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. As a result, beautiful ski and beach resorts are expanding quickly.
The main cities have shrugged off the weary Communist-era image and have become vibrant and attractive, with a string of cultural attractions, varied shopping and lively nightlife keeping visitors entertained. In contrast, many towns and villages have preserved the authentic Bulgarian spirit and hospitality - 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 spot bears, wolves and lynx. Those keen on caving and kayaking will also find plenty to entertain them, while skiing and snowshoeing are 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.
Bulgaria is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites including:
• Ancient city of Nessebar, a 3,000-year-old site which was originally a Thracian settlement and became a Greek colony in the 6th century.
• Boyana Church, a medieval Bulgarian Orthodox church on the outskirts of Sofia.
• Madara Rider, a large rock relief depicting a knight triumphing over a lion in Madara.
• Rila Monastery, the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria.
• Rock-hewn churches of Ivanovo, a series of chapels, churches and monasteries within the Rusenski Lom Nature Park.
• Thracian tomb of Kazanlak, a richly decorated burial chamber from the Hellenistic period.
• Thracian tomb of Sveshtari, an amazing historical site reflecting the fundamental structural principles of Thracian cult buildings.
In addition, Bulgaria also has three natural sites that are also UNESCO-listed including ancient and primeval beech forest of the Carpathians, Pirin National Park and Srebarna Nature Reserve.
110,994 sq km (42,855 sq miles).
64.8 per sq km.
President Rumen Radev since 2017.
Interim prime minister Gulub Donev since August 2022.
Coronavirus travel health
Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Bulgaria on the TravelHealthPro website.
See the TravelHealthPro website for further advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Direct and indirect commercial flights between the UK and Bulgaria continue to operate.
Entry and borders
See Entry requirements to find out what you will need to do when you arrive in Bulgaria.
Be prepared for your plans to change
No travel is risk-free during COVID-19. Countries may further restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice, for example due to a new COVID-19 variant. Check with your travel company or airline for any transport changes which may delay your journey home.
If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.
Plan ahead and make sure you:
- can access money
- understand what your insurance will cover
- can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned
Public spaces and services
COVID-19 related restrictions remain under review.
The police are strictly enforcing measures and failure to comply could result in a fine.
If you test positive for COVID-19, you will be required to self-isolate for 7 days. Additionally, there is a mandatory 5-day self-isolation requirement (starting from the date of last contact with the infected person) for anyone who has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. During self-isolation you are not permitted to leave Bulgaria.
The 5-day mandatory self-isolation period for close contacts may be revoked for close contacts who have either:
- completed a full vaccination course
- Or, have been vaccinated with a booster dose in the last 90 days and who present a negative PCR test taken 72 hours after the mandatory self-isolation period commenced.
The mandatory self-isolation requirement is revoked from the day after the registration of the negative result. Results will automatically be registered by the test centre when they produce the result certificate.
It is no longer necessary to present a COVID-19 vaccination certificate to visit indoor venues.
Travel in Bulgaria
Travel to/from airport or other port of arrival
There are no restrictions on travel between cities.
Restrictions apply at many European land borders, including with Bulgaria, which affect road and rail travel. You should check the travel advice for any countries through which you are considering travel before you depart.
Healthcare in Bulgaria
For contact details for English speaking doctors visit our list of healthcare providers.
The Bulgarian authorities have issued a list of COVID-19 test centres in locations across Bulgaria (only available in Bulgarian).
Your emotional and mental wellbeing is important. Read guidance on how to look after your mental wellbeing and mental health
View Health for further details on healthcare in Bulgaria
See also the guidance on healthcare if you’re waiting to return to the UK.
For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.
The Bulgarian Ministry of Health has published information (in Bulgarian) and has set up a hotline +359 2 807 87 57.
If you need urgent consular assistance, contact your nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate. All telephone numbers are available 24/7.
Crime levels are low and violent crime is rare. However, you should take care of yourself and your belongings in the same way as you would do in the UK. Take sensible precautions to protect yourself from street crime, particularly in larger cities. Watch out for pickpockets and bag thefts in tourist areas and major public transport hubs, including airports. Be vigilant at all times, particularly late at night. If you wish to report a crime, call the local police on 112 and make sure you get a crime report.
Tourists are targeted by thieves and pickpockets in Sunny Beach and other larger cities and 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 thefts on the bus from Nessebar to Sunny Beach. Burglaries have been reported 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.
