Bulgaria is a country of diverse landscapes and a depth of history which results in a nation filled with natural beauty and cultural richness that dates back to ancient times.
With high rocky peaks home to picturesque mountains, huge national parks where endangered animals roam wild, and swathes of sandy beaches that hug the Black Sea, along with relics of the Soviet rule, there is something for everyone to discover in the bold and this beautiful Balkan country. Here’s a look at the top tourist attractions in Bulgaria:
Situated in the heart of the stunning city of Sofia is the iconic symbol of Bulgaria: the Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. Paid for by the people of the city and built between the years 1882 and 1912, the cathedral was constructed to honor the lives of the 200,000 Russian soldiers who were killed fighting in the Russo-Turkish war for Bulgaria’s freedom from the rule of the Ottomans.
The cathedral itself is ornately detailed, with a decadent 45-meter high, gold-plated dome. Inside, you can walk among the many intricate mosaics, meaningful murals and depictions of saints and angels; huge chandeliers hang low, dripping in decadent gold, whilst the solid wood of the altar and pews is delicately carved.
Close to the village of Krushuna, nested in a lush forested landscape among the many karst rock formations, are the Krushuna Falls. The tallest of the falls is 20 meters high, where the turquoise water then splits into smaller falls and cascades over hunks of limestone, forming gentle pools and curious curves in the rock. It is easy for visitors to reach the waterfalls and explore the surrounding area over bridges and steps. One pathway leads to a hidden cave where the source of the waterfall can be found – the spring is said have health benefits and is still a popular spot for locals from the nearby village.
Walk along the old winding road of Koprivshtitsa town, past the tricking streams and the colorful buildings, and be taken back to a Bulgaria of the past. Set in the heart of the Sredna Gora mountain range, historic Koprivshtitsa town was once a center for the fight against Ottoman rule and still today remains a place of Bulgarian pride. The town is now popular with visitors and is an open air museum; its many mansions and houses are fantastic examples of the Bulgarian National Revival that occurred during the 19th century.
An icon of brutalist design and a masterpiece of Soviet proportions is the now abandoned Buzludzha Monument. Built in 1974 by the Bulgarian army, the monstrous monument was designed by various artists and creatives in charge of statues during the era. The monument stands on the spot of a battle between the Turks and the Bulgarians which took place in 1868 and is where Dimitar Blagoev, along with other socialist leaders, outlined Bulgaria’s revolution into a communist state.
The stoic structure is now covered in political graffiti and has huge depictions of Lenin and Marx as well as lettering across the facade. The huge flying-saucer-shaped shrine to socialism was left to ruin after the fall of the Soviet Union but has become an unusual attraction for those interested in the history and striking design of the era.
The classic dome shape of Vitosha Mountain sits close to the urban sprawl of the city of Sophia and is where people go to take a break from the city and enjoy nature. With its own ski resort, pleasant hiking routes and fantastic panoramic views of the city below, the mountain is easily accessible from the city and can be reached by bus, on foot, and ropeways.
Vitosha Mountain’s highest point is 2,290 meters high and attracts visitors all year round who are drawn there to explore the Vitosha Nature Park, which is actually the oldest in the Balkans, and covers most of the mountain, as well as the mineral springs in the foothills.
The ancient Thracian tomb of Sveshtari was only discovered in 1982 when archaeologists uncovered the impressive site underneath a mound. The tomb is thought to have been built for a royal couple from the Thracian tribe of the Getae and dates back to the 3rd century BC.
The tomb is wonderfully well preserved; its ornate interior reveals impressive carvings and murals of half-female, half-plant figures which appear to be holding up the ceiling. The tomb is thought to be unique as there has been no other Thracian tomb discovered that has Sveshtari’s combination of astonishing architecture, sculpture and paintings.
A symbol of Bulgaria’s past greatness, Tsarevets Fortress is built on the spot where the palace of the medieval tsars once stood 800 years before when Tarnovo was its capital. Explore the ancient rambling ruins and stumble across the remains of over 400 houses and innumerable churches. The panoramic views of the surrounding landscape reveal how the location of the fortress was strategically placed, 206m above sea level, to protect the kingdom from invasion for hundreds of years. Visiting the stronghold involves a lot of walking up steep slopes, but because the only access to the fortress is on foot you can wander the grounds and climb the old walls in peace.
Sunny Beach is famous for long stretches of soft, sandy beaches that slope into the Black Sea and also for its numerous tourists who visit the resort town to enjoy its lively nightlife. The golden beaches stretch for eight kilometers along the coast and offer the perfect spot to spend time soaking up the sun and taking a swim. The beaches in the area are clean and are sheltered from the elements, meaning the sea is perfect for swimming, whilst the plentiful hotels along the coast are also reasonably priced and family-friendly. This is the place to visit if you want to spend a few days relaxing in the sunshine and exploring the surrounding area, such as the ancient town of Nessebar.
In the center of Plovdiv Old Town is one of the world’s best preserved ancient theaters. Discovered in the 1960s, the spectacularly striking structure dates back to the 1st century AD and is thought to have been built under the rule of the Roman Emperor Domitian. The site would have played an important role in the ancient communities: this was where theatrical performances and famously ferocious gladiator fights would take place, as well as local government meetings and big gatherings.
The theater itself is still in use for opera and musical performances and holds an impressive 7,000 people. Amble along the old cobbled streets of the town and up the hill to the ancient theater, sit among the rows of sloping seats and soak in the silence and take in the uninterrupted views of the surrounding landscape.
Home to more than 70 glacial lakes, old forests and soaring 2,915-metre peaks and ridges, the Pirin National Park is a Bulgarian national treasure. The National Park is a safe haven for many different types of rare species that use the Balkan mountain range for shelter. Large animals still roam the slopes, from brown bears and wild boar to gray wolves and jackals; this is a remote and wild area that is under threat from development by ski resorts.
Spend your time visiting the unimaginably beautiful park by hiking the numerous paths, cycling among the alpine meadows or fishing alongside waterfalls. You can even stay overnight in Pirin’s huts, and find the famous Baykuchevata Macedonian pine tree that is said to be approximately 1,350 years old!
Nessebar has been charming visitors for the past 9,000 years and it keeps on enchanting people to this day. Set on a craggy peninsula that is connected to the mainland by a causeway, the charming old Nessebar town is an open-air museum packed full of pretty squares, churches and cobbled streets. The town’s history and monuments span the Roman and Byzantine eras, and remains of the old town walls can still be seen.
This fascinating town is packed full of character: take a look in the traditional timber houses built on sturdy rock foundations, sit and watch the windmill on the bridge between the old and new towns, and step silently in the stunning churches and chapels.
Take a trip to Rila Monastery and soak in the serene surroundings among the Rila mountains. Founded in the 10th century, and held in high esteem as being an important historic and cultural monument, the Eastern Orthodox Rila Monastery is an architectural icon. Labelled as the Jerusalem of Bulgaria, it is the biggest monastery in the country and is home to compelling religious iconography, including wall paintings, carvings and historical artifacts.
The ancient monastery is still active and is home to around 60 monks who still live and work in the tranquil peace of the monastery inside its ornate buildings. The striking stripes of the exterior and gently curved arches, along with the crowning domes, set the monastery apart from the surrounding tree-covered mountainous landscape.