundred years until 1185. The rule of Asenevtsi is famous for crushing the crusaders after they gave up on their aim to conquer the holy lands and turned against Orthodox Christianity. Around and after the battle with the crusaders the rulers of the Second Bulgarian Empire had a reign of supremacy in this part of Europe as the state has become the largest and most powerful in "the neighbourhood".
But by the end of the 14th century the region was overrun by the Ottoman Turks. The Bulgarians, along with the other Balkan peoples, became part of the Ottoman Empire. Five centuries later, in 1878, Bulgaria was liberated with extensive help from the Russian Empire as part of their larger fight against the Ottoman Empire. The country's iconic heroes include freedom fighters and intellectuals from the time of the Ottoman rule. Some of the most prominent are: Father Paisiy, Georgi Sava Rakovski - the revolutionary strategist, Vasil Levski - the Apostle of Freedom, and Hristo Botev - poet and fighter. Bulgaria gained its de facto independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1908.
Third Bulgarian State
After a series of bloody and brutal Balkan wars and a national catastrophe, Bulgaria had the further misfortune to be occupied by the losing side in both World Wars, and fell within the Soviet sphere of influence during the Cold War. It became a People's Republic in 1946, with the communist party in the leader position. During Communist times, the Black Sea was a favorite destination for travellers behind the Iron Curtain and many of the resorts in the country were built in that era. In the end of 1989 the communist domination was brought to a swift end. Though Bulgaria held multi-party elections, many communist politicians stayed in power with re-branded socialist policies. Hyperinflation and economic meltdown made long retired workers to go begging in the streets to supplement their now-worthless pensions, young people to start shady businesses and the community to look up to leaders of the mafia for help. The situation finally drove the old guard out of power in 1997, but the country was in a tough political situation because of the spread of the influence of the "underground processes" in all the levels of the government.
Today, reforms and democratization have brought Bulgaria into the NATO fold, with EU accession celebrated in 2007. Bulgaria intends to drop its national currency - the lev, and join the Eurozone in 2015, but these plans may be on hold. Though it has a relatively stable economy and low debt, it is still one of the European Union's poorest members. For traveller's this means a poor road infrastructure, but fairly cheap meals and hotels if you look around. Increasing numbers of western Europeans travel throughout the country and many have bought vacation houses near the Black Sea or in picturesque villages.
The Hanging of Vasil Levski, 19 February
- The day that the Bulgarian people honour the life and the work of the revolutionary Vasil Levski - the Apostle of Freedom. (this is not a public holiday)
Baba Marta (Bulgarian:Баба Марта, meaning Grandma Marta), 1 March.
- A very old Bulgarian holiday. People give each martenitsa (Bulgarian: мартеница), a type of white-red yarn, as a symbol of health. (this is not a public holiday)
Liberation Day (Bulgarian: Освобождение на България), 3 March.
- The national holiday Bulgaria celebrates its liberation from 500 years of Ottoman domination. On 3 March 1878 the Treaty of San Stefano between was signed, ending the Russo-Turkish War 1877-78 leading to the formation of the Principality of Bulgaria. (The National Day)
The April Uprising (Bulgarian: Априлско въстание), 20 April.
- 20 April 1876 was the official start day the greatest uprising of the Bulgarian people against the Ottoman rule. (this is not a public holiday)
Gergyovden - Day of Courage and The Bulgarian Army (Bulgarian: Гергьовден), 6 May.
- St. George's day and official holiday of the Bulgarian army. There is a military parade in celebration of courage.
Day of Bulgarian Enlightenment and Culture, and The Slavic Alphabet (Bulgarian: Ден на българската просвета и култура и на славянската писменост), 24 May.
- The day of St. Cyril (827-869), and St. Methodius (826-884), who created the Cyrillic alphabet. A beautiful holiday - with lots of flowers, music, and joy. Celebrated for the first time in 1851 it is known as the holiday of students and teachers.
Day of Botev and The Fallen for The Freedom and Independence of Bulgaria, 2 June.
- Every year on 2 June at noon, sirens sound for one minute to honour the death of those who have fallen in pursuit of liberation and independence from the Ottoman Empire. On 2 June 1876 the poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev died in battle on mount Vola in the Stara Planina mountain. (this is not a public holiday)
Golyama Bogoroditsa - Assumption Day(Bulgarian: Голяма Богородица), 15 August.
- There are big celebrations, especially in the main monasteries, with icons being paraded by the monks. (this is not a public holiday)
Reunification Day (Bulgarian: Денят на Съединението), September 6.
- The day the two parts of Bulgaria - the Principality of Bulgaria and East Rumelia (autonomous in the Ottoman Empire) - were reunited.
Independence Day (Bulgarian: Денят на Независимостта на България ), 22September.
- Bulgaria's de jure declaration of independence was declared on 22 September 1908 in Veliko Turnovo
Bulgaria is committed to implementing the Schengen Agreement although it hasn't yet done so. For EEA citizens (EU countries together with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), an officially approved ID card (or a passport) is sufficient for entry. Other nationalities will generally require a passport for entry.
Travel to/from any other country (Schengen or not) from/to Bulgaria will (as of now) result in the normal immigration checks, although customs checks will be waived when travelling to/from another EU country.
Inquire with your travel agent or with the local embassy or consulate of Bulgaria.
(1) Nationals of these countries need a biometric passport to enjoy visa-free travel.
(2) Serbian nationals with passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate (residents of Kosovo with Serbian passports) do need a visa.
(3) Taiwan nationals need their ID number to be stipulated in their passport to enjoy visa-free travel.
The nationals of the following countries do not need a visa for entry into the Schengen Area: Albania(1), Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina(1), Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Macedonia(1), Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova(1), Monaco, Montenegro(1), New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia(1, 2), Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan(3) (Republic of China), Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City, Venezuela, additionally persons holding Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR passports and all British nationals (including those who are not European Union citizens).
- The non-EU/EFTA visa-free visitors noted above may not stay more than 90 days in a 180 day period in the Schengen Area as a whole and, in general, may not work during their stay (although some Schengen countries do allow certain nationalities to work – see below). The counting begins once you enter any country in the Schengen Area and is not reset by leaving one Schengen country for another.
- However, New Zealand citizens may be able to stay for more than 90 days if they visit only particular Schengen countries. See the New Zealand Government's explanation.
If you are a non-EU/EFTA national (even if you are visa-exempt, unless you are Andorran, Monégasque or San Marinese), make sure that your passport is stamped both when you enter and leave the Schengen Area. Without an entry stamp, you may be treated as an overstayer when you try to leave the Schengen Area; without an exit stamp, you may be denied entry the next time you seek to enter the Schengen Area as you may be deemed to have overstayed on your previous visit. If you cannot obtain a passport stamp, make sure that you retain documents such as boarding passes, transport tickets and ATM slips which may help to convince border inspection staff that you have stayed in the Schengen Area legally.
- British subjects with the right of abode in the United Kingdom, and British Overseas Territories citizens connected to Gibraltar, are considered "United Kingdom nationals for European Union purposes" and therefore eligible for unlimited access to the Schengen Area.
- British Overseas Territories citizens without the right of abode in the United Kingdom, and British subjects without the right of abode in the United Kingdom, as well as British Overseas citizens and British protected persons in general, can only stay 90 days within 180 days.
