Bulgaria is a country with thousands of years of history and a cultural heritage that embraces ancient civilizations. Visitors will find much to interest them in the country’s history, culture, ethnography, religion, architecture and the arts. Unique archaeological sites abound throughout the country – ancient settlement mounds from the Neolithic age, Thracian sanctuaries and tombs, remains of Roman cities, Byzantine and Medieval fortresses, architectural reserves, ethnographic complexes, churches and monasteries, Tekkes (mosques), among many others.
Despite the fact that it occupies only 2% of Europe’s territory, about 40,000 historical monuments have been registered in Bulgaria (7 of which are included in the UNESCO list of world cultural heritage sites), 36 cultural reserves, 160 monasteries, and roughly 330 museums and galleries. This includes prehistoric finds, Thracian tombs, sites from the Greek Age, Roman fortresses, historical monuments from the time of the First and the Second Bulgarian Kingdoms, and architectural landmarks from the Age of Revival.
Emblematic for Bulgaria are the monuments included in the UNESCO List: the Kazanlak Tomb (4th – 3rd century BC), the Thracian Tomb by the village of Sveshtari near Razgrad (3rd century BC), the Madara Horseman (8th century), the Boyana Church (10th – 11th century), the Ivanovo Rock Churches near Ruse (10th – 14th century), the Rila Monastery (10th century), the Old Town in Nesebar.
The Karanovska settlement mound provides a basis for determining the Karanovska Neolithic periods and serves as a model for understanding the development of European prehistoric cultures. Of great interest is the Valley of the Thracian Kings, in which more than 15 tombs have been discovered. Perperikon is also located in the territory of our country. It is considered to be the temple of God Dionysus containing a prophecy chamber equal in importance to the one dedicated to Apollo at Delphi. It is believed that this was the capital of the Odryssian Kingdom. The largest Thracian royal complex with a mausoleum temple in Southeast Europe was discovered in the region of the village of Starosel. The oldest gold in the world was discovered in the Varna necropolis. Many Thracian golden treasures have also been found, such as the Panagyurishte, Valchitran, and Rogozen treasures. There are numerous remains of the Thracian, Hellenistic and Roman culture. Entire Roman city complexes have been found at Augustra Trayana, Trimontium, Nikopolis ad Istrum, Pautalia, Akre, Mesemvria, Apolonia, Serdika, and other sites.
Many of Bulgaria’s monasteries have been instrumental in preserving the Bulgarian Orthodox faith and culture. Some of them are the Rila Monastery, Bachkovo Monastery, Troyan Monastery, Zemen Monastery, Rozhen Monastery, Kilifarevski Monastery, Sokolski Monastery, among others. In the country there are also many churches that house unique examples of the Bulgarian iconographic, woodcarving and painting schools and that possess valuable manuscripts. The relics of St. John the Baptist were found on the island of St. John off Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast.
Cultural monuments from the Bulgarian Revival period can be found in many of its cities, towns, and villages, such as those in Kotel, Koprivshtitsa, Karlovo, Kalofer, Sopot, Elena, Tryavna, Bansko, Melnik. the Old Plovdiv, Gela, Shiroka Laka, Momchilovtsi, Orehovo, Smilyan, Arda, Dolen, Leshten, Kovachevitsa, Pletena, Bozhentsi, Ribaritsa, Zheravna, Oreshak, Medven, Skandalo, Arbanasi, Balgari, Kosti, Brashlyan, and Mladezhko. There are many ways for visitors to appreciate Bulgarian crafts such as woodcarving, embroidery, pottery, and knitting. For example, there is the architectural and ethnographic open-air museum at Etara, near Gabrovo, the ethnographic complexes The Old Dobrich and Chiflika near Albena, Bansko, the ethnographic complex Kulata – Kazanlak, the ethnographic complex at Zlatograd, Varosha – Blagoevgrad, the ethnographic complex Brashlyan – Malko Tarnovo, and others.
There are also opportunities to observe traditional economic activities in our lands, such as the manufacture of rose oil and wine production.
Bulgaria has an exceptionally diverse calendar that preserves the country’s folk traditions and customs – Surva (St. Vasil’s Day), St. Jordan’s Day – Epiphany, St. John’s Day, St. Anton’s Day, Trifon Zarezan, Martuvane (giving martenitsas), the first Sunday before Lent, Mummer’s Day, St. Todor’s Day, the Annunciation Day, Easter, St. George’s Day, the Day of Virgin Mary, St. Dimitar’s Day, All Souls Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas. Many Bulgarian village celebrations and folkways preserve ancient traditions and customs, such as St. Lazar’s Day, Palm Sunday, the mummers, carol singing, fire-dancing and many others. Exceptionally attractive are the folklore festivals and gatherings – for instance, the International Mummers Festival “Starchevata” (Razlog), the International Festival of Masquerade Games “Surva” (Pernik), the Ethnicities Gathering (municipality of Beloslav), the International Folklore Festival (Veliko Tarnovo), the National Folklore Festival “Rozhen”, the International Bagpipe Festival in the village of Gela, and many others.
There are more than 200 museums in the country – the unique Museum of Yogurt in the village of Studen Izvor (Tran region), the Museum of Roses in Kazanlak, the Museum of Transport in Ruse, the Museum of Fretwork in Tryavna, the Museum of Humor in Gabrovo, the Museum of Medical History in Varna, the Museum of Mosaics in Devnya, the Museum of Salt in the town of Pomorie, the Polytechnic Museum in Sofia City, the National Museum of Anthropology in Sofia, the Museum of Aviation in Plovdiv, the Museum of Wine in Pleven, the National History Museum, the museum “Earth and its People,” and many others.
