Best travel destinations in Bulgaria: Top 5 cities you can’t miss

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Bulgaria is a country known for its large production of rose-based products. It is also famous for its exquisite cuisine based on vegetables, quality dairy products and a variety of spices. 

But without a doubt what makes this country famous is the mixture of different cultures it has received over the years. Western and Eastern influences, harmoniously united, can be found in all its cities in a different, unique and exceptional ways. Different civilisations, Thracians, Greeks, Romans, and Slavs lived in these territories for many years. Below, you will find a complete guide on the best travel destinations in Bulgaria for you to discover all that the legacy of the civilisations left behind.

1. Nessebar, the Black Sea Pearl

Nessebar is an ancient city, at least 3 millennia old. It first belonged to Thrace, then it was Greek and went through a great Byzantine period. Remnants of its origins have been found here, which has earned it the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For this reason, this city is one in our top best travel destinations in Bulgaria.

It lies on the shores of the Black Sea. This small town has a beautiful historic centre that can be easily explored in two days.

What to see in Nessebar in the historical centre

Archaeological Museum

When you arrive in Nessebar the first thing you will see are the ancient walls of the old town. After, the entrance to the town and, on the right, the Archaeological Museum. This is a modern building that displays many of the artefacts found during excavations in the town. Most of them date back to when Nessebar was Mesambria, around the 1st century AD. A tour of the interior can take about two hours.

Travel Tip: If you want to visit this museum, the Ethnographic Museum and the churches of Saint Spass, Saint Stephen, Christ the Pantocrator, Saint Paraskeva and Saint John the Baptist, get a combined ticket for 20 leva.

Ethnographic Museum

This small museum is housed in an old 19th-century house and consists of three rooms with exhibits, tracing the history of Nessebar and the Turkish influence on the town. The tour can take around around half an hour. The interesting thing, apart from the historical information about the place, is to walk through the old bedrooms and the living room of the house, which has the original furniture.

The entrance fee to the Ethnographic Museum, without the combined ticket, is 3 leva.2

St. Stephen’s Church

Walking through the historical centre of Nessebar, you will find a great number of churches. One of them is St. Stephen’s Church, built during the 11th century with brick and stone. It is characteristically Byzantine in its construction, but its treasure lies in the beautifully preserved frescoes inside.

The price of admission to St. Stephen’s Church, without the combined ticket, is 6 leva.

St. Sophia Church in Nessebar

Of all the churches to see in Nessebar, St. Sophia is the only one that is free of charge. It dates back to the 5th century and was part of the central structure of the ancient city. It is now in ruins, but the best thing about the place is sitting on the terrace of the adjoining bar and having a drink with the ruins in the background.

Christ the Pantocrator Church

Located in the central square of the historical centre, for us it is one of the most beautiful church in Nessebar. Byzantine in origin and built at the beginning of the 14th century, it is in a very good state of preservation on the outside, with the different shades of stone giving it a special colour.

Inside, there are exhibits that tell the history of Nessebar and Bulgaria. To access the site, you must obtain a single or combined ticket.

St. John the Baptist Church

This is one of the smallest churches in the historic centre of Nessebar. Built in the 10th century in stone, it has some varied frescoes inside. It is worth taking pictures with the scenery of the churches and the cobbled streets of the historic centre in the background.

Beyond the Byzantine churches and museums, walking through the small cobbled streets of Nessebar’s historic centre is one of the things to do. Along the way, you’ll come across restored old houses with brightly painted fronts, lots of souvenir shops, restaurants and the sea in the background at every turn.

Statue of St. Nicholas

In honour of St. Nicholas, the caretaker of sailors, a statue stands at the entrance to the historic centre. The saint stands on top of a column with his hands raised, as if watching over the sea.

If you have already visited the city centre, but you like the beach and you go in summer, it is worth extending your stay to enjoy the pearl of the Black Sea. These are the two best locations for unforgettable days at the beach near Nessebar.

Sunny Beach

It is frequented by tourists, especially young people who come to the town to party. There is a wide choice of hotels, restaurants, bars and nightclubs for a good time.

Rich Beach

A much quieter alternative to Sunny Beach. It is a small sandy beach with sun loungers and small restaurants. The atmosphere is more family-friendly. It is located two kilometres south of Nessebar on the road to Ravda.

