Miles and miles of fine sandy beaches, densely wooded mountain ranges, and expansive corn and wheat fields characterize this country on the coast of the Black Sea. Of course, Bulgaria has a lot more to offer than just sun-drenched beaches and a huge variety of landscapes. Along with the country’s former Ottoman rulers, the Thracians, Greeks, Macedonians, Romans and Byzantines have all left behind fantastic buildings in many parts of the country. High-quality works of art dating back centuries fill Bulgaria’s museums, while shashliks fill Bulgarians’ stomachs. The rustic cuisine’s special aroma is a result of the various herbs and vegetables used. Fish is the order of the day for places along the coast.
The charm of the narrow, idyllic lanes, pretty 19th-century wooden houses and medieval art in the monasteries and churches has long attracted artists to Plovdiv. The ancient cities of Veliko Tarnovo and Nesebar are also full of delightful nooks and crannies. The Rila and Bachkovo monasteries are also havens of art, while the treasures of the coast can be reached by tourists on foot: Black Sea sand with hustle and bustle all around in the Sunny Beach seaside resort.
Climate and travel season
The climate in Bulgaria is predominantly temperate-continental. However, the effects of the Mediterranean climate zone can be experienced in the south of the country and on the Black Sea coast, resulting in hot, dry summers. From May until October, Bulgaria is an excellent destination for round trips of the country’s interior. Alternatively, a vacation at the beach is best enjoyed on the Black Sea coast between June and September, with temperatures ranging from 68 °F to 81 °F (20 to 27 °C). Even in July and August, the thermometer rarely climbs above the 86 °F (30 °C) mark; this is certainly the case near the sea, where a fresh breeze always blows. As such, visitors should not forget to pack a windproof jacket. Apart from that, light summer clothes will suffice thanks to the Mediterranean climate.
The Bulgarian mountain ranges are recommended for winter sports enthusiasts, particularly the Rila and Pirin mountains. In the distinct high-altitude mountain climate, these mountains are covered in a thick layer of snow from an altitude of 2,000 m upwards between December and March. These mountain ranges are made hospitable by means of a network of lifts and apartment complexes.
Entertainment & Nightlife
In Bulgaria, evening entertainment keeps everybody happy. Hotels and restaurants located mainly in the tourist areas and major cities offer dance, folk and other live music performances, ensuring that nobody gets bored. In addition, discos, cabaret and late night bars are almost everywhere – buying a drinks voucher is often the price of admission. Alternatives include the performances on offer at the opera and concert halls or a visit to one of the outstanding puppet theaters for adults in locations such as Varna, Plovdiv, Bourgas and Ruse.
Festivities & Events
March At the beginning of Lent, people wearing animal costumes and adorned with symbols of fertility parade through many of Bulgaria’s villages. The Sofia International Film Festival also takes place in this month (http://www.sofiaiff.com).
The March Music Days (Martenski musikalni dni) is a classical music festival in Ruse.
21 May Nestinarstvo, a ritual dance on smoldering embers, is performed in the southeast of the country on the day of the Feast of the Holy Great Sovereigns Constantine and Helena.
May-July Sofia Music Weeks Classical International Music Festival is a festival for classical and modern orchestra music.
June The beginning of the rose-harvesting period in Bulgaria is celebrated with the Festival of the Roses in Karlovo and Kazanlak, a celebration steeped in folklore.
August The Koprivštica folklore festival is home to a large medieval fair.
A visit to the Bansko International Jazz Festival is also recommended during this month.
Food & Drink
Spicy, tasty, rich in fat, and aromatic: this is Bulgarian cuisine in a nutshell. It was strongly influenced by Turkish-Greek culinary traditions, which can be seen to some extent in the popular Shopska salad (sheep’s cheese, onion, tomatoes and peppers) and often in the minced meat, lamb, seafood and fish dishes, which are served. Bulgarian dishes are accompanied by schnapps (such as Slivovitz) or wine (usually dry) or beer from the region. Visitors have to try the Bulgarian yoghurt, which is offered everywhere.