The country’s calendar abounds in cultural events. Some of these are the Sofia Film Fest, the festival “Love is Folly” in Varna, the festival “Varna Summer”, the “Music Days in March” in Ruse, the “Sofia Music Weeks”, “Apolonia”, “Spirit of Burgas”, the Kavarna Rock Fest, and many others.
Exceptionally rich biodiversity, natural parks, unique natural landmarks, impressive caves and canyons, glacial lakes – it is difficult to describe how multi-faced and wonderful is Bulgaria’s nature. Here every admirer of beautiful views and the close touch of nature can find their paradise. Excellent conditions have been established for all kinds of ecologically friendly activities – hiking, mountain crossing, observation of birds, animals and plants, visiting of natural landmarks and many others. Basic and leading, however, is always the thought of preserving and protecting nature.
In terms of biodiversity, Bulgaria is on the second place in Europe. The plants are over 12,360 species, as 3,700 of them are higher species. 763 species have been included in the Red Book of Bulgaria. About 750 plants have been registered as medicinal, and 70% of them are economically valuable species, and the country exports about 15 thousand tones of herbs per year. The forest fund amounts to about 4.0 million hectares. This is about 36.85% of the country’s territory. From the leaf-fall broad-leaved forests the most wide spread are the oak and beech forests. The oak forests are spread in the territories with altitude of up to 1,000 meters, and the beech forests are mainly in the middle-mountain area of the country. Dense forests have developed at the lower currents of the rivers Batova, Kamchiya, Ropotamo and Veleka. The natural coniferous forests are spread in the territories of up to 2,200 meters above the sea level. They are the most largely spread in the Rhodope mountain. They mainly consist of spruce, fir and white pine. Black fir grows in the mountains Slavyanka and Pirin, and white fir grows in the Middle Balkan Mountain, the West Rhodope, the Middle Pirin, Rila and Vitosha.
27 thousand species representatives of the invertebrate fauna live in Bulgaria, and the vertebrates are represented by more than 750 species, 397 of which are birds, 207 freshwater and Black Sea fish species, 94 mammal species, 52 species of amphibians and reptiles. Seven zoo geographic regions are differentiated in the country. Four of them are included in the Mediterranean subarea, and three of them – in the Euro-Siberian subarea. The country is a home to European, Euro-Siberian and Mediterranean species, and in the regions of Mediterranean Sea climatic influence many relic species can be seen. The cave fauna in Bulgaria consists of more than 100 species. The Black Sea with its fish content is a subject to sport and industrial fishing.
Three national parks have been established in the country – Pirin (UNESCO), Rila, Central Balkan, and 11 natural parks – Belasitsa, Balgarka, Vratsa Balkan, Golden Sands, Persina, Rila Monastery, Rusenski Lom, Sinite Kamani, Strandzha and the Shumen Plateau. In order to preserve the biodiversity, 89 reserves have been established (17 were declared biosphere reserves according to the UNESCO program “Human and Biosphere” – Ali Botush, Bayuvi Dupki – Dzindzhiritsa, Bistrishko Branishte, Boatin, Chervenata Stena, Chuprene, Dzhendema, Dupkata, Kamchia, Kupena, Mantaritsa, Marichini Lakes, Uzunbodzhak, Parangalitsa, Srebarna, Steneto, Tsarichina) and 2,234 sites were declared natural landmarks. Two of the natural sites – Natural Park Pirin and Srebarna Reserve – have been included in the UNESCO List of the Global Natural Heritage.
The national park Pirin is a protected territory, established to preserve the unique landscape of the Pirin mountain. Within the borders of the park is located the oldest tree in the country – the Baykusheva Mura, which is as old as the country itself – more than 1,300 years old. The park is rich in unique eco systems and rare plant and animal species, a large part of which are included in the Red Book of Bulgaria.
The biosphere reserve Srebarna covers the lake Srebarna and the territories near it. It presents an exceptional diversity of plant and animal species, and it is one of the most interesting wetlands in Europe. One of the migration routes of migratory birds between North Europe and Central Africa passes through it – the so called Via Pontica. Another bird route is Via Aristotelis, which passes through the valley of Struma river.
Four of the reserves have been declared wetlands according to the Convention on Wetlands of National Importance (Ramsar Convention) – Arkutino, Atanasovsko Lake, Durankulak, Srebarna. 22 sites were signified by Birdlife International as important bird areas in Europe – the natural landmark Alepu swamp, Atanasovsko Lake reserve, Belene Island reserve, Burgas Lake, Cape Emine, Kaliakra reserve, natural landmark Durankulak, natural landmark Zaskoto, Nameless island in the Danube river near Nova, Cherna, Kamchia reserve, Malko Sharkovo dam, Mandrensko lake, Ovcharitsa dam, natural park Rusenski Lom, Shabla-Ezerets complex, Srebarna reserve, Steneto reserve, Valchi Dol reserve, Tsarichina reserve, Vardim island, natural landmark Yatata.
Hundreds of kilometers of marked eco paths have been created for accessing many of the hidden treasures of Bulgarian nature (Negovanska path – along the gorge of Negovanka river, village of Emen, Veliko Tarnovo; Tran eco path in close proximity to the gorge of Erma river, Western Bulgaria; Dryanovo eco path near the Dryanovo Monastery; the Vratsa eco path in the natural park Vratsa Balkan, etc.) with various relaxation installations – chalets, shelters, alcoves, benches, observation places, etc. Paths with total length of over 37,000 km have been marked in the mountains. Some of the international tourist routes pass through the country – the final section (Kom – Emine) of the European tourist route E-3, the European tourist route Е-4 – Vitosha – Verila – Rila – Pirin and the European tourist route E-8 – Rila – Rhodope.
Everyone who wishes to get to know nature and learn more about the rare plant and animal species can visit any of the Bulgarian protected territories or the visitor centers at them. The national and natural parks in the country not only provide access to wild nature, but they also provide special education programs. Visitor centers are organized in the localities around the parks. The Bulgarian Tourist Union, the Mountain Rescue Service and the Bulgarian Red Cross take care of the security and safety of tourists.
