The countries that lie in the east of Europe, bordering the Bosphorus and gazing over to western asia are called the Balkan states. They get their name from the Balkan mountains which run from Romania through Bulgaria. The area is made up of twelve countries (not including the Ukraine for some reason?). If you’re unsure which country to visit in The Balkans or what to see during your holiday to Bulgaria, we asked other travel bloggers to tell us about their favourite day trips, long weekends and sight-seeing adventures in Bulgaria.
The Balkan Peninsula is divided in two ways; history and geography. A number of countries are connected by their history of being Yukoslavia; Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Macedonia, which dispanded peacefully in 1992. A number of countries are considered to be ‘slavic states’ due to the geography of their language. Slavic speaking communities include Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia.
Krushuna Waterfalls & Devatashka Cave
The Krushùna Falls are located in the Maarata Park, near the village of Krushùna, 34 km from the historical town of Lovech in north-central Bulgaria.
The main waterfall is 20m high and cascades over various levels along its way down the soft, limestone rocks. Within the park there are two walking routes; a blue and red path. The red route is circular and takes you past three waterfalls on an easy trail. The blue path is linear and steeper and takes you to see a cave and a few smaller waterfalls.
The area is named after a bird of prey found in the area; Krushuna. The ancient caves here were inhabited between the 13th-14th centuries by religious people practicing Hesychasm, an Eastern Orthdox tradition of prayer.
Just a few kilometres away is the Devatashka Cave which is a large karst cave. The cave is enormous and stands at 60m in height with a length of 2,442 m. it is so big that inside the cave are two flowing rivers as well as stalactites and stalagmites.
The Dancing Bears Park at Belitsa
High in the Rila Mountains above the town of Belitsa, you’ll find a rehabilitation or retirement home for ex-dancing bears. The Dancing Bears Park is just an hour from Bulgaria’s main ski resort, Bansko, and there are usually around 25 brown bears to be found here.
They’ve all been freed from quite horrific captive environments, badly maintained zoos, private homes, and some, resulting in the name, were forced to “dance” as tourist entertainment.
You can walk through the park by yourself – all the bears are in large, wild area enclosures for your and their protection. There is, however a guided tour, which is included in the 6 leva (3 euros) per person entrance fee. This way you’ll get to hear the story of the park and the individual histories of the bears that you will see. The introductory video in the visitor centre explains and fully immerses you in the stories of the bears too.
The Dancing Bear Park is located in Bulgaria’s wilderness, so self-driving or taking a tour is necessary – you’re 12 kilometres from the nearest bus and train stops! This is a glorious place to visit, the staff are informed and extremely accommodating. The bears are simultaneously desperately sad, happy and beautiful. It’s a place that you’ll visit once and return to
time after time.
Plovdiv’s Free Walking Tour
Plovdiv, Bulgaria claims to be the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe. Nestled between two mountain ranges, Plovdiv lays along what was the main trading route that linked Constantinople/Istanbul to Europe. Its location on that trading route made it both more important and more contested than other Bulgarian cities throughout history; Thracians; Greeks; Romans; Byzantines and Ottomans all laid claim to Plovdiv over the centuries and each left an indelible mark on the city.
Ruins from this colorful history have been painstakingly restored in Plovdiv and draw tourists from all over the world to experience the history and culture of Bulgaria’s most unusual city. The best way to explore this history is to take The Plovdiv Free Walking Tour.
In about 2 hours, The Plovdiv Free Walking Tour covers over two centuries of history, culture, archeological ruins and ancient sites that are still in use today. The tours are led by knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides who, rather than providing a dry recitation of history, put the impact of each successive era into human terms with colorful stories and insights about how day-to-day life was affected by the various occupations and administrative rulers.
Be sure to wear good walking shoes for this tour because you are going to explore nearly all the interesting sites across the seven hills of Plovdiv. From the wide Plovdiv pedestrian area to the windy cobblestone streets of old town on the hill, the tour includes:
- The Plovdiv Coat of Arms & motto
- Artistic graffiti on Sahat Hill
- The story behind Statue of Milyo the Crazy in the Plovdiv pedestrian zone
- The rise, fall and excavation of the ancient Roman Stadium
- The old town and its famously decadent houses
- The Ethnographic Museum (Kîyumdzioglu House)
- Constantine and Helena Church
- The Ancient Roman Theatre that has been restored and is in use today
- The Yellow School and the legend of Sasho the Sweetheart
- The Tsanko Lavrenov Monument
- Cathedral “Assumption of Mary”
Along the way you’ll not just come to know Plovdiv and its history, you’ll come and feel it! The Plovdiv Free Walking Tour starts at 11am and 6pm in the summer and at 2pm from October-April. You simply turn up at the front of the Municipality building on Plovdiv’s main street at the appointed hour and look for someone holding a Plovdiv Free Walking Tour sign.
