Personal travel guide to Bulgaria:
Please note: I only passed through Bulgaria on the way to Turkey via train. It was a choice I had to make due to the nature of my travels. By request, I am putting up my research here. info updated: (Jan 2017)
Once known only for its Black Sea beach resorts, Bulgaria is now blossoming into a well developed Eastern European destination.
Sofia: The capital, small and very walkable it makes for an ideal weekend getaway to somewhere "new". Culture is evident, as are multitude of museums, parks, art galleries and parks.
St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral: Visually stunning, it's one of the largest orthodox cathedrals in the world.
Hagia Sophia Church: Built in the 6th century over another church this is a famous landmark that was once used as a mosque during the ottoman empires rule. Very close to the Nevsky Cathedral.
Monument to the Unknown Soldier: If you are visiting either of the above, this monument within easy walking distance.
Vitosha Boulevard: Nearly every European capital has an upper scale shopping district, this is Sofia's.
Rila Monastery: Also known as the Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila
Beautifully set in the cool mountains of the Rilksa River. By bus it's about 2.5 - 3 hours from Sofia, and there are many day tours from Sofia with prices from around 50 Euro. That said, for historical or culture fans you can also stay overnight in one of the monasteries own rooms for about 20 Euro.
Plovdiv: Being over 8,000 years old makes Plovdiv a cultural feast to visit.
Old Town: Wooden houses, cobbled lanes, and artisans. What more could you ask for in a walk around this old part of the city.
The Roman Amphitheater: Built in the 2nd century, it could accommodate up to 7,000 people. Restored in the 1970's it's still used to day for many events.
Churches: Plovdiv is filled with them! Most are Easter Orthodox in style, but there are quite a few old Roman Catholic churches.
Hiking: Plovdiv is surrounded by some of the most scenic trails in Eastern Europe. Tours offer day trips, to overnight trails. While guides and independent hiking is are also possible.
Did you know?
Bulgaria is the oldest country in Europe that hasn’t changed its name since it was first established in 681 CE!
By Plane: Bulgaria is now apart of the Euro cheap fly zone, with many carriers offering cheap flights to Varna and Bourgas. The two other international airports include Sofia, and Plovdiv.
By Train: Kiev, Istanbul, Vienna and Bucharest all run regular international routes to Sofia and Varna. If taking many trains across Europe, it might be worthwhile to purchase a Euro rail ticket.
By Bus / Car: Eurolines offers international bus services into Bulgaria with little trouble. There are also a growing number of hop on and hop off tour Euro services. While for car owners you'll need to purchase road tax at the border, and health insurance for everyday you stay in Bulgaria.
Note on overland travel to Bulgaria: Do be aware that many international trains and buses pass through over countries to get into Bulgaria. As such, you will need to have all applicable visas in order beforehand.
Bulgaria is known for it's diverse selection of food, in particular salads and vegetarian options! Traditionally this is due to Bulgaria's climate and location, and not due to vegetarianism as a while. So not all vegetarian looking meals will be meat free, so look out and ask.
Sofia has a reputation for several areas that have high crime areas. Alcohol issues amongst some locals in Sofia is also quite common, and it's advised not to engage with any nighttime public city parties where alcohol is consumed. That said, outside of these areas Bulgarians are opening up to new travelers discovering their country, cuisine and undiscovered beauty.
Cyrillic is not for beginners. Certainly learning the basic numbers, or having a reference on hand will be of great use.
Do be aware of people looking to "help" you at the train and bus stations. Don't get involved in disputes when alcohol is involved. Do not drink and drive in Bulgaria, the penalties are strong prison terms!
Where I was going to stay
Try a search for the lowest priced hotels in Bulgaria!
Sofia: Canape Connection Hostel12A, William Gladstone Street, Sofia 1000, Bulgaria. The name of the street in cyrillic is "Уилиям Гладстон". Phone: +359 2 441 63 73
Plovdiv: Hostel Mostel, 13, Petar Parchevich Str., Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Phone +359 879 100 185
Prefer local accommodation? Try Airbnb (get up to USD $40 discount)
Well, this boils back to a lot of things. And, I realize I should comment on the choices I made in my travel journal. I was planning to spend time in Bulgaria, but it never happened. But from what I had learned thus far, it wasn't gong to happen either. Times have changed though, so I am open to a more extensive look at Bulgaria..
Why did no one else on my train visit Bulgaria?
Everyone was coming from Romania and going directly to Turkey. The fact both Romania and Turkey have better tourism advertising was a primary reason for the people I spoke with. Personally I was already trying to catch my Iranian & Pakistani visas in Turkey, had I stayed in Bulgaria for any length of time, I would not have got my Pakistani visa; so it was the right choice. Would I go back to Bulgaria? Yes, if the right opportunity came about.
Are the trams a problem for travelers in Sofia?
Yes! You've got to buy a separate ticket for your large luggage, failing to do so could land you with a fine.