11 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Bulgaria
Bulgaria's appeal lies in its history, charming towns, vibrant culture, and stunning natural beauty. As visitors to this Eastern European country, many are struck by its agreeable climate, friendly people, and hospitality. Travelers have compared it to Tuscany and Rome, both for its rich scenery and for its friendly people.
This landlocked country is split between mountains and rolling hills with occasional lowlands, divided by lakes and rivers. Ancient monasteries, fortified hill towns, and ruined castles along the shores of mountain lakes create a stunning backdrop for a leisurely getaway.
A visit to Bulgaria includes Bulgaria's most splendid period of history, when it was part of the Byzantine Empire from the seventh century to the 11th century. It was later ruled by the Ottoman Empire for five centuries, until it was liberated by the Russians in the late 1800s.
Modern-day Bulgaria has made it easier for foreign visitors to travel around its interesting towns and cities, yet visitors still enjoy a relaxing time here, especially along its shores. Visit the best places to visit and things to do in Bulgaria with our list of the top attractions in Bulgaria.
Plovdiv, one of the oldest cities in Europe, has a rich history and is home to the largest number of churches per capita in the country. Most visitors don't make it past the ancient walled ramparts, but there are enough interesting sights in Plovdiv to make a day visit worthwhile. Plovdiv has a remarkable center for art, with over 40 museums dedicated to different forms of art and architecture. Two of these, the National Art Museum and the Museum of Folk Arts, are accessible for free. The former is well-stocked with exhibits from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance and ancient times, and the latter features traditional Bulgarian folk costumes, jewels, and decorative arts. In terms of sightseeing, the Ethnographic Museum is one of the best places to visit for history and archaeology buffs, with exhibits dating back to the Paleolithic era, when the first humans appeared in this area. Most of the other museums are fairly small, but most are housed in well-restored Renaissance buildings. Another highlight is the National Opera and Ballet Theatre. Its grand interior, with opulent gilded woodwork, dates from 1868, the same year the theatre was built.
Rila Monastery is one of the most famous and widely visited religious buildings in Bulgaria. It is home to the Mavrovo National Park's main museum, the Rila Monastery Museum. Beside the museum there is a monastery complex where a long list of Byzantine saints are said to have lived and died. The entire complex is now open for visits and houses some of the most beautiful exhibits, including a number of ex-votos. A visit to Rila Monastery is one of Bulgaria's top day trips as the scenery is breathtaking and the history is fascinating.
Vitaly's Guide to Sofia  gives an insight to what to see, how to get around, and what is going on in the wonderful city. Sofia is an ancient city nestled in the mountain ranges of the mighty Balkan peninsula. Stunning at any time of the day, it has a famous opera house and art museum which make it a must see in Bulgaria. There are frequent buses running between Sofia and other major cities in the area such as Plovdiv and Varna in Bulgaria and there are flights to London and Paris from Sofia. Sofia airport can be reached by bus and taxi. With no train service to Sofia, most visitors reach the capital via train from the major European cities such as Vienna and Budapest.
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Varna, a fashionable town on the Black Sea, is famed for its relaxed atmosphere. Regular ferries run from Turkey's bustling Bosphorus to the big deep-water port on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, on the edge of town. From there, visitors can take a bus to the center of Varna, which has lovely old parts as well as some more modern buildings, which are in turn surrounded by the sprawling suburbs of Varna. Traces of Roman antiquity can still be seen in the city, along with the ruins of what was an ancient wall. There are numerous churches built in the baroque style. The most notable is the Cathedral of St. Michael, which has been rebuilt on its ancient foundations. The beaches around Varna are all popular destinations, the most beautiful being at the far north end, near the attractive resort of Kavarna. The beaches of Kabra are less traveled and are extremely pretty. The city is easy to visit by train and rail services are frequent to many locations. The very friendly staff will be able to assist with information about travel to nearby Bulgaria and Turkey.
