Bulgaria, a member state of the European Union, is located in southeastern Europe in the Balkans. It borders Romania, Serbia, northern Macedonia, Greece and Turkey. To the east, the stunning Black Sea coast stretches along the country.
The Black Sea coast is an absolute highlight and a popular destination on a Bulgaria vacation. Here the vacationer can expect dreamlike beaches, crystal clear water and a variety of water sports. Discover historic cities like Varna and Nessebar or relax in one of the numerous resorts along the coast.
The capital Sofia and its surroundings offer a wealth of historical and cultural attractions. Explore the magnificent Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the fascinating Serdica ruins or climb the majestic Vitosha Mountain.
The Rila Mountains beckon with their breathtaking beauty and are a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking, mountaineering and skiing are just some of the activities that vacationers can experience in this picturesque region. The Rila Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must visit.
In the Rhodope Mountains you can enjoy the untouched nature of Bulgaria to the fullest: Hiking through idyllic landscapes, horseback riding on scenic trails or mountain biking the region experience a great varied Bulgaria vacation is possible.
The Danube Valley in northern Bulgaria enchants with its breathtaking scenery and diverse wildlife. Here you can go bird watching, explore the picturesque surroundings on boat trips and visit historic towns.
The Thracian lowlands in southern Bulgaria are known for their pleasurable experience. Explore the vineyards and taste the delicious Bulgarian wine. The region is also rich in historical sites such as the ancient city of Perperikon.
Travel information about Bulgaria
For citizens of the European Union, an identity card is sufficient as a travel document in the EU member state Bulgaria. However, since the country is not part of the Schengen area, ID and customs checks are usually carried out at all national borders when crossing the border. If you are staying in the country for more than 90 days, you must register with the relevant immigration office in the place where you are staying in order to apply for the issue of a “certificate for EU citizens” concerning your right of residence.
There is the airport of the country’s capital, Sofia Airport, and the airport of the second largest city, Plovdiv Airport. In addition to daily scheduled flights from most European capitals to Sofia, it is worth looking for charter flights to Varna Airport or Burgas Airport on the Black Sea.
There are train connections to Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, northern Macedonia, Greece and Turkey. Bulgaria is part of Interrail Zone H. The overnight train from Sofia to Istanbul is the only cross-border train from Turkey.
An inexpensive way to travel the Balkans could be the Balkan Flexipass. This pass allows travel on the national rail networks of Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Montenegro, northern Macedonia, Romania (only trains operated by REGIOTRANS), Serbia, the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Turkey. It is possible to make several train trips per travel day. The pass is valid for 3, 5, 7, 10 or 15 freely chosen days within one month. It is issued as a paper document and is valid for 1st or 2nd class.
There are numerous international bus connections to Western Europe and Turkey. When traveling by bus from abroad, the following stops are possible:
- Stara Zagora
- Haskovo (for buses from Turkey)
Please note that there is no local transport via Slivengrad to the border at Kapitan Antonoov.
When entering Bulgaria, a vignette must be purchased for the vehicle. The vignette can be purchased either online on a website available only in Bulgarian, or at border crossings, gas stations and post offices. It must be affixed in the lower right corner of the windshield, while the second part must be kept and carried as a receipt.
With regard to traffic regulations, the following rules apply:
- The blood alcohol limit is 0.5.
Speed limits for different types of vehicles in Bulgaria are as follows:
Vehicle type: passenger cars and motor homes up to 3.5 tons.
- In town: 50 km/h
- Out of town: 90 km/h
- Freeway: 140 km/h
Vehicle type: motorhomes over 3.5 tons
- In town: 50 km/h
- Out of town: 70 km/h
- Freeway: 100 km/h
Please observe the relevant speed limits and adapt your driving to the local traffic regulations.
The Danube Cycle Route runs from Belgrade to the Black Sea.