The Bulgarian Black Sea coast is a wonderful place for a summer holiday. Cape Emine is the place where the Balkan Mountains meet the sea, and this place conditionally divides the Black Sea coast into a northern and southern part. The coastline is 378 km long, with 209 beaches that have a total area of 16 square kilometers. Many are wide, while others are small and nested in picturesque marine bays. The beaches and the sea offer excellent conditions for various water sports such as surfing, water skiing, diving, underwater exploration, and fishing, whether from the surface or underwater. In 2011, the beaches at Albena, Bunite (Varna), Dyuni, Elenite, Pomorie (east beach), Harmanite (Sozopol), St. Vlas (central beach and Venid beach), Sunny Beach (north and south beach) and Sunny Day beach were all recognized for their excellence.
The saline content of the Black Sea is low, just 16% to 17% in the coastal waters, and the high and low tides are minimal. During the summer, the average water temperature is 22° to 24° С, and in the shallower areas as warm as 26°С, which makes it particularly pleasant for swimming.
During the past few years, some the elite marine complexes and resort towns have built yacht ports. The ports in the resorts Rusalka, Tyulenovo, Balchik, Golden Sands and Varna offer fine opportunities for yachting along the northern Black Sea coast. Options for yacht tourism on the southern Black Sea coast are offered in Burgas and at the resorts St. Vlas, Nesebar, Sozopol, and Dyuni.
Besides the combination of sun, sand and sea, the Black Sea resorts offer hiking, biking and horseback riding, as well as ecotourism, photo safaris, and excursions to natural, cultural, and architectural landmarks. In the northern part of the Black Sea, there are three world-class golf courses.
Some of the Bulgarian rivers flow into the Black Sea. Their mouths are surrounded by dense, breezy, moisture-loving forests. A few of the rivers (the Ropotamo, Kamchia, and Veleka) are navigable for small motor boats and offer unforgettable trips for tourists. The unique dense forests of the rivers Batova, Kamchia, Ropotamo and Veleka are a haven for nature admirers. At the Southern Black Sea, visitors can enjoy the cool temeratures of Strandzha and the centuries-old traditions of the villages nestled in the mountain. Tourists can also enjoy the wonderful Black Sea lakes at Alepu, Arkutino, Atanasovsko, Beloslav, Burgas, Durankulak (where an eneolithic settlement mound dating to 4600 – 4200 years BC has been discovered, as well as a temple dedicated to the goddess Kibela), Ezeretsko, Pomorie, Shabla, Varna, the Balchik tuzla, the Nanevska tuzla, the Orlovo wetlands, and the Stomoplo wetlands. Numerous rare plants and animals can be seen in the lagoons and firths of these coastal lakes, and deposits of medicinal mud (firth mud) has been found at the Pomorie lake, Varna lake, Balchik Tuzla, Shabla, Rusalka and the Atanasovsko lake.
Along the coastline, there are also mineral springs, and the combination of these natural resources has led to the popularity of tourism that combines visits to spas, balneological centers, and wellness resorts with sea holidays.
Tourists also have the opportunity to visit the five Black Sea islands – St. Anastasia, St. Ivan (where the relics of St. John the Baptist were recently found), St. Peter, St. Kirik and Yulita, and St. Tomas.
The resorts located on the Black Sea are preeminently suited to family vacations as well as to individual holidays and entertainment. Albena, Rusalka, St. Konstantin and St. Helena, Riviera, Obzor, Elenite and Dyuni are some of the most preferred for families with children. Younger tourists prefer Sunny Beach, Golden Sands, Primorsko, Kiten, and Lozenets, because of the many clubs and bars, and other entertainment options. Sunny Beach is the largest resort complex in the country, and it often hosts parties that include world- famous DJs and performers.
Sozopol and Nesebar (a UNESCO heritage site) are famous for their combination of beautiful coastal nature and historical landmarks. These two towns both have thousands of years of history, and attract a steady stream of summer tourists.
Excellent conditions for relaxation are offered in the resorts of Kranevo, Chayka, Sunny Day, St. Iliya, St. Vlas, Ravda, Pomorie, Chernomorets, Tsarevo, Ahtopol and Sinemorets.
The Bulgarian Black Sea resorts offer various accommodation options, from luxurious 4- or 5-star hotels to small romantic family hotels, all of which are up to global standards.
Some of the hotels at the Black Sea resorts work all year long, to host conventions and congresses and to conduct a variety of special events and promotions. Visitors to the Bulgarian Black Sea can enjoy many cultural events, such as the Kavarna Rock Fest, Varna Summer, Apolonia, Spirit of Burgas, the International Folklore Festival in Burgas, and demonstrations of fire dancing.
Mountain and Ski Tourism
About 30% of Bulgaria is mountainous. The country’s mountains are exceptionally diverse in relief and offer abundant options for relaxation, along with sports and entertainment for tourists, since conditions are exceptionally conducive for tourism in both winter and summer. The ski season in the medium high and the alpine resorts last about 130 days each year, while during the summer months enthusiasts may hike in centuries-old forests. The numerous hotels and the recreation centers provide accommodations for a wide variety of tastes and preferences.
