Earth : Europe : Balkans : Bulgaria
Bulgaria (България)  is a country in the Balkans on the western side of the Black Sea. It is surrounded by Romania to the north, Serbia to the northwest, the Republic of Macedonia to the southwest, Greece to the south, and Turkey to the southeast. Being located close to the Turkish Straits means the key land routes from Europe to Middle East and Asia pass through Bulgaria.
Bulgaria is one of the few exotic nations of Europe, due to the fact that it boasts sublime beaches, lovely churches, winter sport opportunities and great hiking, to name a few. Although it has traditionally not been regularly visited by Westerners compared to other European nations, this is beginning to change. It is a beautiful place, with a wide range of activities for a traveller to do.
Continental in the interior; cold, damp winters with snow in the higher elevations; hot and humid summers.
Temperate on the coast; mild autumns, cool winters, mild springs and warm and breezy summers.
Mostly mountains with lowlands in north and southeast; highest point : Musala 2,925 m
Bulgaria's territory was inhabited by the Thracians (famed for their gold-making, fierce warriors, and the gladiator Spartacus) for thousands of years before being conquered by the Macedonian Empire. Thrace was subsequently incorporated into the Roman Empire and later the Byzantine (East Roman) Empire. The first official data of Bulgaria is in the late 7th century (681 A.D.), when Slavic and Bulgar tribes entered the Byzantine provinces of Thrace, Moesia, and Macedonia and together formed the Bulgarian Empire.
In succeeding centuries, the Bulgarian and Byzantine Empires dominated South-East Europe, but by the end of the 14th century, the region was overrun by the Ottoman Turks. Bulgaria was subjugated by the Ottoman Empire for five centuries. Bulgaria regained its independence in 1878 largely due to the intervention of the Russian Empire, who clipped the wings of the declining Ottoman Empire in Bulgaria and elsewhere. It installed a minor German prince (the nephew of the Russian tsar) as a ruler of the newly independent country. The country's iconic heroes are all freedom fighters against the Ottomans: whether Rakovsky (Раковски), who mixed revolution and literature, Vassil Levski (Васил Левски) - the Apostle of Freedom, or Hristo Botev (Христо Ботев), poet and fighter.
After a series of bloody and brutal Balkan Wars in which Bulgaria failed to annex Vardar Macedonia (which had a population that it considered to be ethnic Bulgarian), Bulgaria had the further misfortune to be an ally to the losing side in both World Wars. In the second half of World War II, it was occupied by the Soviet Union and became a People's Republic in 1946. Communist domination was brought to a swift, but (for many people) illusory end in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although Bulgaria went on to hold its first multi-party election since World War II, essentially socialist policies were pursued until hyperinflation and economic meltdown drove the old guard out of power in 1997. Today, reforms and democratization allowed Bulgaria to become a member of both NATO and the European Union.
During Communist times, the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast was a favorite destination for travellers behind the Iron Curtain, hence the name "Red Riviera". Now, increasing numbers of western Europeans travel throughout the country, and many have bought vacation houses near the Black Sea or in picturesque villages. During the 2008 global financial crisis, Bulgaria marked a decline in its economy of 5.5% in 2009, but quickly restored positive growth levels, in contrast to other Balkan countries. That said, the Bulgarians have the distinction of boasting the strongest and most stable currency in Eastern Europe.
Despite significant economic advances, the country is the poorest member of the European Union. Corruption, a weak judicial system and the presence of organized crime remain significant long-term challenges for the country's development and economic prospects.
The Bulgarian language is related to Serbian, Russian and other Slavic languages, but contains many international words. Bulgarians consider the Macedonian language to be a dialect of Bulgarian. This is politically controversial, but it is true that Bulgarian and Macedonian are very close to each other and a speaker of one language can mostly understand the other. Bulgarians use the Cyrillic alphabet. This can make the task of getting around the country somewhat difficult if you aren't familiar with this alphabet, as most signs are written in it. However, getting acquainted with the alphabet isn't very difficult and may save you a lot of trouble, especially as many common words are homophones of English or French words.
Also, as Bulgarian education emphasizes foreign language studies, especially English language, it wouldn't be a problem to talk and find information in English in bigger cities. It's best to turn to the young population for a direction or advice in English. Older Bulgarians who grew up in the Communist era are more likely to speak Russian.
Baba Marta (Martenitsa/Баба Марта) (Grandma Marta), March 1. A very old Bulgarian holiday. People give each martenitsa (мартеница), a type of white-red yarn, as a symbol of health. (this is not a public holiday)
March 3 (Трети март). The day Bulgaria celebrates its liberation from 500 years of Ottoman domination (1393-1878).
