Speaking from personal experience, Bulgaria is one of the most satisfying places to visit in Europe. A hugely varied country, Bulgaria has it all. Great cities, majestic mountains, and a picturesque seaside, everyone will find their niche. The gastro scene is growing alongside a well-established wine tradition, making Bulgaria a budding foodie destination. The best way to experience Bulgaria is to jump in a car and explore the country. With over 38,000 square miles, there is plenty to explore.
Start your trip by flying into Varna airport. Less chaotic than capital city Sofia, and also more affordable, Varna offers a lovely beachfront comparable to the Mediterranean without being overrun by tourists. The small town and its sumptuous cathedrals can easily be explored in a day and a half, so don’t feel the need to linger too long. Instead, take a short trip to ex-capital city Veliko Tarnovo. Chock full of history, don’t hesitate to take two days here to wander the cobblestoned streets. Some highlights include the Old Castle and the Fortress. The climb to the top may be challenging, but the view from the top as well as the powerfully decorated church makes it all worth it. Tired from all the climbing? Treat yourself to lunch at the top of the cliff, where delicious food can be enjoyed with a view of the river.
Your next stop is the Rila Monastery. Slightly tricky to find as the GPS often gets confused, this holy place is small but stunning. Architecturally unique, the space promises a pleasant and authentic energy as monks still live there and can be seen going about their business. Pop in the Monastery Museum to learn about the oppression endured by the inhabitants over the centuries, then go for a short hike to the grave of Saint Ivan of Rila, where you can admire a shrine that people have built over the years. Be sure to bring a flashlight as it gets mighty dark in there.
Take a break from the smaller cities and drive to the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. A perfect blend of old European and Russian styles, the buildings in Sofia have been well preserved over the centuries. However, be aware that parking in the city center can be difficult, so best is to find a spot near your hotel and take advantage of the efficient public transportation system to explore the many museums and magical sights.
This next location is by far the most out of the way, but also the most worth it. About three hours northwest of Sofia lies the epic Belogradchik rock formation. An unusual geological phenomenon, it can easily be reached by foot from the center of the tiny village by the same name. The village itself has very little to offer, though enjoying a bit of respite from all your site seeing might be very welcome. This formation-come-fortress is also quite popular among rock climbers who travel from all over the world to try their hands at the creative nature.
Head on over to the medieval city of Plovdiv for an extraordinary experience if you’ve never been in this type of setting. Though worth a quick visit, the rather touristy vibe can be a bit discouraging to the experienced traveler. However, if you do decide to stick around, make sure to sample the local spirit, but be careful! A little goes a long way.
Hobble back to the Black Sea coast and catch a flight home from either Burgas or Varna, and reminisce on the ground you covered over the course of the last week.