Bulgaria. Vast, impressive, and beautiful. Incredible nature and diverse experiences. Although Bulgaria is not one of the most trending and popular tourist destinations, this undiscovered gem of a country has a lot to offer. From stunning mountain views to delicious coffee shops and restaurants, you are sure to have a memorable (and budget friendly) visit to this Balkan country with this unforgettable Bulgaria itinerary.
Is this Bulgaria Itinerary Right For You?
The ideal travel itinerary varies from person to person. Some people love adventure and crazy experiences while others love to relax and forget all of their troubles. Our trips tend to be very memorable, but also fairly busy. This Bulgaria itinerary is for you if you want….
- A memorable trip that is diverse and enables you to see a lot of the country in a short period of time
- The perfect combination of adventure and relaxation (everything is about balance)
- Lots of nature, while also dappling in Bulgaria’s cities.
- Some traveling around the country and long(ish) drives
- Fully packed days in order to see as much as you can on a somewhat short schedule
- LOTS of amazing memories
Things to Know Before You Travel to Bulgaria
Safety – In general Bulgaria is a very safe country with a low rime rate. Although there is always a risk for typical petty crimes such as pickpocketing or theft (is there any place in the world that you don’t have to worry about this?), Bulgaria is overall a very safe destination for tourists.
Attire – Bulgaria is a European country with typical Eastern European and Balkan countries’ style. There is no particular need for any special type of clothing while visiting Bulgaria.
Getting Around – Although Bulgaria does have a solid system of public transportation (busses, trains, etc), they can be difficult to maneuver and understand without speaking Bulgarian. Within Sofia and other major cities, they do have a very reliable metro system. However, if you are planning to travel around the country, intercity buses to small towns are less frequent and less reliable.
Costs – Bulgaria is overall a very affordable travel destination. Food, transportation, and hotel costs are very low in comparison to many other places. It is often listed as the most inexpensive travel destination in Europe. Although Bulgaria is a part of the European Union, they do not accept the Euro as a form of payment. The local currency is the Bulgarian Lev.
Language – Bulgarian is the official language of Bulgaria and is what is spoken by the majority of the country’s 6.8 million citizens. While you will most likely find locals who speak English in some of the bigger tourist destinations and restaurants (especially in the big cities), outside of the city and the touristy places, they usually do not understand more than a few words of English. I would strongly suggest downloading Bulgarian on Google Translate. It was needed many times for parking, transportation, directions, and bookings. And the locals are always excited to hear tourists trying to speak a little bit of the local language! Many of the countries road signs are also written only in Bulgaria (even at big tourist destinations like Seven Rila Lakes), so Google Translate with the camera feature is very handy!
Shaking the Head – Now this is a very random tip, but one of the most confusing things that we found on our trip to Bulgaria was that the sign of shaking your head from left to right, which typically means no in most countries, means the opposite in Bulgaria. If someone shakes their head from side to side that means yes!
5 Day Bulgaria Itinerary
Even though we only had a few days in Bulgaria, we packed the trip with exciting adventures in the cities and the countryside. We experienced some of the authentic culture in the smaller countryside towns while exploring the trending Sofia with its endless restaurant and café options. We managed to experience a little bit of everything in our fun 5 day Bulgaria itinerary.
One of the most exciting things about Bulgaria is that it is one of the cheapest travel destinations in Europe. Excluding our tickets, we spent about $500 per person for the entire trip (including food, accommodations, car rental, fun activities, etc). And keep in mind that we weren’t focused on budget-travel. If you choose to take public transport instead of renting a car and choosing hostels over Airbnb’s, you could keep the cost down much lower!
Day 1: Explore the Capital City of Sofia
Most people, when they arrive to Bulgaria, land in the capital city of Sofia. Sofia is the largest city in Bulgaria in terms of population, the second oldest city in Europe, and a wonderful place to explore, relax, and enjoy delicious food and historical sites. Whether you are looking to promenade, resting every now and then for a coffee, or to visit museums and learn about Bulgarian’s history, there is something for everyone.
We spent our first day exploring some of the fun things that the city has to offer. After grabbing something to eat from the delicious Rainbow Factory café, we walked down the main promenade – Vitosha Boulevard and enjoyed tea while people watching. Consider exploring some of the side roads as well to find very affordable second hand shops!
Top 3 Things To Do in Sofia City
1. Stroll Down Vitosha Boulevard – Vitosha Boulevard is the place to be. Lined with cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars, clubs, and bookshops, there is a little bit of something for everyone. This pedestrian street certainly has its fair share of tourist traps, but you can also find many gems and fun places to people watch and enjoy delicious food. And don’t forget to take in the lovely city views.
2. Check out the Sofia History Museum – What used to be Sofia’s bathhouse was turned into the Sofia History Museum. We happened upon this museum quite by accident and were attracted by the beautiful and stunning architecture. Upon a closer look, we found out that it was a history museum that cost just a few Euros for entry. You can learn about the ancient history and more modern history of Bulgaria in the wonderfully organized museum.