There are well-marked hiking routes through Bulgaria’s mountains, such as the southern traverses of the Kom – Emine European trail E-3, the European trail Е-4, from Vitosha through Verila, Rila, and Pirin, and the European hiking route E-8, from Rila to the Rhodopes
The Balkan Mountains are the longest range in Bulgaria. They are also known simply as the Balkans, the source of the name for the entire peninsula. It divides the country into two parts – north and south. The Balkan Mountains are famous for their numerous mountain routes. The highest peak in The Balkans is Botev (2,376 meters above sea level). Excellent conditions for mountaineering, skiing, and spa tourism are to be found in Berkovitsa, Ribaritsa, Belogradchik, Beklemeto, Uzana, Karandila, Chiprovtsi, Varshets, Troyan, Teteven, Apriltsi, Tryavna, Elena, Kotel, Zheravna, Bozhentsi, and many other locations in the Balkanss. Tourists may also visit the monasteries located in the mountains – the strongholds of Bulgarian Orthodoxy. In close proximity and parallel to the Balkan Mountains lies the second longest mountain range in Bulgaria – the Sredna Gora.
The mountains Rila and Pirin are alpine, characterized by steep ridges, high peaks, deep valleys, and gorges. The highest peak in Bulgaria and on the Balkan Peninsula is located in the Rila Mountains – Mount Musala (2,925 m). Here is located one of Bulgaria’s landmarks – the seven glacial lakes that are located at an altitude of 2,095 m to 2,535 m. The largest resort in the Rila range is Borovets. It possesses excellent ski runs and mountain hotels. Unique opportunities for combining hiking, skiing and spa tourism are also offered in Panichishte and at Sapareva Banya. The ski centers of Malyovitsa, Semkovo and Govedartsi are also very popular with tourists.
More excellent opportunities for hiking and skiing are offered in the Pirin Mountains, widely admired for their alpine beauty. Here are located the resorts of Bansko, Dobrinishte, and Predela; along with the Popovi Livadi and Kamenitsa lodges, among other destinations. The resort of Bansko has developed into a resort of European and global importance, and during the past few years it has host a number of World Cup competitions in both alpine skiing and biathlon. It offers impressive ski runs, a plethora of hotels and pensions, and the renowned Pirin cuisine. Dobrinishte and the holiday complexes in the locality of Predela also offer opportunities for relaxation and many types of entertainment. The second highest peak in Bulgaria and the third on the Balkan Peninsula is also located in the Pirin range – Mount Vihren (2,914 meters above sea level). The national park Pirin is included in the UNESCO list of natural heritage sites.
The Rhodope Mountains, known as the home of Orpheus, is divided into the alpine western part and the lower eastern part. The highest resort here is Pamporovo, located in a densely forested area, boasting skiing that rivals Bulgaria’s other premier winter resorts.. Other options for recreation are to be found in nearby Chepelare, Yundola, Belmeken, Batak and Byala Cherkva. Tourists can enjoy the unique traditional architecture of the Rhodope villages Momchilovtsi, Gela, Dolen, Leshten, Kovachevitsa, Shiroka Laka, among many others, and sample traditional Rhodope dishes. The Rhodope Mountains are dotted with lodges that offer comfortable accommodations for hikers. The highest peak in the Rhodopes is Golyam Perelik (2,191 meters above sea level).
Mount Vitosha is located in close proximity to the nation’s capital, Sofia. With its beautiful natural setting and numerous well-marked hiking trails, and cultural landmarks, it is excellent for mountain ecotourism. The mountain also is the site of the oldest natural park on the Balkan Peninsula, the Vitosha Nature Reserve. There are two ski areas on the mountain, Aleko and Konyarnika, both of which offer excellent conditions for skiing and snowboarding during the winter months. The highest peak is Cherni Vrah (2,290 meters above sea level).
In the Osogovska Mountains there are also opportunities for skiing at “Lyudmil Yankov”, and in the northeastern part of the range is the ski area “Valchi Dol”. The highest peak in this region is Ruen (2,251 meters above sea level).
The Belasitsa Mountains offer exceptional mountain hiking. There are two lodges that welcome tourists. The highest peak is Radomir (2,029 meters above sea level).
Strandzha is distinct from the other Bulgarian mountains, since its peaks are much lower and its climate milder. Strandzha is home to a wide range of flora and fauna.
The mountains in Bulgaria are hospitable all year long, but it must be remembered added that in order to enjoy their beauty visitors need to come well prepared, which includes obtaining information about the routes they plan to use and the meteorological conditions. Visitors should also act responsibly, so as to preserve the pristine beauty of Bulgaria’s majestic mountains.
Balneology, SPA and Wellness
The healing power of mineral springs has been recognized since the time of the Thracians, who were renowned as healers. “The Holy Springs of Thrace” were famous throughout the Roman Empire. Few countries in Europe can rival Bulgaria’s spa, balneological and wellness tourism, with its abundance and diversity of thermal mineral waters and curative mud deposits. There are more than 550 known sources with 1,600 springs that have a total capacity of 4,900 per second. Predominant are waters with low mineral content – 66.7% of the springs, as opposed to 14.4% with higher mineral content and 17.9% that are naturally carbonated. Cool mineral springs are found throughout the country – Narechen (Asenovgrad region), Shipkovo (Troyan region), Ovcha Kupel (Sofia), Smochan, (Lovech region), Voneshta Voda (Gabrovo region), Merichleri (Simeonovgrad region), and elsewhere. The spring with the highest temperature is Sapareva Banya (103ºС), also the only geyser in Bulgaria and Continental Europe. The most famous thermal springs in the Balkan Mountains are in the regions of Varshets, Barziya, Lakatnik, Opletnya; on the Sofia plain – Bankya, Gorna Banya, Knyazhevo, Ovcha Kupel, Sofia, Pancharevo; in the Srednogorie – Strelcha (40°С), Hisarya (49.5°С), Banya (51.1°С), Pavel Banya (54.6°С), Starozagorski Bani (45.8°С); along the valley of Struma River – Blagoevgrad, Simitli, Sandanski, Levunovo and Marikostinovo; along the valley of Mesta River – Banya (56оС), Dobrinishte (43°С) and the village of Eleshnitsa (56°С); in the Rhodope Mountains – Devin, Velingrad, Banite.