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 Burgas 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 on a meter 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 licence sticker and the tariffs on the window before getting in as they can vary considerably.
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.
There has also been an increase in the number of unlicensed taxis from Sofia airport overcharging passengers. If you’re travelling from the airport, make sure you take an official, licensed taxi. There is an official taxi rank in the arrivals hall.
In 2020, there were 463 road deaths in Bulgaria (source: Department for Transport). This equates to 6.7 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.3 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2020.
If you are planning to drive in Bulgaria, see information on Driving Abroad.
Licences and documents
If you enter Bulgaria in a private vehicle, you must have your driving licence, all original registration and ownership documents 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.
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 UK, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are subject to this legislation.
If you’re living in Bulgaria, check the Living in Guide for information on requirements for residents.
Driving a British car abroad
You may need a UK sticker to drive your car outside the UK. From 28 September 2021 UK stickers have replaced GB stickers. Check the GOV.UK Displaying number plates website for more information on what to do if you are driving outside the UK.
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. For more information about speed limits and spot fines, check the RAC website.
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 and online from BG Toll. 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.
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.
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.
Terrorist attacks in Bulgaria can’t be ruled out. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.
On 30 December 2016, the Bulgarian Minister of Interior, announced heightened security measures in all cities, winter ski resorts, and places where large gatherings are expected.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
This page has information on travelling to Bulgaria.
This page reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British Citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in Bulgaria set and enforce entry rules. If you’re unsure how Bulgaria’s entry requirements apply to you, contact its UK embassy, high commission or consulate.
From 1 May 2022 all COVID-19 entry requirements for travellers to Bulgaria end, regardless of nationality and/or where travelled from.
Neighbouring countries may have health requirements for entry for those arriving from or transiting through Bulgaria, including declarations and COVID-19 tests. You should check the relevant FCDO Travel Advice.
If you need to travel, plan ahead and before you travel check border information published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before you travel.
Check your passport and travel documents before your travel
If you are planning to travel to an EU country (except Ireland), or Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino or Vatican City, you must follow the Schengen area passport requirements.
Your passport must be:
- Issued less than 10 years before the date you enter the country (check the ‘date of issue’)
- valid for at least 3 months after the day you plan to leave (check the ‘expiry date’)
You must check your passport meets these requirements before you travel. If your passport was issued before 1 October 2018, extra months may have been added to its expiry date.
Bulgaria is not part of the Schengen area, Visits to Bulgaria do not count towards your 90-day visa-free limit in the Schengen area.
Visits to other EU or Schengen countries do not count towards your 90-day visa-free limit in Bulgaria.
You can travel to Bulgaria for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. This applies if you travel as a tourist, to visit for family or friends, to attend business meetings, cultural or sports events, or for short-term studies or training.
To stay longer, to work or study, for business travel or for other reasons, you will need to meet the Bulgarian government’s entry requirements. Check with the Bulgarian Embassy what type of visa and/or work permit you may need.
If you are travelling to Bulgaria for work, read the guidance on visas and permits.
If you stay in Bulgaria with a Bulgarian residence permit or long-stay visa, this time does not count towards your 90-day visa-free limit for Bulgaria.
As a visitor, your passport may be stamped when you enter and exit Bulgaria. Border guards will use passport stamps to check you’re complying with the 90-day visa-free limit for short stays in Bulgaria.
If you enter or exit the Schengen area through Bulgaria as a visitor, check that your passport is stamped. This will show border guards that you are complying with the 90-day visa-free limit for Bulgaria and the separate 90-day visa-free limit for the Schengen area.
If the relevant entry or exit stamp is not in your passport, border guards will presume that you have overstayed your visa-free limit. If you show evidence eg transport tickets to prove when you entered or exited Bulgaria, border guards should add this entry or exit date and the location in your passport.
You may also need to:
- show a return or onward ticket
- show you have enough money for your stay
If you have a Withdrawal Agreement residency document for another country, your passport might still be stamped if you are a visitor to Bulgaria.
If you are resident in Bulgaria, read our Living in Bulgaria guide for passport stamping information.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Bulgaria.
The Bulgarian authorities treat all drug-related and sex offences very seriously. Custodial sentences can be expected for any foreigners convicted of such offences. Offences relating to drunken, disorderly behaviour and hooliganism may also be treated more seriously than in the UK.
