Top 10 things to do in Bulgaria
The birthplace of the Cyrillic alphabet, that lies in the Balkan Peninsula and was ruled by the Ottoman Empire for 500 years is the picturesque and serene Bulgaria.
Comprising of mountains, beaches, lakes, fortresses, jaw dropping architecture of the Byzantine and the Ottoman era, eclectic cuisine to name a few, this country definitely deserves an accolade in the list of top tourist destinations. It was one of my destinations this summer and here are the top 10 things you must do when here:
1. Spend an entire day in the capital city of Sofia: Amongst the many things to see in this city, a visit to the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is an absolute must. Located at the center of the city, this orthodox cathedral was built in the memory of the slain Russian liberators who in 1878 helped free Bulgaria from the Ottoman rule. The sheer beauty of the exterior of the cathedral captivates you like no other.
Take a walk on the Vitosha Boulevard (the name is derived from the Vitosha mountains surrounding Sofia) which is a posh street filled with upscale restaurants, boutiques and stores. Hop onto one of the trams built in the communist era to check out the various neighbourhoods of the city.
While in the city I will recommend a meal at Happy Grill, where the fish salad, the seafood rice, grilled chicken with mushroom sauce and mashed potatoes, and the spicy prawns are to die for. Having said that, the chicken platter and shrimp noodles at Raffys are delectable as well: not to forget the homemade Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread) biscuit cake here is not to be missed at any cost.
2. Bulgaria is best seen by road. While renting, make sure you have an international driving permit to avoid overpaying for insurance at the airport. Please do keep in mind that parking can sometimes be a challenge in Sofia although parking is free on weekends and between 730pm-830am on weekdays. Bulgaria drives on the right hand side.
3. Treat your tastebuds to authentic Bulgarian cuisine at Hajdringer Cellar in Sofia. This is one of the most popular and oldest restaurants. Make sure you reserve a table in advance. Besides the food, their homemade wormwood wine infused with twenty-four different mountain herbs is by far, the best wine I have ever sipped on. You will also be entertained by a Bulgarian orchestra.
4. Bulgaria has roses everywhere – the country is known to produce the best quality Damask rose oil in the world. Visit the city garden in Sofia to admire them and you may be lucky enough to catch a street fair. Most importantly don’t leave without buying rose oil.
5. Visit Belogradchik where the Kaleto fortress will await you in all its magnanimity. This city comprises of the famous Belogradchik Rocks and its various rock formations that are encompassed within the fortress and the Magura caves. These rocks were formed millions of years ago and were once at the bottom of the sea. You can get a magnificent view of these unique rocks right at one end of the fortress, where you can sit on the edge and enjoy the silence (a weekday visit might just ensure it). The Magura caves are lovely too. At one point in the caves you find yourself standing 56m below the Earth’s surface. Please carry something warm as it can get as cold as 6 degrees C (43 degrees F).
6. Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria. The Old town in Plovdiv still holds parts of the Roman walls, the medieval ruins of Tsar Ivan Asen II’s fortress and the Bachkovo monastery. We stayed overnight here. The walk around this old town with old stone houses, museums, Roman theatre make this part of the city pretty special. Don’t miss the Kapana art district with its lovely cafes which is one of the most happening places in Plovdiv today. Also don’t miss taking a picture with the old man from the old town.
7. Also while in Plovdiv, do eat at the Skaptobara burgers. Although you will find them in Sofia, I landed up on their branch here. The house fries are crunchy and yummmmm to say the least.
8. Try the Banitsa which consists of a filo pastry, eggs and cheese (I mean what’s not to like) and Perioshka at Kapana district in Plovdiv . In the communist era people would wait in queue for 5-6 hours to have one of these. Guzzle it all down with the Boza – a fermented drink made with wheat or millet.
9. Make a trip to the thermal spas at Sapareva Banya. The one at Kotvata is the best and has good views too. Dip yourself in all their outdoor pools and especially in the hot tub which has really, really hot water. Did you know that, Bulgaria is ranked second after Iceland, in terms of their hot springs existence in all of Europe. Bulgaria is said to have about 500 such mineral springs. In fact there are numerous spots in the city & countryside where drinking mineral water runs from public drinking fountains.
10. Last but not the least trek to the Seven Rila lakes has to be the highlight of your trip. Start your day early and type “Lift to Seven Rila lakes” on google maps and check the weather in order to plan your day. The chairlift to the lake costs 20 Lev for a round trip and you can pay only in cash. Its a 20 minute ride to the base of the trek. During the trek take multiple stops to admire the stunning views of the lakes. I’d recommend going during July-August because of the weather, but then it will be super crowded then. If you want to experience serenity at its best and sit amidst snow capped Balkan mountains and admire uninterrupted views of the half frozen lakes then definitely early June is fantastic; in which case don’t forget your gloves, warm jackets, raincoats. Also pack some munchies as you may not find much to eat along the way, but once your trek is completed you can eat at the Rila chalet just before you take the chair lift down.
And that was a wrap up in Bulgaria – for the time being. I hope I can go back someday and walk the trodden path, overwhelmed with beautiful memories and perhaps benumbed with this stunner of a country once again in a different light. It has managed to occupy one of the top positions on my list of favourites.
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