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Depending on how much time you have planned for your Bulgarian trip, you may only visit some highlights of the country or literally dive into its amazing natural and cultural treasures. Read Culture Trip’s list of some of the best things to see and do in Bulgaria to create your personal must-visit list.
There is a marvelous Bulgarian tradition for every season – from the Kukeri monster dances in winter to the Rose Festival in the Rose Valley in June and the July Morning tradition on July 1 when the locals greet the rising sun to welcome the summer. On June 3, the ancient tradition of Nestinari, walking on embers, takes place in the small border village of Balgari. In the first weekend of August, the biggest open-air bagpipe gathering fills the air with folkloric music on the mountain slopes around the village of Gela.
Some of the Bulgarian villages have been turned into architectural reserves to preserve the beautiful houses of the past. Bulgarians love getting back to nature and to their roots, spending their weekend in villages – growing their own food, sleeping in guesthouses, or just enjoying the silence outside of the city.
Bulgaria has more than 1300 years of history as a country, with many tribes and foreign powers having left their influence over the centuries. Plan a stop at one or more of the Bulgarian museums and learn a bit about the past to better understand the present. History buffs will enjoy a day at the biggest history museum in the country, the National History Museum in Sofia that exhibits some of the most impressive ancient Thracian gold treasures as well as the most important items since prehistoric times. The streets of the Old Town of Plovdiv are dotted with traditional Revival-period houses, many of them museums.
Wind, water, and time have done their job in sculpting amazing rock formations all over Bulgaria. After that, people have used their imagination to create stories about the rock shapes that resemble people, mushrooms, and giants. Visit the Belogradchik Rocks to marvel at the castle set among the rocks, or the Stob Pyramids near Sofia to see the magical earth formations at sunset.
If you need to get away from the modern world, plan an escape to any of the historical towns in Bulgaria. Nessebar (protected by UNESCO) and Sozopol are located at the seaside and have magnificent Old Towns with wooden houses. The steep cobblestone streets of the Old Town of Plovdiv takes you two centuries back in history. Koprivshtitsa (difficult to pronounce but worth the effort) is a whole town keeping the spirit of the past epochs alive.
Hikers will find all sorts of terrains in Bulgaria – the Pirin and Rila Mountainsmore are rockier and more Alpine-like, while the Rhodopes have rounder shapes and are more green. The Bulgarian mountains are relatively well signed (depending on the route you’ve chosen), but you should always bring a map and a compass with you. There’s an emblematic mountain hike, the Kom to Emine route, which crosses Bulgaria from west to east, finishing at Cape Emine at the Black Sea coast. You will need special training for it, though, as it takes around 20 days to cover.
Bulgarian cuisine has much in common with the other Balkan countries, but it has its own specialties, too. Fresh vegetable salads are locals’ favorite all year round (try the fresh vegetables and Bulgarian feta cheese Shopska salad and Ovcharska salad, the mayonnaise-based Ruska salad, or the Mlechna salad that is similar to the Greek tzatziki). If you travel through the Rhodope Mountains, don’t miss its local culinary delights.
The Bulgarian coast attracts many European vacationers every summer, offering both wild and luxury beaches. Sunny Beach, Golden Sands, and Kiten have a more vibrant, party atmosphere, while Sinemorets, Ahtopol or Kavarna are better for families. Varna and Burgas are the two major coastal cities that also have industrial zones and big shopping malls.
Bansko, Pamporovo, and Borovets are the three major ski resorts in Bulgaria with many ski and snowboard facilities. There are tracks for both beginners and advanced winter sports enthusiasts.