Have you come here because you’re interested in visiting Bulgaria? Well, we’re glad to hear it. Bulgaria is becoming increasingly popular with tourists, but it is still relatively obscure compared to Europe’s big tourist hotspots, like France, Italy, and Spain. This means that many visitors don’t know what to expect from Bulgaria. While some surprise is certainly a good thing, we find that a little knowledge about the history and culture lets guests get the most out of their Bulgaria trip. Some features of this guide will focus on landmarks, others will look at food, etc. This guide is an introduction to Bulgaria so that you can make an informed decision about the kind of trip you want to have. And if anything in this guide inspires you to visit, please check out our private Bulgaria day trips and tours.
Bulgaria is Famous for its Roses
The rose is the national flower of Bulgaria. But this beautiful flowering plant holds much more cultural and historical significance for Bulgaria than most other countries’ national flowers do. This is because rose oil is Bulgaria’s biggest export and a vital part of the country’s economy. The unique species of rose called Rosa Damascena grows well across much of the country, but it grows particularly well in The Rose Valley — an area south of the Balkan Mountains. The rose oil extracted from the roses is used in many perfumes and beauty products, and it has been produced in Bulgaria since the 16th century. There is a Rose Festival every June in Bulgaria. This is the best time to visit the Rose Valley as the roses are at their most beautiful and the atmosphere in the area is incredible.
Hiking and Mountain Climbing in Bulgaria
Bulgaria is one of the most mountainous countries in the world, with big hills and mountains in every direction. Basically, a third of its territory is covered by mountains. This makes Bulgaria a hiker’s dream, whether you’re looking for shorter mountaineering trips from Sofia to the Vitosha Mountain or a hiking trip across Rila National Park to see the world-famous Seven Rila Lakes (image above). If you want your entire trip to be centered around mountains, you can spend several days climbing the Balkans or the Pirin Mountains. If this interests you, check out this blog we wrote about 5 reasons to climb in Bulgaria.
For many travellers, food is 50% of the reason for visiting different countries. Well, Bulgaria will not disappoint foodies. This said, it’s difficult to say which food Bulgaria is best known for as the majority of visitors haven’t heard of most of our dishes. Bulgarian food shares a lot of dishes and ingredients with other South-Eastern European countries, so you can look forward to a Bulgarian variant of moussaka made with potato instead of aubergine, and a cheese and egg pie with filo pastry called banitsa. Perhaps the most unique Bulgarian food you can look forward to is kiselo mlyako. As Bulgarians like to brag, this is THE original yogurt you can find only in Bulgaria, as the bacteria used to make yogurt originates here. By the way, kiselo mlyako goes perfectly with banitsa.
Boyana Church is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Bulgaria, and the minute you step foot in this church you will understand why. Found just outside Sofia, this church dates back to the 10th century and is one of the earliest surviving examples of a Bulgarian Orthodox church. The frescoes found on many of the walls are intricately done and utterly sublime. Step into a different time at Boyana. Combine nature with this incredible building on our Boyana Church for Hikers tour from Sofia.
If Boyana Church isn’t enough, you might also like to visit the Rila Monastery. This is the largest Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria. Rila Monastery is a 2-hour drive south of Sofia, nestled in the southwestern section of the Rila Mountains. This impressive building began construction in the mid 19th century and has some of the most unique architecture and frescoes you’ll ever see.
Nodding and Shaking your Head in Bulgaria
The last thing Bulgaria is famous for is its rather controversial head nodding and shaking customs… While most of the world seems to use a head nod (up and down) to mean yes and a head shake (side to side) to mean no, Bulgaria does it the opposite way. Hopefully knowing this before you visit will help you avoid some confusion…
That’s all we have time for today. We hope we’ve taught you a few things you didn’t know about Bulgaria and inspired you to go from dreaming of a trip to finally making it a reality. If you have any follow-up questions about any of the tours mentioned in this guide, please feel free to contact us. Your ultimate Bulgarian adventure is waiting for you!