However, all British Overseas Territories citizens except those solely connected to the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas are eligible for British citizenship and thereafter unlimited access to the Schengen Area.
There are four international airports in Bulgaria, located in the cities of Sofia, Varna, Bourgas, and Plovdiv, but the traditional flag carriers (like Lufthansa, British Airways, Turkish Airways, etc.) fly only to Sofia International Airport. There are a lot of charter and last-minute flight offers, however, to Varna or Bourgas leaving from Western Europe (especially Germany and Great Britain). Using those, you can go from German airports to Bulgaria and back for less than €100, if you are lucky.
Recently, several low-cost airlines have also started offering regular flights to Bulgaria.
- Wizz Air direct regular flights between Sofia and Barcelona, Brussels, Budapest, Dortmund, Eindhoven, Frankfurt Hahn, Froli, Larnaca, London Luton, Madrid, Milan, Paris, Rome, Valencia and Venice. Also, the airline flies every week directly between Burgas and Budapest, Katowice, London Luton, Poznan, Prague, Warsaw Chopin, Warsaw-Modlin, and the flights from and to Varna are towards Budapest and London Luton.
- germanwings offers flights to several European destinations.
- EasyJet flies between Sofia and Berlin, London Gatwick, London Stansted, and Manchester.
- Ryanair flies between Plovdiv and London Stansted, and Frankfurt Hahn.
Charter flights can offer very good prices to the Black Sea airports of Varna and Burgas from a large variety of European cities in the summer (such as: Thomas Cook, Thomsonfly, Balkan Holidays Air , Bulgarian Air Charter, Monarch, Condor, Transaero, Utair and many others).
From the USA, major airlines offer excellent connections to Bulgaria via Europe. The airports that you can get to with a major airline are Sofia and Varna.
International trains provide a large number of routes to Bulgaria, notably Sofia and Varna, arriving from such places as Kiev, Istanbul, Vienna, and other common cities.
The primary trains from Bucharest to Sofia, and back, run twice daily through the border city of Rousse. For example, recent trains are scheduled from Bucharest to Sofia in the daytime departing 11:35/arriving 21:30 and a night train departing 19:35/arriving 06:10. Romanian passport control occurs in Giurgiu and Bulgarian passport control takes place in Rousse, both approximately mid-trip. Check local train stations for updated information.
A cheap way of traveling to or from Bulgaria might be the Balkan Flexipass.
If you want to reach Bulgaria from Western Europe by car you will have to pass through either Serbia or Romania, or you can take a ferry from Italy to Greece.
The shortest distance path from Western Europe to Bulgaria is through Serbia. However, you should make sure that you have a green card with you as Serbia is not a part of the EU. Also, the most used Serbian path to Bulgaria (through Nis) has been a narrow mountain road that can be exhausting to drive on because of the heavy traffic. Recently, the construction of a motor highway has been started in Serbia connecting its eastern part to Bulgaria, and traffic through the country should be freed up in the near future.
The other roads-only path to Bulgaria, through Romania, is longer in distance but can take up much less time as Romania has highways connecting its borders with Western Europe to Bulgaria and as a part of the EU, citizens of the union have less formalities on Romanian borders. The path is also very suitable for people travelling from Northern Europe.
Travelling through Greece, after passing Thessaloniki you can choose from three paths depending on your final destination. If you are going towards Sofia, Western or North Bulgaria, the fastest and shortest route is towards Serres and then to the border Promahonas - Kulata. If youur destination is somewhere in the Rhodopes (Smolyan, Pamporovo, Kurdzhali) or near Plovdiv, the shortest route is towards Xanti (passing near Kavala) and then to the border Thermes - Zlatograd. This route however still needs reconstruction in Greece. Finally, if going to the Bugarian seaside the fastest route is towards Komotini (parring near Kavala and Xanti) and then to the border Ormenio - Captain Petko Voyvoda.
In Bulgaria you have to pay road tax at the border (around €5 for 7 days). You will get a special sticker that you have to place on your car. There are no toll stations on Bulgarian roads.
Besides the sticker, you may need to pay the Bulgarian authorities health insurance (2 euros per person for 3 days, slightly more for more days). Make sure you get a receipt! Expect long queues on certain days coinciding with some Bulgarian holidays.
Buses to and from Sofia go to most major cities in Europe - while Bulgarian bus companies will be cheaper (and mostly offer less comfort), the tickets are hard to get by if you are travelling to Bulgaria, so you can always take Eurolines buses. Don't be surprised if an extra "border fee" is asked from each traveller by the bus driver - it makes your border passing quicker. Most buses from Western Europe will pass through Serbia, so be sure to check if you need a transit visa beforehand (Serbian visas for citizens of the EU have recently been abolished).
There are no regular boats to Bulgaria. Occasionally there are cruise ships docking in Varna and Burgas.
The fastest way to travel around the country is by bus. Buses frequently connect all the larger cities (you might have to ask or be driven by taxi to the bus station). Timetables information in English can be found online ( or ). Always confirm times locally as online resources are possibly incomplete or out of date. Most bus station agents (except at the Black Sea and in Sofia) as well as the drivers will not speak or understand any languages except Bulgarian (and, if you are lucky, Russian) and the destinations will be written exclusively in Cyrillic. You can look up bus schedules for the Sofia New Central at the bus station .
Travelling from Sofia to major cities in Bulgaria by bus is a good value. A one way ticket to the Black Sea from Sofia is around EUR 12-15. Several companies operate regular routes serviced by new and modern buses. Timetables and prices in English for couple of the major companies can be found at GRUP Plus and Biomet .
There are other bus stations in Sofia and also some private buses depart from their own personal station, but for travellers just looking to get out of town with the least amount of confusion - using the New Central Bus Station may be easiest.
Travelling by train is inexpensive, but also slower than by bus. Trains are most useful when travelling along the two major train routes: Sofia - Varna and Sofia - Bourgas. You can travel both routes overnight, but you should make your reservations early because these night trains are often fully booked. Also be aware that most Bulgarian train compositions are more than 20 years old and not well maintained.
Recently, new equipment has appeared on some the trains on routes between main destinations. The new trains consists of Desiro Trains from Siemens, which provide a comfort level that is comparable to German local trains (in fact these are the same trains with same seats !). They travel from Sofia to Plovdiv as local trains and to Karlovo and Asenovgrad from Plovdiv, as well as to Blagoevgrad from Sofia and to a few other cities. Anyone looking for a "real" train experience should dodge these trains. The other fast and local trains consist of older carriages, partly from older Bulgarian stock, partly old German rolling stock (Interregio coaches). They are sometimes in a good condition (German coaches) and sometimes a bit rundown. Usually the toilets are in a pretty miserable to almost usable state (woman beware !). BDZ has also renovated some older cars and uses them for their premium product now, called IC, which is a fast train with obligatory reservations and 2+1 seating even in 2nd class and pretty comfortable and clean seats.
Buying train tickets is pretty fast forward, though most people will buy a ticket 10 minutes before departure, as your ticket is usually valid for a specific train. If you don't know which train you want to use, you can also buy a ticket in the train without penalty. If your journey starts at the same point as the train starts, you might also be able to buy a reservation for a specific seat on a specific train for very little surcharge (0,30 Leva). Though it never seems to work from stations in between.
