Bulgaria’s biggest purpose-built seaside resort, Sunny Beach (Slânchev Bryag) 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.
Like neighbouring Nesebâr, Pomorie sits on a narrow peninsula, and until it was ravaged by fire in 1906 it was almost as picturesque. There, however, the similarities end. The old town centre, situated on the far eastern end of the peninsula, has a lazy charm, and there's a pleasant and usually not very crowded beach.
Rising out of a forested valley in the Rila Mountains, Bulgaria’s most famous monastery has been a spiritual centre for over 1000 years. Rila Monastery’s fortress-like complex engulfs 8800 sq m, and within its stone walls you’ll find remarkably colourful architecture and religious art.
Thirsty travellers gulp Devin's waters long before they set foot in town. The name of this placid mountain town is emblazoned on one of Bulgaria's bottled water brands, and its famed mineral springs entice bathers and curists for a long soak. Spa hotels ably meet the demand, but otherwise the town is tranquil to a fault: there are few standout attractions and restaurants.
This hilltop getaway, 8km by road from Veliko Târnovo, has an agreeable mix of historical and outdoor activities. Nearly 90 of Arbanasi’s churches, monasteries and mansions are state-protected cultural monuments. Wealthy nobles who resided here during the Bulgarian Revival period have left behind heritage houses, now converted into museums or guesthouses.
There's something in the water in Hisar: a near-miraculous cocktail of minerals, if this spa town's healing reputation is to be believed. Hisar (also known as Hissar or Hisarya) has been famed for its mineral waters since Roman times, when it was named Diokletianopolis (after the Emperor Diocletian).
Sitting on the Danube, with picturesque views across the water to the Romanian shore, sedate Silistra feels a little out on a limb and visitors are thin on the ground. There's more than meets the eye here, though. Silistra was an important city, known as Durostorum, during Roman times and served as a fortress for the Roman province of Moesia.
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.
Humble mountainside Shipka has stirring monuments that span the breadth of Bulgarian history. Forbidding Shipka Pass, the one good route through the Stara Planina, was where the Russian army and Bulgarian volunteers decisively thwarted an Ottoman counter-attack in the 1877 Russo-Turkish War.
Roughly halfway between Sofia and Ruse, Pleven is mainly of interest as a transport hub; it has good links to destinations across northern Bulgaria and beyond. It's a languid and fairly lacklustre place, and there's little incentive to stay, but if you do stop over, there are a few interesting sights and plenty of cafes in the pretty pedestrian centre.
Encircled by forested hills and scented with pine, low-key Chepelare is a calmer alternative to skiing hub Pamporovo, 11km south. The village spreads along the Chepelare River, with abundant guesthouses and a couple of museums to browse when you aren't on the slopes. The ski area is limited, but boasts one of Bulgaria’s longest ski runs.
Sveti Konstantin is a small, sedate beach resort about 9km northeast of Varna, with hotels attractively spaced out among 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.
Kavarna, 17km east of Balchik, is a sleepy administrative town of little interest in itself, although it's famous (in Bulgaria at least) as the venue for the Kavarna Rock Fest, which attracts international metal acts every July. It's also the most practical base for anyone exploring the Kaliakra Nature Reserve on the Kaliakra Cape, about 13km away.
Step into Bulgaria's rustic past at Etâr's open-air historic village, 8km southeast of Gabrovo. This family-friendly complex has superb places to shop, and you can watch artisans shaping pottery and metalwork. Beyond the museum, travellers can unwind along walking trails and visit sublime Sokolski Monastery.