The Balkan nation 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 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.
Because of its diverse landscape and incredible history, visitors could easily spend months in the country and continually find more places to visit. However, if it’s your first time visiting this wonderful Balkan nation and you’re struggling to determine the best route, follow this Bulgaria itinerary and you’re sure to leave longing to discover more!
When to Visit Bulgaria
Before jumping head-first into the perfect Bulgaria itinerary, 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 winter time, 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 most mild 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 Bulgaria itinerary, you are sure to be met with a beautiful country eager to welcome your exploration!
How to Get Around
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 Ryanair flights per week from London Stansted airport.
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, 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 itinerary, 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. Uber is not available in Bulgaria, 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.
5 Days in Bulgaria Itinerary
Now that we’ve covered the important things like when to visit and how to get around Bulgaria, it’s now time to delve into the complete 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 this is the itinerary for you.
It takes you through the country’s two largest cities and will certainly give you a taste (literally, both Sofia and Plovdiv have killer restaurants scenes!) of what Bulgaria has to offer. Be warned, however, as this 5-day Bulgaria itinerary will undoubtedly have you booking a return trip in the future.
Days 1-3: Sofia
It is likely that you will begin your Bulgaria itinerary in the capital and largest 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 in exploring Sofia, if you only have 5 days in Bulgaria, we recommend spending 3 of those days in the 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 it’s 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 Bulgarian capital. However, if you want to see more of the country during your 5 days in Bulgaria itinerary, it is possible to go on a day trip. Rila Monastery 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
Sofia has been coming into its own as a tourist destination in recent years and, therefore, there are a lot of accommodation options available to suit any kind of budget. If you want to know where to stay in while you’re in Sofia, check out these suggestions:
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 on your backpacking Bulgaria itinerary. They also offer a large breakfast and a light dinner (with a beer!) included in the room rate.Click here to see their latest prices
Art ‘Otel — This hotel is a great option if your budget allows for a little bit more than a hostel during your Bulgaria itinerary or 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. Click here to see their latest prices
Airbnb — Airbnb is also a great option if a traditional hotel or hostel isn’t what you’re looking for. There are numerous properties available on that platform ranging from incredibly affordable private rooms in a local’s home to entire apartments in the city centre such this funky and modern place. If you’re new to Airbnb, you can click here to get up to $40 off your first stay!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Sofia hotels!
Days 4-5: Plovdiv
After exploring Sofia, the next step on your 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 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.
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 about 7 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
Plovdiv doesn’t get the same amount of visitors as Sofia, but it is still a popular place to visit on most Bulgaria itineraries and therefore there are a number of great places to stay. If you’re wondering where to lay your head in Plovdiv, take a look these suggestions:
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. Click here to see their latest prices on Hostelworld or Booking.com
Hotel Evmolpia— Also located 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 included in the nightly rate. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Plovdiv hotels!
7 Days in Bulgaria Itinerary
If you have a week to devote to your Bulgaria itinerary, then you can still visit the biggest cities, but you will also have time to head to another destination within the country without being too rushed.
Days 1-3: Sofia
Start your 7-day Bulgaria itinerary with three days in Sofia, where you can follow the suggestions above about how to spend your time there.
Days 4-5: Plovdiv
After visiting Sofia, it is time to spend two days in Plovdiv, like in the 5 days in Bulgaria itinerary. Follow the suggestions in the itinerary above to truly enjoy your time in the Plovdiv.
Days 6-7: Black Sea (Option 1)
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
The Black Sea Coast in Bulgaria gets incredibly popular to visit in the summer months in Bulgaria, and there are numerous towns to choose from. We would recommend visiting Sozopol for a chilled out vibe or Varna if you want to experience Bulgaria’s third-largest city. Here’s where we recommend staying:
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. Click here to see their latest prices
Hotel Diamanti — If you’re looking for a more subdued seaside holiday on the Black Sea, then the perfect place to say 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. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Black Sea hotels!
Days 6-7: Veliko Tarnovo (Option 2)
If you’re planning your Bulgaria itinerary outside of the warmer months or are more interested in mountain cities than a seaside escape, then heading to Veliko Tarnovo for the last two days is a great alternative to the Black Sea coast.
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
Veliko Tarnovo is a popular destination for those visiting Bulgaria for longer than a couple of days and, therefore, there are a number of good accommodation options to choose from. Here are our top suggestions:
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. Click here to see their latest prices
The Hill — 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. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Veliko Tarnovo hotels
10 Days in Bulgaria Itinerary
If you have a full 10 days to explore Bulgaria, then that will give you an ample amount of time to adequately explore the main tourist highlights that the country has to offer. Here is our suggested 10-day Bulgaria itinerary:
Days 1-4: Sofia
Spend your first 4 days in Sofia. This will give you time to really get to know the city and also take a day trip to the Rila Monastery, Seven Rila Lakes, or go for a hike on Vitosha Mountain.
Days 5-6: Plovdiv
Spend two days in Plovdiv enjoying the history of the Old Town and trendy Kapana district.
Days 7-8: Black Sea
Hop on a bus to a Black Sea town of your choosing and spend two days soaking up the sun or partying until dawn on Bulgaria’s coast.
Days 9-10: Veliko Tarnovo
Round out your 10 days in Bulgaria enjoying the lively mountain city of Veliko Tarnovo, learning about its long history and enjoying the wonderful scenery.
Have More Time?
If you have more than ten days to spend in Bulgaria, or fancy getting a bit further off the beaten path than what the above Bulgaria itineraries suggest, 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.
No matter how many days you have to devote to a Bulgaria itinerary, there is no denying that there are countless things to see and do in this underrated European nation.
When travelling in Bulgaria, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you planning a Bulgaria itinerary? Have you been to Bulgaria? Let us know in the comments!