The Danube forms the border between Bulgaria and Romania over a distance of more than 470 km. Cruise ships as well as ferries and cargo ships travel along this stretch. However, there are no known regular scheduled services along the Danube. There are isolated Danube ferries between Romania and Bulgaria, such as Bechet-Orjachowo, Turnu Măgurele-Nikopol, and Cǎlǎrași-Silistra, but not at all points as might be assumed from a map.
Furthermore, there are ferry and boat connections across the Black Sea to Varna and Burgas. Examples are the route Burgas-Poti and Varna-Odessa.
On the way in…
Road conditions outside built-up areas are quite good, but roads inside built-up areas can have potholes that are unusual for Central Europeans. It is important to be extra attentive and drive carefully.
A special precaution concerns the railway tracks. It is important to reduce speed near them and not drive more than 10 km/h. This is for the safety of all road users. This is for the safety of all road users and prevents potential accidents.
It is always advisable to agree on the fare with the taxi driver before setting off. As a rule, a fare of 1 leva per kilometre is charged. However, in cities and tourist centres it can be 3-4 leva per kilometre.
Special care should be taken when taking a taxi from the airport, especially in Varna. Taxi drivers already waiting there often charge double or even triple the fare. A tip to avoid this is to call a local taxi company and order a taxi to the airport if you have a mobile phone available. Phone numbers can be obtained at the airport terminal.
Taxis are available in larger cities at tourist spots and can also be easily hailed from the roadside. However, it is important to note that fares can vary greatly. Be sure to look for the price tag on the windscreen or on the back doors of the taxi. For trips outside the city, it is advisable to negotiate the price with the driver in advance. You can ask at the hotel beforehand to get an approximate price range.
It should be noted that apps like Uber and Bolt are not available in Bulgaria. However, there is a local startup company with a taxi app called TaxiMe.
There are train stations in all major and even smaller towns in Bulgaria. Timetable information is available on the website of the state-owned railway company BDZ. The trains connecting the larger cities are usually quite clean, apart from possible problems with the toilets. In the so-called “slow trains” there is a somewhat more familiar atmosphere, but unfortunately the toilets there are often in poor condition.
There are railway stations in all larger and smaller towns in Bulgaria. Timetable information is available on the website of the state railway company BDZ. The trains connecting the larger cities are usually quite clean, apart from possible problems with the toilets. The so-called “slow trains” have a more familiar atmosphere, but unfortunately the toilets there are often in poor condition.
A train ride from Sofia to Varna takes about 9 hours and costs about 30 leva (about 15 euros).
In Bulgaria, buses are by far the most popular means of transport among Bulgarians, partly because not every household can afford its own car. The prices for bus rides are extremely attractive and the route network is extensive, so that even remote places are easily accessible.
It should be noted, however, that patience is required, especially on the smaller bus routes. Numerous stops, average poor road quality and the advanced age of many buses mean that journey times are not too fast.
Nevertheless, all larger cities in Bulgaria are directly connected and can be reached comfortably by bus.
Best time to travel
The best time to travel to Bulgaria depends on individual preferences and the activities planned. In general, it can be said that Bulgaria has a diverse climate, ranging from continental to Mediterranean. Here is some information about the different seasons in Bulgaria:
Spring (April to June): Spring is a beautiful time to visit Bulgaria as the temperatures are mild and nature comes to life. The countryside is green and flowering and there are fewer tourists. Note, however, that it can still be a bit chilly at the beginning of spring.
Summer (July to August): Summer is the high season in Bulgaria, especially in the coastal resorts on the Black Sea. The weather is hot and sunny, which is perfect for beach activities. The water temperatures are pleasant for swimming. There are many festivals, events and a lively nightlife. However, be prepared that the beaches and tourist areas can be very crowded.
Autumn (September to October): Autumn is a beautiful time to visit Bulgaria as the temperatures are pleasant and the countryside glows with warm colours. Tourist flows decrease and prices are usually lower than in high season.
