In recent years, Bulgaria has become viewed as one of the most up-and-coming travel destinations in Europe. The astounding beauty, compelling culture, and rich history of this country are no longer a secret – but there are still far fewer crowds (and much lower prices) than in neighbouring countries like Greece. So if you’re looking for an authentic adventure that doesn’t break the bank, you won’t be disappointed.

Home to golden beaches, rugged mountains, ancient ruins, traditional country villages, and buzzing, cosmopolitan cities, Bulgaria has something for everyone – and the warm, hospitable locals go out of their way to make sure your experience is a happy one. So, if you’re intrigued by Bulgaria but want to know a little more, we’ve got you covered.

Here are 10 of the best things to see and do in Bulgaria.

1. Explore Sofia

Explore Sofia

Let’s start with the most obvious attraction: the capital, Sofia. It might not have the same alluring charm as Paris or Rome, but Bulgaria’s premier city is vibrant and youthful, with a captivating cultural scene, a laid back ambience, and plenty of history. Even if you’re planning to head on to the beach or mountains, Sofia deserves at least a couple of days – and you may end up wanting to stay longer.

Home to many of Bulgaria’s best museums, galleries, restaurants, and bars, there’s lots to see and do here, but visiting the Alexander Nevski Cathedral is an absolute must. Built in 1882, the huge golden domes dominate the skyline and perk up the dullest day. Vitosha Boulevard, the main street, also can’t be missed; pick up souvenirs from street traders, relax in cafés, and stroll along the surprisingly wide pavements.

2. Wander around Plovdiv Old Town

Wander around Plovdiv Old Town

Plovdiv is Bulgaria’s second-largest city and probably the most picturesque. Located on the banks of the Maritsa River, Plovdiv is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Europe, and if you’re interested in history, you’ll be spoilt for choice. As you stroll around the city, you can learn all about Plovdiv’s past as a Neolithic settlement, a Roman cultural and economic centre, and a Thracian hub.

The Old Town is where you’ll find most of the historical attractions, and this tree-lined maze of cobblestone streets is a joy to explore. Dating from 98 AD, the Roman amphitheatre is especially impressive, and is now used as a summer venue for plays, operas, and concerts. The city also has an excellent food and drink scene, so be sure to try out some local delicacies (more on that later!).

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3. Discover vibrant Varna

Discover vibrant Varna

If you’re looking for a beach holiday with a difference, Varna ticks the box. This historic port city is located on Bulgaria’s east coast and, backing onto the Black Sea, it’s also one of the most popular seaside coastal spots in the country. The city itself is packed with culture and history, and is home to Bulgaria’s largest Roman baths complex, best archaeological museum, and a long, sweeping beach.

But it’s what’s outside the city limits that’s perhaps most intriguing. Just 10 miles north of Varna is the spectacular Aladzha cave monastery. Carved out of limestone, this two-level monastery dates back to the 13th century. Further inland, there are excellent hiking trails too, most of which weave around the region’s mysterious forests, gleaming lakes, and bubbling thermal springs.

4. Feast on local food and wine

Feast on local food and wine

Bulgarian food may not have the reputation of French, Italian, or even Spanish cuisine, but it’s far more delicious – and diverse – than it gets credit for. The food here is a unique mix of Balkan, Turkish, and Slavic influences, and while it can seem pretty rich and meat-heavy at first, there are plenty of tasty veggie dishes too, and on the whole, it’s great-tasting, great-value, and healthy.

The local yoghurt, kiselo mlyako, is served alongside most classic dishes, and it’s the main ingredient in the cold soup, tarator. Meat fans should try the mesana skara mixed grill, while veggies will enjoy kyopolou (roasted aubergines and peppers), lovozi sarmi (stuffed grape leaves), and flaky banitsa pastries. Bulgarian wine is criminally underrated, too, so wine enthusiasts will be just as happy.

5. Visit Veliko Tarnovo

Visit Veliko Tarnovo

By now, it should already be clear that Bulgaria boasts an incredibly rich history, but there’s still so much more to see and do. Veliko Tarnovo is one of the country’s oldest cities and the former capital – and, here, history and charisma seem to emanate from the ivy-strewn walls, old cobbled lanes, and ancient fortresses. Clinging to a steep hill above the Yantra River, the city is incredibly picturesque.

The 10th-century Tsarevets Fortress is the city’s most popular attraction, although fortifications were probably first constructed by the Byzantines, way back in the 6th and 7th centuries. While exploring the beautifully restored citadel of the Second Bulgarian Empire is a must, the city has plenty of more modern attractions too – from swanky cocktail bars to boutique shops and exceptional restaurants.

