While this may just be a legend according to the Bulgarians, I personally believe every word of it. When I was planning Bulgaria travel earlier this year, many travellers asked me why visit Bulgaria. I was intrigued by the history and when I got an invite from The Historical Park in Bulgaria to visit the country, I did not even bat an eyelid. There are so many things to do in Bulgaria and they include exploring the natural and cultural wealth besides the art, and architecture.
And The Historical Park, located in a quaint village called Neofit Rilski near Varna, the Black Sea capital of Bulgaria should be first on your itinerary. It was like a time capsule taking me on a journey, into the ancient past. It felt like I was on a magic carpet as I experienced the prehistoric era while exploring the worlds of the Thracians and the Proto Bulgarians. But it was not just the Historical Park that took my breath away. The amazingly friendly people made Bulgaria special. I explored different facets of the country and strongly recommend that you add Bulgaria to your travel itinerary. Here are my eight reasons why you must visit Bulgaria and the places that you must see in Bulgaria.
1. UNESCO Heritage Sites of Bulgaria
There are nine UNESCO Heritage Sites in Bulgaria, of which seven of them are historic and two are natural wonders. I could, however, manage to see only three of them. The diversity and cultural significance overwhelmed me. From churches and monasteries to tombs and rock reliefs, the UNESCO list also includes nature parks and ancient coastal cities. Your Bulgaria travel itinerary should ideally cover all these places if you have the time.
I went to the Ancient City of Nessebar by the Black Sea, the Medieval Rila Monastery which still houses monks and the rock relief of the Madara Rider up in the hills. The rest of the UNESCO sites include Pirin National Park and Srebarna Nature Reserve, the Thracian tombs of Kazanlak and Sveshtari, Boyona Church and the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo. If you are wondering why visit Bulgaria, then the UNESCO Heritage Sites will answer the question.
2. Ancient Monasteries of Bulgaria
The monasteries of Bulgaria along with the churches and cathedrals represent the very symbols of Bulgaria. Grand , quaint, spiritual, colourful and filled with vibrant frescos, there are over 100 monasteries in Bulgaria and they have a sense of timelessness about them. The monasteries along with the churches and cathedrals are of the Eastern Orthodox Order and some of the oldest are between 700-1000 years old. These are definitely in every Bulgaria travel itinerary and are some of the things to do in Bulgaria
I went to the magnificent Rila Monastery near Sofia, which dates back to the 10th century. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is the biggest monastery in Bulgaria and it still houses over 50 monks and is dedicated to St Ivan. While I saw several churches in and around the fortress town of Veliko Tarnovo and the neighbouring village Arbanassi, it was the charming Transfiguration Monastery located in the Dervent gorge in the Yantra River that fascinated me.
Another of my favorites was the ancient Aladzha Monastery, a cave monastery located in a small hillock near varna While some of them are hewn out of rocks, a few are imposing citadels. Located either up in the hills or in gorges and forests, the monasteries house several medieval icons and treasures besides frescos and paintings. There are many more monasteries in exotic places, if you are wondering why visit Bulgaria.
3. Castles and Fortresses
Imposing castles located atop hillocks greet you in Bulgaria and each of them tells a story. While I did not have the time to visit several of these medieval fortresses, I spent almost an entire day at the Tsarvets Fortress located in the historic town of Veliko Tarnovo near Varna. The town was the capital of the medieval Second Bulgarian Empire during the 12th -14th centuries and is referred to as the City of Tsars and it is one of the things to do in Bulgaria.
The formidable Tsarvets Castle stands tall on the hillock at 676 feet (206 metres) above sea level and houses the palaces along with the throne hall and churches. The restoration took over 50 years, starting from the 1930s and it is believed that the citizens of Bulgaria personally volunteered in the process, building it brick by brick. I would strongly recommend that you spend at least a night in Veliko Tarnovo during your Bulgaria travel.
4. Coastal towns by the Black Sea
Forget the French and Italian Rivieras. Here comes the Bulgarian Riveria . There are several beach resorts and ports and seaside towns along the 378 km of coastline with main cities like Varna and Burgas. The entire coastline is teeming with tourists during summer who throng the beaches. Varna is often referred to as the Black Sea Capital of Bulgaria and there are several places to see in and around the beautiful city. Resort towns like Suuny Beach are getaways from Varna along with the historic UNESCO town, Nessebar, which is steeped in antiquity and the Old Town has several monuments that chronicle a history of 3000 years. For beach lovers, the riviera is a must do on your Bulgaria travel
5. The Historical Park
The moment you walk inside the portals of The Historical Park in Varna, you step foot inside a world of fantasy and adventure. I was transported to an era that is over 10000 years ago to the prehistoric world. Suddenly the landscape transformed into palaces and tombs and took my breath away. The Historical Park is the answer to the question why visit Bulgaria and you experience the history, traditions, lifestyle, culture and even food of the ancient times right here.
Warriors appeared from the Thracian era. I sipped wine with the king, learnt to duel with his men, watched archers shoot the bull’s eye and saw falcons on a hunt. The Historical Park is one of the latest attractions near Varna and it is an attempt to recreate the ancient history, traditions and culture of Bulgaria. It is definitely one of the reasons to visit Bulgaria and should feature on your Bulgaria travel
6. Nature Parks and Reserves
Not everything about Bulgaria is steeped in history and culture. The natural heritage of the country takes your breath away as the landscape is filled with mountains, rivers, valleys, forests, glacial lakes, and beaches. While the summer is all about sea and sand, winters are for skiing. Another gorgeous reason why visit Bulgaria.
Besides the national parks, there are over 50 nature reserves and both Pirin National Park and Srebarna Nature Reserve are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I spent a day hiking at Rila National Park to see the Seven Rila Lakes and lost myself in the lush landscape. Make sure that you are fit as this is one of the best things to do in Bulgaria.
Open Air museums give you a peek into the old customs and craftsmanship of Bulgarians and the Etar Ethnographic Open Air Museum near Gabrovo is a colorful experience. Over 50 shops display the various traditions of the Bulgarians and they are housed in typical Bulgarian revival houses. Painted in shades of peaches and blue, one of the old homes even has 21 windows.
You can meet the bakers, the woodcarvers, the carpenters, cobblers, potters, jewelers among other craftsmen. An 18th-century watermill is another attraction and a gushing stream flows through the complex.
From buying souvenirs to tasting local cuisine, the open-air museum gives you a glimpse of Bulgaria.
8.Wine, Roses and rakia
The aroma of roses is everywhere as Bulgaria produces almost half of the world’s rose oil. There are two Rose Valleys here but I could not go there as it was not the season. However, during summer, the flowers bloom adding a dash of colour to the lush valley. Souvenirs include everything that is rosy and fragrant. But if there is one souvenir that you cannot miss, it is Bulgarian wine. Wine has been an integral part of Bulgaria since the Thracian times and also every region of the country – be it the Black Sea or the Rose Valley, the Danubian plains or the Thracian Lowlands grow wine. There are charming wineries and vineyards that give you an experience and we went wine tasting, sipping local wines and learning about history. While wine has its own delicious flavour, the heart of Bulgaria is in its rakia. Every family makes its own version of rakia, an alcoholic drink like brandy made with fermented fruits like plum or pears or grapes and it has over 50 percent alcohol in it.
I would love to go back to Bulgaria again as I have had just a teeny weeny glimpse of this beautiful country with its rich heritage and culture and beautiful vistas of nature. If someone asks you why visit Bulgaria, you have a plethora of reasons to tempt them to plan their Bulgaria travel. Please do share your recommendations on things to do in Bulgaria in the comments if you have been there as well.
Author: Lakshmi Sharat