I believe Bulgaria is one of the most underrated countries in Europe. Most tourists who choose Bulgaria as a holiday destination focus only on the Black Sea coast, not knowing how beautiful Bulgaria actually is. Yet the country offers so many diverse attractions and the list of best places to visit in Bulgaria is really long.
I was lucky to visit Bulgaria a few times and this country never stops surprising me with its beauty, architecture, culture, and long and interesting history. Over the years it also has become one of my favorite destinations and I’m always happy to return there and discover even more Bulgaria tourist attractions.
And so if you are wondering what to do in Bulgaria I’ve prepared for you the list of the best places in Bulgaria to put in your Bulgaria itinerary. To make this list even more complete and show you more than only places I’ve been to, I’ve asked a few fellow travel bloggers about their favorite Bulgaria must-see.
Keep on reading to find out about all the beautiful places in Bulgaria.
Table of contents
- 1 Places to visit in Bulgaria
- 1.1 Western Bulgaria
- 1.2 Central Bulgaria
- 1.3 Black Sea Coast in Bulgaria
- 2 Map of the best places to visit in Bulgaria
- 3 Final thoughts on visiting Bulgaria
- 4 Travel Resources
Places to visit in Bulgaria
For some reason, Sofia, the capital and the largest city in the country, doesn’t have the best reputation among travelers who prefer other (mostly coastal) places to visit in Bulgaria. Well, that’s a big mistake since this is a wonderful place to visit as there are so many great things to do in Sofia and the city offers plenty of different attractions.
Sofia is one of the oldest cities in Europe, founded some 2500 years ago, and even if it doesn’t seem at first you can find some ancient remnants right in the city center (next to the entrance to the Serdika metro station). However, most of the city’s highlights are much newer, from the 19th century onwards.
Be sure to see the beautiful Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and other places of worship (there are holy places of different religions standing near each other), visit some interesting museums (including my favorite Museum of Socialist Art), walk down Vitosha Boulevard – the main pedestrian area in the center or enjoy the culinary scene, especially in the old Central Market Hall.
Sofia is also full of little quirks that make the city so much cooler, when you look around you will spot unique street art, weird sculptures, interesting shops, and more.
What I personally like the most about Sofia is its vibrant atmosphere – on the warm days the city is alive until late night hours and crowds enjoy the outdoor dining options and spend the time outside.
The city can be also a good base for some great day trips from Sofia – a few of the must-visit places in Bulgaria are located a short distance from the capital.
Read more about Sofia:
- 19 Amazing Things to Do in Sofia, Bulgaria
- 50 Sofia pictures that will inspire you to travel to Sofia, Bulgaria
- Sofia, Bulgaria – the city that can be a new Berlin!
Find the accommodation in Sofia here.
See the best Sofia tours here.
Belogradchik, a small town in the north-west part of Bulgaria, near the border with Serbia, is known for the unique rock formations and a fortress neatly incorporated into them. The picturesque rocks – the most impressive rock formation in Bulgaria – reach up to 200 meters high and look and the landscape is a bit similar to the famous Meteora in Greece (minus the monasteries).
The fortress, known also as Kaleto, was initially built in the Roman Empire times in the 3rd century and over the years it was expanded under different rules. Due to the unique combination of nature and the work of human, this is one of the most unique fortresses you can find in Europe.
Near Belogradchik you can also visit Magura Cave with the valuable prehistoric wall paintings.
Find the accommodation in Belgradchik here.
Rila Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the biggest attractions in Bulgaria and is popular for a reason. Located some 120 km away from the capital, visiting Rila Monastery is a perfect day trip from Sofia.
The first monastery was established here in the 14th century but already in the 10th century, the nearby caves were inhabited by hermit Ivan of Rila. Eventually, the monastery was named after him. The beautiful buildings you can admire today date back to the mid-19th century since the monastery had to be rebuilt after the fire.
What makes Rila Monastery famous are amazing external frescoes – they are bright, colorful, and rich in decorations. If you look closer you might find some interesting and disturbing images like the devil walking with a man on a chain.
Inside the monastery complex, you can visit the Nativity of the Virgin church, the tower of Hrelja from the 14th century (the oldest of all the buildings), and the History Museum.
And if you get hungry or would like to get some souvenirs you can find a few shops and restaurants just outside the monastery gate.
Remember to visit the place with the respect – not only this is a holy place but this is still a working monastery with some 60 monks living there.
The best way to get to Rila Monastery is by car or one of the organized tours that depart from Sofia daily.
Read more about visiting Rila Monastery in this article I wrote: “Day trip from Sofia to Rila Monastery, Bulgaria”.