2. Balchik, a city with history

It is a town in Bulgaria situated on the northeast coast of the Black Sea about 40 kilometres from Varna and about 20 kilometres from Kavarna. As the town is situated on the coast it enjoys a pleasant continental climate with not too hot summers and not too cold winters.

This tourist destination is known for its relaxed atmosphere, fine sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, but it has many other attractions as well.

Definitely, Balchik is an ideal place to relax and enjoy peacefully, without any stress or adventures, watching time go by while enjoying each of the little things in life.

What to see in Balchik

Balchik Palace – Best travel destination in Bulgaria

The Balchik Palace is one of the most visited historical sites in the city. This is the Palace where Queen Maria of Romania spent long periods of time when the city was still under Romanian rule. It consists of a series of residential villas, a smoking hall, a wine cellar, a power station, a monastery, a sacred spring, a chapel and many other buildings, as well as the park that is now the city’s Botanical Garden. Strolling through the rooms of the palace not only offers wonderful views of the Black Sea, but also a historical aura that takes you back in time and makes you imagine what life was like for Queen Mary of Romania when she wandered through these spaces.

The Botanical Garden

A park that stretches along the coast, it was designed by the Swiss gardener Jules Jany. It is 60-70 metres wide and over 400 metres long. All this length is filled with pots and flowers brought from different parts of the world and decorated with Christian and Muslim symbols that are intermingled along the route. Fountains and numerous plants and flowers will make strolling through these gardens feel like a dream. It’s a place not to be missed on a trip to Balchik.

The beaches of Balchik

Balchik’s beaches are one of the city’s major tourist attractions, along with the Palace. They have this honour because they truly deserve it and make this city one of the best travel destinations in Bulgaria. The summer climate in Balchik is very pleasant and many tourists from all over the world end up on the beaches of the Black Sea. Since this small coastal town is built between cliffs, it has everything from busy local beaches to more secluded and secluded ones.

Ethnographic Museum of the town

This museum is located directly opposite the Balchik History Museum and is housed in a Renaissance-era building owned by a local craftsman. Here you can find everyday items, jewellery, clothes and other items of Balchik’s past, such as traditional Dobrudzha clothes, copper utensils, household clothes and so on. On the first floor we can find interesting tools, carding machines, spinning wheels, looms and many other things. This museum is a good place for tourists to learn what life was like in this area in the Middle Ages.

The city of Varna – best travel destination in Bulgaria

Varna is only 40 kilometres from Balchik and is easily accessible by public transport as well as by your own. This city is a good place to spend one of your holiday days. Among them, it is advisable to visit the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother which is one of the symbols of the city. The Maritime Museum is also very interesting as is the Regional Historical Museum. You can round off the day by strolling around the city and eating in one of the many restaurants.

The coastal town of Albena

The coastal town of Albena is located in the vicinity of Balchik. This town is located in the immediate vicinity of large forests, which gives it a very fresh and natural atmosphere. Totally dedicated to tourism in Albena, you can find numerous leisure offers to spend the day or even your summer holidays.

3. Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s trendy city – best travel destination in Bulgaria

Since becoming the European Capital of Culture in 2019, Plovdiv has undergone a huge change and has become the trendiest Bulgarian city. There has always been plenty to see in Plovdiv – after all, it is one of Bulgaria’s most historic cities. Now it is also a much more lively, walkable and modern city and one of the best travel destinations in Bulgaria.

What to see in Plovdiv?

Plovdiv Old Town – best travel destination in Bulgaria

Although it is the second largest city in Bulgaria, the centre of Plovdiv is relatively small. That’s another advantage: if you want to go sightseeing you can get anywhere on foot. And that’s the first thing you have to do in Plovdiv – wander the streets and take the pulse of the city. You have to start, of course, in the old town. There you will encounter the city’s Prehistoric, Thracian, Hellenistic, Roman, medieval and, above all, Bulgarian National Revival past.

The Nebet Tepe Archaeological Complex

The best place to start such a walk is the archaeological complex of Nebet Tepe. It was here that the Thracians arrived in the 5th millennium BC and built their fortress. The Romans, of course, also passed through here. The remains of its walls are still there to prove it.