Most widespread in Bulgaria are the nitrogen thermal waters, found in the springs around Sapareva Banua, Simitli, Narechen, Momin Prohod, and elsewhere. Carbon acid is contained in the waters of the springs near Mihalkovo, Slivenski Mineralni Bani, Stefan Karadzhovo; hydrogen sulphide is contained in the thermal waters in the Sofia lowlands. Half of the thermal waters contain increased radioactivity, showing levels higher than 15 eman/l, such as the Klisura spring (200 eman/l) and the Strelcha spring (250 eman/l), among others. Particularly high radioactivity has been registered in the springs of Momina Banya (560 eman/l) and the Narechen springs (1,300 eman/l).
Bulgaria also possesses valuable deposits of curative firth mud and curative peat. Curative mud deposits are located in the regions of Shabla Tuzla, Tuzlata, Varna Lake, Pomorie, Atanasovsko Lake and Mandra Dam; peat deposits are located near Batak Dam (Rhodope Mountain), the village of Baykalsko (Konyavska Mountain), the town of Straldzha (middle Tundzha river valley), Varna Lake, and the village of Sadovo (Gornotrakiyska Lowland). Spring deposits containing curative mud are found around the village of Marikostinovo (Sandanski-Petrich valley) and the town of Banya (Karlovo valley), and there are artificial peloids around Ovcha Kupel (Sofia City), Velingrad, Asenovgrad, Slivenski Bani, Starozagorski Bani, Haskovski Bani, Sapareva Banya, Blagoevgrad, Hisarya, Pavel Banya, Burgas, Pomorie, Primorsko, the resort complexes of Albena and Sunny Beach, and elsewhere.
The climate in the country is exceptionally favorable compared to that of traditional destinations for balneology tourism in Western Europe and the Mediterranean. Roughly 20% of each year is sunny, which is more than in Northern, Northwestern and Central Europe. There are 30% fewer cloudy days along the Black Sea coast than along the Atlantic coast or in some parts of the Mediterranean. During the spring and summer months, rainfalls are lower in Bulgaria than in most of Europe.
Mineral springs located in the southern part of the country are influenced by the Mediterranean climate; other springs are found in mountain regions with coniferous vegetation and crystal springs; and still others are along the Black Sea coast. This, together with the great diversity of herbs and other flora used for aroma therapy and phytotherapy, provides opportunities for beneficial year-round treatment and prophylaxis of a range of ailments, and it also creates excellent conditions for relaxation.
The Republic of Bulgaria has 48 mountain resorts, 15 marine resorts, and 38 balneological resorts. The most famous balneological, climatic and mud curative Black Sea resorts are the resort complexes of Albena, Golden Sands, St. Konstantin and Helena, Sunny Day, Sunny Beach, Riviera, Balchik, Tuzlata, Varna Mud Curative Baths (Varnenski Kalolechebni Bani), Pomorie, Primorsko, Kiten, Sozopol, Ahtopol, among others. The most famous resorts located in thecountry’s foothills and mountains are Hisar, Velingrad (the spa capital of the Balkan Peninsula), Sandanski, Bankya, Kyustendil, Narechen, Pavel Banya, Kostenets, Varshets, Burgaski Mineralni Bani, Momin Prohod, Slivenski Mineralni Bani, Slivenski Mineralni Bani, Starozagorski Mineralni Bani, Haskovski Mineralni Bani, Sapareva Banya, Banya, Pamporovo, Borovets, Teteven, Tryavna, Apriltsi, Kotel, Elena, Govedartsi, Dryanovo, among others.
The country is also known for its highly qualified personnel, excellent accommodations, and diverse programs and services that include massage, baths with mineral water, pearl baths, reflex therapy, traditional needle therapy, medicinal exercises, acupuncture, laser therapy, acupressure, paraffin treatment, apitherapy, phytotherapy, mud treatment, aroma therapy, anti-stress programs, dieting programs and programs for losing weight, balneo-cosmetics, sauna, solarium, fitness, and medical cosmetics. All of this can be combined with various tourism programs, allowing visitors to explore Bulgaria’s cultural heritage, folkways, and traditional cuisine.
For those searching for new adventures, for whom sport occupies an important part their daily life, whose idea of relaxing includes staying in motion and conquering high peaks and new territories, Bulgaria is an exceptionally attractive destination.
There are excellent opportunities for sport and outdoor activities along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. At almost every resort, there are clubs which offer training and equipment for diving, surfing, kite-surfing, and other outdoor sports. There are jet-skis for hire, as well as boats for excursions or for exciting fishing. The Black Sea offers conditions for diving and underwater fishing.
Bulgaria’s mountains cover a third of the nation’s territory, a well-developed network of eco-trails allow visitors the opportunity to appreciate their remarkable beauty. Fully-equipped climbing facilities have been established in some mountain regions – for instance, in the regions of the town of Vratsa, Lakatnik Rocks, Malyovitsa, and elsewhere.
You can also explore Bulgaria’s mountains on horseback. There are equestrian facilities throughout the country offering both shorter rides and pack trips with a guide, both in the mountains and lowlands. Along the Black Sea coast, visitors will find similar services. There is probably nothing more romantic than riding a horse along the beach into the sunset. Equestrian sports have been established in the country for almost 90 years, and a competition sanctioned by the World Cup of Equestrian Sport is held annually in the town of Bozhurishte.
Those searching for a jolt of adrenalin can try whitewater rafting on Bulgaria’s swift-flowing rivers, such as the Struma, Iskar, and Mesta. Rafting and kayaking are also popular on the rivers in the Iskar and Kresna Gorge areas. It is exceptionally exciting to ride the rivers in May and June, when the water levels are at their highest.
