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Excedo Travel’s Guide to Visiting Bulgaria in the Winter

National Theatre, Sofia (SourceLicence)

For some travellers, winter is time to stay at home, wrap up warm, and wait for their spring and summer holidays once the weather improves. This is completely understandable, but we would argue that if you never travel in the winter, you will miss out on one of the best times to visit Bulgaria. While in winter you can’t see Bulgaria’s Rose Festival at the Rose Valley or go out hiking in Bulgaria’s numerous mountain ranges, the country transforms, offering entirely unique experiences. If you are always looking for the road less travelled or you have been to Bulgaria before and are looking to see the country in a new light, we highly recommend visiting Bulgaria in winter. We hope this guide will inform and inspire anyone considering a trip to Bulgaria this winter, and we encourage you to get in touch if you have any questions for us.

Snowshoeing in Bulgaria’s Winter Wonderland

We have covered a lot of topics related to hiking and rock-climbing here at Excedo, and this is because we love our country’s great outdoors more than anything else. Summer in Bulgaria is a hiker’s paradise, but there is still plenty to offer adventurous people in the winter.

There is nothing quite like climbing one of Bulgaria’s mountains when it is 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 if you just want to try it out. If you want to have a larger winter adventure, the Rila Mountains and the Rhodope Mountains should be at the top of your list. If any of this appeals to you, we can create a tailor-made Bulgaria tour that focuses on snowshoeing.

Christmas in Bulgaria

Depending on where you’re travelling from, Christmas in Bulgaria may be quite different from what you’re used to. Our guide to Bulgaria’s Christmas traditions and rituals offers a lot of insight into the charms and idiosyncrasies of our yuletide traditions, which we highly recommend reading before you visit. But if you plan to visit on the run up to Christmas, as opposed to on Christmas itself, then you should make sure to spend the majority of your time in our nation’s capital city: Sofia.

Like all great European cities, Sofia comes alive in December as everyone gets into the Christmas spirit. The German Christmas Market is a good place to start as its combination of food and drink will warm your soul and let you try a range of different high-quality produce. Each year, the Borisova Garden in Sofia becomes the largest open-air ice-skating rink in the Balkans. The atmosphere is incredible, making it a great spot to visit even if you don’t intend on doing much skating.

Watch the Bands of Kukeri

The weird and wonderful kukeri 

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 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.

Get Out of the Cold in One of Bulgaria’s Excellent Museums

While you can visit Bulgaria’s museums at any time of year, there is something much more inviting about them in winter. Whereas visitors in the summer want to spend as little time indoors as possible, it’s always nice to get out of the cold air for a few hours and explore some of the most fascinating art and artifact displays in the country. While we’re sure you’ll have a good time wherever you visit, we highly recommend Square 500 (the National Gallery) and the Sofia History Museum.

That’s all we have time for today. We hope this guide to visiting Bulgaria in winter has convinced at least a few readers to visit us this wintertime. The country really does transform with each season, offering new sights and new experiences. If anything in this guide has inspired you or at least inspired a few questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Your Bulgaria winter adventure could be just a few clicks away!