Any train fan should also ride the Rhodopes train, which starts at Septemvri and goes up to Dobrinisthe, passing through Bansko. Not even metre-gauge, this small train passes through a very scenic landscape, climbing up the Rhodopes mountains, reaching the top and then going down again in 4,5 hours for 125 km (30 km/h average speed). It takes a while, but it's a real good experience to see some parts of rural Bulgarian life.
New rail lines are also under construction but will not operational until 2011.
Third class usually cost about 30% more than 2nd class and is usually not notably more comfortable (3 seats in a row instead of four). If you buy a return ticket, you might get a discount of 30% for the whole journey, compared to buying two separate tickets (don't forget to get the ticket stamped at the station before your return journey, as it might be invalid otherwise).
There is discount for travelling in group.
Many taxi drivers know only limited English so it is useful to write out your destination or carry a map. In winter 2008, a few of the newer taxis in Sofia have GPS units on the dashboard. Taxi tariffs in Bulgaria are standardized in the major cities. One should be extremely careful about using a taxi in Bulgaria. Especially since you are a foreigner, you can definitely become a target of unscrupulous taxi drivers. When in need, get familiar with the most well known taxi operators in your area, your route and expected bill. Generally the safest way of using a taxi is by ordering a taxi by phone. Some fraudulent taxis even mimic others' logos and labels on their cars. Definitely avoid using taxis waiting at airports and railway stations! An exception represent the Sofia and Varna airports as recently both airports contracted with licensed taxi companies. Currently only these companies can enter the airport area and pickup passengers - prices are standard.
If traveling by car, it would be helpful if you can read the Cyrillic alphabet at least a bit. Most signs at the major roads have the direction shown in Latin letters, but the signs in the internal road system are exclusively in Cyrillic, so if you are planning a road trip, GPS navigation or a road map are recommended.
If you are a foreigner, its best to rent a car. If you decide to rent a car bear in mind that for any bump or scrape to the car, whether involving a third party or not, you must immediately call the police to come and establish the damages of the incident for the insurance companies, otherwise you will find that your insurance will not cover the damage. Check the Terms & Conditions of your rental agreement closely.
Driving in Bulgaria can be a bit precarious - many roads do not have well defined lanes as they are not well marked, and are in poor conditions with bumps and holes on them. On all but the major roads, expect to find significant pot holes and uneven surfaces. Due to the poor road surfaces, you will often find cars driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid these holes, so be cautious when driving around blind bends. Locals often do not observe speed limits, do not signal when changing lanes, take up dangerous manoeuvres on the road and are very nervous on behind the wheel. When travelling on the road Sofia-Greece, be very careful. There are extensive road reconstructions and you can meet some really dangerous drivers.
If you observe the rules, police will not bother you. Bulgarian police have white Opel Astra patrol cars, marked "POLICE" with blue letters - keep that in mind, because in the past there have been several cases of fake police officers stopping cars and robbing travellers. Should you ever doubt the authority stopping you, you have the right to ask them to identify themselves with a certificate issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Министерсво на вътрешните работи - МВР).
Never ever drink and drive in Bulgaria! This is always dangerous, and in Bulgaria it is a heavy criminal act: your first offence will result in a long prison sentence or at least - a very significant fee. The once-common practice of bribing a police officer to get out of a speeding or parking ticket is becoming the exception.
Car theft isn't much of a risk, but shouldn't be underestimated. In rural areas leaving your car should be safe, but in the big cities or tourist spots, it is advisable to stay on the safe side by parking either on the major streets or on guarded garages, where fees range from 6 leva (€3) a day to 2 leva (€1) an hour. If you plan to spend more time in one city, it might be better to rent a parking space, which on the average costs 60 leva (€30) a month. Most hotels have their own parking, and even at private lodgings it is often possible to park the car in the garden or so, just ask.
Air travel is still not very common in Bulgaria as distances are relatively short.
Bulgaria Air, the national carrier travels everyday from Sofia to Varna and Burgas. Off peak deals can be found for 25eu r/t after taxes
WizzAir travels four times a week between Sofia and Varna. Off peak travel can be as cheap as 20eu r/t after taxes
- See also: Bulgarian phrasebook
Bulgarian is a southern Slavic language, mutually intelligible with Macedonian (considered a variant of Bulgarian by many Bulgarians) and also closely related to Serbo-Croatian. Russian and other Slavic languages are more distantly related but still similar. If you know any of these, you shouldn't have much problems getting by. Old Church Slavonic, a very early written form of Bulgarian or Macedonian, is the "mother language" of the Slavic group, like Latin is to the Romance languages.
Modern Bulgarian is difficult to Westerners, especially English speakers, as it has three genders for nouns, the infinitive of verbs has fallen virtually out of use, and articles are appended to the end of either the noun (if no attribute is present) or the first attribute (example: куче (kuche) = dog, кучето (kucheto) = the dog, добро куче (dobro kuche) = good dog, доброто куче (dobroto kuche) = the good dog). However, it is actually easier than the other Slavic tongues as the other Slavs almost never use articles and have noun cases instead of or in addition to prepositions, which makes them more difficult.
It takes a short while getting used to the Cyrillic alphabet, a writing system of which Bulgarians are proud as Bulgaria is the first country to have adopted the alphabet in the early medieval centuries because of its suitability to the specifics of Slavic sounds. The holiday celebrating the alphabet and Bulgarian education as a whole is one of the most loved and honoured in the country, so be sure to be in Bulgaria for the celebrations on 24 May. The Russian/East Slavic version of the alphabet is almost identical to the Bulgarian one.
Turkish is spoken natively by the Turks of Bulgaria, who live mostly in the Southern mountains and the further Northeast. In some towns of those regions Turkish speakers are the majority. Bulgarian also has loanwords from Turkish.
It is also important to remember the fact that many Bulgarians - contrary to most nationalities - shake their head for Yes and nod for No! It is better to rely on the words "da" for yes and "ne" for no than on head movements.
Also, as Bulgarian education emphasizes foreign language studies, and especially English language, it wouldn't be a problem to talk and find information in English in larger cities. In larger cities there are a number of language high schools, so if you are in luck you can find people speaking German, French and Spanish. It's best to turn to the young population for a direction or advice if you speak a Western European language. Because of their close connections with the Soviet Union in the past and the similarities in the languages, many older Bulgarians can understand and speak Russian. However, the use of Russian has been declining since the collapse of the iron curtain, with English now being far more popular among younger people. In the south people often understand Greek and Turkish. In a tourist area it is likely to find somebody who speaks other Slavic languages or German. Also, the widespread use of foreign words have made them incorporated in Bulgarian everyday language. English, Russian, German and other foreign versions of words and commonly used phrases like Thank you, Excuse me, Hello, Goodbye among others, are widely used in Bulgaria. So don't be surprised if you often hear O.K., sorry, thanks, the Italian ciao, or the French merci.
