Bulgaria is one of the best countries to road trip through. The country has stunning landscapes, diverse cities, more beach than you can imagine, and is way less expensive than western Europe. The almost square shape of the country allows for a really easy circuit that can be extended or shortened in many spots. While the rural roads are poor compared to many western countries, the main highways are in good condition and easy to navigate.
Locations to visit
Travel Day 1
Start by navigating to the capital of Sofia by train, bus, or plane. The central train station has easy connections from Romania, Turkey, and Hungary, while the bus station will connect you to the western Balkans and Greece. The relaxed city with great history sets you up nicely for what to expect within the rest of the country. Take your time and explore the many parks in town before heading to Saint Aleksandar Nevski Memorial Cathedral. The city has awesome internet speeds and lots of free wifi so it is easy to keep in touch with others. There is no need to have a car when you are in Sofia as almost everything can be done by walking or if needed the metro and bus lines. Click here to learn more about Sofia. We would suggest you spend at least 2 full days in the city before picking up your rental car.
Travel Day 2
Pick up your car on your way out of the city and head southeast towards Rila National Park. Many people come to the monastery as a day trip but the surrounding national park is worth a bit of time. There are a number of hikes that take you to beautiful viewpoints or down to rivers. Spend part of the day in the wilderness then head to the UNESCO site of the Rila Monastery. The colourful 10th-century monastery is the largest in Bulgaria and is one of the most important sites in the country. Spend at least 1 night in the area as there is lots to see but if you love hiking and nature you can easily spend a few nights. If you travel in the winter, there are numerous ski resorts that offer some of the best (and well priced) skiing in Europe!
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Travel Day 3
After your time in Rila, drive east to Plovdiv, your home base for the next couple of days. Plovdiv is Europe's oldest continuously occupied city with 8,000 years of occupation. Laying underneath the main walking street is the partially exposed Roman stadium that is open to explore or even
have a picnic in! After that head to the Archeological Museum to get a full picture of Plovdiv. Here you will find local statues from 4000 BCE, gold chalices from the 4th century BCE, and a floor mosaic of a menorah from Bulgaria's only ancient synagogue. Give yourself at least 2 days to explore the city and more if you want to add a day trip. Going north you will find the Valley of Roses, Kazanluk, Buzludzha and the Monument of Freedom, while south will take you into the mountains and past Bachkovo Monastery and Asen's Fortress. We
Travel Day 4
Pack the car again and head out to the coast for some relaxation time. If you are wanting a beautiful beach with lots of nightlight, Sunny Beach is perfect while Sozopol is best for families. Burgas, the second largest Bulgarian coastal city, is about an hour south of Sunny Beach and is worth a stop or a day trip. Nessebar, about 20 minutes south of Sunny Beach, is believed to have the most churches per capita in the world. Even is you are staying in Sozopol, it is absolutely worth it to spend a day to travel up to Nessebar. The whole island city is fortified with beautiful old wooden houses intermixed between the almost 50 churches.
If you want to split up your time between two beach towns, check out either Golden Sands or Albena which are a few hours north and just outside of the biggest coastal city of Varna. Even if you aren't spending a few nights in the area, on your way from Sunny Beach to Veliko Tarnovo, stop into Varna and head to the Archaeological Museum to see the world's oldest golden treasure! A more comprehensive breakdown of what each beach town offers can be found on the Black Sea page HERE
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Travel Day 5
Making your way inland you get to the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire. For over 200 years, Veliko Tarnovo was the centre of one of the most powerful empires in southern Europe. Built on the main hill, Tsarevets became the citadel of the city complete with fortified walls, towers, churches, and a 50,000 SQ foot palace. After the collapse of the Second Empire, the city's importance declined however the sleepy town is starting to wake. Bolstered by the fact that the third declaration of independence was signed just down the street from Tsarevets, tourism is slowly starting to permeate the city. Check out the Samovodska Charshia Market for certified Bulgarian handicrafts, or one of the many historic churches in town. The city is pretty small and can be briefly covered with just one night however, there is lots of history, especially near the river, so spending 2 nights would not be hard. The city is also surrounded by mountains, so there are ample hiking trails around that offer great panoramic views! A complete review of the city can be found HERE
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Travel Day 6
Closing off the tour is a stop at Kazanluk and Buzludzha if you haven't done it yet, or even head north and cross into Romania. Buzludzha was the former head office of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Built on the top of a mountain, the UFO looking building with a massive Soviet star is an imposing sight. While entering it is strictly forbidden, you can wander around the exterior and check out the nearby Monument of Freedom.
Kazanluk is home to hundreds of Thracian tombs including several that have remained relatively untouched since they were sealed 2,000 years ago. The murals and plaster motifs have gained the tombs their UNESCO World Heritage listing. If you time your Bulgarian adventure properly, you may be able to check out the Rose Festival in May. As the valley supports nearly half of the world's rose oil production, the festival is timed with the annual picking. If you can stand getting up pre-sunrise, you can join in the picking process, or go later in the day for music, dancing, and more rose related gifts then you can imagine! End your day by making it back to Sofia to close off the loop.