TOP 7 THINGS TO DO IN BULGARIA
This enchanting Balkan nation located in eastern Europe has often escaped the notice of travellers, but as a summer holiday destination it has an abundance to offer. From misty mountain backdrops to sun-kissed beach resorts, ancient churches and museums, there is a diversity of things to do in Bulgaria making it a fantastic option for families, friends and couples seeking a European getaway. If you like to explore the local culture, traditional arts and crafts flourish in this historically rich nation, while the nearby cities of Varna, Sofia and Burgas effortlessly combine the old and the new into their fold.
Discover our top 7 things to do in Bulgaria for the ultimate itinerary...
CLIMB UP THE MISTY MOUNTAINS
Stara Planina (literary meaning the Old Mountain) forms the principal mountain range in Bulgaria, which hosts as many as four national parks and divides the Black Sea from the Aegean Sea. Full of glacial lakes, untamed natural forest areas and exotic flora and fauna, these misty mountains of the country are great for hiking, trekking and nature walking. Climb up to Mount Vihren, the second highest peak in the country, to catch a glimpse of the rising sun, or have a close encounter with bears, antelopes and wolves while trekking through the wilderness (yes, really!). The raw, rustic beauty of the country evokes a sense of Europe's medieval past - a real highlight for history lovers.
If you're more about cocktails than history and culture, you can grab a great deal to Bulgaria's party resorts for under £179pp!
ENJOY THE SUNSHINE COAST OF BLACK SEA
The expansive coastline of the Black Sea makes for the ultimate summer retreat for locals and visitors alike. Bulgaria's sun-dappled resorts can easily rival those of Greece, Spain or Turkey, however, unlike most of the popular beach resorts in the Mediterranean, Bulgarian beaches are not as swamped by tourists. Also, the charming coastal towns of Varna and Burgas - with their tidy streets, picturesque buildings and rich historical monuments and museums – are fabulous pastimes if you want your fill of culture, too. Don’t forget the lesser-known beaches of Sozopol and Nessebar, both of which host a number of free concerts and summer festivals to keep crowds entertained.
MAKE A SPLASH WITH THE KIDS
If museums and nature parks aren't your scene, then worry not. For kids, Bulgaria has enough water parks and playgrounds to keep your little ones happy. Two of the best parks are Aqua Paradise and Action Aquapark. As the weather warms up, head over to either one of the two for splash-tastic slides, flumes, pirate ships (a hit with big kids, too!) and plenty of restaurants to keep hunger at bay.
A PARADISE FOR FOOD LOVERS
From steaming bowls of soups to fresh garden salads and delicious cheeses and yogurt dips – Bulgaria is a paradise for gourmands. Dig into some freshly baked rolls of Sharena Sol (a herb-based bread) or finish off a steaming cup of traditional Tripe Soup (it tastes better than it sounds!). For meat lovers, you've got Moussaka (think of a pot pie, prepared with minced meat, onions, tomatoes and covered with a layer of eggs and yoghurt), while for vegetarians, there's Shopska Salad (very similar to Greek Tzatziki) prepared with yoghurt, dill, cucumber and garlic. A particular favourite for kids is fried bread dough (Mekitsi) served at the Rila Monastery. Bulgaria is also famous for hand-crafted wines and beers, prepared by villagers at their homes. The village of Melnik is perhaps the best place to soak up some vintage absinthe.
SHOP TILL YOU DROP
Forget the fancy shopping malls, with their marked-down prices and deep discounts. Discover the true essence of Bulgaria, through its locally handcrafted items. Whether it's Samovodska Charshia market, selling antiques, jewellery and art, or the Centre for Folk Arts and Crafts market, peddling pottery, woodcarvings and even CDs, Bulgaria is sure to impress with its traditional wares, (they make for great Christmas gifts too). The Central Hali Market is a mecca if you want local wines, cheese and fresh produce, while book lovers would find their sanctums of happiness at the second-hand books stores in most of the major cities, where they can buy, exchange and donate rare and vintage reads.
ADMIRE BULGARIA’S RELIGIOUS ART
Bulgaria’s orthodox variant of Christianity, with its emphasis on monasticism, has resulted in a number of stunning churches and monasteries, which depict scenes from the Bible and the life events of Mary and Jesus. They are carved on wooden panels, gilded with gold plating and sometimes painted beautifully on walls and ceilings. Sofia’s Aleksander Nevski Church and the 10th century Rila Monastery portray some of the most stunning specimens of religious iconography in Europe. The massive gold domes of Aleksander Nevski’s cathedral and the multi-hued murals of the Rila Monastery are truly works of art - not to be missed.
RELIVE ANCIENT HISTORY
For more secular art and architecture, head over to the museums dotted throughout the country. The archaeological museum at Varna is a treasure-trove of Greek and Roman art objects, jewellery and surgical implements. For a more hands-on experience of local culture, head over to the open-air museum at Etar, where more than 50 local craftsmen – from potters to weavers to glassworkers – make and sell their wares, thereby giving a glimpse of the rural way of life in the countryside.