There is a wide variety of historical, natural, religious and artistic sights to see in Bulgaria. All across the country there are remains of different epochs and eras, societies and peoples, spiritual and artistic personae that create a beautiful mix of ethnic culture full of unique traditions and rituals combined with a sense of belonging to the movements that have shaped the world as we know it today. The Bulgarian tourist movement, established more than one hundred years ago, has promoted the acknowledgement of all the sights that form the distinguished Bulgarian identity through its so called "100 Tourist Sites of Bulgaria" program that covers most of Bulgaria's must-see attractions. Of course, nowadays the program includes more than two hundred and fifty one-of-a-kind places of interest but the name still remains. Some of the most popular sites include:
- UNESCO's World Heritage sites: Ancient City of Nessebar, Boyana church, Madara Rider stone carving, Rila Monastery, Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo, Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak, Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari being the historical, and Pirin National Park, Srebarna Nature Reserve being the natural.
- the other great monasteries of Bulgaria that have been centres of Bulgarian culture during the Ottoman rule such as Bachkovo Monastery, Troyan Monastery, Dryanovo Monastery, Osenovlag Monastery, etc.
- the natural creations in the Bulgarian mountains that are a combination of awe to the beautiful natural forms and the exciting feeling of danger in the face of the sharp edges and deep ravines created solely by wind and water. Some of the most popular natural creations are the caves Dyavolsko Garlo (Bulgarian: Дяволското гърло, The Devil's Throat), Ledenika (Bulgarian: Леденика, The Ice-Cold), Magurata which has cave paintings on its walls and Snezhanka (Bulgarian: Снежанка, the Snow White), the canyons of Trigrad and the river Erma, Chudnite Mostove (Bulgarian: Чудните мостове, The Marvelous Bridges) rock phenomena, and the natural pyramids near the town of Melnik and the ones near the village Stob.
- the still-standing fortresses from the Middle Ages such as Tsarevets in Veliko Tarnovo, Baba Vida in Vidin, Tsari Mali Grad near Samokov, the Fort of Samuil near the village of Strumeshnica and the Fort of Asenevtsi near Asenovgrad.
- the remains from the cities of Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire in Sofia, Plovdiv, Nessebar, Sozopol, Razgrad and many many other cities and towns
- the architectural historical reserves like the towns of Koprivshtitsa, Bozhentsi, or Daskalolivnitsa in the town of Elena, Plovdiv's Old Town, the Varosha neighbourhood in Blagoevgrad and the neighbourhood of Arbanasi in Veliko Tarnovo
- the sacred places of Perperikon and Rupite, the many ancient and medieval churches in the country, and the tombs of the Thracian kings
- the sites of historical significance for the Bulgarian people, because of the acts of those who have been on those places such as mount Shipka, mount Okolchitsa, the area Oborishte, the homes of Vasil Levski and Ivan Vazov, and the church in Batak among many other places
Bulgarian culture includes a many unique and interesting to see traditional rituals some of which have been around since pagan times and are still performed. Some of the most interesting rituals are:
- nestinarstvo - a fire ritual originating from the villages in the mountain Strandzha that involves barefoot dancing on soldering embers. Originally it was performed on the square of some Strandzhan villages, but nowadays it can be viewed in many places throughout the country on the night of Sts. Constantine and Helen - 3 versus 4 July. It is a unique mixture of Eastern Orthodox Christian beliefs and pagan rituals in the Strandzha mountains
- surva - a new years ritual for hood luck and health. It is performed by young children (up to the age of 12) on New Year's Day, by tapping the older than them relatives on the back with the help of a survachka (a rod made of cornel tree sticks, decorated with wool, dried fruit and pop-corn) and reciting a text for their fortune
- kukerstvo - a traditional Bulgarian ritual performed to scare away the evil spirits. The ritual is performed by men wearing grotesque masks and clothes made out of animal furs, horns and hooves, and belts with large bells. The men are dancing, making loud sounds with the bells on their belts, chasing away the evil spirits in order to ensure a good harvest, health and good luck throughout the year. The ritual is usually done around New Year at night when "the monsters lurk"
Hiking - It is a popular activity in Bulgaria, where a big choice of regions for a day or multyday walking trips is available. The best time for hiking in the highest parts of the mountains is in summer, between late June and September as the snow is already melted and the weather is generally dry. In winter, snowshoeing and ski trips are possible between December and March, depending on the current snow and weather conditions.The main hiking areas are:
- in the Balkan - this mountain chain gives the name of the Balkan Peninsula. It stretches all along the country and is popular among the fans of the long distance hiking trips. One of the famous European Long Distance Routes (E3) follows its main southern ridge all the way from the west border of the country to the seaside. One of the three national parks in Bulgaria - National Park Central Balkan - is situated here. Also, on the northern side of the mountain is Nature Park Bulgarka. Both parks are protected areas as they contain rare and endangered wildlife species and communities, self-regulating ecosystems of biological diversity, as well as historical sites of global cultural and scientific significance.
- in Bulgarian Shopluk - The highest point of the Balkans (Mount Musala - 2925m ) is situated in Rila. Beside it, the northwestern parts of the mountain are a popular hiking destination, rich to nature and cultural sights as the Seven Lakes Cirque, Skakavitsa Waterfall (the highest in Rila), the Rila Monastery and the area of Malyovitsa. National Park Rila, which is the biggest in Bulgaria, is situated here.
- in Pirin - Located south from Rila and close to Greece and the Mediterranean Sea, these mountains are famous with the biggest number of sunny days per year among the mountain ranges in Bulgaria. The most popular hiking area is Northern Pirin. Its highest peak (Mount Vihren - 2914m) is the third highest the Balkans, after mount Musala in Rila and mount Mitikas in Olympus, Greece. Another popular route follows the main ridge of the mountains, crossing a landmark, called "The Foal" - a very tiny part of the ridge, which is secured and accessible for hikers. National Park Pirin is established to protect the nature in these mountains. Pirin is also famous with a number of blue high mountain glacier lakes.
- in the Rhodope Mountains - Located in South Bulgaria, the Rhodopes take up nearly one-eight part of the territory of the country. The landscapes here are quite different than in those of Rila and Pirin - there is no such a jagged peaks, but endless "sea" of green hills and a number of small villages between them. The Rhodopes offer a lot of opportunities for easy hiking in combination with getting to know the local culture and traditions. The area is inhabited from an old time and nowadays both Christians and Muslims live here and contribute to the unique local culture. The Rhodopes are known as the home of Orpheus - the mythical Greek musician and poet who entered the underworld to revive his beloved wife Eurydice.
There is an extensive network of marked tourist trails available and this allows a large number of different routes. The main accommodation in Balkan, Rila and Pirin mountains are the mountain huts and lodges, which usually offer rustic conditions, but there are also numerous three- and four-star hotels near populat tourist destinations. In the Rhodopes it is possible to stay in local guest houses.
Enjoy the beach - the Bulgarian seaside is full of enchanting resorts mixing the modern hotels and wild night life with ancient sights and traditional culture. Famous resorts include Albena, Golden Sands, Nessebar, Primorsko, Sveti Vlas, Sozopol, and of course Sunny Beach.
Enjoy the nightlife - Bulgaria has a wide variety of entertainments to offer to any generation and that can satisfy any taste. However, one of the things the country is most famous of is its nightlife. A mix of oriental passion, European vision and unique Bulgarian seasoning that can be found throughout all the summer beach resorts at the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast, the mountain resorts, and almost any city and university town including Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, Haskovo, Veliko Tarnovo, Blagoevgrad, and many others.