3. Enjoy the Historical Cathedrals and Gothic Architecture – Just walking through the streets of Sofia, you can find beautiful and historical cathedrals like the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral which is the top tourist attraction in Sofia. But even just walking down the streets, you can find smaller churches and beautiful architecture that dates back many years.
Check out this post for a complete list of things to do in Sofia: 10 Can’t-Miss Things to Do in Sofia | Exploring the Unique Things in Bulgaria’s Capital City
Where to Eat in Sofia
On our first day in Sofia, we were very impressed by the level of food. Everything we had was delicious (and of course very inexpensive). We ate at Rainbow Factory café and the beautiful and delicious Shtastlivetsa that is right on the main boulevard.
Check out this post for a more comprehensive list of the best places to eat in Sofia: Where to Eat in Sofia | 11 Best Cafes and Restaurants
Although most of the best places to visit in Sofia are within walking distance, you can also take a taxi within the city. The taxis are very inexpensive to other cities and the drives are usually pretty short and traffic free. We had a rental car for the entirety of our trip, however, there were some difficulties paying for street parking without a Bulgaria SIM card and phone number. As a result, we were stuck using only parking lots while in the city. We were also warned that if you illegally park or overpark, you don’t just get a ticket, but your car will be blocked in by the police.
If you do want to take a taxi, be aware that there are plenty of scammers out there (as in any country). Two reputable taxi companies include Yellow! taxi or O.K. taxi. If you want to use an app to order a taxi (like Uber), Yellow is the one for you.
Where to Stay in Sofia
We stayed at a very cute Airbnb in a wonderful and very central (yet still quiet) location! We stayed there for all of the nights we spent in Sofia. Two nights in the beginning of the trip and one night at the end of the trip. It was clean and spacious, beautifully decorated, and the host was helpful and kind. It was on the 5th floor, with no elevator, so be prepared to get some extra steps in!
Day 2: Sofia and Surrounding Areas
On our second day in Bulgaria, we originally had planned to go for a hike to the Seven Rila Lakes, Bulgaria’s top tourist destination. However, the weather was not on our side and it appeared that there was a full day of rain ahead. We changed our plans slightly and looked for something fun to do in the area, switching our Bulgaria itinerary a bit. When in doubt, why not spend the day at a spa?
After a little bit of research we found that there was a lovely spa nearby with mineral-rich waters. Located in Pancharevo, just about a 20-minutes drive from Sofia, you will find a quaint little spa with a beautiful view of Pancharevo Lake, Infinity Spa. For just around $25 you can spend half the day at the spa, receiving drinks, access to multiple saunas, and of course the mineral-rich waters that come from the ground in the surrounding area.
Although it did start to thunder and rain while we were there, you could still stay in the covered section of the pool or venture to the uncovered area and feel the cold raindrops combined with the hot water. Smoothies and snacks are included in the price, but there are not full dishes offered, so consider eating before or after.
After our relaxing spa trip, we headed back to Sofia for some dinner and relaxation. We were waking up very early the nex day to continue our adventures. To get the full traditional Bulgarian experience, we went to The Hadjidragana Tavern which was complete with live music and performances.
Day 3 – Explore the Countryside
Although Sofia was fun, every trip needs to be balanced. We woke up early in the morning to start our adventure to the countryside. We found a small farm about two hours south of Sofia where we could go on long horseback riding treks in the mountains – Rusaliite Adventure House in Bachevo village. Before departing the city, we stopped back at Rainbow Factory café to grab some sandwiches for the drive. The scenery immediately changed to stunning landscapes and tall mountains. Small villages dotted the distances.
Horseback Riding in Bulgaria
The farm itself was beautiful. There were friendly dogs wandering all around with chickens and bunnies in the yard. And most importantly for us…there were dozens of beautiful horses and a stable. We checked in for the night, put our bags in our rooms, and started immediately on our first horse trek for the trip. They packed us all a small lunch, assigned us each a horse according to our experience, and we headed up the mountain.
Our guide was a local of a nearby village. Although he did not speak any English, he was extremely friendly and kind. He picked wild berries for us to eat and took us to beautiful viewpoints that overlooked mountains and incredible scenery. After about an hour and a half we took a break amongst the trees to have lunch. There was a water fountain with the coolest, most delicious water that we have ever tasted. It came right from the mountains…the purest purification process. Using Google Translate, we asked the guide what kind of animals were in the forest. We were shocked by some of his stories of bear encounters in the same spots we were riding. As we are experienced riders, we also got to gallop through the small paths. The experience was incredible and memorable and the views unforgettable.
Stay Overnight at the Farm
We slept one night at the farm itself. It was quiet and relaxing and we got to pet the horses and enjoy archery before heading to our rooms as it became dark and cold. The food at the farm was not the best and not very diverse and there is not much else in the area, as it is quite remote. So if you have food allergies or sensitivities, speak with the hosts before arriving.