Homosexuality is not illegal, but public attitudes are less tolerant than in the UK and the LGBT+ community generally keeps a low profile. There are a few gay bars and clubs in Sofia; the city has also held the annual Sofia Pride since 2008. Sofia Pride and accompanying LGBT+ events are growing in popularity and were attended by over 10,000 people in 2021. However, it also attracts some negative attention locally and is held with a heightened police presence and security measures. Should you wish to join the parade, please read carefully the safety rules issued by the organisers. Attitudes outside Sofia tend to be more conservative, and there have been isolated cases of hostility towards people perceived to be from LGBT+ communities. You can find local information on LGBT+ issues in Bulgaria on the website of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. See our information and advice page for the LGBT+ community before you travel.
Avoid taking photographs near potentially sensitive areas like military establishments. If in doubt, ask permission.
Covering your face with garments (such as a burka or similar head covering) in public places, including governmental buildings, streets, parks, gardens, restaurants, shops and on public transport is illegal in Bulgaria. There is a fine for covering your face in public places.
There have been numerous reports of buyers being defrauded while purchasing property. Be cautious and seek comprehensive legal advice before making any purchase. Only deal with established and reputable real estate agents or with other contacts that you know to be reliable and genuine. See the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office guide to buying property in Bulgaria.
Taking food and drink into the EU
You cannot take meat, milk or products containing them into EU countries. There are some exceptions for medical reasons, for example certain amounts of powdered infant milk, infant food, or pet food required for medical reasons. Check the rules about taking food and drink into the EU on the European Commission website.
If you have a health condition, or you are pregnant, you may need specialist healthcare abroad. Check whether your destination country can provide the healthcare you may need and ensure you have appropriate travel insurance for unexpected medical evacuation or local treatment.
See the Coronavirus travel health and Healthcare sections in the Coronavirus page for COVID-19 health information.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or purchased in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
You should get a free UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) or European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. If you already have an EHIC it will still be valid as long as it remains in date.
The GHIC or EHIC entitles you to state provided medical treatment that may become necessary during your trip. Any treatment provided is on the same terms as Bulgarian nationals. If you don’t have your EHIC with you or you’ve lost it, you can call the NHS Overseas Healthcare Team on +44 191 218 1999 to get a Provisional Replacement Certificate.
It’s important to take out appropriate travel insurance for your needs. A GHIC or EHIC is not an alternative to travel insurance and you should have both before you travel. It does not cover all health-related costs, for example, medical repatriation, ongoing medical treatment and non-urgent treatment.
Read more about what your travel insurance should cover.
If you’re living in Bulgaria, you can also find more information on healthcare for residents in the Living In Bulgaria guide.
Facilities in most Bulgarian hospitals are basic and old-fashioned compared to those in the UK. Standards of medical care are good, although specialised equipment and treatment may not be available. Hospital staff rarely speak English.
Private clinics and hospitals are generally well equipped and not expensive in comparison with the UK. Some private hospitals will not accept the EHIC. Check with hospital administrators.
There have been reports of overcharging of foreign tourists in private medical clinics in tourist resorts. If you decide to use the services, agree a price in advance.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 112 and ask for an ambulance. If you are referred to a medical facility for treatment you should contact your insurance/medical assistance company immediately.
Earthquakes and small tremors are recorded throughout the year, usually without consequences. The last significant series of earthquakes was in 1928.
To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see this advice from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Many parts of Bulgaria are subject to flooding following heavy rains. Flooding is usually localised but can occasionally be widespread and has resulted in fatalities. Follow the weather forecast on the National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology website which provides detailed information and severe weather warnings for Bulgaria.
Throughout the summer and early autumn period, Bulgaria is on a regular alert for wildfires. There is a danger of large-scale and quick spreading fires in forests and fields. Follow media reports and the advice of the local authorities if wildfires occur in your area.
You can buy Leva from banks and foreign exchange offices in the UK. There are many exchange bureaux in Bulgaria that normally accept sterling and other major currencies. Check the rates of exchange before making a transaction. Where possible, change money in banks, large hotels, or exchange bureaux. Don’t use sellers on the street. You may not be able to exchange Scottish and Northern Irish notes.
There is a large network of ATMs that accept standard international credit and debit cards. Check with your UK card provider whether you will be able to use these machines to withdraw Leva.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in London on 020 7008 5000 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCDO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCDO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCDO travel advice
If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCDO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. Versions prior to 2 September 2020 will be archived as FCO travel advice. If you can’t find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice Team a request.
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry, or contact us on Twitter or Facebook. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.