The Bulgarian unit of currency is the Lev (лев, abbreviated "лв", plural: Leva), comprised of one hundred Stotinki. The Lev is pegged to the Euro at 1.95583 Leva for one Euro (which is the same rate as for the former Deutsche Mark, to which the Lev had previously been pegged 1:1).
Shopkeepers and other businesses in Bulgaria will usually not accept foreign money, although many will accept the euro. Bulgaria remains a largely cash economy in the rural areas; but in major cities, credit cards are generally accepted.
In most cities there are many money exchange offices which are marked with signs that say "CHANGE". Most are legitimate, but some may rip you off. For example, they advertise a very competitive rate on the outside, but on the inside, there is a tiny sign with the "official" rates, and these are much worse – so always make sure to ask how many leva you will get for your money before you actually hand it over, and calculate yourselves (e.g., using your mobile phone) how much money you would expect to get. If you now refuse the transaction because the rate suddenly changed, they will make all kinds of unjustified assertions (e.g., "I already entered it into the computer, it cannot be stopped"), but you if threaten to call the police immediately while raising your voice so that other tourists look your way, they usually will let go immediately.
It is much safer to exchange your money at a bank. Banks apply little or no commissions, and generally offer good rates, although they are slightly worse than at a (non-criminal) change bureau. Higher commissions may be applied to traveller's cheques. Old, dirty or very worn bank notes may be refused. Never exchange money out on the street. Beware of people on the street who offer high rates of exchange or who may ask you to make some change for them.
Over the past years the ATM network in Bulgaria has grown considerably, making it relatively easy to obtain cash from the numerous ATMs in Sofia, as well as in all other major cities and resorts. The national credit/debit card circuit BORICA , to which all ATMs in the country are hooked up, accepts VISA/Plus, Visa Electron, MasterCard/Cirrus, Maestro, American Express, Diners Club, and a number of other cards.
Prices in Bulgaria for some items are around half that of Western Europe, and good bargains are to be had on shoes and leather goods as well as other clothing. Note that clothes from famous international brands, perfumes, electronic equipment, etc. often are more expensive than in other parts of Europe.
In Sofia and a few major cities you can find branches of international hypermarket chains like Kaufland, Hit, Billa, Metro, and other. There are also many local supermaket chains like Fantastiko, Familia, and Piccadilly. All Bulgarian supermarkets sell products of European quality.
Bulgarian cuisine is a representative of the cuisine of Southeastern Europe. It has some Turkish and Greek influences, but it has some unique elements. The relatively warm climate and diverse geography produce excellent growth conditions for a variety of vegetables, bean cultures, herbs and fruits. Bulgarian cuisine is particularly diverse.
Famous for its rich salads required at every meal, Bulgarian cuisine is also noted for the diversity and quality of dairy products and the variety of wines and local alcoholic drinks. Bulgarian cuisine features also a diversity of traditional hot and cold soups, and numerous main dishes featuring a myriad of local grown vegetables. The meat appetizers that are typically served after the main dish are not to be missed out on. Bulgaria is also famous for the abundance of pastries in its cuisine.
A traditional Bulgarian meal starts with a salad of choice and some strong alcoholic beverage. The Bulgarian likes to drink wine or beer with its main dish continuing with the chosen drink by the end of the meal. This is why in most restaurants a salad is considered to be the best combination for strong alcoholic drinks.
In recent years, restaurants serving international cuisine have also made a presence in the country, offering various options such as Chinese, French, Italian, and international contemporary.
It is also worth noting that because of Bulgaria's beneficial geographical location and the slow technological progress in the agricultural sector of the economy the plant products used in the typical Bulgarian kitchen are all organic.
Most common foods
Most Bulgarian dishes are oven baked, steamed, or in the form of stew. Deep-frying is not very typical, but grilling - especially different kinds of meats - is very common. Oriental dishes do exist in Bulgarian cuisine with most common being moussaka, gyuvetch, and baklava. Pork meat is the most common meat in the Bulgarian cuisine. Fish and chicken are widely eaten, while beef is less common.
Yogurt (Kiselo mlyako) is very popular. It is mixed with water (drink called ayryan or airian) and it is added to main dishes (especially liver based or with minced meat). White cheese (brine) is a very popular ingredient in the Bulgarian cuisine too. Salads are often topped it it and it is often added to soups and main dishes.
- Banitsa (also diminutival called banichka) is a traditional Bulgarian food prepared by layering filo pastry with various ingredients. Cheese is the most popular one, but there are also spinach, potatoes, minced meat or kraut (in the winter season). Usually people eat it for breakfast but it goes at any time of the day.
- In the the bakeries there are also various flour based cakes like kozunak (sweet bread, Easter cake with raisins), kifla (rolls with chocolate or marmelade) and some salty variations with white or yellow cheese.
- Tarator is a cold soup made of yogurt and cucumber (dill, garlic, walnuts and sunflower oil are sometimes added) and is popular in the summer season.
- Shkembe chorba (tripe soup) is widely believed to be a hangover remedy. There are a few 24/7 places in Sofia where young people go early in the morning after a party, to have a Shkembe.
- Shopska salad is a traditional Bulgarian cold salad popular throughout the Balkans and Central Europe. Its name comes from the people born of Sofian descent called "shopi". It is made from tomatoes, cucumbers, onion/scallions, raw or roasted peppers, white brine cheese and parsley.
- Snezhanka salad or Snow White salad is made from yogurt and cucumbers. Snezhanka (Snow White) salad derives its name from the fairy tale character Snow White but the only reason for the name is the predominantly white color of the salad.
- Trushia is served predominantly in the winter season - pickled vegetables. It is a traditional appetizer (meze) to go with the alkoholi drink rakia. It is often served in restaurants or it can be bought prepared from supermarkets. There are different recipes made with garlic, chili peppers, celery, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage and other vegetables, and dried aromatic herbs pickled in vinegar, salt, and different spice mixtures, which usually include whole black peppercorns, ginger, etc.
- Kyopolou salad is a popular Bulgarian and Turkish relish made principally from roasted eggplants and garlic. Bell peppers, tomatoes, parsley are added.
- Green Salad, very popular in the spring season and Easter, is made of lettuce, radish, cucumber. Boiled eggs are added on Easter. Sometimes it is served topped with yogurt.
- Lyutenitsa (Ljutenica or Lutenica) is a vegetable relish. The ingredients include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, onion, garlic or black pepper. It comes in many varieties. Lyutenitsa comes in a jar and is often used as a spread on toast and breads. It is also popularly eaten with many meats, meatballs and kebapcheta.
- Kebapche (plural Kebapcheta) is grilled minced meat with spices (black peopper or cumin). The meat is shaped into an elongated cylindrical form, similar to a hot dog. Typically, a mix of pork and beef is used. Kebapche is a grilled food. It is never fried or baked.
- Kyufte (also Kiufte, plural Kiufteta) is minced meat, with traditional spices, shaped as a flattened ball.
- Sarma is a dish of grape or cabbage leaves rolled around a filling usually based on minced meat.