While the tour is technically free, the guide will ask for tips at the end of your 2-hour tour. It’s customary (but not required) to give 10 to 20 leva (5 to 10 euros) per person. The Plovdiv Free Walking Tour will leave you with a deep appreciation of the history, culture and heritage of Plovdiv and its citizens.
Beli Iskar EcoTrail, Samokov
This stunning hike near Samokov; just one hour from Sofia, crosses over eight foot bridges, and is an easy, relaxed and refreshing walk suitable as a day trip from Sofia and perfect for kids.
The trail winds around the clear, flowing waters of the Beli Iskar River and the landscapes alternate from valleys with narrow gorges, peculiar rock formations and old coniferous forests.
The views from this eco-trail are stunning! It will take you around ninety minutes to reach the last bridge and after that you have the choice as to whether to continue for 20 minutes onto the mountain hut Orlovo gnezdo (Eagle’s Nest) where you can eat in the restaurant.
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A Weekend In Burgas (Bourgas)
As we previously mentioned, Burgas is an important touristic center, and we were delighted by the slow and relaxing holiday atmosphere we found there. Although you will not find any there are no spectacular sights in Burgas, we think it is a nice place to spend a few days.
Sofia Alternative Tour: Scavenger Hunt
Hidden Gem Melnik
Melnik is a charming small town in southern Bulgaria that is an excellent place to visit if want to explore more of the country and is a logical stop if you’re travelling from Sofia to Thessaloniki, Greece. Though it is a popular holiday destination amongst locals, Melnik doesn’t get a lot of international tourism and this is a real shame as it is a picturesque gem and a great glimpse into pastoral life in Bulgaria.
Situated in the heart of Bulgarian wine country, Melnik is the perfect destination for wine lovers and nature lovers alike. Famous for its triangular rock formations known as the Melnik Pyramids, you can go on numerous hikes around the village in order to get a good glimpse of them and enjoy the spectacular surrounding scenery.
Melnik is also a great place to visit if you want to sample some delicious Bulgarian wine. The region is the second-largest wine-producing region in the country, after the Thracian Valley near Plovdiv and you can quite literally find wine everywhere. While it’s certainly recommended to visit a proper winery for a tour and degustation, it is also a worthwhile cultural experience to sample some homemade wine from a roadside stand or a friendly local. There is even a wine museum in the village — and the entry fee includes a degustation!
Melnik is incredibly charming and picturesque and very much worth adding to any Bulgaria itinerary, especially if you want to venture further from the typical tourist trail between Sofia, Plovdiv, and the Black Sea Coast.
A Video From Plovdiv
This family spend 6 weeks in Bulgaria and Plovdiv was their favourite place. Although we already included Plovdiv, I had to add this is because this video was edited by the worldschooling kids featured in it.
Read more from Manning The Globe
Struma River Rafting, Kresna
In Bulgaria there are two popular places for rafting, the Kresna Gorge on the Struma River (near Blagoevgrad) and Iskar Gorge on the Iskar River (close to Sofia). The Iskar Gorge is less hair-raising and rapids of the river are suitable for everyone. The Struma River, Kresna is much deeper, fast flowing and more like a tru white water, rafting adventure.
If you’re looking for a spike in adrenaline (but still suitable for kids), the Kresna Gorge, 45km from Bansko & 115 km from Sofia, is the place to go.
The Season runs from April til July and from October til November.
Read more from Eat Stay Love Bulgaria
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Rural Life in the Gabrovo Region
In an overpopulated world powered by technology and social media, there aren’t many places where time appears to stands still. That is unless you visit a rural, mountainous village in scenic Bulgaria. Mountain air is fresh, internet signal is limited and shops and amenities are often a drive away. To some, this might sound like a nightmare or at least a lifestyle that is as enjoyable as it is hard work, but within the serenity and silence of nature’s finest, there’s a lot about life to be learned and lived. With all the media focus about being more mindful and in touch with the offline world, is a dose of ‘back to basics’ what we all really need?!
I spent 4 years living in rural Bulgarian mountainous villages and since then, I’ve returned to visit some of these places as a tourist. Life as a full-time resident compared to a visitor is very different. Still, no matter whether your visit to the mountains is a short or extended stay, the experience is not one you will forget!
