Every day during summer, lifeguards work between 8am and 6pm at the resorts and popular beaches; they usually rescue a few tourists who ignore the warnings and don’t swim between the flags. It is extremely important to pay attention to these warnings on the Black Sea – there are often very strong currents at play and there are fatalities every year.
Bulgaria’s third city and maritime capital, Varna is by far the most interesting and cosmopolitan town on the Black Sea coast. A combination of port city, naval base and seaside resort, it’s an appealing place to while away a few days, packed with history yet thoroughly modern, with an enormous park to amble round and a lengthy beach to lounge on.
For most visitors, the port city of Burgas (sometimes written as ‘Bourgas’) is no more than a transit point for the more obviously appealing resorts and historic towns further up and down the coast. If you do decide to stop over, you'll find a lively, well-kept city with a neat, pedestrianised centre, a long, uncrowded beach and some interesting museums.
Ancient Sozopol, with its charming old town of meandering cobbled streets and pretty wooden houses, huddled together on a narrow peninsula, is one of the coast’s real highlights. With two superb beaches, a genial atmosphere, plentiful accommodation and good transport links, it has long been a popular seaside resort and makes an excellent base for exploring the area.
After the vast, artificial resorts further down the coast, Balchik is a breath of fresh sea air. A small, pretty town and fishing port huddled below white-chalk cliffs, it’s a low-key holiday spot that feels like a world away from the likes of Albena, whose lights can be seen winking across the bay at night.
Golden Sands (Zlatni Pyasâtsi), 18km up the coast from Varna, was Bulgaria's original purpose-built resort, with the first hotel opening here in 1957. Today it's Bulgaria's second-largest coastal resort, with a 4km stretch of sandy beach, and some of the best nightlife on the coast.
One of the biggest of the Black Sea coast’s purpose-built resorts, Albena has been going since 1969 and is named after the heroine of the eponymous play by Yordan Yovkov. Spread out over a wide area, and with a lovely, 4km-long beach and shallow water ideal for water sports, it’s hugely popular with holiday-makers from across Europe.
Sunny Beach (Slânchev Bryag)
Bulgaria’s biggest purpose-built seaside resort, Sunny Beach is the Black Sea coast’s hyperactive answer to the Spanish costas, and probably the most expensive place in the country. The appeal is clear, though, with several kilometres of sandy beach that attracts more international sun worshippers than any other resort in the country.
Sveti Konstantin is a small, sedate beach resort about 9km northeast of Varna, with hotels attractively spaced out amongst parkland. Established in 1946 under the name of Druzhba (Friendship), it was later renamed Sveti Konstantin i Elena, but is now more commonly known simply as Sveti Konstantin.
Spread lazily over two small peninsulas jutting out into the Black Sea, Tsarevo is a quiet, elegant little town, once a popular holiday spot for the Bulgarian royal family. Called Vasiliko until 1934, it was renamed Tsarevo (‘royal place’) in honour of Tsar Boris III; the communists then renamed it Michurin (after a Soviet botanist) in 1950, and it reverted once again in 1991.
Primorsko (meaning ‘by the sea’) is a busy resort 52km southeast of Burgas and popular mainly with Bulgarian families. It's far less developed than resorts to the north, although the two long, sandy beaches are attractive, with warm, shallow water. The bus station is at the western end of town, from where it's around 1km along ul Treti Mart into the centre.
Just 5km north of Sunny Beach (Slânchev Bryag), Sveti Vlas is one of the latest holiday resort developments on the Black Sea coast. Originally settled by the Thracians, who called it Larisa, it was renamed in honour of the patron saint of cattle farmers in the 14th century, but there are few obvious signs of its history today.