How to get there
Bulgaria Air offers flights to Bulgaria from numerous cities (http://www.air.bg). The most important airports in the country are located close to Burgas, Plovdiv, Sofia and Varna, respectively. Burgas International Airport is situated 10 km northeast of Burgas (http://www.bourgas-airport.com). Plovdiv Airport is 12 km from the city center (http://www.plovdivairport.com). Sofia Airport is located 10 km east of Sofia (http://www.sofia-airport.bg). Finally, Varna Airport is situated 9 km west of Varna (http://www.varna-airport.com). Buses regularly travel from all four airports to the respective city centers.
Local tourist information
State agency for tourism: Bulgarian State Agency for Tourism
Sveta Nedelya Square 1
Official language: Bulgarian
Population: 7.5 million inhabitants
Surface area: 110,994 km²
Capital city: Sofia (1.5 million inhabitants)
Country code: 00359
Time zone: Central European Time (CET) +1, Universal Time Coordinated (UTC) +2 hour, in summertime +3 hours
In Bulgaria’s typical workshops, the so-called ‘Charsija’ (such as those in Nesebar, Sozopol, Sofia and Gabrovo), those who treasure durable and artistic handicrafts and enjoy rummaging around in small stores will find a veritable paradise. Reproductions of ancient icons in particular are sought out in addition to silver and gold jewelry, ceramics, carpets and blankets. Rose oil, honey, wine and schnapps also make charming souvenirs. These items can be found in small stores or at the local farmers’ markets.
Traveling around the country
The bus and railway network is predominantly well-developed in the country’s coastal regions. In comparison to Western Europe, the fares are rather cheap. Time and patience is required when traveling by public transport inland. Connections between the airports and the tourist centers are well-organized. When traveling across the country, buses are usually quicker and more comfortable than the railway. Passenger ships (including hydrofoils) travel along the coast. Visitors should rent a hire car if they wish to experience the beautiful back country of Bulgaria in addition to its holiday spots. In doing so, the long waiting times at bus and railway stations can be successfully avoided. There are well-constructed highways and roads throughout the country. Road signs are now written in the Latin alphabet as well. There is a network of twenty-four hour gas stations nationwide. Hire cars can be rented cheaply from various providers in all major towns and cities.
Currency & Exchange rates
The national currency of Bulgaria is called Lev (‘lion’), with the plural form being Leva. One Lev has 100 Stotinki. New lev banknotes have been in circulation since 1 January 2000. As such, change should be carefully scrutinized and money should generally not be exchanged on the street, which is not permitted anyway and often results in tourists being cheated. Money should only be exchanged in banks; exchanging money in some bureaux de change (in many hotels) has resulted in problems.
Although money can indeed be withdrawn from cash machines using a Maestro bank card, there have been many cases of credit card fraud in the past (particularly in the area around the Black Sea). Major credit cards are accepted in large hotels, restaurants and hire car firms; sometimes a fee of up to 20% is charged. The import and export of foreign currencies is permitted up to an equivalent value of 10,000 euros. Amounts greater than 10,000 euros or 25,000 leva must be declared in writing with the Bulgarian customs authority (there are corresponding forms in English). Save the exchange receipts for exchanging leva back into the original currency!
Personal belongings are free of charge. Valuables (cameras, televisions, computers, jewelry etc.) must be declared in writing upon arrival in the country – and picked up again when leaving the country! Apart from that, 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 g tobacco, 2 l of wine and 1 l of spirits and 50 g of perfume may be exported toll-free. When exporting art and antiques, a toll and clearance certificate are required – this is because the export of works of art (including modern works!) belonging to the ‘national heritage of the people’ is strictly forbidden.
Embassy of the United Kingdom
9 Moskovska Street
Embassy of the United States
16, Kozyak Street
Consulate of Australia
37 Trakia Street
Consulate of Canada
7, Pozitano street, block no. 3, first floor, office no. 4
Postal code 1301
As there is currently no contact address in Bulgaria, disabled persons should refer to tour operators which specialize in trips for people with disabilities. Mobility International Switzerland, for example, provides information on this: Froburgstr. 4, 4600 Olten, Switzerland. Tel: 0041-62-2068835, Fax: 0041-62-2068839. E-mail: email@example.com. Internet: http://www.mis-ch.ch.
In general, the voltage is 220 volts AC.
Emergency no. (police): 166; emergency no. (fire dept.): 160; emergency physician/ambulance: 150; traffic police: 165; breakdown service: 146.
