Choose from 32 Fun Things to Do in Bulgaria
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Sofia’s National Art Gallery boasts the country’s most important collection of Bulgarian art. Founded in 1934, it has been housed in the former Royal Palace since 1946. The palace was originally built in 1873 for the Ottoman rulers and parquet floors and intricate stucco ceilings from before World War I can be seen in many exhibition spaces. The highlight of the Gallery, a collection of paintings from the interwar generation, is on display in the Red Hall, which was once the palace ballroom
With more than 50,000 pieces of art, the Gallery is home to Bulgaria’s largest collection of medieval paintings, as well as more than 4,000 religious icons. The exhibition begins with works by the great Bulgarian religious artist, Zahari Zograf, and then traces the development of Bulgarian painting, with all of the most popular names in Bulgarian art represented. Visitors will find galleries devoted to 19th and 20th century paintings, while other rooms focus on local impressionists. Upstairs, several corridors and small rooms showcase Bulgarian sculpture. Temporary exhibitions of contemporary art occasionally take place on the ground floor.
The National Art Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, and the price of admission is 6 lev for adults. Located in the city center on Ploschad Alexander Battenberg, it is easily accessible from the Serdika Metro station.
Address: 1 Knyaz Battenberg Square, Sofia, Bulgaria
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday
Admission: Adults: 6 lev
From $ 104
The National Institute of Archaeology and Museum is housed in the largest and oldest former mosque in Sofia. The building dates to around 1474 and has been home to the institute and museum since 1905. Museum exhibits are spread throughout five halls, starting with the Prehistory Hall, which displays items dating back more than a million years B.C. The Treasury Hall displays treasures from the late Bronze Age to late Antiquity, including two famous Bulgarian treasures: the Valchitran and Lukovit Treasures. The Main Hall features a wide range of items from ancient Thrace, Greece and Rome through the late Middle Ages, while the Medieval Hall includes a variety of books, drawings and metal objects from medieval times. There is also a hall that often hosts temporary exhibitions.
The highlight for most visitors to the National Institute is the life size replica of the Madara Horseman near the main entrance. The original was sculpted in rock 23 meters high sometime in the Middle Ages and currently sits in the town of Shumen, just east of Sofia.
The National Institute of Archaeology is in the center of Sofia, within easy walking distance of many tourist hotels. It is also accessible from the Serdika and Sofiyski Universitet Metro stations.
Address: Ulitsa Saborna 2, Sofia, Bulgaria
Hours: Open Tues-Sun 10am-5pm Nov-April and 10am-6pm May-Oct
Admission: 10 BGN
From $ 30
One of Bulgaria’s premier ski resorts, Borovets was purpose-built in the 1980s, although it has its origins way back in the 19th century when a hunting palace was built there for the Bulgarian Royal Family. Today it is a low-rise, largely wooden Alpine-style resort with all modern amenities; it sprawls over the northern flanks of the Musala ridge in the Rila Mountains at an altitude of 1,300 meters (4,265 feet), with the highest runs up at 2,600 meters (8,530 feet).
The ski season lasts from December through to early April and the resort has 24 runs stretching over 58 km (36.25 miles) of marked pistes, ranging from easy blues to extremely challenging black runs, many through scenic pine forest. Borovets also offers two terrain parks for snowboarders as well as 35 km (22 miles) of groomed cross-country trails for Nordic skiers. Ski lifts are modern and efficient, with a mix of gondolas, chair and drag lifts; night skiing is available daily until 10pm. The resort’s family-friendly credentials include two snow parks for toddlers, ski schools, equipment hire, shops and plenty of cafés, restaurants and hotels that cater for kids. Non-skiers are well taken care of with swimming pools, spas, ski-doo snow safaris and horse-and-carriage rides and the late-night après-ski scene is jumping, with bars and clubs open until the wee hours.
The ski season runs between December and early April. Best accessed by car from Sofia, Borovets is 72 km (45 miles) south of the city by road.
