This is Bulgaria?!?

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I'll admit it — I basically knew nothing about Bulgaria before my trip to Eastern Europe.

All I knew was that it had a few pretty monasteries that I wanted to visit.

And that's it.

Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

I purposely didn't do too much research into my summer destinations. I did enough to know where I was going, and where those places were located in each country. But I didn't want to over-educate myself, or build up expectations that had no prayer of being met.

So I stayed blissfully ignorant about Bulgaria right up until we crossed the border from Romania.

Well, was I ever in for a surprise!!

Things I loved about Bulgaria

The countryside

Bulgaria has extremely gorgeous countryside, with everything from snow-capped mountains to beaches along the Black Sea coast. I knew Bulgaria was going to be agricultural and all, but I was absolutely not prepared for its stunning landscapes!

Bulgaria

Gorno Draglishte, Bulgaria

Really cool cities

While Sofia may not be much of a looker, other Bulgarian cities really wowed me.

Like Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria's medieval capital) with its narrow cobbled streets and old fortress on the hill. Even though it was almost unbearably hot during the summer months, I couldn't get enough of the views here.

Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

And Bansko, a ski city during the winter months, was also fun. It's quiet and charming during the summer months.

Bansko, Bulgaria

And Plovdiv, with its history and colorful buildings.

Plovdiv

And the villages we visited – like Gorno Draglishte – were also beautiful.

Gorno Draglishte, Bulgaria

Gorno Draglishte, Bulgaria

The history

Bulgaria has ties to many different empires, from the Romans to the Ottomans. Plovdiv, for example, has some of the best-preserved Roman ruins I've ever seen!

Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Ancient Roman theater in Plovdiv.
Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Half-buried ruins of a Roman stadium in Plovdiv.

Rila Monastery

This was the place I was most looking forward to visiting in Bulgaria was Rila Monastery, the largest and most well-known Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. I first heard about this monastery in a book, and had dreamed for years of visiting myself.

It was even more amazing in person than I could have hoped.

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Friendly locals

Even though I could only communicate with most of them through pantomime, I found the locals in Bulgaria to be incredibly kind and welcoming.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria

Bulgarian pride

And lastly, I loved how much Bulgarians love their country. There's an attitude there that exudes pride for a country that many people have barely even heard of. From guesthouse owners to minibus drivers, I had a sense that everyone we met was really happy to have us there, and to have the chance to show off their country to us.

It was this pride and attitude that helped me forgive Bulgaria it's little failings and fall a little bit in love with it, too.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria definitely isn't on the usual tourist track in Europe. And that's exactly how it should be, really. It's not a place made for mass tourism; it's nowhere near as developed as Romania, even.

But for those curious enough and willing to step off the beaten path, it's a country that's incredibly rewarding to travel through.

Would YOU travel to Bulgaria?

 

 

*Note: I visited Bulgaria as part of a complimentary 18-day “Explore Eastern Europe” tour with Intrepid Travel. But all opinions, as always, are entirely my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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52 Comments on “This is Bulgaria?!?

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  1. We’re finding the same thing with Slovakia. Gorgeous scenery, and friendly people who wonder why we’re here. Definitely not on the tourist routes, that’s for sure.

      It’s great to travel in places like that, isn’t it? I had hoped to include Slovakia this summer since I still have family living there, but I unfortunately ran out of time. It’s nice to hear good things about it though!

    Love the details of the Rila Monastery. Very unique, fun, and elegant.

      Rila was amazing – I’ll be doing a whole photo post on it hopefully next week. I’ve never been to such a colorful church before!

    I liked Bulgaria a lot more than I was expecting to… My favourite thing about it was the CHEESE!

      I liked ALL of Eastern Europe more than I was expecting to, I think.

      And YES about the cheese!!! How good was it?!? Greece has nothing on Bulgaria when it comes to cheese, if you ask me.

    Wow – speechless. Can’t wait to read more about that monastery!

      Surprising, right??

      And I should have a post up about Rila next week sometime!

        My first visit to Bulgaria was in 2012 and we were taken by the beauty and history. We have just completed a Villa in St Vlas (the poor man’s Monte Carlo) at a fraction of the cost of the U.S. It is Heaven-very little crime, children play in Parks without concern, the cost of living is unbelievable. The people are very friendly with many speaking very good English. We now spend close to six months a year as a base for short hops to other points in Europe, however auto touring from Sofia to Greece, Budapest and even Vienna is easy. If I were to lose everything I could live very well in Bulgaria on my Social Security. We are packed with guests every summer and many now return on their own. There is still time to discover and afford this beautiful country however it is being discovered. P.S. Don’t rent a car-Taxis are cheap and the Rental companies are sure to charge outrageous prices for normal wear and tear.

    There are so many places even in Europe that I would love to see. This is just part of that list. Great pictures.

      I think you and Ali need to take an Eastern Europe trip soon! Like you said, there’s so much to see.