Another way to raise adrenalin levels is to sail above the Bulgarian countryside. The heights over the town of Sopot, for example, are some of the best places for paragliding in all of Europe. Paragliders and hang-gliders also take to the air over Vitosha, Sliven, Kyustendil, Stara Zagora and Albena.
Two of the routes of the Eurovelo network, established by the European Biking Federation, also pass through the country. These are Eurovelo 13, which passes along the length of the former Iron Curtain, and Eurovelo 6, which follows the Loire and Rheine rivers and continues to the mouth of the Danube.
Bungee jumping is organized on the higher bridges in the country, as well as in the Prohodna cave. Leaping into a cave’s abyss is an unforgettable experience..
In the past few years Bulgaria has begun to establish itself as a first-class golf destination. Modern golf courses designed by world-famous players such as Gary Player and Ian Woosnan are now open for play. There are three courses along the Northern Black Sea coast, three near Sofia, one near the mountain resort of Bansko, one in Pravets, and one near the town of Sliven.
Hunting and fishing are also quite well developed in the country. The animal population includes red deer, fallow deer, roe deer, wild boar, mouflon, chamois, capercaillie, bear, pheasant, and partridge. Excellent conditions for hunting big game are available in the hunting game-breeding farms near Botevgrad, Vitinya, Samokov, Aramliets, Borovets, Borovo, Zhenda, Kormisosh, Studen Kladenets, Rusalka, Palamara, Rakitovo, Midzhur, village of Parvenets, Bosna, Byalka, Voden and elsewhere. The Black Sea offers unique opportunities to fishing for turbot, mullet, bluefish, cod, mackerel, bonito and others, and Bulgaria’s rivers also abound in fish. The country’s many dams also afford excellent opportunities for sport fishing.
Rural tourism is the best way to get to know the traditions of Bulgaria. Through their stay in a village house, tourists can come to appreciate traditional Bulgarian lifestyles and the culture of the country. The hospitability of Bulgarians, the unique local cuisine, the well-preserved folkways, customs and crafts, the architectural reserves settlements and the beautiful surroundings all contribute to make rural tourism in Bulgaria memorable.
Usually guests are accommodated in an house built in the 19th or early 20th century, and a part of the rich experience is the delicious food that hosts prepare with vegetables picked fresh from the garden and seasoned with herbs gathered in nearby forests and fields. There are many interesting things to do in the villages – visitors can help the hostess prepare some special dish according to a traditional recipe, take part in farm work, rent a horse to visit nearby landmarks, pick aromatic herbs and a basket of forest berries or mushrooms, or ride a mountain bike along the country roads and trails. Tourists may want to milk a cow, cut hay, prepare yoghurt, help make white and yellow cheese, or put up jam. Almost every family in the villages engages in distilling rakia and making wine. The Bulgarian countryside abounds with wineries that have earned international recognition, such as those at Asenovgrad, Burgas, Brestovitsa, Pomorie, Bessa Valey, Villa Lyubimets, Ruse, Damyanitsa, Domain Boyar, Evksinograd, cellar Todorov, cellar Khan Krum, Katarzhina Estate, Menada, Pomorie, Sakar, Lyubimets, Tera Tangra, among many others.
In the evening, tourists are often invited to have a meal with their hosts. Traditional dishes are served, folksongs are performed, and local legends are shared. In most cases, guests can help prepare the food. Some villages offer lessons in pottery making, icon painting or folksongs and dances, and there are demonstrations of sewing and embroidering.
Visitors can find country guesthouses all over the country. In the region of the Balkan Mountains there are many such opportunities, in villages such as Apriltsi, Shipkovo, Ribaritsa, Medven, Zheravna, Ichera, Gradets, the villages in the Elena Balkan Mountain, and elsewhere in the region. Near Veliko Tarnovo lies the architectural reserve Arbanasi, which offers its own unique atmosphere. A few kilometers from Gabrovo, there is another architectural reserve that is also a very popular destination for overnight visitors – the village of Bozhentsi.
In the Rila Mountains the villages of Govedartsi, Dobarsko, Mala Tsarkva, Beli Iskar, and Dolna Banya, are particularly popular.
It seems that in the Rhodope Mountains every village offers accommodations for guests. Some of the most popular are Momchilovtsi, Gela, Shiroka Laka, Smilyan, Arda, Zabardo, Leshten, Kovachevitsa, Dolen, Trigrad, and Yagodina. There tourists can taste dishes unique to the region, such as Cheverme and Patatnik, and enjoy a gaida (Bulgarian bagpipe) performance or competition.
Bansko, the pearl of the Pirin Mountains, provides tourists with the opportunity to take part in traditional activities of the region, such as taking an excursion in a horse-drawn cart, and of course sampling local dishes. Visitors can enjoy a reenactment of an attack by brigands at a Haydouk Attack performance, or be photographed dressed in traditional costumes.
Exceptionally attractive are also the villages in the Strandzha Mountains – Balgari, Gramatikovo, Kosti, Brashlyan, and others. Her visitors may walk to ancient wind mills or fulling mills, ride a donkey, or enjoy an excursion in a donkey cart. The Strandzha is also where tourists can observe the traditional dance on live coals.
Guests at the large Black Sea resorts have the opportunity to visit nearby villages and enjoy the residents’ hospitality.
In Dobrudzha (Bulgaria’s breadbasket) tourists can observe the livelihood of the villages, sample the local folklore and cuisine, and visit the unique Dobrudzha farms.
Throughout the country, guests can experience a wide range of customs and rituals, such as the dancing on live coals, mummers, a Bulgarian wedding, singing and dancing on St. Lazar’s day, singing and dancing on Christmas, the holiday of Trifon Zarezan, among others.