20th of April - 20 April 1876 is the official start day the greatest uprising of the Bulgarian people against the Ottoman rule.
Gergiovden (Гергьовден), May 6. St. George and official holiday of the Bulgarian Аrmy.
Ss. Cyril and Methodius Day (Ден на Кирил и Методий), May 24. The day of St. Cyril (827-869), and St. Methodius (826-884), who created the Cyrillic alphabet. A beautiful holiday - with lots of flowers, music, and joy.
Assumption Day - Golyama Bogoroditsa, August 15. There are big celebrations, especially in the main monasteries, with icons being paraded by the monks. (this is not a public holiday)
Reunification Day (Ден на съединението), September 6. The day the two parts of Bulgaria, Principality of Bulgaria and East Rumelia (autonomous in the Ottoman Empire) were reunited.
Independence Day (Ден на Независимостта на България ), September 22. Bulgaria's de jure declaration of independence was declared in 1908 in Veliko Tarnovo
Bulgaria is a member of the Schengen Agreement but has not yet fully implemented it. For EU and EFTA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) citizens, together with those of Switzerland, an officially approved ID card (or a passport) is sufficient for entry. In no case will they need a visa for a stay of any length. Others will generally need a passport for entry.
Travel to/from any other country (Schengen or not) from/to Bulgaria will (as of now) result in the normal immigration checks, but travelling to/from another EU country you will not have to pass customs. However, if Bulgaria normally requires a visa for your nationality, this may be waived if you already have a valid Schengen visa.
Inquire at your travel agent or call the local consulate or embassy of Bulgaria.
The visa list is already consistent with those of the Schengen countries fully implementing the agreement.
Only the nationals of the following non-EEA countries do not need a visa for entry into the Schengen Area: Albania*, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina*, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Dominica, El Salvador, Georgia_(country), Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Kiribati, Macedonia*, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Montenegro*, Nauru, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia*/**, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan*** (Republic of China), Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Vanuatu, Venezuela, additionally persons holding British National (Overseas), Hong Kong SAR or Macau SAR passports.
These non-EU/EFTA visa-free visitors may not stay more than 90 days in a 180 day period in the Schengen Area as a whole and, in general, may not work during their stay (although some Schengen countries do allow certain nationalities to work - see below). The counter begins once you enter any country in the Schengen Area and is not reset by leaving a specific Schengen country for another Schengen country, or vice-versa. However, Australian and New Zealand citizens may be able to stay for more than 90 days if they only visit particular Schengen countries—see the New Zealand Government's explanation.
However, all British Overseas Territories citizens except those solely connected to the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas are eligible for British citizenship and thereafter unlimited access to the Schengen Area.
Further note that
(*) nationals of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia need a biometric passport to enjoy visa-free travel,
(**) Serbian nationals with passports issued by the Serbian Coordination Directorate (residents of Kosovo with Serbian passports) do need a visa and
(***) Taiwan nationals need their ID number to be stipulated in their passport to enjoy visa-free travel.
There are four international airports: Sofia, Varna, Burgas, and Plovdiv. Sofia is connected to major European cities (and some in the Middle East) via Bulgaria Air as well as other airlines. There are a lot of charter and last-minute flight offers to Varna or Burgas leaving from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and Israel.
Recently, several low-cost airlines have also started offering regular flights to Bulgaria, such as Wizz Air and Ryanair. Charter airline companies can offer very good prices to the Black Sea airports from many European cities in the summer (check out: Thomas Cook, Thomsonfly, Balkan Holidays Air, Bulgarian Air Charter, Monarch, Condor, Transaero, Utair and many others).
From the USA, major airlines offer excellent connections to Bulgaria with stops in Western Europe. Lufthansa, United, Delta, American, British Airways, Continental Airlines, Alitalia and Air France are the most popular airlines. These major airlines fly mainly to Sofia, but some also fly to Varna and Burgas.
International trains provide a large number of routes to Bulgaria, notably Sofia and Varna, arriving from such places as Kiev, Istanbul, Vienna, Moscow, and other common cities.
The primary train from Bucharest to Sofia, and back, run once daily through the border city of Ruse. For example, recent trains are scheduled from Bucharest to Sofia in the daytime departing 12:50/arriving 22:00. The night train to and from Bucharest have been discontinued since December 2014, it runs to/from Rousee only. Romanian passport control occurs in Giurgiu and Bulgarian passport control takes place in Rousse, both approximately mid-trip. Check local train stations for updated information.