Address: Borovets, Sofia, Bulgaria
From $ 35
The rolling hills and scenic landscapes of Koprivshtitsa attract plenty of travelers looking to explore Bulgaria beyond Sofia. Deep historical roots and a thriving population of merchants and artisans have made this town popular among tourists who find the town’s impressive collection of architectural, historical and artistic landmarks (388 in total!) worth a visit.
Travelers can experience the lifestyle of Koprivshtitsa’s early elite at the Oslekov House. Built in 1856, this popular museum showcases not only the rich interiors of a highbrow family, but some of its clothing and heirlooms as well. The unique rosewater fountain at The Lyutova House Museum, where authentic Koprivshtitsa wool, hand-painted murals and ornate woodcarvings are all on display, offers visitors a look at some of the region’s most impressive arts and crafts. Those who want to learn more about the area’s colorful history shouldn’t miss the birthplace of Gavril Gruyev Haltev, who played an influential role in the famous April Uprising. Travelers can explore collections of memorabilia, family photographs and historical documents that help frame how this single event dramatically shaped the nation’s past and future.
Koprivshtitsa is located 110 kilometers from Sofia. A tourist information center is located at 6, 20th April Square, and provides a full range of services to travelers. The cobblestone streets of Koprivshtitsa make comfortable footwear a must. Windy weather means travelers should prepare to layer and definitely pack an extra set of warm clothes.
Address: Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria
From $ 66
One of the most notable natural landmarks around Sofia, the Boyana Waterfall can be spotted from the city center on a clear, sunny day. The waterfall drops more than 15 meters on Vitosha Mountain just south of Sofia and is known as the largest and most beautiful waterfall on the mountain. The water flows with the most force in the spring when the snow is melting, but is a stunning sight all year round.
A visit to the waterfall makes a great day trip from Sofia and can easily be combined with a stop at the medieval Boyana Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates to the 10th or 11th century. The church provides a starting point for a hike up to the waterfall, with two possible paths. One follows the Boyana River steeply uphill while the other follows a more gradual incline, passing by the Boyansko Lake.
For extreme adventurists, the waterfall can also be visited in the winter months for ice climbing, with up to eight possible climbing routes.
The Boyana Waterfall is located on Vitosha Mountain, near the suburb of Boyana just south of Sofia. To get to Boyana, take bus 64 from the Hladilnika bus station, which is a 10-minute walk from the James Bourchier metro station. Alternatively, hire a taxi or join one of several tours leaving from the center of Sofia. Most tours also include a stop at the Boyana Church.
Address: Sofia, Bulgaria
From $ 52
One of the most well-known landmarks in Sofia, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was built to commemorate the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died in the Russo-Turkish War, fighting for Bulgaria’s independence. Completed in 1924, it was named after a medieval Russian ruler, Prince Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod, and modeled after Russian neo-Byzantine churches.
The exterior of the cathedral is made of pale Bulgarian limestone, and it is topped with gold-plated domes. Inside, you will find hundreds of flickering candles illuminating a decadent interior. Look for the Mosaic of Christ, Tsar Ferdinand’s throne, the iconostasis made of marble, onyx and alabaster and the many frescoes covering the church’s dome.
Head down to the crypt to visit the cathedral’s Icon gallery, which features icons from 12th through 19th centuries and boasts the most impressive collection of religious art in Bulgaria.
Alexander Nevksy Cathedral is open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. between November and February and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. between March and October. Admission is free. The crypt is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays, and admission is 6 lev for adults. The cathedral is within easy walking distance from the center of Sofia and near the Sveti Kliment Ohridski Metro station. It can also be reached by bus numbers 9, 280 or 306 and by trolleys 1, 2, 4, 9 and 11.
Address: Aleksander Nevski Square, Sofia, Bulgaria
From $ 21
The three historic buildings that make up the medieval Bulgarian Orthodox icon known as Boyana Church have been attracting visitors for over a hundred years. Each building was constructed in a distinctly different architectural style reflective of the time, taste and period it was created, making a visit to this famous landmark a truly unique experience.