Many folklore festivals are also held in the country. Some of the best known are the Plovdiv International Folklore Festival in the city of Plovdiv; the Burgas International Folklore Festival; the National Folklore Gatherings at Rozhen and Koprivshtitsa; the International Festival of Masquerade and Carnival Games and Rituals “Surva” in the town of Pernik; and the National Gathering “Beautiful Thrace Sings and Dances.”
Bulgaria occupies a strategic location at the heart of the Balkan Peninsula, at the crossroads of three continents, and has four international airports, so the country is no more than two hours by plane from most European capitals and their large international airports with scheduled flights to destinations around the world. These advantages, together with the growing number of three, four, and five-star hotels in the large city centers, along the Black Sea coast, and at the mountain resorts, make the country more and more attractive for congress tourism.
Particularly suitable conditions for congress tourism are offered in Sofia, the nation’s capital. There are numerous hotels with suitable conference halls, as well as congress centers, such as the National Palace of Culture and the INTER EXPO center. Almost all of the larger hotels can provide equipment for business meetings and seminars. In the city there are also many institutions of higher education that also offer facilities for such gatherings. Additional facilities are available at the Central Army Club, the Boyana Residence, the Universiada Hall, and in the recently completed multifunctional sports hall, the Sofia Armeets Arena. Participants in business meetings can also enjoy the varied possibilities for cultural tourism in the city, and facilities for mountain tourism at Vitosha are practically within the city limits. Those interested in rural tourism, ecotourism, and golf will also find opportunities almost on their doorstep.
The city of Plovdiv, located in the south central Bulgaria, is another excellent choice for congress tourism. Plovdiv not only hosts a variety of cultural events, but also attracts visitors interested in the city’s rich history, architecture, educational institutions, and research centers. The city is also justly famous for its international trade fairs.
The Black Sea resorts can offer a perfect combination of congress tourism, sea relaxation, and spa facilities. Many resorts at Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast provide facilities and accommodations year-round, such as those in the cities of Varna, Burgas, and Dobrich, and at the resort complexes at Albena, Golden Sands, Sunny Beach, St. Konstantin and St. Helena, Dyuni, St. Vlas, and Primorsko. The guests of resorts at the northern Bulgaria’s Black Sea resorts also have the option of playing golf on some of the best courses in Europe.
The mountain resorts of Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo combine year-round, world-class facilities for hiking, skiing, and ecotourism with excellent venues for business-related events.
A wonderful combination of congress tourism and stays at fully-equipped spas are provided in the town of Kyustendil and at the spa resorts at Hisarya, Velingrad, Devin and Sandanski.
The Danube cities of Vidin and Ruse, as well as the cities of Montana and Pleven, also offer opportunities for congress forums. The former capital of Bulgaria, Veliko Tarnovo, offers impressive halls for congresses and opportunities to explore the city’s many cultural monuments. Uniquely beautiful natural surroundings and excellent facilities for business meetings also recommend the cities of Vratsa, Sevlievo, Ribaritsa, Teteven and Troyan. In addition, there are fully equipped conference halls in the cities of Pazardzhik, Stara Zagora, Sliven, Dimitrovgrad, Haskovo, Yambol and Kazanlak.
Bulgaria offers well equipped campsites that attract tourists from around the country and abroad who prefer alternative recreation that puts them in close touch with nature. The camp sites are mainly located along the Black Sea coast, near some of the Bulgaria’s most beautiful beaches. These sites include those at Arapya – a favorite place to spend seaside nights under the stars – Gradina, Zlatna Ribka, Yug, Delfin, Silistar, Aheloyska Bitka, Smokinya, Koral, Zora, Oazis, Kavatsi, and Kiten.
On the northern Black Sea coast there are also pleasant spots where campers can pitch a tent or park a caravan in a shady forest near the beach. The most popular camping sites in this region are located near the resorts of Albena and Golden Sands (the Laguna campsite), in the region of the Kamchia River, near the villages of Shkorpilovtsi and Shabla (the Dobrudzha campsite), Irakli, and Durankulak (the Kosmos campsite).
The country’s interior also offers good camping, some of which are now managed by foreign entrepreneurs. In northern Bulgaria, such sites include the Madonna campsite, Tangra, Srebarna, Veliko Tarnovo, Kamenovo, Chumerna, Strinava, among others, and in southern Bulgaria there are Predel, Gorski Kat, Batak, Atolovo, Borovets, Zodiak, Lyubovishte, SBA, Bor, Verila, and Kransko.
The country’s natural parks also provide camping facilities, so that visitors can hike the trails of their choice and pitch their tents at a different place every day. This way of camping requires good preparation and equipment. Campers should always hike and camp responsibly, so as to preserve Bulgaria’s natural heritage.
Sites Under the Aegis of UNESCO
Bulgaria is a successor of ancient civilizations – Thracians, Romans, Byzantines and proto-Bulgarians have left on these lands exceptionally valuable artistic and architectural evidence of their advanced culture. They are scattered throughout the country and make it one of the most attractive destinations for people, interested in history and culture.
Besides these treasures, Bulgaria is proud of its pristine nature and amazing biodiversity which is preserved in the parks and reserves of the country.
The rich cultural and natural heritage of Bulgaria is highly appreciated by UNESCO -the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The UNESCO List of the Global Cultural and Natural Heritage includes sites, which are of great importance to humanity, therefore their conservation and preservation is a priority. This list includes nine Bulgarian sites – seven cultural and two natural.
Rila Monastery was listed as a UNESCO List of Global Cultural Heritage in 1983. It is the largest monastery in Bulgaria. It is located in the heart of the mountain. It was founded in the tenth century and over the centuries of its existence the monastery has been the guardian of the Christian faith and the Bulgarian education and culture.
The Rila Monastery is one of the symbols of Bulgaria. It is one of the most visited attractions.