There is a daily overnight train to Belgrade, departing Sofia around 8 pm. Mind that the train regularly runs very late! Please watch your belongings, as usual on long distance night trains. Single female travellers should take extra care. The fare costs around €20. It is also possible to buy a ticket to Dimitrovgrad (Serbian city on border with Bulgaria) for approx. 1000 RSD and then buy a ticket from Dimitrovgrad to Sofia for around 9 BGN from the station if you have enough time (check the schedule well and mind the time zone change) or from the conductor. This way you save a few euros.
There is no railway connection to the Republic of Macedonia (it is being built at the moment). You can take the train to Skopje, with a change in Nis, but it is slow, more expensive, and you will have to wait at the train station in Nis for two hours in the middle of the night.
A cheap way of traveling to or from Bulgaria might be the Balkan Flexipass.
As of 2016, there is only one train between Sofia and Thessaloniki. It runs daily, departing from Thessaloniki at 6:55 am, and from Sofia at 15:20.
The Danube 2 bridge is now open crossing from Romania to Vidin in Bulgaria, this is now the fastest route when coming from Western Europe. (Very bad roads conditions from Danube 2 bridge to other Bulgarian cities. It is much better and faster to drive through Serbia.)
If you want to reach Bulgaria from Western Europe by car, you can also take a ferry from Italy to Greece, or you will have to pass through either Serbia (green card no longer required as of 2012) or Romania.
Travelling from Greece there are several border points to cross into Bulgaria such as Kulata, Zlatograd, and Ivaylovgrad.
In Bulgaria, you have to pay road tax at the border (around €5 for 7 days). You will get a special sticker that you have to place on your car. There are no tolls on Bulgarian roads.
Buses to and from Sofia and other major Bulgarian cities go to most major cities in Europe and Turkey. While Bulgarian bus companies will be cheaper, the tickets are hard to get by if you are travelling 'to' Bulgaria, so you can always take Eurolines buses. Don't be surprised if an extra "border fee" is asked from each traveller by the bus driver - it makes your border passing quicker. Most buses from Western Europe will pass through Serbia, so be sure to check if you need a transit visa beforehand (Serbian visas for citizens of the EU have recently been abolished).
Arda Tur is a Bulgarian company offering services between Thessaloniki, in Greece, and various Bulgarian cities, including Sofia, Plovdiv, Haskovo, Blagoevgrad and Sandanski. They run three buses a day, departing from Thessaloniki at 08:00, 15:30 and 00:00. The last one also offers service to Stara Zagora, Pleven and Burgas. Usually they are late, but buses are comfortable, have a/c, personal t.v., and a variety of snacks is given during the trip. Employees speak little English, but they offer a good service. The price for a trip from Thessaloniki to Sofia is 20 Euro and to Plovdiv 25 Euro one-way.
In addition to the above, are numerous buses that connect Bulgaria with Romania and Turkey.
Seasonal car ferries serve Burgas and Varna ports from Ukraine, Russia and Georgia.
Danube river cruise ships call into Vidin and Lom ports from Budapest and Vienna on their way to the Black Sea. it is possible to enter and leave Bulgaria this way.
A car only ferry runs from Vidin port to Passau in Germany.
Certainly the fastest way to travel around the country is by bus. Buses go from and to every bigger city (you might have to ask or be driven by taxi to the bus station) quite frequently (exact timetables information in English can be found at avtogari.info  or BGrazpisanie.com ); however, most bus station agents (except at the Black Sea and in Sofia) as well as the drivers will not speak or understand any languages except Bulgarian (and, if you are lucky, Russian) and the destinations will be written exclusively in Cyrillic. You can look up bus schedules for the Sofia New Central at the bus station .
Travelling from Sofia to major cities in Bulgaria by bus is a good value. A one way ticket to the Black Sea from Sofia is around EUR 12-15. Several companies operate regular routes serviced by new and modern buses. Timetables and prices in English for couple of the major companies can be found at GRUP Plus  and Biomet .
There are other bus stations in Sofia and also some private buses depart from their own personal station, but for travellers just looking to get out of town with the least amount of confusion - using the New Central Bus Station may be easiest.
Travelling by train is inexpensive, but also slower than by bus. Trains are most useful when travelling along the two major train routes: Sofia - Varna and Sofia - Bourgas. You can travel both routes overnight, but you should make your reservations early because these night trains are often fully booked. The Sofia - Varna route is particularly scenic.
