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Bulgaria Holidays, One Town At A Time.

Ruse-Bulgaria


Looking for things to do in Bulgaria?

We have hand picked six lovely towns and cities, all within three or so hours of the nation’s capital, Sofia. Each has something different to offer, but all have one thing in common- they are great destinations in any season.

Whether you’re looking for a quick getaway from the capital or planning a big holiday in Bulgaria, these cities and towns offer a diverse and wonderful insight into this charming country.

1. Ruse

Ruse is Bulgaria’s fifth largest city. Roughly 300km north-east of Sofia on the banks of the Danube River, just 75 km’s south of Bucharest, Romania.

Often referred to as Little Vienna, this is one of Bulgaria’s most elegant cities. Imposing 19th and 20th century Neo Baroque or belle époque architecture gives Ruse a sense of grandeur unlike any other city in Bulgaria. Leafy streets, promenades and squares play second fiddle to the cities grand centre, Plaza Svoboda. The striking central feature, an enormous Monument to Freedom is set against the backdrop of the glorious Viennese designed building known as The Profit Yeilding Building.

Around 18 streets radiate from the central square which is where you will find all of Ruse’s points of interest making this city very easy to explore.

Being so cosmopolitan, you will find an abundance of good quality hotels and restaurants.  Some have been awarded the best in the country and like the rest of Bulgaria, are very reasonably priced.

Ruse-Bulgaria-Freedom-monument

Ruse Bulgaria

The Danube bridge crosses in Ruse making this an easy transit point for those wishing to visit Romania, even for a day trip.  If you wish to cross by car via the bridge expect ~ 4 Bulgarian Lev (~€2) from Ruse and 13 Romanian Lei (~€3) from Giurgiu on the Romanian side. The bridge can get very busy with trucks, especially from the Romanian side so anticipate delays.

Ruse’s other big draw card is less than a half hour drive from the city centre. The UNESCO listed rock hewn churches of Ivanovo and the Basarbova Rock Monastery.  These incredible 13th-century churches are carved into rock faces and cliffs with some of the most impressive frescoes we have seen anywhere in the world.

Rock Churches Ruse Bulgaria


#2 Veliko Tarnovo

200km’s to the east of Sofia, known as the historical capital of the second Bulgarian Empire, Veliko Tarnovo is Bulgaria’s oldest city. The approach to this medieval town is a sight you will not soon forget when you first glimpse the medieval fortress, Tsarevets.  Surrounded on three sides by the winding Yantra River, with the Patriarchal Cathedral perched high on the hill, your first impression is of a lone castle on an island. Within the walled city was where nobility and the Patriarchate resided. It will take a good few hours to work your way around.

Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria

Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria

Wind your way into town to the Varosha quarter and more importantly, Gurko Street. Traditional Bulgarian homes cascade down the hillside towards the river. Winding cobblestone streets and narrow stairways leading up and down the hill, the old town is exactly what you expect of a quaint city like this. Terracotta roofs, potted geraniums and little hotels and taverns tucked away in quiet corners.

Retaining its original facade, Gurko street is the oldest and most picturesque street in town. This is the street you want to stay in to soak up the atmosphere of this gorgeous town.

Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria

But don’t think for a minute Veliko Tarnovo is just ancient walled cities and history. Home to one of Bulgaria’s most prestigious universities and as a major stop on the Bucharest – Istanbul train route, Veliko Tarnovo has a youthful vibrancy and is a favourite stop with the backpacking scene.

It is also a popular romantic getaway for Bulgarian’s. So expect a mix of lively nightlife to rival the bigger cities and a good offering of chic boutiques, classy hotels, cafes and restaurants.

This little town is an all round crowd pleaser and a “must do” on any Bulgarian itinerary.

Veliko Tarnovo Bulgaria


#3 Plovdiv

Plovdiv Bulgaria's culture capital

Less than 150kms south of Sofia, Bulgaria’s future European Capital For Culture is an easy day trip or weekend away from the capital.

We fell in love with Plovdiv and its lively and infectious atmosphere of creativity mixed with a laid back, youthful confidence. So much so we dedicated an entire post to the Bulgaria’s second biggest city.

You can read all about Plovdiv Here

Plovdiv Things to do in Bulgaria


 #4 Smolyan

Close to the border of Greece, 240kms south of Sofia is the town of Smolyan. Nestled in the Rhodope mountains it is the highest in Bulgaria. Smolyan is where Bulgarians come to escape, summer or winter. An amalgamation of four villages, there is nothing overly endearing about the town of Smolyan itself, but what surrounds the town is well worth coming for.

15 km’s from the centre is the village of Pamporovo, Bulgaria’s premium ski resort, one of the best known in Southeastern Europe. The mountains surrounding the town offer pristine hiking trails, small villages, lakes, caves and an endless vista of unspoilt woodlands. When you say to Bulgarians you are going to Smolyan, more often than not they will whisper “ahh, paradise“.  This is the perfect all season getaway.

Smolyan is also the perfect gateway for exploring surrounding villages such as the very pretty Shiroka Laka en route to our next town, Devin.