Though citizens of many European countries must carry a valid passport or identity card with them, there are no border controls for this. Children may only enter the country with a passport or children’s identity card with photo. Children may not travel on the passport of a parent. Swiss nationals require a valid passport or identity card for residence of up to 90 days. Even since Bulgaria became a member of the EU on 1 January 2007, border controls still exist for EU citizens. This is because Bulgaria has currently not yet signed the Schengen Agreement. When entering the country, visitors must state in writing their destination and address of their place of residence. Privately accommodated foreign citizens must register with the police within five days upon arrival.
As part of the process of liberalization, the topic of homosexuality is openly discussed (at least in the major cities). More information can be found at: http://sofia.gayguide.net. Obstacles to career progression and repressive measures towards homosexuals in the civil service are gradually being removed, partly as a result of pressure from the European Union.
Health care is of a high standard in the major tourist destinations, and clinics and physicians have access to relatively state-of-the-art equipment. Several English and German-speaking physicians practice in the tourist areas. Treatment and visits to the doctor must be paid for in cash; as such, insurance cover should be checked before traveling and a formal invoice or receipt should be asked for. In state hospitals, emergency medical treatment bills can be settled directly via insurance, meaning that cash payments are no longer made. The ‘European Health Insurance Card’, which is issued by the health insurance company in the visitor’s country of origin, must be provided for this. As most pharmacies do not stock foreign medical provisions, a sufficient supply of the required (continuous) medicine should be taken along. For pharmacies on duty, dial 178. Vaccination against hepatitis A is recommended before taking a trip to Bulgaria. If you are planning on staying in the country, vaccination against the transmission of TBEV in tick bites is also recommended.
Agencies and offices: Mon-Fri 9 am-5.30 pm. Banks: Mon-Fri 9 am-12 pm and 2/3 pm-4/5 pm (for public transport); Bureaux de change usually 9 am-8 pm. Telephone exchanges daily 8 am-9 pm. Stores, supermarkets and boutiques (in large cities): usually 10 am-8 pm, some close between 12.30 pm and 4.30 pm. Gas stations 6 am-9 pm. Post offices: Mon-Sat 8.30 am-5.30 pm with breaks (advice: sending parcels home is not worth it, as the postage is highly expensive, and shipping takes a long time). As a rule, museums are closed on Mondays – otherwise open daily 9/10 am-5/6 pm. Lunch breaks differ greatly.
January 1st: New Year; March 3rd: Public holiday “Liberation Day” to celebrate independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878; Easter Sunday and Easter Monday (according to the Gregorian calendar); May 1st: Labor Day; May 6th (Day of Bravery – for the Bulgarian Army); May 24th: Education and Culture and Slavonic Literature Day ("Kiril i Metodij", Saints Cyril and Methodius Day); September 6th: Unification Day; September 22th: Independence Day; November 1st: Day of the Bulgarian National Revival Leaders; December 25th/26th: Christmas.
In the regions inhabited by Muslims, the Islamic religious holidays are celebrated. First and foremost, this is the three-day "Sugar Festival" at the end of the fasting month’ (Eid-ul-Fitr) Ramadan, and the four-day "Festival of Sacrifice" (Eid al-Adha).
Direct dial international phone calls can be made from almost all locations and from post offices. Payphones are increasingly changing over to a card-based system – due to the fact that various manufacturers are involved in this, only cards and machines manufactured by the same company can be used in conjunction with one another. Telephone cards can be purchased from the post office, various stores, and kiosks. Country code: 00359, then dial the respective local area code without ‘0’ (e.g. Sofia: 00359-2-). Directory assistance in Sofia: 144/145. Mobile phones operating on GMS 900 can be used without any problems. The largest service providers are M-Tel and Globul.
Bulgaria uses Eastern European Time (EET), which is ahead of Universal Time Coordinated (UTC) by two hours in summer and three hours in winter.
Tips should amount to 5-10% of the bill – if the service is satisfactory. Chambermaids and other service providers would also be grateful for a little ‘extra income’.
Women traveling alone
Visiting Bulgaria on one’s own initiative is only conditionally recommended for females, less because harassment is an everyday occurrence and more due to the fact that property-related crimes occur frequently. Females traveling alone should leave their car at home and use public transport instead, or rent a hire car in Bulgaria.
1. Bulgaria Map section
2. Bulgaria Map section
Note: You will find the Bulgaria map enclosed with your printed travel guide. The Bulgaria travel tips will be shown as pins on the map.