The colourful houses of the Bulgarian National Revival

Under the Ottoman rule, the Bulgarians began to assert their political and religious independence. This revival of the Bulgarian national spirit gave new life to folklore and the arts, which developed their own styles. When it comes to architecture, the buildings of this period are unmistakable: high stone walls, finely carved wooden decorations, large courtyards, brightly coloured outer walls, and a richly coloured exterior wall.

The Plovdiv Regional Ethnographic Museum

The great symbol of Plovdiv is not from the Bulgarian National Revival period, it is much older. We are talking about its Roman theatre, built in the 1st century in the small valley between Taksim Tepe and Dzhambaz Tepe. Another option is to go to one of the shows that are still performed there today, from plays and operas to concerts of all kinds of music.

The city’s churches

Don’t miss St. Nedelya’s Church, with its large carved wooden iconostasis; the Church of Saints Constantine and Helen, the oldest church in the city, with its large white tower, frescoed exterior portico and baroque iconostasis; and the church of St. Catherine, with its large white tower, frescoed exterior portico and baroque iconostasis.

The Kapana quarter and its urban art

Kapana literally means “trap”. Why trap? Because of the irregular layout of its narrow streets, which once housed the workshops of the city’s craftsmen. Nowadays you can find and appreciate the street art of the new artists.

4. Veliko Tarnovo, capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire

For more than two centuries Tarnovgrad, now called Veliko Tarnovo, was the epicentre of the most powerful state in the Balkans, occupying territories in Turkey, Greece and Romania, at the cost of endless wars.

Today the Old Town of Veliko Tarnovo is one of Bulgaria’s major tourist attractions, with scores of traditional dwellings huddled on the edge of the Yantra River canyon; and the imposing Tsarevets Fortress, where the Palace of the Tsars and the seat of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church once stood.

What to see in Veliko Tranovo

Tzarevets Fortress

Like any good capital of an Empire, it had to have a fortress and today we can walk around the remains of the one that once stood in Veliko Tarnovo. The entrance to the fortress is paid but quite cheap, 6 leva per person. It is a medieval fortress with the remains of more than 400 houses, 18 churches and monasteries, shops, towers, and a number of other buildings.

What you can visit today are the walls with some towers, the Patriarchate Church and the remains of the Palace.

Asenova Quarter

In the lower part of the fortress, separated from the centre of the town, is the Asenova quarter, where the craftsmen and clergymen who served in the fortress used to live.

The Yantra River flows through the quarter and the wooden bridge that crosses it is a very photogenic spot.

Stroll along the main street: Stefan Stambolov

This is the main artery of the city, from the University to the Cathedral. Along this street you will find restaurants and some local shops.

Along the street there are also corners with balconies that are viewpoints, some more beautiful than others.

The churches of Veliko Tarnovo

The churches are a must-see if you visit the town. The main churches in Veliko Tarnovo are the Assumption, the Forty Martyrs, St Peter and Paul, St Demetrius and St George. Don’t forget the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary.

5. Sofia, best travel destination in Bulgaria

Last but not least, Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria should be a must on your list. Is the largest and richest city in the country and still has a hint of its Soviet past.

What to see in Sofia

Sofia Cathedral

Bulgaria’s capital is noted for its impressive cathedrals. This is one of the most famous of these cathedrals, with its gold-coloured domes that gleam in the sunlight.

Bulgarian National Theatre

The “Ivan Vazov” National Theatre is Bulgaria’s biggest theatre, as well as the oldest. This theatre is one of the major landmarks in Sofia due to its prime location and grandiose architecture. Is also one of the most beautiful monuments in the city, especially in summer and autumn, when the nearby fountains make a fine sight.

Serdica Sites

Sofia is built on the site of an ancient Roman city. Little remains of it, but part of its Roman road, mosaics and various houses have been recovered. Only 4 stones remain of the Roman theatre, so the best place to visit is the area around Nezavisimost Square.

Vitosha Boulevard

If you want to stroll around the capital, Sofia has several pedestrian streets. The most prominent are Vitosha and Pirotska and are known for their shops, and restaurants and their proximity to the National Park and the Palace of Culture.

Sofia Museum of Regional History

Another emblematic building of the city where crowds of young people gather around a large fountain. It is located opposite the mosque and near the city’s synagogue.

Check here the ticket prices of the museums in Sofia.

If you want to know more places to visit in Sofia and interesting things to do, read this article.

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