Rural Village Life in the mountains is nothing like I’d known in the UK. Heating requires chopping wood and a wood-burning fire. It’s recommended that you grow your fruit & veggies as much as possible in order to remain well stocked throughout the seasons. Internet is available but not always reliable, as is mobile signal. I’ve known prolonged water shortages and power cuts lasting for a week or more. There’s no denying that authentic village life can be tough, but it also makes you a fantastic problem solver – an impact it certainly had on me. On the other hand, village life is highly enjoyable and offers you the chance to enjoy an organic lifestyle and diet. You can fetch your own water from natural springs, grow your own produce, and even buy fresh milk straight from local farmers.
If you don’t plan on making your trip to the mountains a way of life then you can still revel in all that rural living has to offer. I’d recommend using it as an opportunity to explore the great outdoors, soak up some of that fresh mountain air, switch off your mobile and have a go at lighting a log fire. Bulgaria is rich in idyllic rural destinations – I’d definitely recommend taking a trip!
5 places to visit in the Gabrovo Area:
- Ethno Village Etar
- Shipka Pass
- Sokoloski Monastery
- The Shipka Monoument, Stoletov Peak
Read more from Luisa Kearney at Online Personal Stylist
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The Shumen Monument Near Varna
The Weird & Wonderful Buzludzha Monument
After living in Bulgaria for three years, my favorite place to visit in Bulgaria is Buzludzha the Communist monument and arena located high in the Stari Planina, or as they are more commonly known the Balkan Mountains.
The site is about three hours from Sofia and I’ve visited both on a day trip, guided tour and by self-driving. I have to say, the guided tour was great for information but it’s really fun to drive up the mountain to Buzludzha on your own! Especially when you stop to take photos along the way.
The site is a Communist-era building and monument. The social realist style is immediately obvious, as is the giant red star sticking out of the back.
Once you are here, enjoy walking around the site and exploring. While you can’t go in anymore (there is now a twenty-four-hour security detail posted to protect the building from intruders), you can still walk all the way around the building and take in the full three-hundred and sixty-degree view! The monument is currently being renovated and hopes to open in late 2020 or 2021.
I’ve visited in almost every season and at different times of the day. Sunset is probably the most spectacular time to visit, as you can see the incredible pinks and vivid oranges over the horizon above the mountains. It’s also fun to see Buzludzha covered in snow, though you’ll want to make sure your rental car has the right tires to get up the mountain in the snow!
The most special moment I’ve had at Buzludzha was when I encountered two beautiful horses eating nearby in the fog. It was surreal to see the majestic animals eating at such a spectacular and strange site!
Stay in Shipka Nearby The Buzludzha Monument
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Boyana Waterfall and Church
Just a short distance from Sofia centre is the Boyana Church and a short hike (less than 2 hours) to see the Boyana Waterfall. The path starts at Boyana Church; a UNESCO world heritage church built in the 10th century.
The hike up to the waterfall holds some of the best views of nature possible to see in a short distance from Sofia. At the beginning you have a choice between two main paths, although there are a number of paths in the area. If you’re looking for some harder hikes, head over to Rocks With A View and Boyana Lake as well. Hiking maps can be found here with Komoot.
In the winter part of the waterfall freezes like stalactites but in the summer the water flow is highly reduced due to lack of water. The waterfall is most rampant in spring when the snows are thawing and you can even see the water sprays from Sofia centre.
Read more about Boyana Waterfall from Travel On The Brain
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The Ambient Primorsko
The history of Primorsko stretches back to the stone age and even remains from a Neolithic site have been. The nearby site of Beglik Tash dates to the bronze age and medieval amphora’s & pottery have been discovered in the close by Ropotamo River. However today it is a modern and thriving town that juts out into the black sea and benefits from over 10km of beach.
With protected sandy hills, rocky inlets, beautiful wild plants, protected nature reserves and calm seas you may even be able to see the pink dolphins that swim locally. North of Primosrko the beach of Perla offers unique dunes, silky soft sand and lovely forest trails.
The town itself is nothing spectacular; no beautiful buildings or astonishing architecture, no castles, or UNESCO churches. But the beaches are gorgeous and there are boat cruises, sailing, diving, hiking, biking, trekking in the mountains, visiting historical sites, going to restaurants to try local foods, long slides at the water park and even night clubs for those that want to dance the night away.
Primorsko is also home to Bulgaria’s first underwater chapel. Named after the patron of fishermen and seafarers, St. Nicholas the Wonder Worker this unique chapel was erected 10 metres below the surface.
Read more about Primorsko from Montecristo Travels
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