Located along the Black Sea in the northwest corner of Bulgaria, Blagoevgrad has a bustling feel about it. Visitors can shop for local produce, visit an ancient church, and spend the evening strolling the medieval city, searching for bargain furniture or just a spot for coffee. The town also makes an interesting overnight stop, particularly if you are heading to or from Istanbul. For the energetic, Blagoevgrad makes a convenient base for trips to the Bulgarian interior, including Sandanski, a picturesque town on a pine-covered hillside in the Rila Mountains. For another approach to the mountains, take the cable car to the Hiker's Spa. Its hiking trails, bath-houses, and bubbling thermal springs have made it popular with German and Italian tourists since the early 1990s.
Pirin National Park
The deepest and most rugged gorge of the Balkan mountain ranges, Pirin National Park boasts numerous waterfalls and crystal-clear waterfalls in several areas, all accessible by cable car. It is Europe's largest national park and is also Bulgaria's oldest and most diverse national park. It has more than 675 peaks above the tree line, most of which are over 3,000 meters in height and contain some of the world's longest uninterrupted steep and sheer faces. Apart from its geographical and geological diversity, it also boasts a number of rare animals and plants, including the Macedonian ou-toulou, a type of honey bee found nowhere else in the world, and the Pyrgus napi butterfly, the only one in the world.
Kyustendil is a lively city of about 54,000 people located close to the border with Macedonia in southern Bulgaria. It is famous for its old Russian-influenced style of architecture. Kyustendil's downtown is a pleasant mix of old and new, including cafés, shops, and modern offices lining Republic Square. The 17th-century Church of St. Michael has been well maintained and is worth a visit. The ornate churches of the former Wallachian and Moldavian rulers are also worth a look. The Citadel was built in 1711 to control the pass across the Struma River. It remains an important stronghold. There are regular bus and train services into Kyustendil from Sofia.
Small but lovely Velingrad (also known as Veliko Tarnovo), a former capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire, lies 30 kilometers north of the town of Burgas on the banks of the Iskar River. It is a great destination for those who like to wander and discover little-known historical sites. One of the biggest surprises you will have is how small the city is. To visit Velingrad, you need to take a number of buses and taxis that travel through Burgas. Start off by taking bus 2 from Place Sainte Luce to Velingrad. The closest stop to the main street is at the largest bus terminal at the National House. After collecting your ticket, take the local bus to Hristo Botev, which takes 10 minutes. Take the local bus again to the city center and you will be dropped at the market square. From here, you can easily walk to all the sights. As one of the original imperial towns, many of the buildings here are remnants of the Bulgarian feudal past. The Staro Selo or Old Town is a village in its own right. The Ruski Dom or Russian Church was built in 1710, and is more than 70 years older than England's St. Paul's Cathedral. It has an extraordinary collection of icons, frescoes, and wooden carvings. Also worth seeing is the Monastery of Trinity, which dates back to the 10th century.
This beach resort town in the country's southwestern corner lies at the foot of the beautiful Rila, Rila, Pirin and Rhodope mountains. Established by a group of French entrepreneurs in 1963, it is also Bulgaria's most popular beach resort with its sandy beaches, and ancient cobbled streets, lined with restaurants, cafes and bars.
The Rhodopes Mountains
The Rhodopes, along with the more famous Balkan Mountains of Bulgaria, are the smallest and most remote of Bulgaria's mountainous regions. Covering only a small portion of this small country, the Rhodopes include the entire region of Kyustendil, stretching from the country's southeastern corner as far west as Vidin. Most people are likely to visit this region on day trips from Sofia. Although most sights are of limited interest, the beautiful fields of lavender are certainly a highlight. Tourist services are limited, but there are many good walking and hiking opportunities, as well as places for lodging and simple food.
One of the world's most unusual cities, Veliko Turnovo is a medieval hilltop fortress dating from 1341 and its pristine interior remains almost unchanged from the 19th century. It's famous for its earthen ramparts which are sometimes used for bicycle races and other sporting events. The ramparts were originally built to protect the city from Mongol invaders, but today they are visited by people wanting a peaceful day out. The city itself is a real gem, centered on the magnificent church of the Holy Savior, one of the largest and best-preserved in the region. The basilica itself was built in 1876, but the interior and exterior were decorated in the neo-baroque style in the 19th century, making it one of the most distinctive churches in Bulgaria.