The eastern church, Boyana’s oldest section, is one of the smallest, while the second section, built in the mid-13 century, is a two-floor wonder with tombs, semi-cylindrical vault and quiet family chapel. The final section of the church, which wasn’t built until the 19th century, showcases some of the most contemporary designs. Travelers agree that the architecture and history make Boyana Church a destination, but it’s the 89 frescos with 240 human images painstakingly painted onto interior walls that have placed Boyana at the intersection of religion and art in Bulgaria.
The Boyana Church is a UNESCO World Heritage site located on the outskirts of Sofia in the Boyana quarter. Temperature regulating air conditioning units were installed to protect and preserve the space, but small groups of tourists (between eight and ten people) are permitted to stay inside for only 15-minute periods. Guides are included with admission.
Address: 1-3 Boyansko Ezero St., Sofia, Bulgaria
Hours: April-Oct: 9:30 - 5:30 p.m. Nov-March: 9:00 - 5 pm
From $ 6
Built in the 4th century, the Church of St. George (also called the Rotunda of Sveti Georgi) is thought to be the oldest building in Sofia. Located in a courtyard between the President’s Building and the Sheraton hotel, the small church is surrounded by Roman era ruins. Largely destroyed by the invading Huns, it was rebuilt in the 6th century and many of the interior murals were painted between the 10th and 14th centuries. After the Ottoman conquest in the 16th century, it was converted into a mosque and most of the church’s medieval frescoes were painted over and not uncovered again until the 20th century.
The Church of St. George has been a working church since the middle of the 19th century. Visitors should look for a frieze that contains 22 portraits of the prophets, as well as remnants of the 10th-century frescoes.
Located in the center of Sofia, the Church of St. George may be within walking distance of your hotel. If not, take the Metro to the Serdika station or streetcar 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 12, 18, 20, 22 or 23. The church is open from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., May through August, and from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., September through April. It also holds daily services.
Address: Sofia, Bulgaria
From $ 20
There’s a reason why the Rila Monastery, Bulgaria’s largest religious structure, is the most visited site in the country. Its cobblestone courtyard, winding balconies, picturesque mountain views and brightly colored frescos transport travelers to a place that is almost otherworldly. Nearly 1 million people find their way to this treasured destination every year.
Travelers can explore the cloisters, farming buildings and church. The museum, which offers an in-depth look at the monastery’s history and function, also showcases hand-woven national costumes donated from neighboring towns are on display. The nearby cave of St. Ivan of Rila continues to rank among the most popular stops on a tour of Rila Monastery. According to tradition, St. Ivan of Rila, the hermit who founded the monastery, lived in this cave while his students built what would eventually become Bulgaria’s most famous spiritual center.
Travelers can take the E79 International Route between Sofia and Kulata to the monastery. It’s located about 25 kilometers from Kocherinovo. Visitors must wear clothing that covers shoulders, knees and elbows in order to tour the grounds.
Address: Kyustendil, Bulgaria
From $ 10
Also known as the Tsentralni Hali, Sofia’s Central Market Hall was originally built in 1909 and by the 1940s, featured 170 shops and stalls. Designed in a neo-Renaissance style with neo-Byzantine and neo-Baroque elements, it is considered the best work of architect Naum Torbov and its façade is known for its relief of the Sofia coat of arms. It closed in 1988 to undergo a lengthy renovation, eventually reopening in 2000, and is now one of the busiest places in Sofia. With three floors of shopping and cafes, the Central Market Hall is certainly the best place for indoor food shopping in Sofia.
On the ground floor, you will find stalls selling fruits, vegetables, pastries, wine and cheese, while on the second floor, there is an inexpensive food court and more shops, including clothing stores and jewelry shops. The Hall is a great place to stock up on Bulgarian wine and spirits and can also fulfill traveler’s practical needs; there is a post office, pharmacy, bank and multiple ATMs.