- Musaka (Moussaka) is potato-based dish with pork mince, and the top layer is usually yogurt mixed with raw eggs.
- Yogurt is popular dessert served with jam, dried or fresh fruits or honey. In the Sofia area it is often called Vezuvii (Vesuvius) or given other "marketing" names in the restaurant menus.
- Baklava is very popular dessert but it is rarely served in the restaurants in Sofia. It can be found in boxes in the supermarkets.
- Garash cake is commonly found in patisseries and restaurants. It is made of ground walnut kernels, sugar and topped with chocolate icing.
There are a number of traditionally vegetarian dishes in Bulgarian cuisine including salads, soups, and some main dishes.
Salads - main ingredients in Bulgarian salads are tomatoes, cucumbers and white cheese. The most popular Bulgarian salad is Shopska salad, which is a mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, raw or roasted peppers (preferably roasted), white cheese and is typically seasoned with parsley. The dressing for Shopska salad is salt, sunflower oil and wine vinegar.
Soups - Traditional Bulgarian vegetarian soups include: Bob Chorba (боб чорба) which is a minty bean soup, Leshta Chorba (Леща чорба) which is minty lentil soup and Tarator (Таратор) - a cold yoghurt and cucumber soup.
Main dishes - there is a wide variety of boiled, fried, breaded, or roasted vegetarian dishes.
- Panagyurski style eggs (Яйца по панагюрски) - Boiled open eggs served in yoghurt and white cheese with red pepper and garlic seasoning
- Mish-mash - fried mixed eggs with peppers (and onions) seasoned with fresh spices
- Byurek pepper (Чушка бюрек) - baked pepper stuffed with seasoned eggs and white cheese mix, breaded and fried
- Vegetarian sarmi (посни сърми) - rolls of either vine leafs or pickled cabbage leafs filled with seasoned rice and served with yoghurt
Traditional milk products
There are only two native kinds of cheese: the yellow-colored Kashkaval (Кашкавал) - more or less akin to the Dutch Gouda - and the more popular white Sirene (Сирене) - a kind of Feta cheese, similar to Greek Feta in taste but more sour. Originally made from sheep milk, it is available from cow or goat milk, or mixed.
A pride of the Bulgarian people, yoghurt has Bulgaria for its motherland. The native Bulgarian original yoghurt (kiselo mlyako) contains Lactobacilicus Bulgaricus, a bacterium which serves as the basis for active culture "plain" yoghurt in other countries. Normally made from cow or sheep milk, it can also be prepared from buffalo milk, with a remarkably stronger taste.
Being a staple, and quite favourite around the country, Bulgarian yoghurt also is an ingredient to many dishes, the most famous one being the cold soup Tarator and the drink Ayran. Yoghurt is also a main ingredient of a white sauce used in baking.
There are a lot of dishes served with yoghurt on the side since Bulgaria is the homeland of the product.
Traditional meat appetizers
There is a large number of traditional meat appetizers from all kinds of meat in Bulgarian cuisine. The most widely consumed, however, have been pork. Traditional meat appetizers are made from either the meat of the animal or from its intestines, but some of the delicacies include both. Other ingredients include leek, garlic, sometimes rice and a wide variety of herbs and spices such as savoury, thyme, parsley, cumin, dill, black pepper, red pepper, and others.
Cooked traditional meat appetizers include fried liver ( typically chicken, pork or lamb), roasted lamb intestines in herbs and spices, breaded veal tongue or veal tongue with mushrooms in butter, and veal stomach in butter or with mushrooms and cheese. Other popular cooked meat appetizers are sazdarma (саздърма) and bahur. Sazdarma is made of chopped meat and usually is seasoned with Daphne leafs and black pepper and can be from veal, lamb or mutton, while bahur is made of chopped pork meat and liver, with added rice and seasoned with allspice, savoury and black pepper. Although, some may think that those appetizers do not sound attractive at all, many of them fin out that they are a jewel once they have tried them.
Smoked and/or dried meat appetizers can be generally divided into two types: pastramis and salamis.
Some of the most popular pastrami-type appetizers are the pork Elena fillet (a salted air-dried fillet covered in savoury, thyme and other herbs) and Trakiya fillet (again, salted and air-dried fillet which is more juicy than Elena fillet and is covered in red pepper). There is also a wide variety of conventional pastramis (air-dried and then smoked and steamed) made from pork, veal, mutton, lamb and turkey. Pastrami in Bulgaria is transcribed as пастърма (pastarma). Another popular fillet appetizer is air-dried mackerel (in Bulgarian veyana skumriya (веяна скумрия) and it can be found in restaurant all around the seaside.
Salami-like appetizers are mostly made of pork and are only air-dried. The most popular are lukanka (made of minced pork with black pepper and cumin), ambaritsa (made of minced meat with red pepper, black pepper and garlic), babek (chopped meat and belly with red pepper, black pepper and either dill or savoury), and starets (chopped meat and belly with black pepper, cumin, allspice and rarely leek or garlic).
Bulgarians have a long tradition of making meat appetizers and many of them vary in recipe across the country. Much of them can be found in different varieties in restaurants and food stores. Most of the most popular appetizers have regional recipes that give the distinct flavour of the area.
Popular local dishes with meat
The most preferred Bulgarian salad is the shopska salad. However, there is another traditional salad that includes the ingredients of the shopska salad and adds it own distinct touch. The ovcharska salad is a mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onion, parsley and white cheese combined with mushrooms, boiled eggs, yellow cheese and most significantly - ham. The dressing again is salt, sunflower oil and wine vinegar.
As a main course you can have:
- Bulgarian moussaka - a rich oven-baked dish of among other ingredients: potatoes, minced meat and white sauce of eggs and yoghurt served traditionally with chilled yoghurt;
- Gyuvetch - typical ingredients include chopped potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, peas and some meat done in a clay pot called gyuvetch (from where the name of the dish comes
- Sarmi - rolls of vine or pickled cabbage leaves with rise and meat
- Drob sarma - a dish of lamb liver, belly and kidneys with rice covered white sauce and baked, served with yoghurt
- Kavarma - fried meat with tomatoes, onions and peppers
- Kapama - rolls of pickled cabbage leafs filled with four types of meat and at least one type of sausages in tomatoes and onions baked in a gyuvetch
In Bulgaria there are traditional bakeries that prepare different kinds of pastry products. Banitsa and mekitsa are the favorite salty and sweet (respectively) pastries among others like tutmanik, milinka and kifla. Also, a traditional fast food option in Bulgaria is the grilled foods, such as kebabche and kufte (made of minced meat), karnache (a variety of sausage) and shishche (a king of shish-kebab made with chicken or pork meat).
Pizza, dyuner (döner kebab), sandwiches and toasts, or hamburgers are also very easily found on the streets of Bulgaria. There are also many local and international fast-food chains. While the local vary across regions, some of the internationally recognised McDonalds, KFC, Subway and Burger King are in every big city.
There are more than six hundred mineral water springs around the country, so this is something you'd better taste and drink. However, tap water is not safe to drink in some regions.
Some of the most popular traditional non-alcoholic beverages in the country are ayran/ayryan (yoghurt, water and salt) and boza (sweet millet ale).
Another popular non-alcoholic drink is the fizzy drink "Etar" that has a distinct caramel flavour.
