The Perfect Bulgaria Itinerary: 5 to 10 Days (or More!)

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by Maggie Turansky


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The Balkan country of Bulgaria has long been overlooked on standard European travel routes, where traditional tourists rarely travel farther east than Hungary or Croatia. However, for those more intrepid visitors keen to see the delights that southeastern Europe has to offer, planning a 5 to 10 days in Bulgaria itinerary is a fantastic idea.

Though relatively small in size, Bulgaria has a lot to offer visitors and really can appeal to almost every personality. Bulgaria boasts cosmopolitan cities and ancient metropolises, rugged mountains and pristine beaches, world-class skiing and incredible wine country — it can seem that wherever your interests may lie, Bulgaria will have it.

When to Visit Bulgaria

You are likely going to want to know when is the best time of year to visit this European nation. Well, luckily for travellers, Bulgaria has its merits no matter what time of year you choose to visit so it all depends on what you’re after on your trip.

While it is located in southeastern Europe, don’t expect Bulgaria to have the same kind of climate as other southern European countries like Croatia, Portugal, Italy or Spain. Contrary to these countries, Bulgaria experiences a much more continental climate with very cold and snowy winters and hot, muggy summers. With this kind of climate, you can best bet to enjoy all of the seasonal activities that come throughout the year.

Winter in Bulgaria sees high temperatures averaging around freezing throughout most of the country, though it can certainly be colder high in the mountains or warmer in the coastal areas along the Black Sea.

With the winter freezes come a lot of skiing opportunities at some of the most affordable prices in all of Europe. Destinations like Bansko are incredibly popular in the wintertime, however, you can also easily combine a skiing holiday with a cosmopolitan city break without leaving Sofia by visiting Vitosha Mountain.

Summers, on the other hand, can get incredibly hot, with average temperatures soaring to well over 30°C (86°F) and humidity can be quite high, as well. The inland cities in the summer can be sweltering, however, the coast becomes a bustling mecca for sun worshippers and party seekers alike.

The mountains can also be a pleasant escape with ample hiking opportunities and mild temperatures in the high altitude. Summer is also, not surprisingly, when tourist crowds are at their peak, as are accommodation prices.

If you’re sensitive to either the cold or heat and want to avoid tourists as much as possible, then probably the best time to visit Bulgaria would be in the shoulder seasons.

The months ranging from March-May and September-October see some of the mildest temperatures, though you should be prepared for the occasional cold snap or frequent rains (especially in Spring). However, in the shoulder seasons, you are just as likely to have beautiful warm temperatures and sunny skies that steadfastly cling to summer.

No matter which time of year you choose to embark on your trip to Bulgaria, you are sure to be met with a beautiful country eager to welcome your exploration!

Sofia, Bulgaria is an incredible blend of ancient and modern
Sofia, Bulgaria is an incredible blend of ancient and modern

Getting To & Around Bulgaria

Now that you’ve figured out which season to travel to Bulgaria, we need to discuss how you plan to get around once you’re there.

First things first, it is likely that you will begin your Bulgaria itinerary by flying into Sofia airport, which has frequent connections from budget airlines like Ryanair and Wizzair to a number of cities throughout Europe. The affordability of reaching Bulgaria has made it an attractive option for travellers looking to explore a lesser-visited corner of Europe.

There are other international airports in the country besides Sofia, however, and you can just as easily begin your trip from any of these. The highest-trafficked airports after the capital include Burgas and Varna on the Black Sea and Plovdiv airport, which serves a couple of flights per week from destinations like Tel Aviv, Belfast, Manchester and Dublin.

Plovdiv Old Town
Old town of Plovdiv

If you’re visiting Bulgaria as part of a longer Balkans itinerary you will be happy to know that a few of the country’s major cities are fairly well connected with neighbouring countries. Travellers can easily reach Sofia from Thessaloniki in Greece, Belgrade or Nis, Serbia and also from Skopje, North Macedonia and Istanbul, Turkey, the latter of which will transit through Plovdiv.

You can also reach Sofia by overnight bus or train from Bucharest, Romania. It is also possible to find a direct connection to the northern city of Veliko Tarnovo to Bucharest as well.

Once you’ve arrived in Bulgaria, you need to know how you plan to get from point A to point B. Like elsewhere in the Balkans, if you’re relying on public transport for your Bulgaria trip, then your best option is going to be the bus.

While there is a train network in Bulgaria, it largely hasn’t been updated since the 1960s and can be incredibly slow, uncomfortable, and inefficient. The only time I would generally recommend using the train network in Bulgaria is if you have an affinity for communist-era railways.

In contrast, the bus system is quite comfortable and well-developed and they also tend to be much faster than the trains.

If you are only travelling between major cities, you will find that connections between transport hubs tend to be frequent and the system is easy enough to navigate, even if you have a language barrier. It can be helpful to know what the city you’re travelling to looks like spelt in the Cyrillic alphabet so you know which booth to buy your tickets from.

Most smaller city centres are easily navigable by foot, including cities like Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo, however, in Sofia, it might be necessary to use the public transportation system. The metro in Sofia is efficient and user-friendly, with everything written in both Bulgarian and English.