Winter (November to March): Bulgaria is also a popular destination for winter sports, especially in the mountain regions such as Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo. The ski season usually starts in December and ends in March. Temperatures are cool to cold and snow falls. There are good opportunities for skiing, snowboarding and other winter sports.
Ultimately, the best time to travel depends on your individual interests. If you prefer beach holidays and warm weather, summer months are ideal. If you want to enjoy nature and milder temperatures, spring and autumn are good choices. For winter sports activities, the winter season is ideal.
The official language of Bulgaria is Bulgarian, written in Cyrillic script. Turkish is spoken by the Muslim population, which makes up about 9% of the total population. Some Bulgarians, especially in the tourist centres, also speak English and/or German.
It is interesting to note that the gestures for “yes” and “no” are reversed in Bulgaria. This means that shaking the head is interpreted as agreement or “yes”, while nodding the head is understood as rejection or “no”.
When choosing an exchange office, it is important to pay attention to the exchange rate, which should ideally be in the range of 1.90 leva to 1.95 leva for one euro. It should be noted that the lev had a 1:1 peg to the Deutschmark and is now pegged to the euro with a rate of 1.95583 leva for one euro. The lev is divided into 100 stotinki.
The original plan was for Bulgaria to join the eurozone in early 2024, but this has been postponed until 2025.
It happens that tourists are fraudulently deceived. Some exchange offices lure with a good rate on a quickly changeable chalk sign outside, while inside the office a much worse rate is suddenly displayed. For this reason, one should first memorise the address of the exchange office, take a picture of the sign outside with a mobile phone and ideally take a friend with you as a witness while another waits outside. It is advisable to calculate the expected amount in leva before the transaction. If you realise during the transaction that you are being scammed, you should not make excuses, but instead loudly threaten to call the police (telephone 112).
Sometimes scammers also try to sell tourists old, invalid money on the street, which, for example, does not have a glittering security strip. It is advisable to find out about the appearance of the banknotes in circulation since 2005 from the National Bank.
If you want to be on the safe side, it is better to change your money at a bank, although the rates there are usually worse than at a reputable exchange office. Not all banks offer currency exchange and the rates can vary considerably.
Due to the usually better rates, withdrawing money with a debit card is recommended. However, it should be noted that fees are incurred, which are often higher than the commission of a bank or exchange office. It is therefore advisable to withdraw larger amounts at once.
Exchanging currencies other than dollars, euros, pounds or occasionally yen (e.g. Romanian lei) can be difficult or impossible. Even commercial banks often refuse to exchange.
It is important to be aware that tourists just leaving a bank, exchange office or ATM are particularly attractive targets for pickpockets, con artists and other criminals.
The European Health Insurance Card is valid in Bulgaria. There is a small practice fee for each visit to a panel doctor, and a moderate daily co-payment is also charged at the hospital.
There are no special diseases in Bulgaria. However, due to the widespread poverty in the former Eastern bloc region, there is an increased rate of hepatitis A.
Tap water can be drunk without hesitation, as much of it comes from the Rila Mountains via long-distance pipelines and tastes like fresh mountain water in many places. Bulgarians drink a lot of water themselves. In the cities, there are small drinking fountains called “cheshma” in numerous places, from which one can drink without hesitation, even if people who appear unkempt have drunk from it before. The real problem is rather explaining to Bulgarians in Germany that they should not drink from every market fountain.
Medical treatments are cheaper in Bulgaria compared to Western Europe. For dentures, cosmetic surgery or cures, it is advisable to make an appointment in advance by e-mail before travelling to Bulgaria. Many doctors also specialise in treating foreign patients. Even in socialist times, there was state-organised medical tourism to Bulgaria, which was used in particular by patients from the Middle East, especially Arabs.
The beaches of the tourist resorts in Bulgaria are given to concessionaires who rent out sunbeds and umbrellas and charge a daily fee. Prices vary depending on the place, being highest in Gold Beach.
Type C and F plugs are used in the country. These sockets can also be found in Germany.