A Brief History of Rakia, Bulgaria's National Drink

Rakia | © Pudelek (Marcin Szala)/Wikimedia Commons
Maria Angelova

“A psychotherapist can help you but rakia is cheaper” – this is a contemporary proverb many Bulgarians swear by. Every foreigner who is lucky enough to be invited over for a dinner by Bulgarians will have a glass of the strong national drink served to them. It is considered an act of hospitality and good intentions. We delve into the history and traditions surrounding Bulgaria‘s national drink.

What is rakia produced from?

Rakia can be distilled from virtually any fruit. In Bulgaria, grapes, plums, and apricots are most frequently used as a raw material. One specific type is the rose rakia called gyulovitsa – it is typical of the Rose Valley region, and its taste is very rich. The most famous plum rakia region is around the mountain town of Troyan in Central Bulgaria. The most aromatic apricot rakia comes from the Tutrakan region, near the Danube River. Sometimes producers add walnuts, honey, or herbs for extra aroma, but it is not very common.

Plums are one of the major rakia ingredients

What does rakia taste like?

Homemade rakia

Many Bulgarians produce their own homemade rakia, especially in towns and villages. While industrially produced rakia is around 40% ABV, homemade rakia can reach as much as 60% ABV. It is a matter of pride for the host to offer a good-quality homemade beverage to their guests.


When and how to drink rakia?

Rakia is served as an apéritif, rather than as a digestif (like similar strong drinks in Italy or France, for instance). A common way to sip it is in the good company of fresh or pickled vegetables. Some Bulgarians prefer to pour water in it, especially if it is homemade, which usually means stronger. Anyway, the majority of Bulgarians skip the water. However, it is important to know that drinking homemade rakia without water is not for the faint-hearted.

In summer, rakia must be chilled, while in winter it can be heated with honey and black pepper. An important fact very few foreigners are aware of is that Bulgarians are heavy drinkers, and it is not a good idea to try to drink as much as them. Year after year, Bulgaria is among the countries with the highest alcohol consumption per capita in the world.

For the biggest rakia fans, there is a giant Rakia Fest that takes place in Sofia every year in December (dates vary) with producers from all over Bulgaria and Europe presenting the best of their best.

Rakia bottles

Rakia on the Balkan Peninsula

Recent research has revealed that rakia-making most likely arrived on the Balkan Peninsula from Asia centuries ago. The word rakia is of Arab origin, too. Nevertheless, rakia is considered a national drink by Bulgarians, Serbs, Turks, and almost all other Balkan countries. Some of the Balkan countries have even tried to register it as a trademark, including Bulgaria and Romania, and it is good to bear in mind that the question “Who invented rakia?” might be a sensitive one.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

Edit article