    That is the BEST way to travel – with no expectations – everything surprises (and usually delights!) We do that ALL the time, but also maybe because we are too lazy to do the research, haha!

      I agree – having no expectations can make travel so much more enjoyable! I approached most of my summer trip that way, and it was definitely a great decision. I loved every bit of it!

    Bulgaria was never on my radar until I saw these stunning photos!

      Awesome! This is my favorite kind of comment – when I open someone’s eyes to a place they never considered before. Glad you liked the photos!

    Your posts are always interesting and eye-opening 🙂

    This year, I visited Bulgaria also. Not so much like you, just Sofia and Plovdiv. But like you say, it is country which must be seen! 🙂

    I have one suggestion for this post. From Plovdiv, you put just photos of Roman theater. Beside theater, Plovdiv is well known for Old town. The Renaissance town of Old Plovdiv was built during the 19th century. Today it has survived as a unique architectural ensemble on the three hills.
    Here is some photos of those interesting houses.

    ps
    Btw. when you are in Eastern Europe, you should come visit Croatia, too 🙂 It is beautiful country, with clear sea, many islands, and continental part is charming, too!

      Glad you liked the post, Ivan!

      And yes, you’re right about Plovdiv – the Old Town is really nice! I’ll be writing a post all about Plovdiv in the near future, which will include plenty more photos! 🙂

      As for Croatia, I DID visit!

    I was in Bulgaria this year as well, in March when the spring was slowly blossoming around, and I just loved it there! I was only in Sofia and Plovdiv but just these two places made me keep Bulgaria on the list of places I want to see again. Everyone seems to go to the seaside there but I think the countryside and the mountains are what’s really beautiful in that country! And the food, that’s already the reason itself to consider going there!

      I totally agree that the countryside and mountains are the most beautiful parts of Bulgaria. Glad to hear you really enjoyed it, too!

    Wow, breathtaking! I wouldn’t have expected that almost Moorish looking architecture from your photo of the monastery. I love the countryside and yearn for a little break from the city now and again.

      The Bulgarian countryside is truly beautiful! And yeah, there are all sorts of unexpected things to find there!

    […] in the first place. Even before I had made concrete plans for my summer trip to Europe, I knew that Bulgaria was going to be included, just so I could visit […]

    I live in Bulgaria and I truly think that the nature and the old towns here are the most beautiful part of it (now)… There are many people who come in Bulgaria and stay in big cities or in newly-built hotels across the seashore of “Cherno more” (The Black Sea), and I truly don’t understand them. Yes – our tourist places are new and have quite a lot of luxuries and ,what’s more, everything is very cheap to the western Europe customer, but the true charm in Bulgaria is the countryside, the beautiful mountains, rivers, the old and preserved towns and the places where you can learn more about the history of this country… And if you come to Bulgaria, you really should try Bulgarian traditional food, drink Bulgarian wine and “rakia” and see how Bulgarians use to have fun…

      I could not agree more, Christian – it’s the less-visited, older and more natural places in Bulgaria that I liked the best!

    […] Bulgaria may not be on the typical tourist trail in Europe, but it surprised me in many ways. It’s a beautiful country in all senses of the word. Rila Monastery Gorno Draglishte, where I met my […]

    OMG, I love this photo essay!!! See… I’m Bulgaria. So I’ve grown up here and as soon as I could leave, I did, lol. But it’s true: we have beautiful history, beautiful nature, and beautiful people. Hope you met some of the more adventurous ones because we’re also guilty of grumps. 😀

    Thanks for this wonderful post! You’ve an eye for beauty. Blog on!!!

      Thanks, Lyn! Bulgaria is definitely a country that surprised me – and one I’m so glad I visited!

    It’s always nice to see the view of an outsider on my country since Bulgarians although opened towards foreigners are kind of stuck in the past and the lack of travelling experience does have a negative impact (usually when a Bulgarian leaves Bulgaria for more than a couple of months he/she leaves the country for good so there is little feedback from their experiences in the outside world). I’m glad you liked it. The hospitality especially in rural areas is a duty. If the host/hostess doesn’t provide the best he/she can, it brings shame on the whole family. Of course there are plenty of example of bad people, who do not follow this rule but they are just…well, bad. 🙂 The sad thing when it comes to tourism is that most tourist agencies provide routes only through some big famous places. In recent years this started to change slowly and there are many foreigners, who enjoy a quiet and pleasant stay in some rural area in a family-house, where they can eat and drink home-made food and drinks, and can hike for many hours in probably on of the most well preserved wild natures in whole Europe. I see however that you like many others decided to visit a foreign country without any preparation. This is bad no matter where you go and it might cause you big trouble. For a long stay in a foreign country (couple of years) it is strongly recommended to learn the language, study the culture, talk to representatives of that foreign culture and also talk to people of your own culture who have been there. Obviously all these do not apply if you want to visit for a couple of days/weeks but still learning a thing or two about the culture you are going to experience and also a couple of basic words can tremendously improve your stay there. For example in most parts of Bulgaria nodding your head means “No” and shaking it sideways means “Yes”, which leads to many misunderstandings (in big cities it is less common mostly because of the influence of the world outside, where in most countries it’s the complete opposite in this case LOL). I hope you return and enjoy your stay even more. Don’t forget to climb a couple of our mountains (Stara Planina, Rila (the seven Rila lakes), Pirin, Rodopi) and to visit towns such as Koprivshtitsa, which have an amazing atmosphere.