Find the best tours to Rila Monastery here.
While the Black Sea coast is one of the most popular destinations in Bulgaria, fans of mountains and hiking shouldn’t dismiss the country.
There are some really spectacular peaks and hiking trails in Bulgaria, with Rila Mountains being the highest mountain range in the country (or even in the Balkans). In fact this is the 6th highest mountain range in Europe! The highest peak of Bulgaria – Musala (2925 meters above sea level) is located in Rila Mountains too.
A big part of the area was declared a national park and is a popular tourist destination. If you are short on time you can visit Rila Mountains as a day trips from Sofia (the range is located south of the capital) and hike the most popular and spectacular trail near Seven Rila Lakes – you can be sure to see some incredible views there!
Recommended by Sarah from A Social Nomad
Bansko is just 2 hours from Bulgaria’s capital city, Sofia, and 2.5 hours from Plovdiv, yet it’s a world away. This glorious mountain town is Bulgaria’s largest ski and snowboard resort and perches on the edge of Pirin National Park.
In winter there are super facilities – alpine and cross country skiing, ice skating and dips in the natural hot springs, amazing cozy restaurants to visit. When the snow goes, Bansko is quieter, and the more lovely for it.
There’s incredible hiking here, both inside and on the edges of the National Park, where there are a string of huts offering accommodation and food on your hikes. An active mountain biking community, white water rafting, and horse riding mean that this is an outdoor lover’s dream.
Another reason to visit Bansko is its festivals, from Bohemian to Opera and the world-renowned Jazz festival – all are free and held in the old town square.
Enjoy Bulgarian wine, great fresh local food – the trout from the local lakes is divine, and close by you’ll find a narrow-gauge railway runs here over the highest pass in the Balkans.
Find the accommodation in Bansko here.
See the best Bansko tours here.
A bit further south, towards the border with Greece, you can visit Pirin Mountains with the highest peak Vihren (2 915 meters above sea level). This is yet another amazing area with stunning views and great hiking opportunities.
It is even more picturesque thanks to the numerous lakes you can find all over the place. Pirin Mountains are among the most beautiful places to see in Bulgaria so if you are a fan of mountains and raw landscape you can’t miss them.
With the population of under 400, Melnik – located in the very south-west of the country – is the smallest town in Bulgaria. The place is known for the wine-making traditions, the wine has been produced here since the 14th century and the local drink used to be a favorite wine of Winston Churchill.
Melnik is picturesquely located in the shadow of Pirin Mountains, just under the so-called Melnik Earth Pyramids – a unique rock formations. You will find many beautiful traditional houses in Melnik as well as the 12-the century Byzantine House – one of the oldest remaining civilian buildings in the Balkans.
Near the town you can also visit Rozhen Monastery with 16th-century frescoes.
Find the accommodation in Melnik here.
Koprivshtitsa is one of the prettiest towns in Bulgaria yet it’s not widely popular among international tourists. It is located in the central part of the country, some 110 km away from Sofia, in a valley surrounded by green mountains.
Koprivshtitsa is known for its beautiful architecture, you can find there numerous 19-century historical houses built in the so-called Bulgarian Revival style. Today many of them host museums of well-known Bulgarians – be sure to visit some of them to see interesting interiors from the period the houses date back to. But it’s fine even if you will only admire the architecture from the outside as the buildings have distinctive shapes, vivid colors, and rich decorations.
Koprivshtitsa feels a bit like the time has stopped there. Be sure to wander around the town, discover it without a map, get lost in the maze of the narrow streets, and fall for the charming corners you will surely find.
Getting to Koprivshtitsa is rather easy, there are a few daily train connections from Sofia but the train station is located a few kilometers outside the town so you need to take the bus to get to the center (the schedule is connected with the trains arrivals/departures). You can also go there with the tour from Sofia.
Read more about Koprivshtitsa in my article “Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria – is this the prettiest town in the country?”.
Find the best Koprivshtitsa tours here.
Veliko Tarnovo is one of the highlights of Bulgaria that you can’t miss. The place is known as the “City of the Tsars” since it was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the Middle Ages and still today it is packed with old monuments and attractions.
The most important one is the Tsarevets Fortress located at the edge of the town. In the past this was the center of the Bulgarian rule, today you can see only the remnants of the former glory but it still is an impressive place to visit. Not to mention amazing views of Veliko Tarnovo and the surrounding that you can admire from there.
Another highlight of the city is the market area with beautiful 19th-century houses (built in the Bulgarian Revival period) and even more great views of the area around.
