Black Sea Coast
For most foreign package-tourists, the Black Sea coast is Bulgaria, and the big, purpose-built resorts here are becoming serious rivals to Spain and Greece in attracting international holidaymakers.
Sofia & Around
By far Bulgaria’s biggest city, Sofia (So-fia) is one of Europe’s most compact and walkable capital cities, although it’s still one of the least known by foreign travellers. It’s usually bypassed by tourists heading to the coast or the ski resorts, but they’re missing out on something special.
The Danube and Northern Plains
The vast territory of the ancient Thracian tribes, now encompassed by modern Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, remains a wild region of varied and dramatic landscapes and remote villages. However, its one major urban centre, Plovdiv, is Bulgaria’s second-biggest – and, arguably, its best – city, and an important transport hub.
With its art galleries, winding cobbled streets and bohemian cafes, Plovdiv (Plov-div) equals Sofia in things cultural and is a determined rival in nightlife as well – it has a lively, exuberant spirit befitting its status as a major university town. Being a smaller and less stressful city than Sofia, Plovdiv is also great for walking.
The stark Pirin Mountains, with peaks surpassing 2900m, rise dramatically out of Bulgaria’s southwest; their dark, portentous appearance has affected the human imagination since well before the ancient Slavic tribes named the mountains after their god of thunder and storms, Perun.
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.
The evocative capital of the medieval Bulgarian tsars, sublime Veliko Târnovo is dramatically set amidst an amphitheatre of forested hills, divided by the ribboning Yantra River. Commanding pride of place is the magisterial, well-restored Tsarevets Fortress, citadel of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
One of Bulgaria's most elegant cities, Ruse (roo-seh), sometimes written 'Rousse', has more than a touch of mitteleuropa grandness not seen elsewhere in the country. It's a city of imposing belle époque architecture and neatly trimmed leafy squares, as if a little chunk of Vienna had broken off and floated down the Danube.
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.
Vast stretches of serene pine forests, perilously steep gorges and hundreds of remarkable caves characterise the enthralling Rodopi (rod-oh-pee) Mountains, which cover some 15,000 sq km of territory, spilling across into Greece. Much of the border between the two countries is determined by the Rodopi range (85% of which is Bulgarian).