Grape growing and wine production have a long history in Bulgaria, dating back to the times of the Thracians. Wine is, together with beer and grape rakia, among the most popular alcoholic beverages in the country.
Some of the well known local wine varieties include:
- the red dry wines Mavrud, Pamid, Gamza;
- the red sweet wines Melnik, Dimyat, Misket, Malaga (made of raisins), Muskat, Pelin (with sour notes), Kadarka;
- and the white wines Keratsuda (dry) and Pelin (sweet with sour notes).
Beer (bira: бира) is produced and consumed all around the country. You can find readily available excellent local varieties like Kamenitza (from Plovdiv), Zagorka (from Stara Zagora), Ariana (from Sofia), Pirinsko (from Blagoevgrad) and Shumensko (from Shumen), as well as Western European beers produced under license and produced in Bulgaria like Tuborg, Heineken, Stella Artois and Amstel.
- Rakia/rakiya (ракия) is the Bulgarian national alcoholic drink. It is served neat, usually at the beginning of a meal with salads. It's is strong (40% vol) clear brandy that is most commonly made from grapes or plums. However, there are as many varieties of the alcohol as there are fruit. Some of the best special selections are either made of apricots, or pears, or cherries, or peaches.
In many regions people still distil their rakia at home. Home-made rakia may include some special ingredients such as anise, honey, milk, natural gum and lozenges. Home-made rakia is then usually much stronger (around 50% to 60% vol).
- Another quite popular drink is mastika (мастика). It is a strong (47 - 55% vol) anise-flavoured drink very similar to Greek ouzo. It is usually consumed with ice, with water in a 1:1 mixture.
- Menta (мента) is a Bulgarian peppermint liqueur. It can be combined with mastika getting the Cloud cocktail (Oblak). Menta can also be combined with milk for a weak alcoholi, but tasty cocktail.
Finding an accommodation in Bulgaria is very easy, for any price. You can find everything - from hostels in Sofia and Plovdiv, very cheap boarding houses along the coast to inexpensive hotels in all cities and luxury hotels in large cities. There are many "mountain huts" or villas available for rent all around the mountains in the country. Overnight accommodations can also be acquired at about a dozen of the monasteries. There are also plenty of guest houses and villas. Bulgaria is famous for offering quality budget accommodation for rural and ecological tourism in charming small towns in its mountains as well as at the seaside. In some of the coastal villages, elderly ladies often approach tourists disembarking from coaches and trains, offering accommodation in boarding houses. These can often be excellent value for money (from as little as $5 a night) and can offer an authentic experience, however check these out before you agree on a stay.
The oldest Bulgarian university is the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" that in 2008 celebrated 120 years from its foundation. It is considered to be the largest and most prestigious university center. There are many newer centres of education in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Shumen, Veliko Tarnovo, Blagoevgrad, etc.
For most subjects, programs are available in Bulgarian or English, depending on the university. Elementary and middle schools are supported by local authorities budget. As with most nations, teachers complain about small salaries. Literacy is nearly universal. Bulgarian people speak mostly English, German, French and Russian.
Some of the universities that offer education entirely in English are the American University in Bulgaria, the New Bulgarian University and the Technical University of Sofia. The last one offers also degrees in German language.
Secondary education entirely in English is offered by the American College in Sofia.
Bulgaria is generally a safe country, and people are quite friendly. You should however behave according to common sense when you are outside of the main tourist areas, i.e. don't show too openly that you have money, don't dress too much like a tourist, watch your things, don't walk around the suburbs (esp. those of Sofia) at night, avoid dark streets at night. Stepping in a hole is a much greater danger in Bulgaria than getting robbed.
Emergency phone numbers
The pan-European standard number 112 for all emergency calls is working everywhere in Bulgaria since September 2008. If, for some reason, you can not connect to 112, dial 166 for police, 150 for ambulance and 160 for the fire department.
Driving in Bulgaria can be fairly nerve-wracking, and Bulgarian roads have claimed 599 lives in 2012 and this is a decreasing figure compared with previous years. Aggressive driving habits, the lack of safe infrastructure, and a mixture of late model and old model cars on the country’s highways contribute to a high fatality rate for road accidents. Of significant notation that the Bulgarian road system is largely underdeveloped. There are few sections of limited-access divided highway. Some roads are in poor repair and full of potholes. The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria for all passengers, except pregnant women. In practice, these rules are often not followed. Take caution while crossing the streets, as generally, drivers are extremely impatient and will largely ignore your presence whilst crossing the road.
In general, organised crime is a serious issue throughout Bulgaria, however it usually does not affect tourists and ordinary people. Bulgaria is safer than most European countries with regard to violent crime, and the presence of such groups is slowly declining. Pickpocketing and scams (such as taxi scams or confidence tricks) are present on a wider scale, so be careful, especially in crowded places (such as train stations, urban public transport).
Car theft is probably the most serious problem that travellers can encounter. If you drive an expensive car, do not leave it in unguarded parking lots or on the streets - these locations are likely to attract more attention from the criminals. If, by any chance you do leave it in such a location, you need to be sure that the vehicle has a security system. Such an installment will prevent the vehicle from getting stolen.
Travelers should also be cautious about making credit card charges over the Internet to unfamiliar websites. As recent experiences has shown, offers for merchandise and services may be scam artists posing as legitimate businesses. A recent example involves Internet credit card payments to alleged tour operators via Bulgaria-based websites. In several cases, the corresponding businesses did not actually exist. As a general rule, do not purchase items of websites you are unfamiliar with.
Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy. Due to the potential for fraud and other criminal activity, credit cards should be used sparingly and with extreme caution. Skimming devices, surreptitiously attached to ATMs by criminals, are used to capture cards and PINs for later criminal use, including unauthorized charges or withdrawals, are very common in Bulgaria. If you are unsure which ATM to use, it's best to use your cash instead of a credit card.
Also, be careful with the cash you are dealing with. Remember that Bulgaria is one of the biggest bases for money forging of foreign currency, so pay attention to your euros, dollars and pounds.
On occasion, taxi drivers overcharge unwary travelers, particularly at Sofia Airport and the Central Train Station. Travelers are recommended to use taxis with meters and clearly marked rates displayed on a sticker on the passenger side of the windshield, as generally these Taxi's charge a normal amount, and the taxis with no meters charge for very unfair prices. One useful tip is to check the price for your trip from a trustful source beforehand, such as a friend or an official at station or tourist bureau. If by any chance you are trying to be lured into such rouge taxis, it is best to reject the offer, or just simply walk off.
Bulgaria has very harsh drug laws, and the penalties are perhaps far more severe than in any other country in Europe.
Do not exchange currency on the street! It is a common scam to offer you fake money as exchange in tourist areas such as stations.
Stray dogs are common all over Bulgaria. While most are friendly and are more scared of you than you are scared of them, they have been responsible for a number of accidents, so do keep on guard. There is rabies in Bulgaria, so any animal bites should receive immediate medical attention.
Wild bears and wolves can sometimes be seen in woods, so be careful.
Corruption exists in Bulgaria as in many other European countries. For example, some policemen or officials may request you a bribe for certain action. If this happens, decline the proposal and ask for the name & ID of the individual. Corruption in customs was also once a problem, but has dropped drastically since the country's EU entry.
