Black Sea Beaches
It isn't hard to see why so many foreign – and Bulgarian – holidaymakers descend on the Black Sea coastline each summer. The long, professionally maintained sandy beaches at the big resorts are the equal of some of the most popular Mediterranean destinations, and, if you just want to relax, top up your tan or try out some water sports, there's nowhere better. Away from the parasols and jet skis you'll find smaller, more traditional seaside towns ideal for young families, as well as ancient settlements with cobbled lanes, quaint wooden houses and long, fascinating histories. Even the coast's two big cities, Varna and Burgas, have attractive beaches within minutes of their busy urban hearts.
Churches, Monasteries & Icons
Bulgaria has a long tradition of religious art, and wherever you go, you can't fail to notice the beautiful, timeless icons appearing in museums and, of course, countless churches and monasteries. The luminous images of saints are at their most evocative and powerful inside candlelit Orthodox churches, often set into a gilded wooden screen known as an iconostasis. Engaging religious murals were created in the 19th century and adorn the walls of Bulgaria's most important monasteries. Older churches built during the Ottoman occupation can be identified by their sunken and deliberately unobtrusive appearance.
With no fewer than seven diverse mountain ranges criss-crossing the country, Bulgaria is a true haven for hikers, mountaineers and anyone interested in wildlife and the great outdoors. An extensive system of hiking trails and huts makes it easy for walkers to enjoy the country's rich and varied landscapes. Unspoiled alpine forests, lakes, waterfalls and bubbling streams are all there to explore; bears, lynx and wolves still roam and activities from skiing and snowshoeing to caving and kayaking are all available.
With such a long and tumultuous history, it's hardly surprising to find that Bulgaria still harbours impressive stony reminders of the ancient peoples and civilisations that have risen, fallen, conquered and passed through this land. The fearsome Thracians left their mark across the southern and central areas of Bulgaria, and the tombs of some of their kings and nobility can still be seen today. Signs of 2500-year-old Greek and Hellenistic colonisation are evident along the coast, while elsewhere, fortifications, bathhouses and theatres indicate the reach and resources of the Roman Empire at its zenith.
Need to know
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.