Veliko Tarnovo is such a pleasant place to visit and it’s worth staying there overnight. Once the crowds of daytrippers are gone you can wander around the city again and enjoy its laid-back atmosphere, walk along the river, enjoy picturesque views, or feast in one of the many restaurants serving delicious Bulgarian food.
There are also a few nearby places (like Arabanasi village) that are worth visiting when you are in Veliko Tarnovo.
Read more about Veliko Tarnovo in my article “Day in Veliko Tarnovo – my highlight of Bulgaria”.
Find the accommodation in Veliko Tarnovo here.
See the best Veliko Tarnovo tours here.
Plovdiv, the second-largest city in Bulgaria, is probably the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe, with traces dating back to the 6th century BC. While the majority of the attractions are newer, you can still find some old remnants in the center (like the impressive Roman Amphitheater from the 1st century AD or the Roman Stadium from the 2nd century AD, discovered in 1923).
Plovdiv is picturesquely located on the seven hills, some of them offer a beautiful panorama of the city. The UNESCO listed old part of Plovdiv is really charming with cobbled streets and beautiful houses in the Bulgarian Revival style (some of them host museums), you can also find there remnants of the fortress walls from medieval times.
Plovdiv is also known as the cultural capital of Bulgaria, it had the title of the European Capital of Culture in 2019. The main cultural and creative hub is the colorful and vibrant Kapana Art District, this is also the trendiest part of the city, full of cafes and people.
Plovdiv is surely one of the best places to visit in Bulgaria so be sure to put it in your itinerary too.
Find the accommodation in Plovdiv here.
See the best Plovdiv tours here.
Recommended by Raluca from Travel With A Spin
Devetashka cave is one of the deepest karst caves in Bulgaria, but just a small part is accessible to tourists. It’s located in the Lovech region, 85 km from Veliko Tarnovo and 170 km from Sofia. You can access it directly via Road 301, as there’s a small parking place in front of it.
Archaeological findings proved that humans have lived here since the late Paleolithic era, as early as 70,000 BC. Other fauna species traces were also found. Nowadays, it’s still inhabited by amphibians, reptiles, birds, and bats. The cave was declared a natural landmark and is closed to the public in June and July, the bats’ breeding season.
Devetashka cave is known for the sinkholes, an underground river, miniature waterfalls, and eleven lakes. Several large holes in the rocky ceiling allow sunlight to illuminate the spacious main hall, reaching 60m height.
Due to this microclimate, its floor is covered by lush vegetation. When visiting the cave it’s hard to believe sometimes that you are actually underground.
Devetashka cave was featured in 2011 in The Expendables 2, which was the cause of several fines and clashes between the production team and the authorities. Some of the activities are considered to have endangered or damaged the cave.
Recommended by Julia from The Cure for Curiosity
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path spot in Bulgaria, make your way to Buzludzha Monument.
Located on a remote peak in the Balkan Mountains just a couple of hours outside of Veliko Tarnovo, this monument will amaze you from the moment you set eyes on it. This is due to its incredibly odd architecture that is saucer-shaped, like a UFO. Unsurprisingly, the inside follows a similar motif.
Originally built in the 1970s, Buzludzha was used as a gathering place for the Communist Party between 1981 and 1990. Since then, it has been abandoned and fallen into disrepair. Today, you can make the trek through the beautiful Bulgarian countryside to visit the Buzludzha Monument.
While you’re there, stare in awe at the fascinating building and its stunning natural surroundings and learn more about the communist past of the region. If you’re feeling adventurous, consider exploring the interior. Just use caution as there are parts of the structure that are crumbling.
It’s also worth noting that although Buzludzha has been gaining traction as a tourist site, it is an abandoned building and has a tumultuous past. This makes entering it both a bit controversial and potentially dangerous.
Recommended by Daniela from Ipanema travels
Kazanluk (or Kazanlak) is a small, quiet town, located just in the middle of the country. It can be easily visited on a day trip from Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv, and Sofia, or included on any Bulgaria itinerary that goes from North to South or from West to East.
The most famous attraction in Kazanluk is the Thracian Tomb, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tomb is a part of a 4th-century BC necropolis located near the ancient capital of the Odrysian Kingdom – Seuthopolis.
The frescoes of the tomb are simply amazing – vivid colors, almost Renaissance-like and lifelike figures. They depict a Thracian funeral feast with a chariot racing.
If you are fascinated by ancient history, you can visit other Thracian tombs just a short drive from Kazanluk – the Tomb of Seuthes III, and the Thracian Tombs of Shushmanets and Ostrusha.
