In many respects, Bulgaria is the best travel deal in Europe.
The days of frugal visits to Eastern Europe have passed. Especially in well-known cities, costs have gone up with the crowds. This is one of the reasons to go to Bulgaria, still so puzzlingly underrated that few but travel geeks can name a city beyond the capital, Sofia – try Plovdiv or Varna. The latter is part of the Black Sea riviera that brings crowds and high prices in the summer. Elsewhere (including Sofia), transport, museums and the ubiquitous private rooms (look for “Zimmer frei” signs) are quite reasonably priced. The most famous site, Rila Monastery, is free and offers simple rooms for pilgrims.
Mid-range and budget travelers rejoice: Sofia is still a bona fide affordable destination. Bulgaria’s capital has the cheapest mid-range hotels among the 72 world cities surveyed in the Prices and Earnings report: At around $80 per night, they are 50 percent less expensive than the global average. The city also scored the number one spot on Price of Travel’s annual Europe 3-Star Traveler Index, with an average daily cost of about $49 for accommodations, transportation, meals, and activities. It’s not just Sofia, either; Lonely Planet recently recognized all of Bulgaria as a great deal.
Bulgaria’s Black Sea resorts have undergone a bit of a boom with British visitors in recent years, probably because they offer a total bargain compared with traditional summer sun destinations like the south of Spain. The further east you go, the cheaper it gets. If you prefer city breaking to beaches, capital Sofia offers hearty food, warm company, ‘robust’ drink and a comfy bed, which can all be yours for just £20 a day.
BLACK SEA COAST
If you are going to the Black Sea there are plenty of towns if you don’t fancy the neon lights of Sunny Beach that promises plenty of cheap drink and fun.
Albena, Balchik, Nessebar and Sunny Beach are good options for those on a low budget. There are some sights to see in Varna and Balchik, but, in general, all these resorts offer the typical sun, sand and partying experience, on a smaller budget.
Accommodation in Albena starts at less than 30 Bulgarian lev, or about $20US in 2 star hotels, breakfast included. In Nessebar, rooms start at just over $10US per night in 2 star hotels. Dining and drinking are just as inexpensive, with a good dinner for two with glasses of wine available for under $20 US; a beer will set you back less than a buck in most places.
Burgas is quieter and untouristy and without the masses of nightlife that the livelier resorts bring, plus the historic town of Nessebar is just a short bus ride away.
Varna is the sea capital of Bulgaria and just 20km away is the fine golden sand and mineral waters of Albena.
Zlatni Pyasatsi is known as one of the best sand beaches in Europe or you can visit the oldest Bulgarian seaside resort of St. Constantine and Helena (over 100 years old!) named after the monastery with the same name.
Here is a list of the more interesting places on the coast, from north to south:
- Krapets is a northern village just 15km away of the Romanian border. It’s known as one of the calm places on the coast and is perhaps interesting to visit. Just don’t forget there are less sunny days there than on the south. You can reach Krapets by a daily bus from Varna or Sofia.
- Shabla is a small town with a beach. One of the interesting things to see there is the seamark on cape Shabla which is the tallest and oldest in Bulgaria. Shabla is reachable by bus from Dobrich and Varna.
- Tyulenovo is a very small village near Shabla. You may want to see the Oil Monument there.
- Kamen Bryag has tombs, Thracian altar of the sun, and archeological reserve. See some pictures.
- Kavarna is a town mostly known for its rock-feasts recently. Buses and mini-buses connect Kavarna with Varna and Dobrich.
- Balchik is close to Varna, Dobrich and Albena resort. One of the most remarkable things to see there is the Balchik Palace and the Botanical Gardens. Definitely worth a visit.
- Byala is a very small town between Varna and Burgas, reachable by bus from both cities. It has one of the cleanest beaches on the Bulgarian coast.
- Obzor is near Byala and has a very long beach.
Nessebar is known for the Ancient City. The town and the resorts around it offer plenty of places to stay. The easiest way to reach Nesebar is by a bus from Burgas.
- Ravda is a village near Nessebar. You can reach it from Burgas and Nesebar by a bus or arrange a private boat.
- Pomorie offers many landmarks – history museum, architectural reserve, churches, natural landmarks, a museum of salt, and more. A mini-bus goes to and from Burgas each 30 minutes.
- Chernomorec is 24km South of Burgas. Easy to reach from there.
Sozopol is a small town 35km Sough of Burgas, located at the foot of Strandja mountain. There are a lot of things to see there: architectural reserve, Thracian fortresses, ancient necropolis, churches, and museums. Here are some photos.
- Primorsko is a small town on a peninsula. One of the more famous things there is the natural phenomenon Beglik Tash.
- Tsarevo has a sea-port. Every hour a bus goes to Tsarevo from Burgas.
- Varvara is 9km South from Tsarevo. It’s a very small village know for it’s beautiful beach.
- Ahtopol is the southernmost town on the Bulgarian coast. Here are some pictures from Ahtopol.
- Sinemorets is a village southern from Ahtopol. Buses will take you there from Burgas or Tsarevo.
- Rezovo is on the Turskish border and the access to it is restricted. Your passport will be checked on the border inspection.
Bourgas was declared “The best city to live in Bulgaria” in 2010. The study covered 27 Bulgarian cities, which were evaluated by 25 criteria.
Two-bedroom apartments are the top-selling properties and price range from 450 to 850 euros / m ². The cheapest apartments are sold in the Meden Rudnik quarter.
Was declared the “Most Beautiful City in Bulgaria” in 2010.
Is the oldest living city in Europe and the old town is beautiful.
There aren’t many places in the world where you can buy property for less than £10,000 (but needing modernisation). Fully restored properties (e.g. a 2 bedroom house in a village away from the coast) are available for £30,000 to £40,000.
Inland Bulgaria is one. It might sound an unusual choice, but this former communist stronghold is becoming a property hotspot – just as long as you avoid vast swathes of the country’s 230-mile Black Sea coast.
Step inland and you enter a slower world, where traditional Bulgarian life is treasured and beautiful landscapes remain unscarred by large-scale developments.
The northern and southern slopes of the Stara Planina mountain range, which cuts across central Bulgaria, attract most attention, particularly Veliko Tarnovo, the old medieval capital, and surrounding villages.
My Initial Thoughts…
I may skip Bulgaria altogether…
My tourism and retirement targets are:
- Black Sea Coast (NOT Sunny Beach!)
- Shumen / Madara
- Razgrad / Sveshtari
- Veliko Tarnovo / Arbanasi
- The region south of Veliko Tarnovo to Kazanlak
- Sofia / Bankya
- Pirin National Park
I’ll come into Bulgaria from Turkey which makes it easy for me to work my way up the Black Sea Coast.
I’ll hit the coastline at Tsarevo near the Bulgarian southern border with Turkey before making my way north to Sozopol, Chernomorets, and Burgas.
My main target is Nessebar but I have my reservations and suspect that I might find it for the young hedonists and too much of a tourist trap. If I do, I’ll get out of there and check out the beaches further north (e.g.Obzor) and north of Varna (e.g. Balchik, Tengerpart). These are meant to be the best beaches.
I think that I know enough about Sunny Beach to know that I want to avoid it.
I will continue up the coastline to cross into Romania.
On my way back from Bucharest, Romania I will focus on the locations that I can most easily get to as I make my way to Skopje, Macedonia.
The next stop in my journey will be Romania.