Land of the roses
Bulgaria may be poor in terms of economy but it is certainly rich beyond measure in terms of natural beauty. With unspoiled landscapes, rugged mountains, historic cities, endless rivers and beautiful beaches, visitors will be in awe of what this country has to offer: Bulgaria is the perfect location to discover real adventure and awaken your senses
Bulgaria is part of the Balkan peninsula lying in the south-eastern corner of Europe bordering the Black Sea, with a beautiful coastline and mountainous interior. With so many historical influences, Bulgaria is an eclectic mix of different cultures as evident in its architecture, folklore and hospitality.
The capital, Sofia, dates back to the fifth century BC but is fast becoming a multi-cultural and very modern city offering a cost-effective alternative to some of the more crowded European cities.
Since becoming a leading winter sports destination in Europe, Bulgaria is ideal for visiting at any time of year. In summer, the beaches of the Black Sea beckon, with spring and autumn being the perfect time to go city sightseeing or hiking in the mountains.
Top Cities Sofia (capital), Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas Languages Bulgarian Currency Bulgarian Lev Time Zone Time zone in Bulgaria is (GMT+2), making Bulgaria 2 hours ahead of London. This time difference remains the same all year. Drinks Imported beer: £1.35/$1.75 Domestic beer: £1.00/$1.30 Water: £0.50/$0.60
Meals Inexpensive restaurant: £4.60/$5.80 Meal for 2, mid-range, 3-courses: £22.85/$28.90 Hostels Hostel prices start from around £13.00/$16.50. Hotels The average cost of a 3-star hotel is £35.00/$44.15 and for a 5-star hotel, prices average £75.00/$95.00. Tipping Leaving a tip of 10% in a restaurant is customary for good service as a service charge is rarely added. Round up the fare for taxis, leave around 2 Leva per day for hotel housekeeping, and for tour guides, around 10% would be an appropriate amount
Taxi Taxis are cheap and convenient and in Sofia, they are regulated by the city authorities. Expect to pay around £0.40/$0.50 per km. At the airport, there is only one official taxi company - OK Supertrans - so look out for unofficial companies operating and always ensure the meter is working. Some taxi drivers may try to overcharge foreign visitors in tourist areas, claiming that the meter does not work or charging a flat fare, so do be aware. Public transport There is a relatively good transport system in Bulgaria with a mix of private and state organisations. In the cities there are several bus stations, some for the inter-city buses and some for local transport between villages so check you are at the correct one. There are also comfortable, private bus services for longer distances. Several cities also have a good tram network operating. A single journey costs around £0.75/$0.95 but there are various multi-purchase ticket options available. The trains are slow, can get overcrowded and are subject to delays but provide a cheaper long-distance option compared to the private buses. The train network also crosses borders into Turkey, Greece, Serbia and Romania. Ticket prices are cheap: a typical fare from Sofia to Varna will cost around £15.00/$18.75 and the journey takes approximately 7.5 hours. Highlights Located below the Vitosha Mountain, discover 2,000 years of Bulgaria’s history in Sofia influenced by Greek, Roman, Ottoman and Soviet occupation. Here you can wander around grand buildings such as the National History Museum, the Sofia History Museum, the National Art Gallery and the Museum of Socialist Art. Visit the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the second-largest in the Balkan region, and look out for the St. George Rotunda, dating back to the 300s, where you can admire medieval frescoes and the remains of a Roman street. Don’t miss the St. Sofia Church which gave the city its name in the 1300s - see the remains of tombs dating back over 1,500 years. Another church not to be missed is Boyana Church, a UNESCO World Heritage site, dating back to the eleventh century and home to magnificent frescoes. Other sites worth visiting include the Serdica amphitheatre (discovered in 2004), the Ivan Vazov National Theatre, the Central Mineral Baths located in one of Sofia’s most iconic buildings, the synagogue (the largest in the Balkan region) and Park Vrana. Wander along Vitosha Boulevard for some up-market shopping or relax in one of the many cafes or take the gondola via Aleko to access the top of Vitosha for an excellent view across the city. Outside of Sofia, Bulgaria still has plenty to offer visitors. Sunny Beach on the Black Sea is a very popular location for relaxing, partying or indulging in the many watersports. Nearby is the historic trading port of Varna as well as the UNESCO World Heritage site of the city of Nessebar. For a quieter alternative to Sunny Beach, why not try Duni or ancient Sozopol? Head towards the Turkish border on the southern Black Sea coast to Beglik Tash, an ancient ceremonial site made of huge volcanic rocks, or to Golden Sands National Park to indulge in the hot mineral water springs surrounded by forests and wildlife. Central Bulgaria is perfect for nature lovers and adventure seekers. Discover secret villages, magnificent rock formations, the Valley of the Roses and the Veliko Tarnovo fortress. Popular activities include mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking. Visit the Bankso bear park, a dedicated sanctuary to brown bears, where you can watch them from viewing platforms in their natural environment. Of course, during the winter, the area offers excellent skiing and snow sports around Borovets and Bankso. For a trip with a difference, another option is to explore the Danube perhaps taking a longer trip with several stops along the way and including the Danube islands with their white sands, pristine forests and nature reserves.
Bulgaria took its name from the Bulgar people who inhabited the area in 200 AD. The country became an official state in 681 AD and has not changed its name since it was first established.
Sofia was founded 7,000 years ago.
Bulgaria has the third most valuable archeological sites after Greece and Italy, with over 15,000 Thracian tombs that have been discovered.
Gold treasure discovered in the Varna necropolis dates back to 5,000 BC and is the oldest in the world.
Bulgaria is the tenth poorest country in Europe and the poorest in the EU.
Bulgaria is home to approximately 170 plant species found nowhere else in the world.
Rose cultivation is important – those grown in the Rose Valley contribute up to 85% of the world’s rose oil which is used in most perfumes.
Typical dishes include kufte (a beef or pork patty), banitsa (pastry stuffed with meat or cheese) and shopska (a type of mixed salad). Feta cheese is also extremely popular.
In Bulgaria, a nod of the head means “no” and a shake means “yes” – very confusing for visitors!