- Continent: Europe
- Area: 110,994 km²
- Population: 7,718,750
- Capital city: Sofia
- ISO code: BG
- National language: Bulgarian
- International dialing code: +359
- Currency: Lev
- License plate number: BG
- Flight routes from Bulgaria: 1747
- Flight routes to Bulgaria: 1702
- Popular airports: Sofia (SOF), Burgas (BOJ), Varna (VAR), Plovdiv (PDV)
- Large cities: Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, Rousse, Stara Zagora, Pleven, Sliven, Dobrich, Shumen, Pernik, Jambol, Haskovo, Pazardzhik, Blagoevgrad
- Airlines based in Bulgaria: Bulgaria Air, Bulgarian Air Charter, Holiday Europe, BH Air
Bulgaria travel guide (Europe)
The Republic of Bulgaria is in Southern Europe, bordering on Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Turkey. The country has a 230 mile long coastline on the Black Sea. Since 1.01.07 Bulgaria has been a member of the European Union.
Geography: the landscape of Bulgaria is characterized by horizontal lines of alternate mountain ranges and plains. The Danube plain runs from north to south and is a fertile region that borders in the north on the Danube and in the south on the Balkan mountains, which extend over 250 miles, with the highest peak having an altitude of 2 376 m (7800 ft). Then comes the Upper Thracian Plain in the south, a relatively hilly and fertile region in the south-west bordering on the Rhodopes with the Pirin Mountains, whose highest peak is the Vihren with 2 914 m (9500 ft). This area is now largely a national park. The Thracian Plains are also bordered by the Rila mountains, the location of the highest mountain in the country, the Musala, with an altitude of 2 925 meters (9 600 ft) and the world-famous Rila Monastery. The Danube is 470 km or 290 miles north of the border between Bulgaria and Romania, and the Black Sea in the east forms a natural border.
Climate and best time to travel: despite being rather small, Bulgaria has many different climatic regions due to the varying landscapes. This means that the climate in the north of the country has continental influences, with warm summers and occasional rain and usually snow in winter. The basin landscapes in the south (Maritzatal) and southwest (Strumatal), are however more influenced by a Mediterranean climate, with mild winters and hot dry summers. Bulgaria is an interesting destination all year round. As early as May temperatures increase making summer tourism to the Black Sea coast or in the mountains possible. In November temperatures drop enabling the winter sports season to begin.
Official Languages: the official language is Bulgarian, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Other languages such as Turkish, Greek, Macedonian and Romani are also spoken.
Health and vaccinations: In general the standard of health care in Bulgaria is good, but hospitals in more remote regions of the country may not be adequately equipped. Recommended vaccinations include Hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, TB and rabies.
Entry requirements: UK citizens do not need a visa to enter Bulgaria. British subjects will need a visa to enter the country.
US citizens will need a passport to enter Bulgaria and are permitted to stay for a period of up to 90 days without a visa.
Travel and onward journey: public transport in most cities and major towns is well developed with regular bus services as well as air routes linking the towns in the country.
Capital city: Sofia, capital of Bulgaria since the country’s independence in 1879, is situated on the longest river in the country, the Iskar, which flows into the Danube. The city is at the foot of the Vitosha Mountains, which reach an altitude of 7513 ft. The city has a population of about 1.2 million, the country as a whole counts 7.8 million. Sofia is the economic, political and cultural center of the country.
Sofia is considered to be one of the oldest cities in Europe. The city was populated as far back as 8 000 years ago. Even if there are no buildings dating back to this time, the city does house a large number of interesting buildings from numerous eras. These include the Roman Baths or the Hagia Sophia Church, the oldest Orthodox church in the country, built entirely of red brick, to which the city owes its name.
The Banja-Bashi Mosque is the only mosque in the city. It was erected in 1576, by the architect Mimar Sinan, one of the most famous architects of the Ottoman Empire and is regarded as one of the oldest mosques in Europe, still serving as a place of worship for the Muslim community of Sofia, an estimated 8 500 people.
The most significant church in the city is undoubtedly the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral. The cathedral was built to honor the Russian soldiers that fell during the Russian-Turkish war from 1877 to 1878. The Russian army’s victory gave Bulgaria its independence. The church was built from 1904 to 1912 in the neo-Byzantine style and made of the most valuable materials, such as marble, onyx and alabaster. The domes of the church, which dominate the city, are decorated with gold leaf, and the carillon consists of 12 bells, which can be heard from a distance of up to 18 miles.