The monastery complex covers an area of 8,800 square meters; it has nearly 300 rooms, 100 of which are monastic cells. The monastery has a museum where you can learn the remarkable story of the cloister.
The monastery is situated on the territory of the natural park Rila Monastery.
In 1979 the Madara Rider was included in the UNESCO List – a unique rock relief, located in the northeast of the country, 18 kilometers east of the town of Shumen and 10 kilometers south of Pliska.
An unknown artist has carved an impressive image on the cliff at a height of 23 meters. Although more than 1,000 years have past since its creation, the image of a horseman with a spear, a wounded lion, fallen at the feet of the horse and a hunting dog, is still visible on the stone. The exact year of the relief creation is unknown, and scientists disagree on the personality of the rider depicted.
In 2008, after the nationwide vote, the Madara Horseman was elected a global symbol of Bulgaria. Its full-size copy can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Sofia.
In 1979 the Boyana Church “ St. Nicholas and St. Panteleimon” was included in the UNESCO List. This unique temple is located in the Sofia residential section of Boyana, at the foot of Vitosha mountain. It was built in the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th century. Its greatest values are the several layers of frescoes. Among the images on the walls of the church visitors can see various images of Jesus Christ and Holy Mary, Bulgarian kings and queens, saints. The unknown master painters were summarized with a general term Boyana master, although the murals were created by different people in different periods of the Bulgarian history.
The Boyana Church is one of the sites of the National History Museum and is open for tourist visits throughout the year.
IVANOVSKI ROCK CHURCHES
In 1979 the UNESCO included to its list the complex of rock churches near the village of Ivanovo at the Rusenski Lom Natura; Park. The monastery complex, which unites the rock temples, was named after St. Michael and was founded in the early 13th century. The most impressive temple is the one of “St. Mary”, whose beautiful frescoes are well preserved and are known worldwide.
The complex is located in a picturesque area, 20 kilometers south of Ruse. The Rusenski Lom Park is a popular destination for eco-tourism and bird observation. Near the Ivanovo rock churches stands the beautiful Orlova Chuka cave. Another famous landmark is also situated at the territory of the park – the Basarbovski Monastery, which is the only operating rock monastery in Bulgaria.
The Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak was included in the UNESCO List in 1983. It is located in a small park in the town of Kazanlak. The original tomb was sealed in order to preserve its unique murals, but an exact copy of the tomb was built near it, which is now available for tourist visits. The tomb was built in the 4th – 3rd century BC. It belonged to an unknown Thracian ruler.
The worldwide fame of the monument is due to the remarkable murals in the hall and the dome room – one of the best preserved ancient works of art from the early Hellenistic age. The original tomb can also be visited, but only for a few minutes and under certain conditions. The access to the copy of the Kazanlak Tomb is year-round.
THRACIAN TOMB OF SVESHTARI
The Thracian tomb of Sveshtari has been added to the UNESCO List of Global Heritage in 1985. It is part of the historical and archaeological reserve Sboryanovo, located 8 kilometers northwest of the town of Isperih.
The tomb was built in the third century BC and impresses visitors with its architecture and decoration. Here was laid the body of a Thracian ruler from the Getae tribe. The ceiling of the burial chamber is supported by statues of women with raised hands – caryatids, whose faces and hair still preserve the remains of colorful decorations.
Not far from the Sveshtari tomb lies another popular attraction – Demir Baba Tekke, which is revered by both Muslims and the Christians.
THE OLD NESSEBAR
The town of Nessebar is situated 36 kilometers northeast of Burgas on the Black Sea coast. Due to its unique combination of ancient history, ancient ruins and Revival architecture, the Ancient Nessebar was included to the UNESCO List in 1983 The archaeological reserve is situated on a small peninsula connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. The seaside town keeps countless evidence of its history, many of which are kept in the Archaeological Museum in the town.
Nesebar is one of the oldest towns in Europe.It was founded 3,200 years ago. During the antiquity, the town was called Mesambria, during the Middle Ages – Mesembria, and later – Nesebar.
An important part of the reserve are the remains of fortress walls, the early Byzantine baths, the temples St. Stephen, Mary Eleusa, Christ Pantocrator, St. Spas, etc.
Over 100 houses have been restored in the town, and the Ethnographic Museum is located in one of them, built in 1840.
NATIONAL PARK PIRIN
The National Park Pirin was included in the UNESCO List in 1983. It is located in the Pirin Mountain, in southwest Bulgaria, and preserves many natural attractions, glacial lakes, pine forests and a rich biodiversity. There are two reserves within the park- Bayuvi Dupki – Dzhindzhiritsa and Ulen. Its biodiversity is represented by 1,315 species of higher plants, 2,000 species of invertebrates, 200 species of vertebrates and 159 bird species. There are many hiking routes in the park, which give access to numerous tourist sights. Here stands the oldest tree in Bulgaria – Baykusheva fir, whose age is over 1,300 years. You can learn more about the park and its diversity in the visitor center, which is located in the town of Bansko.
Due to the rare and endangered bird species which nest or rest here on their way south, in 1983 the lake Srebarna was included in the UNESCO List of Global Natural and Cultural Heritage.
The aim is to preserve the unique biodiversity of the lake which has been popular among the Bulgarian and European scientific community since the early twentieth century.
The biosphere reserve near the village of Srebarna is located 2 kilometers south of the Danube river and 16 kilometers west of Silistra. Covering an area of 600 hectares. It covers the lake Srebarna and the territories near it. Its fame is due to the fact that the lake is just under the migratory path of the birds from Europe to Africa – Via Pontica, which causes the unique and diverse species of waterfowl birds in it. Some of the most interesting species which inhabit the lake are Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), lesser white-fronted goose (Anser erythropus), ducks (Anatidae), the Bearded Reedling (Panurus biarmicus), the great egret (Ardea alba), and the mute swan (Cygnus olor).