Day 4 – Hiking 7 Rila Lakes
No trip to Bulgaria is complete without hiking the 7 Rila Lakes. Luckily for us, the lakes were more or less on the way back to Sofia, so we were able to fit in a trip to this awesome hike. Because we like to fill our trips to the fullest, we also went on a few hour horse trek at 6:00am. This was before driving to 7 Rila Lakes. It was a few hours of pure bliss as we saw incredible mountain views and ate more berries and fruit from the trees. Don’t worry, all approved by our local guide before consuming! We ate breakfast of local donuts with jam and cheese and omelets before beginning our journey to the lakes.
Hiking 7 Rila Lakes
If you are planning a trip to the Seven Rila Lakes, we would really recommend allowing for an entire day as it is an incredible experience. After driving a few hours from the farm, we approached some ominously tall mountains, which hid the seven lakes. It was a beautifully sunny day. As we drove through the town, we were surprised to see how few signs were written in English. Even though this is one of Bulgaria’s top tourist attractions, they were mostly written in Bulgarian only.
We followed the stream of cars that were also heading to the tourist attraction and asked some locals for help. In very broken English they happily showed us the way. The temperature dropped rapidly as we drove up the windy roads to the entrance of the park. Stunned by the views and the expanses around us, we were so happy that we did not skip this experience.
When we finally reached the entryway and the parking lot, we were greeted by a small line of vendors selling local goods and snacks as we approached the lift that would take you to the beginning of the hike. The lift was actually quite expensive for Bulgarian standards, costing about $12 per person. You can skip the lift all together, however, it will add hours to your hiking trip. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the top on the lift.
Tips for Hiking 7 Rila Lakes
BRING RAIN GEAR – No matter how sunny the day looks and how warm it is…bring a rain coat! I promise you, you will regret it if you don’t. We started our hiking trip and it was beautifully sunny and warm. By the time we reached the first lake, although the weather forecast was clear, it had already started raining. We reached the second lake and it was downpouring. Lighting and thunder as if all the gods were angry at mankind raged through the sky. It felt like doomsday. It would have been much more bearable if we had even a raincoat or an umbrella.
We ended up spending most of our visit to the lakes huddled with hundreds of other people in the small building at the top of the mountain, waiting for the rain to end. The worst part is that you have to wait in line, in the cold for the lift. It was another 20 minute journey back down the mountain in the cold rain, with no protection. A very simply solution is to bring proper rain gear.
Bring Food – Although there is a cafeteria at the top of the lift, the food is very army style and served as a sort of buffet. We would highly recommend bringing sandwiches or snacks.
Transportation and Where to Stay
We highly recommend renting a car if you want to visit the 7 Rila Lakes. It is not so easily accessible via public transport. Additionally, you want to be flexible with your timing and account for potential rain or inclement weather. After we finished the hike, we headed back to Sofia to our original AirBnb to dry off and have some edible food! We ate dinner at a delicious Mexican restaurant Mangia Station right near our place. After grabbing some snacks at the grocery store for our flight out the next day, we went home for a few hours of sleep.
Day 5 – Explore Other Towns
Unfortunately, we had an early morning flight out the next day, so that was essentially the end of our Bulgaria trip. We managed to dry most of our clothes by blasting the heat in our AirBnb so that we wouldn’t weight down on bags on the flight. However, all of us had semi wet shoes the next morning.
If you do have a little extra time, it is definitely worth visiting the nearby town of Plovdiv. It is the second largest city in Bulgaria and is known as the heart of Bulgaria’s cultural experience. Opera houses and music events combine with art in this quaint and memorable city. It is located only an hour and a half outside of Sofia. So, if you have a flight later in the day, you can still manage to visit this historic place!
Looking for a Longer Trip? Additional Amazing Things to Do in Bulgaria
1. Explore the Coast -Varna and Burgas
Although this Bulgaria itinerary stayed mostly in the western part of Bulgaria, it is a pretty large country that also offers a beautiful coast along the Black Sea. Varna and Burgas are lovely destinations if you are looking to have more of a seaside vacation… However, keep in mind that they are quite far from the area of Sofia (about a 4 hour drive). If you have the time or are willing to take a short flight, it is definitely worth the trip and diversity of landscapes!
2. Rose Festival
If you were to ask people what Bulgaria is most famous for, they would most likely tell you “Roses”. The Bulgarian Rose industry creates and exports incredibly high quality roses and perfumes. Bulgarian roses are world famous for their quality and for good reason! The soil and climate in the area has made for the perfect conditions for some of the finest roses in the world. If you want a truly unique experiene you can go to Rose Valley or Kazalnak region in the early summer. In the first week of June you can and participate in the Rose Festival. Rose picking rituals, parades, and so much more await you!
3. Visit Bulgarian Wineries
Explore the countryside outside Sofia and find some of the incredible wineries that Bulgaria has to offer. Set to the backdrop of beautiful nature and stunning views, you can taste the uniqueness of Bulgarian wine.
Looking for other amazing trip itineraries? Check out this Turkey Itinerary: The Perfect 12 Day Turkey Itinerary
Lots of Love and Safe Travels,
Danielle and Brooke, Colorful Sisters