Bulgaria is one of our favourite countries we’ve ever been to. Now that I’ve started with that big statement, I’ll attempt to explain why we love Bulgaria – but in a nutshell, cost of living is cheap, the country side is bloody beautiful and it feels like the whole world hasn’t cottoned on to the fact that this place is amazing. As a result, it’s not over run with tourists.
No applying for a visa in advance is required if you’re Australian and just going there for a holiday. Bulgaria is a part of the EU but isn’t part of the Schengen Area (although they are trying to become apart of the Schengen Area). As per usual you should check out the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for more details.
- Try not to nod your head for yes and shake your head for no, it confuses Bulgarians. Why’s that you ask? Because it’s the opposite in Bulgaria. So to say ‘no’ in Bulgarian you say ‘ne’ and nod your head. To say ‘yes’ in Bulgarian you say ‘da’ and shake your head! It may sound confusing but trust me, you’ll be right.
- We were in Bulgaria for 9 days and spent UNDER $40 AUD per person per day – that includes transport within the country, accomodation, food, car hire, tours etc.
- The train carriages themselves aren’t amazing in Bulgaria, but every major city is connected by a trainline, so it’s the best way to get around the country. The trains are real old-school, so in summer you can pull down the window and feel the wind in your hair. On the downside, in summer when the trains stop for long periods of time, you feel like you’re being slow roasted in the oven.
- Check out: Tsarevets Fortress is the major attraction in the city. When Veliko Tarnovo was the capital of Bulgaria, this is where the tsars ruled from (make sure you check out the church at the top of the hill). There are an abundance of abandoned buildings in Bulgaria and Veliko Tarnovo is no exception, just look around! We explored a small abandoned dam near Hostel Mostel. BUZLUDZHA! Yes the capitalisation is necessary because this was the coolest thing we’ve done on our trip, so naturally it is THE THING we recommend doing in Bulgaria. In short it’s a massive spaceship looking abandoned communist monument on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere…stay tuned for a seperate blog post on Buzludzha (including how we got in and out). Free Veliko Tarnovo Walking Tour meet at the front of the tourist info centre at 11am everyday. It is a great way to get a crash course in the history and where everything is in the city. The Monument of the Assens you can’t miss it, it’s the big sword monument in the middle of town.
- Eat: There’s a cool little restaurant near Tsarevets Fortress called The Green Restaurant. It serves quality Bulgarian cuisine, as well as some western cuisine. Our free walking tour guide suggested we eat at Restaurant Shtastliveca 1 – it’s a bit more pricey but you get a great view of the monument of the Assens and their delicious baked dishes. While I mention it, Bulgarian baked dishes are to die for! It’s pretty much a lot of meat, veggies, maybe an egg and cheese put in a iron cast pan and baked in the oven (my lousy description doesn’t do it justice, TRUST ME it’s great).
- We stayed at: Hostel Mostel – it’s the little brother of the main hostel in Sofia but it’s still just as great. Located near Tsarevets Fortress, free breakfast, free dinner and a free beer every night…you can’t argue with that! Plus they can organise cheap car rental if you want to explore the countryside yourself i.e. go to Buzludzha.
- Check out: To be completely honest we don’t have the biggest wrap on Varna. The most exciting thing we did there was explore the Monument of the Bulgarian-Soviet friendship. While this giant concrete monstrosity isn’t as jaw dropplingly spectacular as Buzludzha it’s still a sight for sore eyes. There’s a massive Bulgarian and EU flag at the bottom of a set of 300 stairs leading up to a enormous concrete structure which is over 20m tall and almost 50m wide. It’s a lot easier to get into that Buzludzha (a large hole was knocked out of the wall when we were there, so we climbed right in), so check it out for yourself. Most of the beaches in Varna are packed with tourists in summer but head north (or north-east to be precise) and you’ll find less people and better beaches (without the expensive bars taking up all the beach).
- Eat: Chow down on a few deep fried Black Sea sprats while looking out over the Black Sea and wash it down with a beer. Godzilla it’s a chain of restaurants but they serve decent Bulgarian and western cuisine at a reasonable price.
- We stayed at: Avocado Hostel it’s a new hostel in a good location near the main pedestrian street. The hostel is still in it’s infancy so they’re still trying to iron out a few of the creases.
- Check out: Free Sofia Tour is one of the best free walking tours we’ve been on, they show you all the main sights in the centre of the city while giving you a brief and engaging history lesson. If you love communist history, they also run a Communist Tour which is very insightful and not too expensive (shout out to our guide Nikola who was awesome). The National Palace of Culture and it’s adjoining park is definitely worth checking out. Museum of Socialist Art hosts a small collection of art from communist times in Bulgaria, BUT check the opening times before you go because it’s not open on Mondays at all.
- Eat: Tarator is a cold cucumber/yoghurt/garlic/dill soup, perfect on a hot day! If you want a real good quality meal that’s a bit on the priceier side (for Bulgaria) head to Manastirska Magernitza, Josh had the Tsar’s Chicken which he swears is one of the best meals he’s had overseas.
- We stayed at: Hostel Mostel the original and the best. Free buffet breakfast, free dinner and a free beer everyday. The staff are super friendly and helpful, providing you with maps and showing you the best places to eat and what to see in the city.
Did you know?
- NOTE – This ‘fact’ comes from a Bulgarian who was trying to justify why so many Bulgarians typically run late for meetings and appointments. In 1925 the communists attempted to assassinate the ruling tsar of Bulgaria, Boris III. They knew he’d be attending the funeral service of a murdered General in St Nedelya Church, so the communists wired the roof with explosives. On the day of the funeral they detonated the explosives killing hundreds of people, but Tsar Boris III wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t in the church at the time because he was running late.
- There was only one TV channel in Bulgaria when the communist party was in power. This channel only showed local news (propaganda) and Bulgarian movies, EXCEPT on 2 occasions every year. On Easter and Christmas this channel showed Hollywood movies. This was to get everyone to stay home and watch TV instead of going to church (because communists don’t like religion).
Bulgaria is a country with so much potential, but the fact that it’s not fully developed is part of it’s charm. It’s cheap and not overrun with western tourists, the countryside is breathtaking, the cuisine is hearty and delicious, all the people we met were friendly and so impressed that we came all the way from Australia and chose to visit Bulgaria. If you love communist history (like Josh) and love abandoned places (like Phoebe) then Bulgaria is the place for you. We’d love to go back and explore ALL of the country next time.