The Central Market Hall is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Located at Maria Louisa Boulevard 25, it can be reached from the Serdika Metro Station or by streetcar 1, 7, 20 or 22. It is also within easy walking distance from many central Sofia hotels.
Address: Maria Louisa Boulevard 25, Sofia, Bulgaria
Hours: Daily 7 a.m.-9 p.m.
From $ 21
Also known as the Summer Palace of Queen Marie, Balchik Palace sits along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, together with a popular botanical garden. The palace was built for Queen Marie of Romania between 1926 and 1937, when Romania controlled the region. Designed by an Italian architect, the palace is part of a complex that includes several villas, a wine cellar, a monastery, a chapel and several other buildings. Buildings within the complex feature architectural elements inspired by a variety of cultures and religions, including a minaret, a Christian chapel, Thracian, Greek and Roman symbols, and a mix of Bulgarian, Gothic and Islamic designs. The palace rooms open to the public display original furnishings, as well as some local ancient artifacts and photographs of Queen Marie. The nearby botanical garden was established in 1940 and covers 65,000 square meters. It is home to 2000 plant species, including a collection of large cactus species, only the second of its kind in Europe.
Balchik Palace is located about two kilometers south of the town of Balchik, 40 kilometers northwest of Varna. It is open all year round, but the best time to visit is between May and October. It is accessible by bus from other coastal towns and there is a bus stop opposite the palace – evident from the mass of tour buses and souvenir stalls nearby.
Address: Balchik, Bulgaria
Hours: May to mid-October, open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; mid-October to April, open 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.
Admission: 10 lev
From $ 144
Plovdiv is widely known for being Bulgaria’s second-largest city, but few realize it’s also the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe, with recorded residents dating back over 8,000 years. As such, a visit to this lively town offers travelers a truly unique taste of Bulgarian history and an epic look into the nation’s past.
Old Town, which is closed to cars, is home to some of the city’s oldest architecture, roads and churches. The neighborhood’s art galleries, bars, and even an open-air roman opera house, add to the charm of this truly unique part of the city. Travelers say wandering the surrounding hillsides, which offer incredible sunset views, is a perfect way to spend an afternoon in Plovdiv, and the city’s close proximity to the Bachkovo Monastery and Asen’s Fortress make it an ideal base for exploring the surrounding sites, too.
Plovdiv is home to two tourist information centers that provide maps, schedules and accommodation options—as well as expert advice to visitors. One is located near the post office in the city center and the other is in the old city on Main Street. Both are great first stops for travelers looking to make the most of their time in Plovdiv (and Bulgaria in general). The information center offers a free city tour every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.
Address: Plovdiv, Bulgaria
From $ 40
Standing in the middle of a farm field a few kilometers outside of Sozopol, the Ravadinovo Castle might be something out of a Disney fairy tale. Mystical and exotic, the castle made of stone covers about 30,000 square meters, including the grounds. All around the castle grounds, you will find flower gardens and landscaped lawns, as well as a variety of statues, small bridges, fountains and ponds. The castle is best visited in the summer when the castle walls are overgrown with ivy and the gardens are in full bloom. Talkative parrots, colorful peacocks and elegant swans are also prevalent throughout the grounds. Inside the castle you will find an art gallery, wine cellar and several large halls for events.
The castle is located about five kilometers south of Sozopol, just before you reach the village of Ravadinovo. It is hard to miss with its tall steeples and towers. To get there, take a taxi or catch a free shuttle from Sozopol or consider joining a day tour to the castle from nearby Nessebar, Burgas or Sunny Beach.
Address: Ravadinovo, Bulgaria
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 8:30am-10pm
Admission: 4 Euro
From $ 6
Standing in Knyazheska Garden in the center of Sofia, the Monument to the Soviet Army was built in 1954 to commemorate the liberation of Bulgaria by the Soviet Army. The monument itself portrays a Soviet Army soldier holding a gun above his head, standing between a Bulgarian man and a Bulgarian woman holding a child. Several hundred feet away from the monument are additional sculptures depicting battle scenes, one of which has become a focal point for vandals who have painted it in protest on several occasions, including the anniversary of the Prague Spring and to show solidarity with the Ukrainian revolution.