The area where Kazanluk is located is known as the Rose Valley. Roses are grown there for the extraction of rose oil.
At the end of May, the town celebrates the rose harvest with an amazing Rose Festival, and it chooses its own Queen of Roses. If you miss the festival, you can still visit the Rose Museum, where you can learn about rose growing and rose oil production.
Even if this is yet another place with a history dating back to ancient times, the main reason to visit Ruse is beautiful 19th and early 20th-century architecture (usually Neo-Baroque and Neo-Rococo), more in the Central European style than any other place in the country – that’s why the city is often called “Little Vienna“. You will find many impressive buildings in the center and wandering around this part of the city is a real pleasure.
Fans of brutalist architecture will surely appreciate the building of the Municipality Hall – one of the greatest examples of brutalism in Bulgaria.
Near the city, you can visit the Orlova Chuka cave – the second-longest cave in Bulgaria.
Find the accommodation in Ruse here.
Recommended by Laura from Laure Wanders
The Bararbovo Monastery, also known as the rock-hew churches of Ivanovo, is located near Ruse, close to the Romanian border. What makes this place special is that it is the only active rock monastery in Bulgaria.
It was founded during the second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396) and named after Saint Dimitrii Basarbovski, a shepherd that led an ascetic life here. The monastery was later abandoned for a long period of time but it was renovated and brought back to life during the 20th century.
When you visit the monastery, you will find beautiful, century-old murals in between its walls. The complex consists of a church, hermitages, a bell tower, and a crypt. It is quite an interesting place with a very serene atmosphere.
Note that there is a well in the inner yard. This well was dug by Saint Dimitrii himself and some people still believe that its water has healing powers!
Shumen might not be the most obvious stop during your trip to Bulgaria but it surely is an interesting place. While there might be not too many things to do there, the city is home to one of the most spectacular monuments in the country – the Monument to 1300 Years of Bulgaria – and that’s already a good reason to visit Shumen.
The memorial complex is located on the top of the hill above the city, to get there you need to walk up 1300 stairs (this number isn’t a coincidence). The monument was unveiled in 1981 to commemorate the 1300th anniversary of the creation of the Bulgarian state and is a unique mixture of brutalist and cubist styles.
This is one of the weirdest and quirkiest yet fascinating concrete masterpieces you will ever see. It shows some of the important people and events from Bulgarian history between the 6th and 10th centuries and the mosaic you can find there is the largest one in Europe.
Shumen itself is a pleasant city, with some nice yet decayed old houses (in the Bulgarian revival style), art-nouveau buildings, or the largest mosque in Bulgaria.
Near the city, you can also visit the famous Madara Rider – a UNESCO-listed rock relief from the 7th or 8th century.
You can read more about Shumen in my article “Why you should visit Shumen, Bulgaria”.
Find the accommodation in Shumen here.
Black Sea Coast in Bulgaria
Varna, the third-largest city in Bulgaria and the seaside capital of the country is a surprisingly pleasant place to visit. While the main reason to visit Varna is the Black Sea, the city has some other interesting sights too.
You can visit the Archeological Museum with the oldest gold treasure in the world (it’s over six thousand years old!), see the beautiful cathedral or explore the center of the city. Varna is also home to a beautiful park called the Sea Garden that stretches on a large area along the sea.
If you are interested in history don’t miss the museum dedicated to the 1444 battle of Varna. Near the city, you can also find some unique rock formations, such as the Stone Forest.
But the main thing to do in Varna is the enjoy the seaside with all its attractions.
Find the accommodation in Varna here.
See the best Varna tours here.
Al Adzha Monastery
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Al Adzha Monastery is a monastery complex carved on the side of a 25m high cliff, located close to Varna. It is 17 km north of the beautiful beach city and 3 km from the popular Golden Sand Beach Resort famous for its beaches and casinos on the Black Sea.
The monastery is surrounded by a forest which makes the way to the monastery and visiting the site a very calming experience.
The cave monastery has been around since the 4th century A.D and has survived multiple empires and religious changes all the way to Ottoman rule. Some locals still consider this area and the hills around, sacred.
The monastery, its multiple residential cave dwellings, and three churches are painstakingly carved into a high limestone rock. All these individual units are then joined by external stairs. It really is a fascinating spot to marvel at human ingenuity in the name of religion.
The name Al Adzha comes from Turkish which means brightly painted due to the colorful murals on the walls of the caves. They didn’t survive with time but some of them can be seen in the adjacent museum.
Al Adzha monastery is easy to reach by car or taxi and you can easily explore this beautiful wonder in a few hours. If you prefer to explore and enjoy the serenity that brought so many monks here go early in the morning or later in the afternoon. It is highly advisable to wear sturdy shoes with a good grip for this trip.
