History of Bulgaria:
Bulgaria today still shows signs of its mixed heritage with ruins from the Greek and Roman conquers to the Ottomans who left their touch in everyday architecture, to Christianity, which made its way from the east and became a permanent fixture of Bulgarian culture.
Any form of unified Bulgaria traces its roots to the 7th century AD when Bulgarian culture (in name, writing and language) swept through Eastern Europe and the Balkans, converting most Slavic peoples under the First Bulgarian Empire. Then as fate would have it, the fierce warriors from the south-east emerged in Bulgaria and the Ottomans ruled the region for five centuries until the end of the Russo-Turkish War. This marked the rise of the Third Bulgarian Empire, which in truth was much smaller and more homogeneous than previous empires, and one that became completely independent after 1908.
Nestled where it is strategically bordering the Black Sea, Ukraine and next door to Greece, the Bulgarian independent state became a prime target for the Germans, who were allied with the Turkish in an all out battle known now as WWII. 1945 saw the end of the war and the beginning of a new type of warfare- cold war. Bulgaria became a communist state as part of the Eastern Bloc until after the fall of the USSR in 1991. Bulgaria then transitioned from communism to free-market capitalism, and is now a member of the EU.
Transportation in Bulgaria:
Transportation in Bulgaria is great. You’ll find any number of options when traversing the country by land, including a vast bus network and high-speed trains. We partook of both, as well as taxis, which are plentiful but can be harrowing. Flights to and from Bulgaria are possible to Sofia, the capital, though as always we advise ground transport.
Money in Bulgaria:
Currency exchange 1 Lev (BGN) to dollar (USD) = 0.712, or 1 USD = 1.4 BGN
Bulgaria is not expensive as far as European states go, but for the budget traveler you may be surprised to find hostel and food prices a bit on the moderate to expensive side, depending on your standards of living (which may need to be adjusted while in country).
Food in Bulgaria:
Bulgarian food is very similar to Turkish food, and that is a bit of a surprise considering there is very little else similar between the two countries. While nestled firmly between Europe and the East, Bulgarian food can leave a lot to be desired, but the food is safe and eatable, and the Bulgarians have established several fast food chains for pizza and kebabs that are tasty, if not cliché.
Interaction with Locals: Low
While in Bulgaria, we met and interacted with several locals who were friendly, accommodating and interesting. Bulgarians are eager to show you the beauty of their country and discuss the history of their people. The folks we met were forward-thinking and westward looking, which means most of their interaction with Turkey and other lands to the east is seen as negative. Despite this, Ottoman style housing remains prevalent. Expect to interact with locals on a daily basis and at greater depth than in other European and Asian countries. Many Bulgarians speak English, German and French as language is a scholastic focus in public schools.
Suggestions for Visiting Bulgaria:
Like the rest of Europe, Bulgaria has everything you need and could want. Transportation, money, food and conversation were all easy and logical in Bulgaria and we have no suggestions that could better your visit. However, finding money conversion places can be a bit tricky, so head to the main drag of any town and look between major sales outlets into the alleys, where you’ll usually find a small money exchange booth. Get a receipt and triple check the exchange rate and amount before agreeing to anything.
Recommendation Level: 8
Bulgaria has beautiful green mountains, a lush coastline of beaches and resorts and a religion specific to the people of the region, Bulgarian Orthodox. The Ottoman-style towns like Plovdiv are an amazing flashback to antiquity that offer insight into the future of Bulgaria. We enjoyed our time in Bulgaria and hope to return soon. It is one of the more beautiful and friendly places we’ve been.
Visas for Bulgaria:
UN country residents and Americans do not need visas for Bulgaria. Check with the embassy in your home country to see if you are required to have one, or, click on the links to the left to see what the Bulgarian government recommends.
Our Route in Bulgaria:
We traveled from Istanbul, Turkey, by nigh train to Plovdiv, Bulgaria. From there we took a bus to Bachkovo Monastery and then from Plovdiv to Sofia by train. From Sofia we took another night train to Belgrade, Serbia.