If you need to take a taxi in Bulgaria, make sure to practice the general precautions you would with taxis throughout the world as, unfortunately, Bulgaria is not immune to taxi scams. However, there are a number of taxi apps in various cities where you can call a reliable cab.

If you do hail one off the street, make sure to do some research on reliable taxi companies beforehand and ensure that the meter is running. Taxi rides are incredibly affordable in Bulgaria, especially when compared to some Western European countries.

The bus is the most efficient way to get around Bulgaria
The bus is the most efficient way to get around Bulgaria

5 to 10-Day Bulgaria Itinerary

Bulgaria has a lot to offer visitors and, therefore, travellers can easily spend a number of weeks or even months within the country and always find something new to explore. However, if you only can spend 5 days in Bulgaria, then the first five days of this itinerary is outlined to be a complete trip.

If you have a week, the same concept applies if you have 7 days in Bulgaria. And if you’re fortunate enough to have 10 full days to spend in this Balkan nation, then you can enjoy the entirety of the outlined route.

Days 1-3: Sofia

It is likely that you will begin your Bulgaria itinerary in the capital city of Sofia. Though Sofia may not have to best reputation among Balkan cities (when we first planned to visit, we were told to skip it by numerous people), we’ve found that it has a lot to offer visitors with great energy and many interesting things to do.

Though you could easily spend a week or more exploring Sofia, we recommend spending 3 of those days in the capital. Start off with a free walking tour of the city to get your bearings, a great way to get some context to the incredible history you’re going to see in the Bulgarian capital.

There are a number of things to occupy yourself during these three days in Sofia including visiting the top monuments like the ancient city of Serdika and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

You can also take the time to visit some of Sofia’s many museums, enjoy its thriving culinary scene, and learn more about its communist history.

Though it may not be the most beautiful of cities, there is a very cool edge that Sofia holds and it can be worth also learning about its burgeoning street art scene.

If you only have three days, we do recommend that you spend all of them in Sofia as it will allow you to really get to know the city. However, if you want to see more of the countryside, it is possible to go on a day trip.

Rila Monastery – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is one of the most popular day trips from Sofia, as is the nearby Vitosha Mountain, which you can reach by Sofia’s own public transport.

Where to Stay in Sofia

Art ‘Otel – This hotel is a great option if you’re after some luxury. They are well located within easy reach of all the major city sights and have a range of clean and comfortable rooms available. They also have a great breakfast included in the room rate.

Hostel Mostel – This hostel is your best bet if you’re travelling solo or on a tight budget. As one of the most popular and well-rated hostels in Sofia, they have a range of dorm and private rooms available, a friendly staff, and great common areas for you to meet other travellers.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Sofia hotels!

The stunning Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia
The stunning Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia

Days 4-5: Plovdiv

After exploring Sofia, the final step on a 5-day Bulgaria itinerary should be the second-largest city of Plovdiv. As one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2019, Plovdiv is probably the most tourist-friendly city in Bulgaria and it has a lot to offer visitors.

Plovdiv is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe, with a history dating back over 6,000 years. Though Plovdiv is most famous for its incredible ancient amphitheatre. there is a lot more that the city has to offer, which is why we recommend spending two days in Plovdiv to really get to know the city.

Spend your first day in the city exploring its ancient monuments and Roman ruins like the aforementioned amphitheatre and the ancient stadium. Wander through the picturesque old town and enjoy the view of the city from the ruined fortress on Nebet Tepe.

The charming Old Town of Plovdiv
The charming Old Town of Plovdiv

You can also head into the trendy neighbourhood known as Kapana, which means “The Trap” in Bulgarian.

These windy, pedestrian streets have recently been refurbished by a lot of government investment and are now full of great restaurants, cafes, bars, and independent shops and have become a haven for local artists. If you’re interested in hipster culture or street art, this is the neighbourhood to visit.

You can also use Plovdiv as a base to go wine tasting in the Thracian Valley. The nearby town of Brestovitsa is home to several wineries and is only 20 kilometres from the centre of Plovdiv.

Though Bulgaria may not be the first country that comes to mind when it comes to wine tourism, it has one of the oldest viticultures in the world and produces some truly fine vintages.

Where to Stay in Plovdiv

Hotel Evmolpia – Situated in the Old Town, this charming boutique hotel is within easy walking distance of everything to see and do in Plovdiv, including the amphitheatre, Kapana district, and main pedestrian street. They have a number of clean and comfortable rooms available and a good breakfast.

Hostel Old Plovdiv – Located in the heart of the Old Town, this hostel is located in a traditional revival house and is one of the best places to stay in Plovdiv. They have a very welcoming a helpful staff, a range of comfortable dorm and private rooms available, and a great breakfast included in the room rate.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Plovdiv hotels!

The Ancient Theatre of Philippopolis in Plovdiv
The Ancient Theatre of Philippopolis in Plovdiv

Days 6-7: Black Sea Coast

After spending the first five days in Sofia and Plovdiv, it’s time to head to the coast and enjoy the gorgeous Black Sea.