Besides the magnificent religious buildings, the city also has some noteworthy cultural attractions, including the Archaeological Museum in a former mosque dating from 1474, and the Bujuk Dschamija mosque, which houses exhibits dating from the Stone Age to the Ottoman Empire. The National Art Gallery and the Ethnographic Museum are now to be found in the building of the former tsarist palace. Sofia also has some significant theatres, such as the National Theatre, or the academic National Theatre, where both opera and ballet are staged.
Not far from Sofia, at the foot of the Vitosha Mountains, is the Boyana Church, added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979. The church in fact actually consists of three churches. The first church dates to the 10th Century. A two-storey church was added in the 13th Century, and then a third in the 19th Century. The church is decorated with murals from different eras. Those from the Middle Ages are considered an exceptionally well-preserved example of medieval art.
On the southern outskirts of Sofia are the Vitosha Mountains, a popular tourist destination for the population of Sofia as well as tourists. The mountains are ideal for hill walking in the summer and winter sports during the colder months and there is a good infrastructure. Declared a national park in 1934, the oldest in the country, the national park now extends over the largest part of the mountains, measuring approximately 26 500 hectares. The beautiful coniferous trees, forests and the unique fauna and flora were reason for the UNESCO declaring the area a biosphere reserve.
Attractions and beaches: Bulgaria has a very rich historical, cultural and natural heritage. Every year the country attracts evermore tourists, heading for example to the Black Sea coast, to cities such as Plovdiv, Varna, Sunny Beach, which along with a good infrastructure are also blessed with magnificent beaches.
Sunny Beach is the largest coastal resort, located on a 7 mile long sandy bay, and has in recent years become one of the most popular destinations in Bulgaria. The city is also a good starting point for trips to the city of Nessebar, which is on a peninsula. Nessebar, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site since 1983 is a small 5000 year old city on the Black Sea coast, founded by the Thrace’s. The oldest buildings that may be admired here today do not originate from this time, but from the time of the Greek occupation. These include the acropolis, a temple dedicated to Apollo, and the Agora. There are also a few fine examples of well-preserved medieval architecture, such as the Stara Mitropolia Basilica in the Byzantine style. Also interesting are the wooden houses built in the 19th Century that are typical of the region.
Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria, has approximately 378 000 residents. Like many cities in the country, Plovdiv has a very long history. As a former major city in the Roman Empire, the city still houses remains from this period, such as the stadium, or the ancient theatre that is extremely well preserved and also the largest archaeological site in the country. Only discovered during building works in the 1970s, the theatre was restored and is now used in the summer for theatrical performances.
Varna is the third largest city in Bulgaria with approximately 350 000 residents. Along with Burgas, it is also one of the main ports of the country. The city has also been a popular seaside resort with much to offer visitors. One of the oldest cities in Europe, Varna was founded in the 6th Century by Julius Ceaser. Here the oldest pieces of gold jewelry in the world were found and can be admired in the Archaeological Museum, along with the beautiful pieces of jewelry from the Byzantine era and a collection of valuable icons. The Madonna Cathedral was built in 1896, and in addition to murals and woodwork, the church also has an impressive collection of icons, the oldest dating from the 9th Century.
The city also has a lively cultural scene, especially in summer, when a large variety of festivals take place, including a jazz festival, a theatre festival and every second year since 1964, the International Ballet Competition that select the best ballet dancers in the world.
Bulgaria has 7 sites that are counted UNESCO World Natural Heritage or Cultural Heritage sites. The rock churches of Ivanovo are located in northeast Bulgaria, in the Natural Park Russenski Lom, near the village of Ivanovo. They consist of churches, chapels, monasteries or cells that were chiseled out of the rocks by hermits in the 12th Century. The whole site was decorated with murals in the 13th and 14th Centuries and today represents the finest example of medieval art in Bulgaria. The site was declared a World Heritage Site in 1979. The Rila Monastery, on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1983, is located in the Rila Mountains, in the south-west of the country. It was declared holy in the 10th Century by the monk "Saint John of Rila". The monastery houses many treasures, such as manuscripts, wall paintings, woodcarvings and icons. Pirin National Park is located in the Pirin Mountains in south-west Bulgaria. It was founded in 1962 and today covers an area of 40 332 hectares, with 70 lakes, waterfalls, caves, and a century old pine forest.
Religion: the largest majority of the Bulgarian population, approximately 83%, belong to the Orthodox Church. 12% are members of the Muslim community.
Large cities and accommodation: Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, Ruse, Stara Zagora.