The government has fiercely fought the corruption with a huge success. Should you appear in a situation to which you are asked to bribe, or you feel that you are being exploited, you can either fill out an online query with the police here http://nocorr.mvr.bg/, or call 02 982 22 22 to report corruption.
Unfortunately begging and random people trying to sell you stuff is quite common in Bulgaria. In the holiday resorts both in the mountains and on the coast there will be numerous people trying to sell you various things such as roses and pirate DVD's etc. Usually a firm no will get rid of them but sometimes they will persist and often ignoring it will not make them go away unless you make it absolutely clear you are not interested. Also be aware that in many cases these people can just wander into the hotel restaurants in the evening so expect to see them standing at your table at some point! In the ski resorts there are many people who sell "Traditional" Bulgarian bells. They know when tourists arrive and how long they are staying for and will pester you all week to buy a bell. If you make it clear at the start of the week that you do not want a bell they will usually leave you alone (for a few days at least) but if you do not say no, or even say maybe they will tag you with a cheap plastic bell to force you to buy one later in the week. The bell men will suddenly become your friend for the week as they try to get you to buy a bell, but of course if you want to buy a bell make sure you haggle! And if you really don't want to buy a bell, by the end of the week your bell man will demand his cheap plastic bell back and won't be very happy! Don't feel bad about not buying a bell as they often charge extortionate prices unless you really haggle. If you do buy a bell however, you will find that the bell men will be genuinely friendly and chatty people and really aren't all as bad as they seem!
As a generally rich country in Europe, it's best to say that health standards are developed. However, there are potential health risks, even though the government has fought the high chances of such things with a huge success. It best to stay that the greatest risk that a traveller can encounter is air pollution. People with breathing difficulties, such as asthma are at a greater risk.
Pollution is no better or worse than in any other European city. Health risks are the same as those in other parts of Europe, so be careful of what you eat, meaning that if you purchase fruits and vegetables, wash them prior to eating. If you are inclined to purchase food from a stand that sells fast food containing meat, know that you are taking on a health risk to yourself, because there are no health codes in those establishments.
If you are at the Black Sea, mind the strong sun at the beach, especially in July and August. Wear sunscreen and do not leave the umbrella in the first one or two days. Do not drink hard alcohol at the beach, it could give you a heart attack.
Smoking is the national pastime, and evading the fumes of cigarettes is even more difficult than evading exhaust fumes in the streets. Generally, during the Summer, most people generally sit outside, which makes matters less worse. As this is a seasonally-changing obstacle, it's best to stay on guard. Since 2012, smoking is prohibited in public places, including bars and restaurants, but restrictions are rarely followed.
Eating and drinking
Most food is quite safe to eat. The products used in cooking are usually domestic and organic. Of course, try to avoid eating at places that are obviously not clean.
Tap water in Bulgaria varies greatly in quality, taste and drinking recommendations. While it is of very good quality and safe to drink in the mountain regions, it is best to avoid drinking water in North Bulgaria and in the regions near the seaside. The mountain regions in Bulgaria have natural springs that are quite abundant and many of villages have one or more mineral water springs.
Conditions in Bulgarian hospitals may vary - from the very clean and sparkling, with all the latest technological utilities, to the downright drab, dark and cold. There are some new hospitals, and some very old, with old technology. Medical personnel is very good at their job.
Citizens of the European Union are covered by Bulgaria's National Healthcare System as long as they carry a Eurocard (or European Health Insurance Card), obtainable from their own national healthcare authority.
Dental procedures in private clinics in Bulgaria are of excellent quality. Many people from Western Europe come to Bulgaria to have their teeth done for the quarter of the price they pay in their home countries.
Bulgarians are incredibly friendly and very interested in talking to foreigners. Bulgarians tend to be far more open than some other Eastern Europeans and engaging in dialogue with these people is much advised and worthwhile. In smaller towns, especially in the Rhodopes, people may invite you for lunch or even to sleep over. Often it is a pleasant gesture to give someone a "Dobar Den" when walking past a quiet stall or past a person. Kak sté (how's it going) will usually suffice for the younger generation.
As a rule of thumb for most countries worldwide, you should avoid topics involving politics and foreign relations, and on some occasions football (soccer) as well. If you are pulled in to such a conversation, try to stay neutral. Remember that your own knowledge of local situations is unlikely to be as good as a Bulgarian's!
For certain people, Macedonia is a sensitive subject to talk about, but feel free to ask your questions, provided you do not discuss it with those more likely to take offense (i.e. nationalists and skinheads). Many Bulgarians feel that Macedonia belongs to Bulgaria, but unless you know the subject and the people you are talking to, just asking questions is the best option.
Most of the Bulgarian people do not feel anger or resentment towards Russians (unlike a number of people from other former Eastern Bloc countries), and Bulgarians tend to have a much better perception of Russians, however caution may sometimes be needed in discussing issues regarding Turkey. Likewise, discrimination against Turks and Roma people can be observed, but it's mostly because of certain nationalist groups, that are not much different than hate groups in central and western Europe.
Bulgarians don't really do chit chat, so trying to make conversation with someone at a till in a shop will probably result in odd looks (either from not understanding or not wanting to engage) or they will just ignore you. Likewise Bulgarians are quite impatient and will often honk their car horn at you if you walk in front of a car, especially in winter in the mountains as they try to keep a grip on the road.
Domestic telephone service is available in almost every population centre (no matter the size), via the PSTN or VoIP.
Mobile phones are widely spread in Bulgaria - many people have two or three mobile phones using the different carriers. There are three networks (M-tel, Globul and Vivacom), all using the GSM/3G/HDSPA standards and are soon to launch LTE(4G) on the territory of the country. M-tel is the oldest and largest carrier and as such it has almost full national coverage (97% of the surface of the country), with minore exceptions in the highest parts of the mountains. The other two, Globul and Vivacom, because they are not so heavily used, offer better mobile internet speeds.
Fares are average for the European Union (5-40 Eurocent per minute, 7 Eurocent/SMS). Both pre-paid cards and subscriptions are available, and special options for discounted international calls exist with some pricing plans. Prepaid cards need registration with a valid ID or passport.
Internet access is widely available in Bulgaria, although about 60% of the population has regular access. Broadband internet is available through cable, ADSL, fiber optics, WiMax and LAN connections. You can also access internet with your mobile phone, via GPRS or 3G. Speeds are pretty fast in the capital - with prices being around 10 € for 20 Mbit/s, with local access about 40-100 Mbit/s. The speeds are increasing, home access for 10 Mbit/s being available at around €7.5 per month. Outside Sofia, speeds are significantly lower, fastest being around 7.5 € for 10 Mbit/s. Internet cafes are available in most towns and cities, and in some villages. Computers are usually not available in libraries, or in public places such as train stations, but free wireless access is often available in such public places and in gas stations. Many pubs and hotels will also have WiFi that is free of charge to use. In recent years, wireless access has been growing, especially in biggest cities, but is still rather limited. Paid wireless access is also available. Speeds in Bulgaria are surprisingly good! In fact Bulgaria is in top 10 of the countries with fastest wireless Internet speeds worldwide.