Rhodope Mountains Bulgaria

Pamporovo-ski

 


#5 Devin

Still within the Smolyan Province, only just over an hour from the centre or 200kms from Sofia, is Bulgaria’s best spa town, Devin. Set against the beautiful Rhodope mountains, Devin has several mineral water springs with temperatures around 44 °c and higher. Devin is where the upper echelon of Sofia come to take the waters in luxury five star spa resorts, but you can also enjoy these mineral thermal springs inexpensively at outdoor establishments.

Devin is not just known for its spa qualities, it is also a base for some of Bulgaria’s best hiking and exploring. Just on the outskirts of town, next to the thermal pools, is the Devin Eco Walk, a beautiful 7 km trail running along the river past waterfalls and through gorges. The Trigrad Gorge, Devils Throat Cave, the Haramiyska Cave and the rock formation called The Elephant are just some of things bringing outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world to this region.

There are a number of tour operators in Devin offering guided hikes, fishing tours and even bear watching from designated hides.

Things to do in Bulgaria -Devin Bulgaria

Things to do in Bulgaria -Devin Bulgaria


#6 Lovech

Only 150kms northeast of Sofia is the town of Lovech. The Lovech region has a lot to offer but none more than the town itself. The most prominent feature of Lovech is its famous covered wooden bridge across the Osam river. Originally built in 1874 and rebuilt three times, the Lovech bridge is one of only a handful of bridges in the world to have shops across its full span on both sides.

This charmingly restored town has so much to offer for a full day. Explore the Varosha quarter, visit the Hisarya fortress overlooking the town, the historical museum or the interestingly restored old Turkish bath house, Bulgarians love a light show. Once you have walked the town, settle down for lunch in one of the lovely restaurants that occupy the gorgeous candy coloured buildings with views over the river and central square of the old town.

Things to do in Bulgaria -Lovech Bulgaria

Another reason to head to the Lovech region, other than some notable waterfalls and caves is the Troyan Monastery. Only a half hour south of Lovech the Troyan Monastery is one of those truly peaceful places.

Said to be founded in 1600, this beautiful monastery also offers accommodation to tourists, but book in advance as this beautiful place of pilgrimage is very popular.

Troyan Monastery Bulgaria


This collection of towns and cities is by no means the be all and end all of what Bulgaria has to offer.  If you are looking for things to do in Bulgaria, then this is a great selection of all season places to visit. And all within 2 to 4 hours of Sofia.

Ruse CIty Bulgaria

26 comments

  • This article is so well-written and this comes from a Bulgarian. I even learnt some things in the process. But I saw you had written the post about Plovdiv, which I fell in love with so much, and I knew the rest of the article would be even greater 🙂

    I can recommend my hometown – Pleven – as a piece of material. It has many things to offer that are unique for the whole Balkan Peninsula – a wine museum and a Panorama. And many others.

    And one remark. You have misspelled “Царевец” – it should be Tsarevets 🙂

    Thanks for this amazing article!

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your kind words Svet.
      It is always nice to hear positive feedback from the locals of countries we write about. We had the opportunity to visit Pleven but did not make it to the wine museum or the Panorama. We did get to some lovely places around Pleven though and some very interesting caves. Sadly Krushuna Falls was closed while we were there.
      We are hoping to come back to Bulgaria in the summer so we can visit some of the coastal regions as well, and revisit some of the places we have been during the winter. We may have to put Pleven on that list.

      Reply
      • You are welcome!
        The wine museum is in the Kailaka park in a cave place which, unfortunately, does not have a lot of space for parking in front of it. Panorama is amazing to explore and it takes only 30 minutes. The Krushuna Falls are gorgeous too, but they are closer to Lovech.

        Drop me an e-mail when you are coming back again. I would love to meet you and probably get you around. 🙂

        Reply
  • Hi there! Wonderful article. I have yet to visit neighboring Bulgaria in depth. I have only been skiing there! A nice rundown indeed and great photos.

    Reply
  • Beautiful photos… we’ve not made it Bulgaria yet, but really hope to one day in the near future and your photos certainly inspire us to get there!

    Reply
  • HI! Wonderful article with beautiful photo’s. I hope to visit Bulgaria one day and this has given me plenty of ideas on where to start. The rock hewn churches and medieval town would be high on my list. Every country has so much to see! thanks.

    Reply
  • This is such an excellent article accompanied by fabulous photos. Last autumn we spent three months in Bulgaria. I thought that I’d done my research about the country pretty well, but I learned couple new facts from you. I am impressed ;). Actually, I saw your Bulgarian photos on Instagram first. You are great photographers. Thanks for making my day!

    Reply
  • I have friends are from Bulgaria and are always telling me I should visit. This post definitely confirms what they tell me. So beautiful.

    Reply
  • Wow, I never knew Bulgaria had so many interesting towns…Yet another country to add to my ever growing list of places I want to visit! 🙂

    Reply
  • Great read and wonderful photos! I arrived in Bulgaria a few days ago and have been looking for ideas for where to head to next after the Black Sea. I had planned on going to Veliko Tarnovo, but those photos sealed it – looks like my kind of city. Very helpful, thanks!

    Reply

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