Bulgaria travel guide
Bulgaria’s spectacular mountains, golden beaches and vibrant cities have begun attracting hordes of eager-eyed tourists over the past few years, and with them much has been transformed in this crossroads between the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe.
The country’s mammoth changes have seen its cities and resorts undergoing construction booms galore, tempting buyers from Western Europe with relatively cheap property and stunning landscapes.
Bulgaria’s beautiful beach and ski resorts are expanding quickly as a result and have lured visitors away from more expensive European destinations with low-priced lift passes and accommodation options. The main cities have shrugged off their weary Communist-era image and have become vibrant and attractive, with well-kept boulevards, varied shopping and lively nightlife. In contrast, many towns and villages have preserved the authentic Bulgarian spirit and hospitality and the country is especially proud of its rich folklore traditions.
Hikers will find a variety of mountain ranges covering much of the country, with plenty of extraordinary wildlife to be glimpsed along the way. The walking trails are well mapped, taking hikers through forests, past lakes and waterfalls, with the chance to glimpsing bears, wolves and lynx adding a bit of edge to trails. Those keen on caving and kayaking will also find plenty to entertain them, while skiing and snowshoeing is also popular here.
Of course, the attraction that brings most visitors to Bulgaria is its remarkably unspoiled beaches strewn along the Black Sea coast. Less-visited, less-developed and with lots of facilities for water sports, Bulgaria’s sandy beaches are the equal to almost any of the more popular coastal spots in the Mediterranean. What’s more, you’ll find many aged seaside towns complete with cobbled streets and historic buildings. Indeed, those interested in history will find Bulgaria a haven of Byzantine heritage, with a long tradition of Orthodox Christian churches and religious art. There are also a number of intriguing, secluded monasteries that are worth visiting, especially for their detailed murals.
110,994 sq km (42,855 sq miles).
7,075,877 (UN estimate 2016).
64.8 per sq km.
President Rumen Radev since 2017.
Bojko Borisov, since April 2017.
220-240 volts AC, 50Hz. European plugs with two round pins are standard.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Tourists are targeted by thieves and pickpockets in Sunny Beach and other resorts. Don’t take valuables to the beach and be wary of poorly lit roads around the resort at night. There has been an increase in burglaries from hotel rooms in Sunny Beach. Make sure you lock your room (including windows and balcony doors) and keep your valuables locked in a safe. Don’t change money on the streets in Sunny Beach, only at licensed exchange points, banks or hotels.
Prostitution is not illegal in Bulgaria however we have received numerous reports of pickpocketing, muggings and assaults of British nationals by prostitutes and their minders. Avoid areas where prostitutes operate especially late at night, including car parks, the beach, badly lit areas and areas with bushes and trees. Stick to main routes and avoid alleys and short cuts in Sunny Beach.
Some tourists have been victims of overcharging in strip clubs in Sofia and in some resorts like Bansko, Borovets and Sunny Beach. Overcharging can amount to hundreds of pounds and victims have been threatened with violence if they don’t pay.
Stun guns, torch stun guns and other weapons like knives, pepper spray and CS gas can be bought in shops in and around Bourgas and Sunny Beach. Many of these weapons are illegal in the UK and importing them could result in a prison sentence.
There have been reports of car tyres being deliberately punctured across Bulgaria. While investigating the puncture, someone distracts the driver and personal belongings and documents are stolen from the vehicle. Be vigilant if you have to stop in these circumstances and make sure your belongings are secure.
Break-ins have occurred in properties in the residential areas of cities and rural areas. Seek local advice on security for your home.
For all types of emergency (fire, ambulance, police) you can dial 112.
Taxis are plentiful and cheap by UK standards, although vehicles may not be in very good condition. Most taxis are metered and yellow taxis are generally considered reliable. Avoid taxis parked outside hotels or in tourist areas. Ask your hotel to call a taxi or flag down a passing taxi with a green ‘available’ light in the window. Check the tariffs on the window before getting in as they can vary considerably.
Disruptions or delays are possible at border crossings with Greece due to regular strikes of Greek farmers who continue to block a number of roads across Greece. Strikes are sometimes called at short notice and can cause disruption to public transport in and out of Greece (including air travel and ports). Updates on the situation at the Greek border can be found at the Ministry of Transport website.
There are regular reports of robberies and threatening behaviour by taxi drivers in Sunny Beach. Use a taxi recommended by your tour operator or accommodation provider.
At Sofia airport you should use a taxi from OK Supertrans at the official rank by booking at their desk in the arrivals hall.
Take care when driving, particularly at night. Many roads are in poor condition and road works are often unlit or unmarked. Driving standards are generally poor. Avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers. Stick to the speed limit and make sure your vehicle is roadworthy. On the spot fines are charged for minor violations.
In 2015 there were 708 road deaths in Bulgaria (source: Department for Transport). This equates to 9.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2015.
If you enter Bulgaria in a private vehicle, you must have your driving licence, all original registration and ownership documents (including logbook) as well as evidence of insurance valid in Bulgaria. If you have hired a car you must have the original contract document, which should state that the vehicle can be brought into Bulgaria. Border officials will impound your vehicle if they are not satisfied that you own it or have permission to use it in Bulgaria.
You’ll need to buy a vignette (sticker) to drive on motorways and main roads outside towns. You can buy one at the border, or from post offices, large petrol stations and DZI bank offices. Rates are much higher for freight vehicles and coaches carrying 8 or more passengers. You’ll be fined if you don’t have a vignette.
Under Bulgarian law, vehicles that are registered outside the EU are considered to be ‘temporarily imported’ when driven inside Bulgaria. If they are stolen on Bulgarian soil, the owners will be liable for import duty and related taxes. Cars registered in the Channel Islands and the Isles of Man are subject to this legislation.
You must drive with running lights or dipped beam headlights throughout the year, even during the daytime. It’s compulsory to carry the following equipment in your vehicle: fire extinguisher (not required for 2-wheeled vehicles), a first-aid kit and a warning triangle (not required for 2-wheeled vehicles). A reflective jacket must be used by anyone who steps on to the road in a breakdown or emergency. Snow chains must be carried from 1 November until 1 March and used when the relevant sign is displayed. Winter tyres are compulsory for vehicles registered in Bulgaria during wintry road conditions.
Rail and bus travel
If you travel by train, check the availability of sleeping compartments and whether bicycles can be taken on board. This may vary between regions, and there may be additional charges. Thieves operate on trains, so take particular care that documents and other valuables are safe. The train system is very poor by European standards. There have been several fires on Bulgarian trains.
Inter-city buses are frequent, relatively fast and comfortable, but crashes do occur.
Stray dogs are common and dangerous. Avoid getting too close to stray dogs, especially if they are in a pack. Take any animal bites seriously and seek immediate medical advice as rabies and other animal borne diseases are present in Bulgaria.