Recommended by Anda from Travel for a while
Balchik is a port town on the northern Bulgarian coast, close to the Romanian border. However, it doesn’t have an industrial feeling like the larger cities of Varna or Burgas, but more of an artistic vibe.
About 100 years ago, Balchik became the summer residence for Queen Mary of Romania. She loved the little town as much as Peles Castle and had a villa built right by the sea. Her residence is now the main attraction in Balchik, along with the spectacular multi-level Botanical Gardens around the villa. The best time to visit the gardens is at the beginning of the summer when the roses at the lower level are in full bloom.
When you finish exploring the gardens, you can enjoy the sea, walk the seaside promenade to Albena resort close by, or take a boat and admire the sunset from the sea.
There are also plenty of terraces where you can have dinner or a cocktail by the sea.
Find the accommodation in Balchik here.
Nesebar often called a “Pearl of the Black Sea”, is packed with attractions and monuments and therefore was included in UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983. The town was founded in the 6th century BC and over the years it’s been on the edge of the empires which resulted in a turbulent history.
The highlight of the town is the old part of Nesebar, located on the peninsula (it used to be an island). You can find there a few old churches, ruins of the fortifications and of course beautiful revival houses.
Nesebar is a perfect day trip from Burgas, Varna, or other places along the Black Sea coast.
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Burgas, the fourth largest city in Bulgaria, is located in the southeast of the country, directly on the coast of the Black Sea. The city is relatively small and full of history, culture, beaches, and shopping places.
One of the best things to do in Burgas is strolling around the beautiful Sea Garden, which amazes with colorful flowers as well as numerous cafes, restaurants, and different exhibitions. Alongside the Sea Garden, you will find a long beach, attracting many tourists and locals alike.
If you come here between June and September, you will witness the famous annual sand festival, where huge sculptures made of sand are displayed for visitors.
Regarding historic and cultural activities, it is recommended to visit the Archaeological Museum of Burgas to learn about the Greek and Roman eras, or to come upon the museum of aviation, one of the newest attractions in the city.
Taking a sunset walk along the Pier, which stretches almost 300 meters into the sea and offers great views of the Black Sea and Burga’s iconic lighthouse, is the ideal way to round up your trip to the city.
Find the accommodation in Burgas here.
See the best Burgas tours here.
Located just south of Burgas and easily accessible by bus, Sozopol is one of those picturesque seaside towns that you have to visit in Bulgaria. In the summertime, this is a popular and busy spot but if you visit off-season you can enjoy a sleepy little town, perfect for wandering around.
This is one of the oldest settlements on the Bulgarian coast, dating to the Bronze Age. Today in the old town you can see plenty of beautiful old houses, the main attraction of Sozopol. They were built in the so-called Black Sea school of architecture and look a bit like the traditional houses in the central part of the country but are made of stone and wood.
Next to the old town, you can find a long and sandy Central Beach where you can relax and sunbathe.
If you visit Sozopol in September you can enjoy the popular Apollonia Festival of Arts with numerous cultural events.
Find the accommodation in Sozopol here.
Recommended by Victoria from Guide Your Travel
Ahtopol is a small town located in south-eastern Bulgaria. Despite its small size, Ahtopol is steadily gaining popularity among tourists who appreciate how quiet it is and its affordability.
Life in Ahtopol takes place by the beach with plenty of opportunities for water sports, swimming, and simply relaxing. Recently a growing number of restaurants and even resorts have opened in the area giving tourists a great selection of activities and places to stay.
Restaurants range from affordable options to mid-price ones. Definitely stop by La Vita Club which boasts incredible views and a delicious menu. The restaurant Agata beach is also well worth a visit and even has a hot tub for its guests who can enjoy the beautiful terrace and the view of the beach.
Ahtopol is also a great spot to learn how to surf or go for a kayak or canoeing trip. You’ll love the beautiful waters of the black sea and the secluded feel of Ahtopol.
Find the accommodation in Ahtopol here.
Map of the best places to visit in Bulgaria
To give you an idea of where all the places mentioned above are, here is the map of Bulgaria with all those great destinations
Final thoughts on visiting Bulgaria
As you can see yourself, Bulgaria really has a lot to offer and everyone will find something interesting there, whether you are looking for city life, nature, culture, history or simply relax. Add to that delicious food and affordable prices and you can be sure that you are in for excellent holidays in Bulgaria.
I can’t wait when I go there again to see more of the country and I hope you will decide to visit Bulgaria soon too!
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