Overview of Bulgaria
Located in South-Eastern Europe and serving as a link between Eastern and Western Europe, Bulgaria can be found in the North-Eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. Bulgaria borders Romania, Serbia, Greece, Turkey and Macedonia.
As part of the EU and NATO, Bulgaria is also part of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. Bulgaria is also home to nine UNESCO world heritage sites including the Boyana church and the Pirin National Park.
The official language in Bulgaria is Bulgarian and over 86% of the population are orthodox Christians. Bulgaria has a population of more than 7.5million people, and has one of the lowest population growth rates in the world.
Climate and Geography Bulgaria
Bulgaria has a temperate climate, with chilly winters and hot summers. The Balkan Mountains act like a barrier to some extent, protecting some of the areas inland. Average temperatures in summer are around 23°C – 25°C and yearly it is 14°C. Winter temperatures can be as high as 10°C, although blankets of snow envelop the landscape for the majority of winter and are great for skiing.
Bulgaria has over 540 rivers, including the mighty Danube. Most of the other rivers are short with low water-levels, and flow through mountainous areas. The longest river in Bulgaria is the Iskar which has a total length of 229 miles.
Bulgaria is situated on the West coast of the Black Sea and its terrain consists of plains, plateaus, hills, mountains, basins, gorges, and deep river valleys.
Main Cities in Bulgaria
Sofia – is the capital city of Bulgaria with a population of 1.4 million people, making this the largest city in Bulgaria. The city is prized for its excellent educational establishments as well as its fine research institutes and as a centre for media, culture, arts and IT.
Bansko – An alternative resort for skiing than other European ski resorts, Bansko is starting to gain in popularity and one of the reasons why young people are visiting Bulgaria. Prices here are more expensive than the rest of Bulgaria, but certainly cheaper than a ski holiday in Western Europe. The ideal time to visit is between November and February.
Varna – One of the biggest and best loved cities in Bulgaria, Varna is rich in its history and comparable to the Romans and the Greeks for its culture and historical value. Varna is well developed for tourism and also houses some very valuable monuments and exceptional architecture in its buildings. Perfect for party goers, Varna has a huge array of bars, restaurants, clubs and a superb nightlife. This seaside city is ideal is you are looking to have some fun.
Burgas – Another well-developed tourist place, Burgas has some great beaches, funfairs and lots of great places to shop till you drop. The nightlife here is second to none, and tourists come in droves just to experience this. The city has a huge historical harbour dating back to the 20th Century and is well worth visiting. Burgas is also great for water sports and its pools. The city has a huge seaside park with an open air theatre too.
Transportation – Getting around Bulgaria
Rail – Rail is a great way to travel to and within Bulgaria. Although not extensively developed, the railway network is ever expanding and serves the main cities. The Bulgarian State Railways is the main rail provider here as is Rail Bulgaria. Sofia has its own Metro service running within the city with over 14 stations within it.
Air – There are four international airports in Bulgaria including Sofia, Varna, Bourgas, and Plovdiv. Bulgaria Air is the national carrier.
Common low cost carriers to this region include Wizz Air which flies directly between Sofia and London, Germanwings which offers flights to several European destinations and EasyJet which flies between Sofia and London/Manchester.
Car – Bulgaria requires that you pay road tax at the border (around €5 for 7 days). Once paid, you’ll get a special sticker that should always be displayed on your car. There are no tolls on Bulgarian roads.
You may also be expected to pay for Bulgarian authority health insurance (€2 per person for 3 days and more if you stay longer). Always get a receipt in case you need it and be aware that there can be long queues on certain days. Most road signs are in Cyrillic – which can be a problem. Unless you can read Cyrillic, you will find getting around very difficult, so travel by bus and rail is much better.
Bus – By far the quickest and easiest way to travel around Bulgaria is by bus, since the bus network is very well connected. Apart from being cost effective, the services are frequent and very reliable. You should be aware that most bus drivers only speak Bulgarian – it’s advisable to check with the tourist office for timetables and route information which is available in English.
Things to See and Do in Bulgaria
The Trigrad Gorge in the Rhodope Mountains is located in the Southern region of Bulgaria. Part of the gorge is the Devil’s Throat Cave which tourists can go through a tunnel to see some of the biggest underground waterfalls in Europe. The gorge has over 150 other caves where you can take guided tours and partake in rock-climbing activities.
Bulgaria has plenty of beaches for those who love to relax and enjoy water sports too. The best beaches are in Varna which has a seaside park and the Golden sands resort which has some fantastic amenities for all lovers of water sports and beach sports.
Bulgaria has some excellent National Parks, including the ancient Bailusheva pine forests and limestone rocks in Pirin National Park. The Rila National Park has a 10th Century monastery and is also home to the Raiskoto Praskalo waterfall which is one of the highest in the Balkan peninsula. To find out more about the National Parks, visit www.bulgariannationalparks.org
The Rotunda of St George is one of the oldest buildings in Sofia and was built in the 4th Century. Classed as a World Heritage Site, the Rotunda was transformed into a mosque during the Ottoman rule and then transformed back again into a Christian temple later on.
Bulgaria has some beautifully preserved churches as part of its history – some of which are World Heritage site. This includes the Boyana church which is located on the outskirts of Sofia. This church which actually consists of three distinct buildings was built in the 10th Century and houses some of the rarest medieval paintings in Europe.
The Ancient City of Nessebar is another UNESCO world heritage site and is more than 3000 years old. Situated on the rocky peninsula of the Black sea, this ancient wonder includes and acropolis, a temple to Apollo, a fortress and a basilica. The Byzantium town is typical of that era, being made entirely of wood and is superbly preserved. Definitely one to put on your to do list.