Bulgaria Travel Tips

  • Bulgaria will be a wonderful surprise for independent travelers, interested in history, culture, art, nature and great food.
  • Bulgaria is refreshingly affordable. And the strong dollar (1 USD currently equals 1.83 BGN or Bulgarian leva) certainly helps. Even a stay at a five-star hotel will rarely set you back more than $150 per night. And an excellent dinner for two with a bottle of wine can easily be had for less than $50. 
  • Dates in Bulgaria are written in the European format dd/mm/yyyy. This can easily be confusing for an American - I was recently looking at a poster for an Italian exhibit in Sofia and the dates were 04.04 - 04.06. 2017. For a second, I thought I'd missed it, only to realize the exhibit is from April 4th through June 6th. 
  • Can I drink the water? Yes! Tap water is perfectly safe in Bulgaria. But did you know that Bulgaria is very rich in mineral springs and produces excellent and inexpensive bottled mineral water? My favorite is Devin. Look for it at the numerous convenience stores. 
  • Speaking of water, did you know that Bulgaria is almost ridiculously rich in mineral springs? You can find some of the most famous areas and spa resorts listed here.
  •  Don't rely on English being spoken everywhere. You will easily find English speakers in larger cities and towns but not everywhere.
  • Even more importantly, remember that Bulgarian language is in Cyrillics. This means that unless you acquaint yourself with the Bulgarian alphabet, you will not be able to read most signs. This web site offers a short and quick guide to the alphabet and a few key phrases: Travel Phrases in Bulgarian
  • Be very mindful of the traffic - many drivers will expect you to be in charge of your own safety and won't necessarily watch out for pedestrians, even in crosswalks. 
  • Beware of pickpockets - while they are likely not more prevalent than in many other countries, do use the typical safety measures such as not making yourself an easy target, avoiding questionable areas and always being aware of your surroundings. 
  • Bulgaria is still a place where smoking is rampant. It's certainly something to keep in mind as you book hotels and restaurants - it's possible and fairly easy to find non-smoking options. Still, you will encounter cigarette smoke on the streets and public areas, it's just inevitable. 
  • In the exact opposite to most countries, Bulgarians shake their heads side to side for "yes" and nod for "no". 
  • Always carry a small amount of cash in Bulgarian Leva - credit cards are widely accepted and ATM machines are fairly ubiquitous but you will inevitable encounter situations where cash is the only option.
  • Money exchange - over many years of visiting Bulgaria while living in the US, for me the best and almost only way to get local currency is to use an ATM. It's safer compared to some currency exchange offices that may charge commission (and although rarely, some can scam you) and the exchange rate is better. 
  • Always alert your credit card and ATM issuers that you will be traveling to Bulgaria. Bulgaria is often on a "watch list" due to credit card and ATM fraud and unless you've given the issuers a heads up, they may block your cards when you attempt to use them in the country.  
  • Buy some fruit at the local farmers markets - one of the best and most centrally located ones in Sofia is along Graf Ignatiev Street. You will be amazed by how flavorful and tasty the fruits and vegetables are.
  • If you traveling with small children, you should know that arranging a baby-sitter is not very common and therefore easy. Children are welcome at restaurants but children menu and high chairs are not very common. 
  • Regretfully, Bulgaria is not an easy destination for travelers with disabilities. The streets and sidewalks are often uneven or broken, ramps and other special facilities are not common. Unless you find a tour that can accommodate your needs, I would not recommend planning a trip. 
  • The idea of personal space in Bulgaria is fairly relaxed. People may get close to you when speaking with you or bump into you when queuing up. 
  • Tipping often consists of rounding the bill up or at most leaving a 10% of the total. Being able to add the tip when you pay by credit card is rarely an option so plan to tip in cash. 
  • It may be quite obvious, but I will mention that Bulgaria uses the metric system. Also, electricity in Bulgaria is 220V (or in the range of 220 - 240V) with a frequency of 50hz. 
  • You will need the appropriate plugs for your devices. 
  • Free and usually very fast Internet can be found at most hotels, hostels, many cafes and even many public areas in big cities. 
  • During official public holidays government offices, banks, post offices and major businesses will be closed. Hotels, restaurants, bars and museum are typically open. The main public holidays in Bulgaria are the following: 
  • New Year’s Day 1 January
  • Liberation Day 3 March
  • Orthodox Easter March/April/May
  • May Day 1 May
  • St George’s Day/Bulgarian Army Day 6 May
  • Cyrillic Alphabet/Culture and Literacy Day 24 May
  • Unification Day 6 September
  • Bulgarian Independence Day 22 September
  • Christmas 25 & 26 December 
  • Best times to visit Bulgaria are Spring and early Fall. Summer is an acceptable option but it can get really hot and AC is still not widely popular or as cold as foreign travelers expect at restaurants and shops and even hotels outside the main cities.
  • Bulgaria is a wonderful destination for anyone interested in culture, history, art, nature and people. 
  • Bulgaria is not a good destination for anyone interested in luxury travel. Even at five star hotels, amenities and services can be spotty or quirky.
  • Some must try foods: kyufte (meatball resembling a burger patty), kebapche, shopska salad, banitza, mekitsa (fried dough), local feta cheese, local "yellow" cheese, stuffed vine leaves, stuffed cabbage laves. 
  • Some must try drinks: rakia (local and very strong grape or fruit brandy-type liquor), boza, ayran (yogurt and water, often with a bit of salt), Bulgarian wines (Mavrud wine is a must) 
  • Nestinarstvo or fire/live embers walking is a must see old Bulgarian tradition. In 2009, it was inscribed in UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity - find more information here.
  • Kukeri is another ancient and picturesque Bulgarian tradition - men dress up in elaborate costumes and dance to scare evil spirits away. National Geographic recently ran a fantastic piece on it - see it here.  
  • Bulgarian seaside and the Black Sea: unless crowded beaches and kitschy hotels brimming with youngsters drawn by generous and cheap pub crawls are your thing, avoid most seaside resorts. The ancient historic towns of Nessebar and Sozopol are worth visiting, preferably outside of the summer months. The cities of Varna and Bourgas are worth exploring - if you have more than 10 days in Bulgaria. There are also some beautiful sites up North and down South.
  • Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city, is the eight oldest continuously inhabited city in the world and the third oldest Europe. It was first settled in 4,000 BC. 
  • Bulgarian rose oil, derived from the Rosa Damascena rose, is one of the most highly valued in the world and often used in exclusive fragrances. You can find information about the Rose Valley and Rose Festival here.
  • Bulgaria currently has nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites and another fourteen on the tentative list: World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria