After my recent Bulgaria trip, I’m more and more impressed with this country and I’m hoping to travel to Bulgaria soon again. After all, there are so amazing places to visit in Bulgaria that just need to be discovered!
That’s why I’m more than happy to feature this post with Bulgaria itinerary, written by Krasen from Journey Beyond the Horizon blog. I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I did.
But be careful, after reading what to see in Bulgaria you might want to plan your own Bulgaria holidays soon!
Bulgaria is one of the least known countries in Europe.
Located in the eastern part of the Balkans, it has a lot of hidden gems, most of them off the beaten path places.
And if someone goes to explore Bulgaria, he or she could be really surprised what actually this country can reveal.
Mountains, forests, sea beaches, ancient ruins, colorful ethnic villages – Bulgaria travel can offer a variety of activities. All this combined with a unique culture makes this country really worth to visit.
Table of contents
- 1 Geography of Bulgaria
- 2 History of Bulgaria
- 3 Where to go in Bulgaria
- 4 Two weeks in Bulgaria itinerary
- 4.1 Transport
- 4.2 Day 1: Sofia
- 4.3 Day 2: Sofia-Rila Monastery
- 4.4 Day 3: Rila Monastery-Bansko
- 4.5 Day 4: Bansko-Beglika
- 4.6 Day 5: Beglika-Trigrad
- 4.7 Day 6: Trigrad-Plovdiv
- 4.8 Day 7: Plovdiv
- 4.9 Day 8: Plovdiv-Rose Valley-Etara-Veliko Tarnovo
- 4.10 Day 9: Veliko Tarnovo-Kotel
- 4.11 Day 10: Kotel-Nesebar
- 4.12 Day 11: Nesebar-Sozopol
- 4.13 Day 12: Sozopol-Sinemorets
- 4.14 Day 13: Sinemorets
- 4.15 Day 14: Sinemorets-Sofia
- 5 Travel resources
Geography of Bulgaria
Its northern part is dominated by the southern side of Danube River plain and Balkan Mountain range (Mt. Stara Planina). On the east, it borders the Black Sea.
The southern part of Bulgaria is more mountainous, especially on the west, where you can find the highest peak in the Balkans and the whole Eastern Europe (not including the Caucasus)- Musala Peak in Mt. Rila (2925 m).
History of Bulgaria
This whole land has a really long history, one of the oldest in Europe.
Since thousands of years, it has been a land of the Thracian people, who remained a lot of mysterious ruins. Then it became a part of the Roman Empire, later- the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine).
At the end of the 8th century, the old Bulgarian Empire was created in this place, which was in constant competition and war with the Byzantine Empire until the end of the 14th century, when the whole land fell under the Ottoman Empire for 5 centuries.
And finally, at the end of the 19th century, the new Bulgarian state was revived, and after passed through all the events of modern times, it became what is now modern Bulgaria.
All this made the country a really interesting land with a lot of places to visit in Bulgaria – historical, ethnic, natural and modern.
Bulgaria is not very large, but just an average European country, with the area like many other neighboring countries. But its terrain, its richness of destinations require a quite long trip to be explored deeply in details, maybe more than a month.
But since not everybody has this ability to travel for such long time, I would propose a shorter, two weeks Bulgaria itinerary, which can cover at least some of the most important and essential Bulgaria attractions, which can give you not only a good impression of this country, but also a great and unforgettable experience.
Where to go in Bulgaria
There are a lot of essential things to see in Bulgaria, but here I will choose only some of them, connected by a convenient route, which passes through the country’s picturesque landscapes.
This route runs mainly in the central and southern part of the country. And here are the main attractions in Bulgaria.
This is the capital of Bulgaria and its largest city.
Sofia has a lot to present- emblematic buildings, parks, modern Bulgarian culture, nightlife, and entertainment. Here you can also see some old historical remnants, mysteriously combined with the modern public buildings. There are just so many things to do in Sofia.
You can enjoy Sofia’s famous landmarks, as well as its hidden gems. And all this under the shadow of a high mountain, called Vitosha, rising stunningly south of the city.
Rila Monastery is the largest Christian Orthodox monastery in the Balkans and one of the best places to visit in Bulgaria.
It is located in a deep gorge within the highest mountain in Eastern Europe- Mt. Rila. And it has 1000 years of history.
You can dive into its mysteries in the silence of the high mountain, learning some of the secrets of Medieval Bulgaria.
Bansko and Mount Pirin
It is the most famous mountain resort in Bulgaria. But it is not just a resort.
Bansko is an old town, located on the north foot of Mt. Pirin- a mighty mountain range, rising up to 2914 m, with its Vihren Peak, which is the third highest peak in the Balkans.
Bansko presents a traditional architecture of the 19th century and a lot of the culture of that era. And Pirin offers great opportunities, not only for winter sports but also for hiking, trekking, wildlife researching, and adventures.
Beglika- the southernmost taiga forest in Europe
This area is located deep in Rhodope mountain range.
It is all covered by coniferous forest (mainly spruce, fir, and pines), and its landscape reminds of Siberia or Canadian forests.
The forest is mixed with meadows, mountain streams and dam lakes, which give you excellent opportunities for trekking, camping, fishing, and picnic.
There is a karst area in the southern part of Rhodope mountains, near the border with Greece. In this area you can see some of the most beautiful gorges in Europe.
There is also a mysterious and fearful cave, called “Devil’s Throat”, where a furious river penetrates into the Earth’s core, and swallows everything fell into its waters.
Plovdiv- the oldest living city in Europe
Plovdiv is a really unique city, with the longest history in Europe. So it is really a must to visit, as a part of your Bulgaria trip.
In Plovdiv you can research not only the remains from thousands of years ago, but also to dive into its beautiful cityscape and rich culture.
There is splendid Old town, a large Roman theater, an underground Roman stadium, a few emblematic hills and many other attractions to see.
The rose is one of the symbols of Bulgaria. And the products of essential rose oil are recognized as the best in the world.
There is a beautiful valley, south of Balkan (Stara Planina) mountain range, which is the main homeland of the famous Bulgarian rose.
You can visit one of the rose park-museums, where you can see, taste and experience everything about this wonderful flower – this is definitely one of the best things to do in Bulgaria.
Ethno complex Etara
In the north side of the Balkan mountain range, you can find many other picturesque villages. All of them are among Bulgaria tourist attractions but the best one is Etara.
This tranquil ethnographic complex, with old traditional houses in Revival style, is where you can feel the life as it has been some 150 years ago.
Veliko Tarnovo and Tsarevets, the Medieval capital of Bulgaria
Veliko Tarnovo is a glorious city, one of the best Bulgaria destinations. It has been a capital of Bulgaria from the 12th to 14th centuries.
There you can see its old king’s complex, called Tsarevets. It is beautifully situated on a hill over the valley of the curving Yantra River.
Nesebar and Sozopol
The Black Sea coast of Bulgaria is well known as one of the most beautiful sea coasts in Europe. It has not only great beaches and resorts but also some beautiful towns, full of old and modern culture.
Two of these towns are Nesebar and Sozopol- a really excellent combination of Oldtown, resort and sea coast.
Two weeks in Bulgaria itinerary
So, let’s build your two weeks in Bulgaria itinerary, connecting all these places.
The best way of traveling is by car.
There are buses, but in some places not so convenient, especially in certain road sections in Rhodope mountains. So, the best option is to rent a car from Sofia.
There are many rental car companies, which offer good cars for a good price.
Once you get your car, it’s time to go! Let’s see your Bulgaria sightseeing itinerary day by day.
Day 1: Sofia
Your first day in Bulgaria is dedicated to Sofia, the Bulgarian capital.
You can go to the center, park your car and take a walk around the streets and the interesting places to visit.
There you can start from the symbol of Sofia- the Statue of St.Sofia. Then proceed to the government buildings, to the Russian Church and finally to the other famous landmark of Sofia and Bulgaria- the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Then you can proceed walking south, to Slaveykov Square, which is well known as a cultural center of the city.
Finally, you can reach NDK (National Palace of Culture) Square and the areas behind it.
If you like nightlife, back to the center at evening, walk on Vitosha Street and you can see a lot of bars, clubs, and restaurants in the area.
You might also want to join the tour to get to know Sofia better. Click here for the details on the best Sofia sightseeing tour.
Where to stay in Sofia: As Sofia is a capital and a big city, there are really a lot of hotels and hostels that you can find. The best places are near the center, near the metro stations or near the rental car company.
Here are recommended places to stay in Sofia:
- Hostel: Hostel Mostel (8.6/10 on Booking)
- Budget: 5 Vintage Guest House (9.4/10 on Booking)
- Mid-range: Design Hotel 36 (9.3/10 on Booking)
- Luxury: InterContinental Sofia (9.3/10 on Booking)
- or something else
Day 2: Sofia-Rila Monastery
Road distance: 117 km. Estimated travel time: 1h 40min.
Time to leave Sofia.
Leave in the morning. After a little more than an hour, you will arrive at the entrance of the beautiful Rila Valley, from where you will start ascending until you reach the famous Rila Monastery.
Park the car there and explore the monastery- its main church, its Hrelyo Tower, its museum and its yard.
At afternoon you can go further deep in the mountain, to Kirilova Polyana, and make a short mountain hike.
Finally, you can back to the monastery and spend the night in its hotel, enjoying a really mysterious evening in this silent place.
Accommodation: The best option: in Rila Monastery itself. There is a monastery lodge inside and outside of it, giving you an opportunity to experience a unique atmosphere of this place in the night.
Other options: Rilets Hotel.
Day 3: Rila Monastery-Bansko
Road distance: 94 km. Estimated travel time: 1h 30min.
This day you move to the other high mountain in Bulgaria- Pirin.
You back down from Rila Valley, proceed southward and then turn to east. Soon you will reach Bansko.
The first thing that you can do there is to explore its Old town and enjoy its picturesque streets. You can also try the local food, it is really delicious.
You can relax in Bansko the whole day, or you can go upward to Mount Pirin and make another hike in its deep forests.
Or you can even reach the higher zone above the forests, in the stunning glacial valleys of the mountain. Then you can back to Bansko and enjoy the night there.
Accommodation: Bansko is a famous mountain resort in Bulgaria, so it offers a lot of accommodation options, varying from splurge to budget. Click here to check them all!
Day 4: Bansko-Beglika
Road distance: 118 km. Estimated travel time: 2h 10min.
On the 4th day of your Bulgaria itinerary, you enter the wildest areas of Bulgaria.
Driving on the road in Mesta River valley, between Rila and Rhodope mountains, you arrive first to Velingrad- a nice city-resort, famous for its mineral hot springs. Here you can buy some food, before approaching the deep forests of the Western Rhodope.
Then you proceed eastward to your next stop- Tsigov Chark resort at Batak Dam Lake- a good place for relax and making photos too.
Finally, just 3 km before Batak town you turn right, ascend to a mountain pass with a few buildings and reach a stunning forest taiga landscape- mix with dark deep taiga forest and picturesque meadows with small curving streams.
12 km further you reach the first dam lake of Beglika.
Go to the second (the larger lake, called Golyam Beglik), turn right of its wall and 2 km further you can find an excellent camping place. However, if you don’t want to sleep in a tent, there are a few small mountain hotels where you can spend the night.
Accommodation: camping or a local mountain hotel/guesthouse.
Day 5: Beglika-Trigrad
Road distance: 64 km. Estimated travel time: 1h 30min.
This day you proceed further deep in Rhodope mountains. You take the same road from Batak to Dospat, heading south.
The road passes by the next dam lake- Shiroka Polyana, then through more forests and meadows until you arrive in Dospat town. From Dospat you head eastward, passing by beautiful mountain villages and wild areas.
After Borino village the road descends into a gorge system and you enter a different landscape. Turn on the road to Trigrad, and soon you will reach the stunning views of Trigrad Gorge.
Explore its Devil’s Throat Cave and go to Trigrad village behind it. There you can enjoy the local Rhodopean atmosphere with its culture, food and wild nature around.
Until the end of the day, you can go hiking, horse riding or just relaxing in the area.
Accommodation: Trigrad is not just a village, but also recently a developing mountain resort. So there are many new hotels and guesthouses.
Day 6: Trigrad-Plovdiv
Road distance Trigrad to Chudnite mostove: 93 km. Estimated travel time: 2h 15min.
Road distance Chudnite mostove to Plovdiv: 71 km. Estimated travel time: 1h 40min.
This is your last day in the wild Rhodope mountains. And I recommend you leave earlier because there are many places worth to stop on your way to Plovdiv.
First you back to the main road from Dospat to Smolyan. Then proceed to Smolyan direction. Soon you will see a beautiful ethnic village with old traditional Bulgarian houses.
This is Shiroka Laka- a tranquil settlement, excellent for photos.
Proceed further and you will reach Pamporovo- one of the best winter resorts in Bulgaria. From there take the road to Plovdiv. It gradually descends on the Chepelarska River valley, from the dark taiga forest to the lower and warmer forest of the mountain.
About 30 km north of Pamporovo you will see another road on the left, leading to Chudnite Mostove (Wonderful bridges).
It is a large former cave, turned into one natural bridge and one natural tunnel in prehistoric times, again high in the taiga forest. Really worth to visit.
Then back to the main road to Plovdiv. After another 30 km section of the road you will arrive at the second largest monastery in Bulgaria- Bachkovo Monastery.
Here you can not only visit this religious place but make a short hike to the entrance of Chervenata Stena (Red Wall) natural reserve, revealing stunning views over the valley.
Finally, you go out of the mountain at Asenovgrad City and soon arrive in Plovdiv, ready for the next day, dedicated to this unique city.
Accommodation: There are plenty of options in such a touristy place like Plovdiv. Some of the best budget places, with best locations in the center, are Vel House, Studio M, Hikers Hostel, Flamingo Hotel, Hotel Evmolpia and many others.
Day 7: Plovdiv
Plovdiv, the oldest living city in Europe is a really amazing place. That’s why in such an itinerary it is a must to stay at least two nights there and to have one whole day to explore it.
The good thing is that most of Plovdiv’s places to visit are located close to each other in the center, so you can walk around them on foot.
Go to Central Square at Trimontium hotel and start your route from there.
First walk on Main Street (which is the longest pedestrian street in Europe!). You will pass by a lot of colorful places there- cafes, shops, a nice square with a fountain and some small attractive points for photos.
But the biggest secret of Main Street is what is located under it- a long Roman Stadium, a glimpse of which you can see from glass floors in some of the shops.
Finally, you arrive at Dzhumaya Square, where the northern end of the Roman Stadium is exposed outside.
From here turn right and make a trip around the Old Town.
Dive into the atmosphere of the old traditional Revival houses, visit the museums, went to Nebet Tepe peak for a stunning view over the city, then turn south to the Ancient Roman Theater- one of the Plovdiv’s landmarks.
Then go to the southern side of the Old Town and explore the ancient Basilicas and Trakart Museum.
And for the evening you have two options, which actually you can combine (if it’s summer).
First- go to Central Park and enjoy the Singing Fountains. Then walk again on Main Street and go to Kapana neighborhood, which is the center of art and nightlife.
You might also want to join the guided tour to get to know Plovdiv better. Click here for details.
Day 8: Plovdiv-Rose Valley-Etara-Veliko Tarnovo
Road distance Plovdiv to Rose Valley (Damascena): 91 km. Estimated travel time: 1h 30min.
Road distance Rose Valley (Damascena) to Veliko Tarnovo: 97 km. Estimated travel time: 1h 50min.
This day you will see some of the best places in Bulgaria and will cross to the northern part of the country.
Take the road to the north, to Karlovo town in the foot of Balkan (Stara Planina mountain. Then turn right to Kazanlak. Soon you will arrive in a wide valley, where you can look for Damascena Ethnographic complex.
Here you are in the Rose Valley. When you arrive there, you can enjoy everything about the roses of Bulgaria.
And if your trip is at the beginning of June, you can join the Rose Festival- one of the most attractive festivals in the country.
Then you proceed on the road to Gabrovo and Veliko Tarnovo.
You will cross the Balkan Mountain at Shipka Pass, where you can see the large Shipka Monument, dedicated to the battle between the Russians and Bulgarians against the Ottoman army, which lead to the independence of Bulgaria.
If you have time, you can make a detour to the east and visit Buzludzha, a strange communist construction, now known as the “Flying Saucer” due to its shape.
Proceed on the road. When you descend to the hilly lowland north of the mountain, you will see Etara Ethnographic complex.
Stop there and enjoy the beautiful old houses and a tranquil atmosphere. Then, your next stop is Dryanovo Monastery, one of the largest Orthodox monasteries in Bulgaria.
Finally, you will arrive at Veliko Tarnovo. It would be late afternoon or evening, so first you can enjoy the splendid view of the ancient Tsarevets hill and palace, in its night lights.
Day 9: Veliko Tarnovo-Kotel
Road distance: 99 km. Estimated travel time: 1h 40min.
In the morning the best you can do is to explore Tsarevets hill and its Medieval complex with the king’s palace. You can also visit the old quarter with some traditional houses, and buy some souvenirs.
Then at noon, you can leave Veliko Tarnovo. Your next destination is Kotel, a small town in the lower eastern branches of the Balkan (Stara Planina) mountain.
There are a few roads leading from Veliko Tarnovo to Kotel. The road passing through Elena town is the most picturesque, offering nice views to local villages and deep forests.
Finally, you will arrive in Kotel and relax in this silent and tranquil town.
Day 10: Kotel-Nesebar
Road distance: 137 km. Estimated travel time: 2h.
The last few days of your Bulgaria tour are designed for the Black Sea Coast- one of the best seacoasts of Europe. And your first destination there is Nesebar- an old town, built on a peninsula.
It is actually a whole Black Sea resorts area, including the Old Nesebar, the New Nesebar, and Sunny Beach (Slanchev bryag) resort, with some of the best beaches in Bulgaria.
You can leave Kotel in the morning and drive in the southeast direction. On your way, you can stop for a while in the beautiful villages of Zheravna and Medven.
Then you have a few options to Nesebar. If you prefer nice mountain and village views, you can take the road via Ruen, arriving directly to Nesebar, however, this option is longer.
The shortest option is to reach the highway Sofia-Burgas, then drive on the sea coast via Pomorie and Aheloi to reach Nesebar.
Once you arrive in the town, you can use the afternoon hours for beach time (if it is summer) or just to explore the old streets (if it is another season).
And the evening can be a party night or just enjoying the night atmosphere of the town.
Accommodation: Since this is a famous resort place, there are hundreds of accommodation options, from splurge to budget. There are also a lot of rental rooms, both in the old and the new parts of Nesebar. Click here to see all the best options for the accommodation in Nesebar.
Day 11: Nesebar-Sozopol
Road distance: 70 km. Estimated travel time: 1h 10min.
Nesebar and Sozopol are like “two sisters” for Bulgaria vacation- old towns-new resorts, located on the two sides of Burgas Bay.
And this day you can move between them, following the coast line via Burgas City. Driving southward, you will see a lot of beaches, resorts, restaurants, hotels and many other attractions- mainly between Nesebar and Burgas. You can enjoy beach time in Nesebar, or stop somewhere in the middle.
From Chernomorets resort the coastline becomes even more attractive than in the north, now featuring also some hills and forests around the beaches and bays.
Finally, you arrive in Sozopol. The activities that you can do there are quite similar to Nesebar, but since it can be a really great experience, repeating is worth.
Accommodation: Same as Nesebar, Sozopol also offers hundreds of accommodation options, including rental rooms. Click here to browse accommodation in Sozopol.
Day 12: Sozopol-Sinemorets
Road distance: 56 km. Estimated travel time: 50min.
Today you can proceed further southeast, following the Black Sea coastline.
The whole route to your final destination for this day- Sinemorets, passes through a long chain of beaches and resorts, but there is something more- the nature.
There are beautiful natural landscapes and places all along the road.
First, the whole coastline is curved in many bays and capes. And also there are two rivers flowing into the sea with beautiful wild forest around them- Ropotamo and Veleka rivers.
You can also choose one of the beaches and resorts on the way: Dyuni, Primorsko, Kiten, Lozenets, Tsarevo and Ahtopol. Some of them are just resorts, but others are also nice towns and villages.
Of course, the best season for the Black Sea Coast is summer, but even during the other colder seasons, although you can’t swim in the sea, it is still beautiful and much tranquil there.
Finally, you arrive in Sinemorets, the southernmost resort village at the Bulgarian Black Sea coast (there is another village called Rezovo, at the border with Turkey, but it is not a resort).
Its exotic beach, combined with the forests of Strandzha mountains and Veleka River offers great seaside experience there.
Option: You can also choose one of the resorts before Sinemorets for your final destination and proceed to Sinemorets on the next day.
Accommodation: There are some nice hotels and guesthouses in Sinemorets, as well as rental rooms. Click here to see all the accommodation options in Sinemorets.
Day 13: Sinemorets
After almost two weeks of driving, it would be good to arrange some time for just relax. And Sinemorets is one of the excellent places for it.
However, if you still want to explore, there are some options nearby.
You can proceed further south to the border with Turkey and stop in Silistar in the middle- a good campsite in a natural landscape.
Or you can back to Ahtopol, then turn left and penetrate deep in Strandzha mountain- one of the wildest areas in Bulgaria.
Day 14: Sinemorets-Sofia
Road distance: 465 km. Estimated travel time: 5h
Now it is time to go back. You have around 5 hours driving back to Sofia.
First back to Burgas, then get on the highway directly to Sofia, where you can return the car.
In this itinerary, I propose Sinemorets for a whole day of relax.
But you can choose another destination for relaxing- somewhere in Rhodope mountain, or somewhere on the Black Sea Coast, or just wherever you want.
And if you don’t want to have a relaxing day, you can always choose one of the destinations on this route as a starting point to explore the area around it.
As I already mentioned, this itinerary can’t cover the whole of Bulgaria.
There are some regions of this country which are also really worth visiting: the Northwest with its Belogradchik Rocks, the Northeast with Varna, Dobrich, Silistra, Shumen and Ruse, the extreme Southwest with Belasitsa and Osogovo, the Eastern Rhodope mountains, Sredna Gora mountain range and many other areas.
But in spite of it, this itinerary still can give you a good impression of Bulgaria, as well as an unforgettable experience of this amazing country.
About the author: KRASEN JELYAZKOV is a traveler from Bulgaria. He has visited countries in the Balkans, Middle East, Middle Asia, East and Southeast Asia. Currently he is living in China with his wife and travel mate Ying Ying and his children, and currently working as an English teacher.
He blogs at Journey beyond the Horizon. The main idea of the blog is to share and give valuable information about the geographical and historical side of destinations, lands, and also to provide travel tips.
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