      I did really enjoy my time in Bulgaria. And don’t worry – I learned some words in Bulgarian while I was there! I always do that when arriving in a new country. 🙂

    Have you visited Nessebar? It is a really nice city on the south Black Sea coast 🙂

      I have not! I sadly didn’t make it to the coast when I was in Bulgaria.

      Nessebar is beautiful… Especially the night view.

    I find it very encouraging that everyone is having a great time in Bulgaria, and I would like to go. However… at the risk of sounding unpolitcally correct…I notice that everyone who said that Bulgarians are friendly and that travelers should venture out of the big city to see real Bulgaria are…well, white.
    I was wondering if that is a safe move for non-white people. As a visible minority (tan) woman, I get a little hedgy, wondering what kind of treatment I’d get in Bulgaria… I was told that it would be safer for minorities to stay in the city, where there are more “worldly” people, rather than visit the country-side where there may be ignorance.
    What are your thoughts on this, if I may ask?

      Well, I am a white, female traveler. So unfortunately I can only speak to my own personal experiences. However, I saw no indications in Bulgaria that locals would have an issue with people who look different.

      There are very few “people of color” visitors in Bulgaria. We notice more and more people of color every summer and have never seen anything that would be offensive or challenging. There is a negative view of the Gypsy working class, however like migrant workers in the south west U.S. they seem to be tolerated and not the focus of any trouble. Please do bot be concerned, you might receive stares as my red headed- freckled wife did in China where everyone wanted to tough her hair, but not with malice. Having said all of this I think you would have no concerns about being welcomed or receiving the noted hospitality of Bulgarians. Please enjoy the food–we eat like horses and lose weight as the food is mostly organic, fresh and with none of the additives used in american restaurants. A seven course dinner with wine for three couples in St. Vlas cost under $125 and in Plovdiv under $75.

    Great photos! The charm of Bulgaria is in the little countryside villages and the old towns. Next time you should definitely visit Sozopol and Nesebar (both located at the Black Sea coast).

      I agree – the countryside villages and ancient towns are the must-sees in Bulgaria. Next time I will definitely make my way to the coast!

    I have the privilege to visit this beautiful country many times for work and Rila Monastery is simply amazing. Bulgaria has so much treasure that is not as well presented as the rest of Europe. If only the tourism board will invest into setting up the proper infrastructure, Bulgaria will definitely be one of the place to visit while going Europe. It is a shame to have all these hidden “treasure” buried.

      I’m fine with it remaining “hidden” for at least a little longer! 😉

      But I agree – it’s a special part of Europe!

    Hey, I am so happy to see somebody writing for my home country. Next time in Bulgaria visit these places Bozhentsi, Koprivshtica, Kovachevitsa, Melnik, Belogradchishki rocks, Balchik, Nessebar, and even my parent’s hometown Chiprovtsi, in western Bulgaria, forgotten by time and hiding itself in the mountains. 🙂 Alexandra

    Thank you for the beautiful post about my home country Bulgaria! We do really enjoy to show off our country because years ago we didn’t have that chance, everything was closed for foreigners. Now, after so many bad sayings about Bulgaria, we are happy to welcome travellers and to prove media that it’s just wrong. Thank you! And Nessebar and Sozopol are a must, too 🙂

    I came across your blog by chance and I love it! I am from Bulgaria and it makes me proud that you fell in love with my beautiful country! Keep up the good work!

    Great post! I just arrived in Sofia and am planning on heading out to the country side soon so this was great for reference. Did you by chance do any hiking around the 7 lakes near the monastery?

      No I didn’t really do any hiking around the monastery, but I’ve heard it’s beautiful!

    Wonderful piece, Amanda, about a part of the world I am currently fascinated with. We are headed to Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro shortly, but, unfortunately, Bulgaria did not make the short list… THIS TIME. I am very intrigued. If you ever return and wanted a couple of travel companions, let me know!

      Eastern Europe is super fascinating to me, too! Hopefully you’ll make it to Bulgaria next time. 🙂

    Okay, I am sort of visiting Bulgaria out of the blue, but only have Sofia on my itinerary so far! I’m definitely gonna see if I can get to Rila Monastery as it looks amazing! Though I might have to choose between that and Plovdiv… decisions.

      Tough choices! Plovdiv was a cool town with lots of history. But Rila Monastery… just magical!

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