6. Relax in St Constantine and Helena

Relax in St Constantine and Helena

Dreaming of a beach escape but want to stay away from cities? Head to St Constantine and Helena, one of Bulgaria’s most beautiful and beloved holiday hotspots. Though it’s just a stone’s throw away from vibrant Varna, this peaceful town is wonderfully relaxing. Boasting dozens of natural thermal springs and pristine sandy beaches, St Constantine and Helena is jam-packed with charm.

The town gets its name from its historic monastery, which dates back to the 16th century – and a half-hour walk away is the grand Euxinograd palace, a former royal summer house that has glorious gardens and its own winery, where you can enjoy tastings in beautiful surroundings. If you fancy a dip, you can swim in the sea, in open-air pools, or treat yourself to a soak in one of the many spas.

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7. Tour Rila Monastery

Tour Rila Monastery

Less than two hours drive from Sofia, hidden amongst the rugged Rila mountains, is Bulgaria’s most visited attraction: the world-famous Rila Monastery. Founded in the 10th century by St John of Rila, a hermit who was later canonised by the Orthodox Church, the monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and heading here for the day is a great way to learn more about Bulgaria’s religion and identity.

The Church of Rozhdestvo Bogorodichno is one of the highlights, and the black-and-white archways, three yellow-painted domes, and colourful (and occasionally terrifying!) exterior frescoes are well worthy of admiration. The surrounding mountain range is also home to the Moussal – the highest peak in the Balkans – as well as thousands of small lakes, so making time for a hike is advisable.

8. Have a Burgas beach holiday

Have a Burgas beach holiday

If your main priority for your holiday is getting plenty of sun, sea, and sand, there’s no better destination than Burgas. This pocket of land on Bulgaria’s east coast is home to the country’s best beaches, including the four-kilometre-long Golden Sands, where, as the name suggests, you’ll find pale, sugary sands, wonderfully blue waters, and plenty of activities, from waterparks to golf courses.

The lively resort town of Sunny Beach is the most popular spot and, at a whopping eight kilometres long, it’s not difficult to find a quiet stretch of sand to relax on. There are over 600 cafés, restaurants, and bars dotted along the coast, so you definitely won’t go hungry – or thirsty! Historic Nessebar makes another great base, and you can explore the UNESCO-listed old town before hitting the beach.

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9. Hike to Arbanasi

Hike to Arbanasi

If you do visit Veliko Tarnovo, it’s worth setting time aside to explore the nearby village of Arbanasi. It’s within easy walking distance from Veliko Tarnovo, so if you’d like to do some hiking on your break, this is a great way to combine a walk with plenty of culture and history. Arbanasi was once a summer residence of the Bulgarian kings, and today it’s a pretty open-air museum of cultural heritage.

The stone houses here were erected in the 17th century, and these tiny fortresses can’t be found anywhere else in the country. Eighty of these houses act as museums, complete with original period furniture, and there are five churches here too, with thousands of beautiful frescos between them. There are even hotels hidden behind these historic stone walls, so you can stay overnight if you wish!

10. Go birdwatching

Go birdwatching

If you’re interested in wildlife and, in particular, birds, there’s good news, as Bulgaria is fast becoming one of the top bird watching destinations in Europe. The country has an unusually diverse geography, boasting soaring mountain ranges, coastal plains, and dense forests, and it’s also located by one of the key migratory flyways in Europe, meaning hundreds of thousands of birds fly through each year.

You have excellent chances of spotting some of the world’s most fascinating birds, from the eastern imperial eagle and red-footed falcon to both cinereous and griffon vultures and Dalmatian pelicans. The marshlands in the Burgas region are one of the country’s birdwatching hotspots, but as long as you’re in a rural location, you’re bound to spot interesting birds no matter where in Bulgaria you are.

Final thoughts…

Not for nothing is Bulgaria now viewed as one of the most up-and-coming destinations in Europe. Its pleasant climate, beautiful beaches, rugged mountains, and cosmopolitan yet historic cities mean it has something for everyone, no matter the type of holiday you’re after.

If you’re dreaming of a lazy beach break, you have dozens of options, as the Black Sea resorts that scatter the coastline aren’t just gorgeous, they’re usually far lower-priced than those in neighbouring Greece. Both the Varna and Burgas regions have a wealth of pretty seaside towns and bustling resorts that make the perfect base.

If you’re interested in culture and history, there’s so much to keep you interested and occupied. From the capital Sofia to ancient Plodniv and vibrant Veliko Tarnovo, the cities here aren’t just bursting with character and history, they’re also incredibly atmospheric.

The cities and towns here are made for leisurely exploring. Strolling around, admiring the historic architecture, losing yourself in the labyrinth-like streets, and sitting in pavement cafes enjoying a glass of local wine while people-watching is one of the best ways to explore this wonderful country. And the delicious cuisine is just another bonus!

Have you been to Bulgaria? Or are you thinking about going? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.