In Bulgaria, we enjoy the best of all four seasons, including lots of snow and cold temperatures in the winter months. From creating a winter wonderland on our mountainscapes and urban parks to encouraging us to gather for a hot drink indoors, winter can be a great time to enjoy the natural beauty and the welcoming culture of Bulgaria.
If you happen to visit Bulgaria in January, here are some fun suggestions on what to do.
1. Take a dip in freezing waters to wash your sins away
Every year on January 6-th Bulgarians gather to celebrate Yordanov Den (i.e. Jordan’s Day), which is the Bulgarian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany. According to Christian belief this is the day that Jesus Christ was baptized in the River Jordan by St. John the Baptist. Traditionally ceremonies begin with the blessing of a body of water, usually a river. Once the priest has blessed the waters, he throws a cross into it. And that is when the craziness begins – all gathered men leap into the icy January water and try to retrieve the crucifix. It is believed that whoever succeeds shall be blessed with health and happiness throughout the new year.
Most cities and villages celebrate in one way or another Yordanov Den. However, the town of Kalofer in Central Bulgaria has the most famous Yordanov Den celebration. Rather than just donning a swimsuit and leaping into cold water, men here dress in traditional Bulgarian garments called nosiya and dance the horo in the river. Dare to join them?
2. Drink a glass of mulled rakia
If you know people from Bulgaria or have visited Bulgaria before, rakia won’t be something new to you. However, in case it is, it’s high time this fiery drink entered your vocabulary.
Rakia is a strong alcoholic drink made by distilling fermented fruit, mainly grapes. Usually, it is 40-50% strong, however it could exceed 60%, especially when it’s home-made. Rakia is pretty much the unwritten national drink of Bulgaria. And although we drink it all year round, rakia is particularly tasty in winter, mulled with a bit of honey and some spices.
After a day of hitting the slopes or if you decided to take us up on that dare to jump into freezing cold water, you will be especially grateful to have a cup of mulled rakia to warm you up.
3. Go snowshoeing
There is nothing quite like visiting the Bulgarian mountains in January, when they are usually paved in a thick layer of snow. Provided you are with a trained guide, snowshoeing in Bulgaria is reasonably safe, and it offers a stunning perspective of frosted landscapes and mountainscapes in splendid hibernation that is perhaps even more beautiful and awe-inspiring than anything you can see in the summer.
Given its proximity to Sofia, we recommend that you snowshoe on Vitosha Mountain if you just want to try it out. However, if you are looking for a true winter adventure, Rila and Pirin Mountains should be at the top of your list.
4. Have a SPA Day in the Royal Bath
Bulgaria is a major SPA and Wellness destinations in Europe with an abundance of mineral water springs spread throughout its territory. The number of registered springs in Bulgaria is higher than 700. They all gave different composition, temperature, and properties. There are over 40 thermal springs within a 25 km radius around Sofia alone. Although there aren’t any operating public baths in the actual city, there are options very close by. That includes the recently renovated former Royal Bath in the town of Bankya (only 17 km away from Sofia).
The public bathhouse first opened back in 1911. It is a historical landmark and a prime example of architectural traditions of public baths built at the beginning of the 20-th century throughout Bulgaria. It took quite an effort to restore this beautiful building in its full glory in a way that preserved the original architecture, exterior, and interior. Having been abandoned for decades, the Royal Bath reopened for visitors in autumn 2022.
5. Chase evil spirits away
If you like the strange, otherworldly pageantry of Venice’s Carnival, then you will love the season just after New Year, running up until the end of January. During this time, bands of men called kukeri dress in costumes made of animal fur march and dance throughout the cities, towns, and villages of Bulgaria. This ritual may seem strange to outsiders, but it is rooted in a tradition dating back to more superstitious times when the ritual was carried out in order to fend off evil spirits. Kukeri also wear large bells around their waist and make a lot of noise.
Needless to say, kukeri are particularly hard to miss, and that’s a good thing if you’d like a glimpse into authentic Bulgarian culture and tradition. A great opportunity to experience the magic of kukeri is at the annual international festival of the masquerade games Surva held during the last weekend of January in the town of Pernik, only 30 km away from Sofia. This is the biggest event of this type not only in Bulgaria but on the Balkan Peninsula as a whole.
So those are our top 5 suggestions of things to do when visiting Bulgaria in January. If you need help with planning, we’re happy to oblige! Take a look at our tailor-made example itineraries or contact us to help you craft your individual guided or self-guided trip around our beautiful country. You can also reach out any time if you have any questions at all about traveling to Bulgaria.