The monument and surrounding park are also popular with local skateboarders and a skating half pipe and several quarter pipe ramps can be found around the monument. In recent years, the monument has become quite controversial with various groups calling for its removal.
Knyazheska Garden is located near Orlov Most and Sofia University. To get there, take any bus or trolley to Orlov Most, which is a bridge dividing Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard to the north and Tsarigradsko Shossky to the south. The garden and monument are just north of Orlov Most on the left.
Address: Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd, Sofia, Bulgaria
From $ 49
The Rila Mountains offer outdoor enthusiasts a perfect play land for exploring Bulgaria’s highest mountain. Nestled within the boundaries of National Park Rila, this area is home to the hottest spring in the Balkans, glacial lakes, four nature reserves and endless stretch of scenic landscape. Avid hikers will find easy access to two of Europe’s longest trail routes—the E4 and E8—which pass through some of the Rila Mountains’ 29 peaks. And hikers hoping for a shorter distance can participate in popular one-day excursions, like walks to the Seven Rila Lakes and Mount Musala, which both typically depart from Sofia.
Less intrepid travelers can still enjoy the beauty of this epic mountain range at one of the family-run hotels located in foothill villages like Govedartsi, Mala Tsarkva and Madzhare. Visitors can soak in the medicinal hot mineral waters of Sapareva Banya, a popular public bath, or venture to the Rila Monastery—not only the largest in the country, but also the most-visited site in the nation.
Public transportation to the mountains is available during the peak hiking season, but it typically requires at least one transfer to access trailheads. Snowshoeing in the mountains is a popular activity during winter months, but locals warn guides are almost essential due to the threat of avalanches.
Address: National Park Rila, Bulgaria
From $ 57
The National Gallery for Foreign Art in Sofia is the only museum of its kind in the Balkans, focusing on non-Bulgarian art. Covering 3200 square meters and four floors of what was once the Royal Printing Office, the gallery’s exhibits are spread throughout 19 rooms. Much of the gallery is arranged geographically, with separate sections for art from India, Japan, Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe. The Indian collection includes Indian miniatures and religious sculptures, the highlights of which are rare 16th century figures of Christian saints from Goa. The Japanese collection focused on Japanese woodblock printing, while the African collection includes numerous religious sculptures and masks, including many from Benin, Ghana and Dogon Country.
An expansive European art collection includes masterpieces by the likes of Rembrandt, Picasso and Renoir and fine art from the 15th to 20th centuries, the oldest work of which is the Baptism of Christ, painted by del Verrocchio in the 15th century.
The National Gallery of Art is located on St Alexander Nevsky Square in central Sofia. While it is within easy walking distance of many Sofia hotels, to get there from further afield, take the Metro to Sofia University or trolley number 11 to the Vasil Levski Monument. Admission is free the last Monday of each month.
Address: 1 19th February Street at St Alexander Nevsky Square, Sofia, Bulgaria
Hours: Wednesday to Monday, 11:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Admission: 6 lev, camera 10 lev
From $ 30
As the sixth oldest city in the world, Plovdiv, Bulgaria can trace its history back to 5,000 B.C. Visitors exploring Plovdiv’s Old Town will be able to experience some of that history for themselves, from the remains of the 2nd century Roman stadium that sit underneath the pedestrian mall in the town center to the 14th century Dzhumaya Mosque, the second oldest in Europe, to the rows of Bulgarian Revival houses that line the cobblestone streets of the Old Town.
The highlight for many will be the 2nd century Plovdiv Roman Theater that sits on a hill on the edge of the Old Town and is still used for concerts and other performances. Other noteworthy sites include the Church of Sveta Bogoroditsa, the Church of St. Constantine and Elena, the State Gallery of Fine Arts, the Zlatyu Boyadjiev House, the Icon Gallery and the Ethnographical Museum, with more than 40,000 displays about life and culture in Plovdiv.
