8 Ways to Experience Bulgaria Like a Local

Bulgarian mountains | © nikolabelopitov / Pixabay
Bulgarian mountains | © nikolabelopitov / Pixabay | nikolabelopitov / Pixabay
Tourists are frequently in danger of sticking to well-trodden, planned out paths, and failing to immerse themselves fully in the local life of the country they are in. If you are heading on a trip to Bulgaria, check out these tips to experience the country in a completely different way, by following some of the local rituals that fill the lives of everyday Bulgarians.

Have banitsa and boza for breakfast

Every Bulgarian has a breakfast favorite that could range from green smoothies to toasted sandwiches, but if you want to try something really typical, go for a combination of the baked, cheese-filled pastry banitsa and a bottle of the slightly fermented and sweet beverage boza. While the banitsa will hardly surprise you with its taste, the boza might cause raised eyebrows and is rarely liked by foreigners, but it’s always worth a shot.

Banitsa © Merle ja Joonas/Flickr

Celebrate your name day

Bulgarians have a seemingly endless list of occasions for celebrations, and name days (the religious days of their patron saints) are just one of the many. Traditionally speaking, you don’t have to be invited to join someone’s name day party and, since there are so many name days throughout the year, chances are you will be able to experience at least one. Bring flowers or a small gift for the special person.

Ask locals about their customs and everyday lives

There are many things in Bulgaria that seem inexplicable to foreigners: how is it possible for Bulgarians to afford to go out, go on vacations, and own their own cars and flats, bearing in mind the average salary in the country? Why are most drivers so aggressive? There are many tiny details that make this country unique, yet you need a local to walk you through it all, and if you are lucky, let you join in.

A beach at the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast © Wengen/Pixabay

Escape the city for the weekend

Bulgaria is a small country and both the mountains and the seaside are close by for weekend escapes. Especially in the summer, big cities can look almost haunted on the weekend, as so many people prefer to swap the cityscape for seawater or a mountain peak view.

Catch a train

There’s no other means of transport in Bulgaria that can offer you as unique a local experience like the train. Bulgarian trains may be quite outdated and always running late, but this becomes unimportant when you consider the people you meet and the stories you can hear. If you are up for a truly memorable experience, take the narrow-gauge train running from Septemvri to Dobrinishte that offers stunning views of mountain peaks and charming villages.

Bulgarian railways © romaniamissions/Pixabay

Join a local group of friends and go to a hizha

Hizha (hee-jah) is the Bulgarian word for a mountain hut or chalet and is a favorite Bulgarian pastime. Some huts are accessible by car and others need a half-day hike. However, staying in a hizha doesn’t just mean hiking and sleeping in a room with 10 other people (although that’s what you have to expect), it’s also about embracing the whole of Bulgarian hiking culture. Bring lots of lyutenitsa and rakia in your backpack, learn a few hikers songs, and don’t forget a copy of The 10 higher peaks of the 10 higher mountains in Bulgaria, which lets you collect a stamp for 10 of the highest peaks in the country. Evenings at the huts always include board games, drinking all that rakia you’ve brought, and dancing horo.

Hizha Rai in Stara Planina Mountain, Bulgaria © Rusalina/WikiCommons

Start with strong alcohol and then switch to beer or wine

Drinking like a Bulgarian is a whole new art to master but if you want a good starting point, this is it. Unlike many other nations, Bulgarians start the evening drinking strong spirits (like the local fruit brandy rakia) accompanied by a salad or cured meat, before turning to wine or beer when dinner is served.

Stay at village guest houses

Villages are the best places to experience genuine Bulgarian hospitality. Many of the guest houses in villages are run by elderly people who treat their guests like family. This is where you can try all of the country’s authentic, traditional food and witness the everyday life of Bulgarians living in small communities.