There are a number of great places to visit on the long coastline of Bulgaria and it really depends on what kind of experience you’re after. If you want a smaller, more sleepy seaside town, then head to lovely Sozopol. This town boasts a couple of fine sand beaches, beautiful cobbled streets, and a laid-back atmosphere.

If you want some more western amenities, a party scene, or a high-end beach resort, the head to Sunny Beach or Nessebar which are significantly more touristy and developed than Sozopol.

If you want a big city vibe but still some great beach time, then head to Varna or Burgas, the biggest cities on Bulgaria’s coast. No matter where you choose, you are sure to enjoy a couple of days enjoying the charms of the Black Sea.

Where to Stay on the Black Sea

Hotel Diamanti – If you’re looking for a more subdued seaside holiday on the Black Sea, then the perfect place to stay in Sozopol would be this hotel. They have a number of affordable rooms available, some with sea views, a restaurant on site, and a great breakfast included in the nightly rate. They are also located within walking distance of everything in Sozopol.

Nomado Hostel – As one of Varna’s highest-rated hostels, this is a great place to visit if you’re looking to see the Black Sea on a backpacker’s budget or as a solo traveller. They are centrally located, have a friendly and helpful staff, an included breakfast, and both dorm and private rooms available.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Black Sea hotels!

Beautiful and ancient Sozopol
Beautiful and ancient Sozopol

Days 8-10: Veliko Tarnovo

If you’re fortunate enough to have 10 days to spend exploring Bulgaria, then heading to Veliko Tarnovo for the last two days is an excellent ending point.

Veliko Tarnovo, located to the north of Bulgaria, is a lively university town that once acted as the capital of Bulgaria. Today, it is famous for its mountain scenery and impressive fortress that commands spectacular views over the city and mountains surrounding.

Veliko Tarnovo is incredibly picturesque and well worth taking a day or two to explore on foot. It is also located very close to a number of great mountains, so it is possible to use the city as a base to go for a great day hike. As the former capital of Bulgaria and another ancient city, there is also a long and fascinating history here that is worth learning about.

As the home of one of Bulgaria’s best universities, there is also a lively, youthful energy which makes for a lot of good eateries, bars, and cafes along with some trendy shops and things to do.

Where To Stay in Veliko Tarnovo

Augusta Spa Hotel – This boutique hotel is centrally located and is a great option if you have a bit of a higher budget when visiting Veliko Tarnovo. They have a range of clean, comfortable, and air-conditioned rooms available, some commanding great views of the medieval fortress, and a great breakfast included in the nightly rate.

Hostel Mostel – This hostel, owned by the same people who run the branch in Sofia, is an excellent option for budget and solo travellers. They have both dorm and private rooms available, breakfast and dinner included, and great common areas to meet other travellers.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Veliko Tarnovo hotels

The view from the Tsarevts Fortress in Veliko Tarnovo
The view from the Tsarevts Fortress in Veliko Tarnovo

Have More Time?

If you have more than ten days to spend in Bulgaria, or fancy getting a bit further off the beaten path, there are a few options you could take.

First, if you like nature, small towns, and wine, then heading to the lovely town of Melnik is a fantastic option. This tiny town is relatively easy to reach by public transport from Sofia and is an excellent stopping off point if you’re heading south to Greece after travelling in Bulgaria.

If you want to experience some of the best and most affordable skiing in Europe in the winter or visit a pristine hiking mecca in the summer, then the town of Bansko is also a great option to add to you Bulgaria itinerary.

Finally, the northwestern town of Belogradchik close to the Serbian border is a great offbeat destination in Bulgaria. Famous for its unique rock formations and imposing fortress, spending a day or two here will show you a different side to the country.

The lovely town of Melnik, Bulgaria
The lovely town of Melnik is a great addition to a lengthier Bulgaria trip

No matter how many days you have to devote to a Bulgaria travel itinerary, there is no denying that there are countless things to see and do in this underrated European nation.

Are you planning to visit Bulgaria? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie

Comments

  1. Another interesting old town is Koprivshtiza, on the road from Sofia to Black Sea, in high mountains and very picturesque. Also, there are many caves, waterfalls, natural wonders, and spa options to choose from.

    Reply
  2. If I want to do a Bulgaria Greece trip. Start in Sofia then to Plovdiv. Can I fly into Greece next from Plovdiv? Or do I need to go back to Sofia to catch a flight?

    Reply
    • Hi Dee Dee, Plovdiv airport is quite limited in its routes so I think your best bet would be to go to Sofia if you want to fly to Greece. Alternatively, I would recommend looking at taking the bus and going overland!

      Reply
    • Renting a car can be a great option if you want a lot of flexibility and not to be beholden to bus timetables. Prices can vary depending on a number of factors.

      Reply
  3. Hello,
    What is the best way to travel from Plovdiv to Varna? Bus? Return to Sofia and take a flight to Varna?

    Best regards,
    Oliveira

    Reply
  4. Hi. This looks like a very useful itinerary. Plan to visit next early June after an extended Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia trip. Was planning 5 days but I think 10+ will afford a much better flavor of Bulgaria. Thanks!

    Reply

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