Are you looking to explore places that are off the beaten path? You may want to travel to Bulgaria!
I visited Bulgaria in January 2020 when it was freezing cold but had an amazing time. I met the coolest people, explored surrounding towns, and truly relaxed into the culture.
Bulgaria isn’t the first country that comes to mind when people want to visit Europe. But for exactly that reason, you should make plans to go. Bulgaria isn’t crowded with tourists and it’s historically rich, which will really help you delve into this it’s culture.
Sofia is Bulgaria’s capital. It is located close to many other day-trip towns and villages, making it a great place to start or base your visit. Even though you may not have heard much about Sofia and it’s neighboring towns, I promise that there is plenty to see and do!
According to Schengen Visa Info News, Bulgaria is one of the safest tourist destinations for COVID-19 exposure.
However, tourism has decreased over 50% in 2020 so far, taking a toll on the country’s GDP. Tourism was one Bulgaria’s most impacted sectors according to SeeNews. The country could use some help, and you can do that by visiting the country and staying a few days once it is safe and appropriate for you to do so.
Here’s 5 great reasons why you should travel to Bulgaria:
#1: You Get to Practice Sustainable Travel.
Exploring destinations that are off the beaten path can help take the burden off of those that are suffering from overtourism. In brief, overtourism is a worldwide issue that is forcing the collapse of some cultures due to the overwhelming amount of visitors.
Many of your favorite destinations are at risk. Read more about responsible travel and overtourism here.
Fortunately, Bulgaria is not currently suffering from overtoursim. In fact, I believe the country is often overlooked as a place to learn about ancient and modern culture. Which brings me to my next point…
#2 Bulgaria’s Culturally Rich.
Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, is one of the most concentrated areas of Bulgarian history and general European history. Surrounding towns and villages are also worth visiting for a deeper look into Bulgarian culture and how it’s evolved through the years.
The history of Bulgaria is fascinating because it has struggled for so long to be it’s own independent nation. It’s been under the rule of many empires and regimes, which is quite obvious when you take a look at the architecture and ancient ruins.
Those who have experienced the most recent communist regime are still trying to land on their feet. I had a good conversation with a sweet older man who owned an antique shop in Plovdiv, Bulgaria (just 2 hours away from Sofia). After buying a few items from his shop, he told me about their significance – like my song booklets that dated to the beginning of the Communist era. Although he felt relief after Bulgaria gained it’s independence in 1990, he voiced how it was difficult for many land on their feet with the new freedom.
He told me that, when he was raising his children about 40 years ago, the whole family would get excited for bananas. Once or twice a year, the country would get large a shipment of bananas, and everyone would rush to the store for Banana Day. Who would ship these tropical fruits and products like bananas and cane sugar? Another Communist regime, Cuba, which is my heritage. My grandfather could have helped grow the cane sugar that ended up in this Bulgarian’s coffee. I had no idea that I would find a connection like this in the village of Plovdiv.
Needless to say, I was more than happy to support his store and listen to his stories. I’d travel to Bulgaria again just to pick his brain some more! That’s what it’s all about: learning the history of the local culture and making these priceless personal connections.
#3 Bulgaria is Easy to Navigate
I literally learned how to navigate Sofia in one day. I took a free city tour to get my bearings and take note of the places I wanted to revisit, and that was all I really needed. Most things were an easy walk away, but if you needed the underground, it’s very simple… only two lines that are clearly labelled and extremely affordable (about 1-2 euros per trip).
There is a lot to see in Sofia, but you would be missing out if you didn’t make your way over to Plovdiv, Mt. Vitosha, or other neighboring areas. Both are an easy day trip using the bus. The bus lines are a bit more confusing than the underground, but when we asked for help to understand, there was always an easy answer.
Bulgaria’s language is one of the first written forms of Slavic alphabet. I find the Slavic language quite difficult to read and understand because I use the Latin alphabet. But, most signs are labelled using both Slavic and Latin alphabets. Thanks, Bulgaria 😊
#4 Bulgaria Won’t Break the Bank
I always travel with a budget in mind. When I went to Bulgaria, I has just finished graduate school and was studying to take my boards for physical therapy. I was not working, and my bank account was pretty sad.
But, as I was planning, I found that I could totally justify the trip. I stayed at Hostel Mostel, which is a centrally-located hostel only a short walk away to many historical sites and bars. I split a private room with my travel BFF, which cost us maybe 8 euros each (just under 10 USD each). If you opted to room in a dorm, it’s as low as 6 euros per night.
- Your room and bathroom, of course
- Information and guided tours
- High-speed WiFi
- All you can eat breakfast AND vegetarian dinner with beer
- Laundry service
Seriously, go here and fact-check me. You don’t see this value in other places. My experience at Hostel Mostel was really great, and I met so many awesome people there.
If you want to experience the city, most attractions are free and public for viewing. You can find ruins everywhere, including the underground, from the Thracian, Roman, and Byzantine empires. You can even enter the famous basilica and other major religious centers for little to no cost.
If you’re trying to leave Sofia and visit the neighboring towns, the buses are affordable as well. They can be around 5-10 euros. And, of course, walking the towns is always free.
The USD to Bulgarian lev conversion is 1 to 1.65, respectively. A few months ago, it was a bigger disparity: nearly 1 to 1.8. The euro to Bulgarian lev conversion is 1 to 1.95, respectively. This has stayed consistent in the past few months (as of August 2020).
I don’t know much about international economics, especially in Bulgaria. However, I do know that Bulgaria has gone through economic turmoil over the years and is looking to grow it’s economy. They have plans to eventually adopt the euro for their own use. However, 2020 has definitely caused a recession in their economy. One way we can help support Bulgarians is to provide a sustainable amount of tourism, according to PolitikLounge.
#5 Bulgaria’s Cities are Totally Safe
Not only are the Bulgarian locals warm and friendly, but they keep the cities safe.
A big plus is the lack of overtourism. Less tourists = less petty crime. However, like in any city, you should practice caution in Sofia to avoid any stray pickpockets. Don’t walk alone in poorly lit streets, and don’t leave things laying around for the taking. Common sense stuff, really.
According to OSAC’s 2020 Safety and Crime report, Bulgaria is at a “Level 1” travel advisory. This means that if you practice basic precautions, you will be fine.
Bulgaria would be a perfect place to plan your next trip if you’re looking to explore off the beaten path, meet amazing people, and responsibly support a beautiful culture. Don’t be afraid to wander out of the city and see what else Bulgaria has to offer.
Once it is safe to do so, you should definitely plan to travel to Bulgaria!
Would you like to travel to Bulgaria? Have you already visited its cities and villages? What was your experience? Comment below or reach out to me here if you have any questions about adding Bulgaria to your Exploration Project!