The Old Town in Plovdiv is easily walkable and within walking distance of many popular tourist hotels. A tourist information booth can be found in the central square and a variety of walking tours are available to learn more about the town’s long history. Plovdiv is almost two hours from the capital of Sofia by car and can be reached by train or bus as well.
Address: Old Town, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
From $ 35
The Museum of Socialist Art in Sofia focuses on the art and history of Bulgaria during the communist period from 1944 to 1989. The museum was opened in September 2011 and includes a statue park and indoor exhibition space. More than 70 statues and busts of former socialist leaders, including a giant statue of Lenin that once stood in the center of the city, have found a new home in the park. The statues generally include only the title, creator, and in some cases the town where the statue came from. There is also a red star that once topped the Socialist Party headquarters.
The gallery has art on display that focuses on the socialist period. There are 60 paintings and 25 easel representations. Some of the art depicts life during World War II while other pieces show socialism in the country, including some scenes of happy life under party rule. There is also a video hall for screening documentary films and newsreels from the communist times.
The Museum of Socialist Art is located at 7 Luchezar Stanchev Street.
Address: 7 Lachezar Stanchev, Sofia, Bulgaria
From $ 5
Located outside of Veliko Tarnovo in the village of Arbanassi, the Konstantsalieva House offers a glimpse into the life of wealthy Bulgarian merchants centuries ago. A great example of traditional Bulgarian architecture, the first floor of the house is made of stone and originally featured store rooms and living quarters for servants. The second floor is made of wood and once consisted of a reception hall, living and dining rooms and a private room for expectant and young mothers. As is typical for Arbanassi, a tall stone wall surrounds the house and large yard.
Today, the house functions as a museum showing off the daily life and culture of Arbanassi in the early 19th century. The house has been restored in a national revival style and rooms are decorated much as they were back then, with white fretwork, hand-carved wooden figures and other drawings and crafts. There is also a souvenir shop and small ethnographic gallery.
The Konstantsalieva House stands on a main road through the village of Arbanassi, just a few kilometers outside of Veliko Tarnovo. To get there, catch a taxi from Veliko Tarnovo or take a bus, which run about hourly. If you’re feeling more active, a walk to Arbanassi takes less than an hour and is quite scenic.
The museum is open daily during the months of April through October, from 12pm to 6pm on Monday, and from 9am to 6pm Tuesday through Sunday. The museum is open by appointment only during the months of November through March. Admission costs 6 leva for adults.
Address: ul Kapitan Pavel Gramidov, Arbanassi, Bulgaria
Hours: Mon: 12pm–6pm, Tues–Sun: 9am–6pm (April–Oct); by appt. (Nov–Mar)
Admission: 6 leva
From $ 133
Also known as Kaleto, the Belogradchik Fortress is an ancient fortress standing on the northern slopes of the Balkan Mountains in Bulgaria. One of the best-preserved fortresses in the country, it dates to Roman times and was expanded over the years by the Byzantines, Bulgarians and Turks. Covering 10,000 square meters and featuring walls over two meters thick and up to 12 meters tall, the fortress was last used for war during the Serbo-Bulgarian War in 1885. Set among spectacular rock formations that served as natural protection, the fortress almost blends in with its surroundings.
Today, the fortress is open to the public as an open-air museum. Visitors can wander through the three fortified courtyards, check out the defensive bunkers and climb up steep ladders to some of the highest rocks around the fortress.
The Belogradchik Fortress is just outside of the village of Belogradchik in northwestern Bulgaria. The village is nearly a three-hour drive from the capital of Sofia. From the center of Belogradchik, follow ul. Tsolo Todorov uphill for about one kilometer to the end of the street.
Address: ul Tsolo Todorov, Belogradchik, Bulgaria
Hours: June-September, 9am-6pm.; October-May, 9am-5pm
Admission: 6 lv
From $ 7