Bulgaria’s mountains are an affordable and less crowded alternative to the Alps with cable cars, thermal springs and glacial lakes providing walkers with a wealth of options above and below the pines. Find out what Responsible Travel recommends, including the best time go, in our Bulgaria walking holidays guide.
Bulgaria travel guide
Discovering the mountains, lakes and cultural capitals of Bulgaria is like unearthing a secret treasure trove. The UNESCO sites of Rila Monastery, the Thracian tombs of Kazanlak and Sveshtari, and Pirin National Park add to the adventure of exploring in the far reaches of Eastern Europe. The capital, Sofia, has long been renowned for its leafy charms with parks and gardens adding to the enchantment of the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and high-end retail therapy along Vitosha Boulevard.
Less an entrance to Asia, more a cul-de-sac to the Black Sea; Bulgaria boasts the Balkans' highest peak, Mt Musala, as well as Europe's most affordable capital city, Sofia.
Escaping to Vitosha Nature Park on the outskirts of the capital is always an option although time spent in the ski resorts of Bansko or Razlog is also worthwhile, especially outside the busy winter season. From the former city of the tsars, Veliko Tarnovo, to Europe's 2019 Capital of Culture, Plovdiv, much of Bulgaria remains off the typical tourist trail but there's no telling for how long.
part of Europe, but not as you know it.
to be rushed. It's not very Bulgarian to rush.
WHAT WE RATE & WHAT WE DON'T IN BULGARIA
Monasteries & churches
Five star service
Our Bulgaria Holidays
FOOD, SHOPPING & PEOPLE
EATING & DRINKING IN BULGARIA
Banitsa (filo pastry layered with goat cheese) and patatnik (baked mashed potatoes with herbs, cheese and eggs), are a couple of Bulgarian classics to try in the mountains.
Bulgarian cuisine is quite meat focused with grilled lamb and pork kebabs and moussaka (beef with potatoes instead of aubergines), mainstays on most restaurant menus.
Vegetarians needn’t despair too much, as fruit, veg and salads are always amazing. Shopska (tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers and parsley with crumbled sheep cheese) is a fine example. Another veggie option is tarator, a cold yoghurt soup with cucumbers, garlic, dill and walnuts.
Melnik is one of Bulgaria’s (and Winston Churchill’s) favourite red wines. The Struma Valley and the vineyards surrounding the tiny town of Melnik are picturesque places for a tasting tour.
PEOPLE & LANGUAGE
Hello – Zdravei
Approximately 85 percent of Bulgaria’s population identify as being Bulgarian, with large Turkish and Roma minorities. The national language stems from southern Slavic with the older generation also speaking Russian and the younger, English. The Cyrillic alphabet originated in Bulgaria and is used on signs – sometimes with English alongside.
You are welcome – Molya
Cheers – Nazdrave
Thank you – Blagodarya
Very delicious – Mnogo vkusno
If you'd like to chat about Bulgaria or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Handmade rose oil and soap are definitely worth adding to the shopping list as are a few bags of mursalski mountain tea and a couple of jars of homemade jam or herbal-infused honey.
Wood carved shepherds’ flutes (duduks), hand woven lace, and pottery items (especially in Troyan) make classic Bulgarian souvenirs – just check labels to ensure local and ethical origins.
Sofia’s Central Market is over 100 years old and sells anything and everything; you’ll also find plenty of flea markets, antique markets and the Women's Market (Zhenski Pazar) which was originally run solely by women.
– Jenny Aitken, from our supplier Tucan Travel
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
Litre of petrol: 96p
500ml of Bulgarian beer (Boliyarka, Shumensko, Zagorka, Astika) in a restaurant: £1.50
A meal for two with drinks in a mid-range restaurant in Sofia: £15 - £30
Street food (kebabs, pizza slice, bagels): 50p - £1.00
Bottle of table wine in Melnik: £5.00
More about Bulgaria
If you’re looking for the best time to visit Bulgaria to experience the glacial moraine, alpine meadows and melt water lakes within the mountains of Rila, Rhodope and Pirin National Park then you've come to the right place.
If you're interested in travelling in Bulgaria then check out our map and highlights page before you go.
Bulgaria has long had a reputation as one of Europe's most affordable winter sport destinations, but this is also a country that boasts more thermal springs than the whole of Hungary.
Once famous for its dancing bears, Bulgaria is now a sanctuary for the gentle giants that like nothing better than to rummage the gothic forests and gorges of the Rhodope Mountains.
Explore Bulgaria's most expansive mountain range, the Rhodope Mountains, as part of a small group or on a tailor made self-guided tour and get ready for a wonderful world of waterfalls, thermal spas and gentle, forested mountain slopes.
Bulgaria boasts the highest peak in the Balkans as well as more thermal springs than Hungary, which is good news for walkers wishing to scale new heights before plunging into the depths of a warm bath for a jolly good soak.
Although Bulgaria may not immediately spring to mind when thinking about family holidays, you might be surprised at just how refreshingly simple things can be when travelling in Bulgaria with kids.
Find out what our friends in Bulgaria rave about.
Bulgaria has just as many positive and negative examples of tourism as anywhere else in Europe.