The official website of the Bulgarian State Railways  is user-friendly and offers an easy-to-use online timetable . Another train planner is available on www.bgrazpisanie.com . Group ticket discounts are available.
There is little to no opportunity to buy water or food on the trains. Bulgarians are friendly, you may find food being shared freely amongst the cabin.
As of April 2013 the rail ticketing in Bulgaria is still somewhat Byzantine. After buying round trip ticket before boarding the train on the return you have to obtain a stamp on your ticket at the cashier. Otherwise you will have to pay a fine to the conductor or be kicked off the train to get the stamp.
For example we bought round trip tickets at the Sofia train station to visit Plovdiv. The cashier stamped the ticket in Sofia and explained this was a round trip ticket (Sofia-Plovdiv-Sofia) at 14.40 Lev per person. Unfortunately after we boarded the return train, the conductor informed us we failed to obtain a stamp and had to pay a fine of 14 Lev per person or exit at the next station.
Many taxi drivers know only limited English so it is useful to write out your destination or carry a map. Most taxis in Sofia have GPS units on the dashboard. Taxi fares in Bulgaria are not formally regulated, so they can vary wildly. However, there is a standard "market price" in each of the major cities. One should be extremely careful about using a taxi in Bulgaria. Especially since you are a foreigner, you can definitely become a target of unscrupulous taxi drivers. When in need, get familiar with the most well known taxi operators in your area, your route and expected bill. Generally the safest way of using a taxi is by ordering a taxi by phone. Some fraudolent taxis mimic others' logos and labels on their cars. Definitely avoid using taxis waiting at airports and railway stations! Sofia and Varna airports are exceptions, as they have contracts with licensed taxi companies. Currently only these companies can enter the airport area and pickup passengers - prices are standard. Even drivers working with legitimate companies may try to overcharge you, so make sure they turn on the meter, and keep an eye on it.
If traveling by car, it would be helpful if you can read the Cyrillic alphabet at least a bit. Most signs have the direction shown in Latin letters, but some don't.
If you are a foreigner, its best to rent a car. If you decide to rent a car note that for any minor traffic incidents causing bumps or scratches to the car, whether involving a third party or not, you must immediately call traffic police (phone number: 165) to register the incident, otherwise you will most probably find that your insurance will not cover the damage. In case of doubt, call the insurance company too. Check the Terms & Conditions of your rental agreement closely.
Driving in Bulgaria can be a bit precarious - many roads do not have defined lanes, are not well marked, and are in poor conditions. Locals often do not observe speed limits and do not signal when changing lanes.
When travelling on the road Sofia-Greece, be very careful. There is extensive road reconstruction and you can meet some really dangerous drivers.
Modern four-lane highways connect Sofia with Plovdiv, Burgas, and Turkey. Highways to Varna and Greece are only partially constructed.
On all but the major roads, expect to find significant pot holes and uneven surfaces, thorugh to gravel roads with major holes on some routes. Due to the poor road surfaces, you will often find cars driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid these holes, so be cautious when driving around blind bends. Due to the state of many of the roads, it you aren't travelling on new motorway, or other major roads, then expect to travel at an average 30-40km/h when estimating your travelling time.
If you observe the rules, police will not bother you. Bulgarian police have white Opel Astra patrol cars, marked "POLICE" with blue letters - keep that in mind, because in the past there have been several cases of fake police officers stopping cars and robbing travellers. Should you ever doubt the authority stopping you, you have the right to ask them to identify themselves with a certificate issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Министерсво на вътрешните работи - МВР).
Never ever drink and drive in Bulgaria! This is always dangerous, and your first offence may result in a long prison sentence. The once-common practice of bribing a police officer to get out of a speeding or parking ticket is becoming the exception.
Car theft isn't much of a risk, but shouldn't be underestimated. In rural areas leaving your car should be safe, but in the big cities or tourist spots, it is advisable to stay on the safe side by parking either on the major streets or on guarded garages, where fees range from 6 leva a day to 2 leva an hour. If you plan to spend more time in one city, it might be better to rent a parking space, which on the average costs 60 leva a month. Most hotels have their own parking, and even at private lodgings it is often possible to park the car in the garden or so, just ask.
Air travel is still not very common in Bulgaria as distances are relatively short.
Bulgaria Air, the national carrier travels everyday from Sofia to Varna and Burgas. Off peak deals can be found for 25eu r/t after taxes
WizzAir travels four times a week between Sofia and Varna. Off peak travel can be as cheap as 20eu r/t after taxes
Their timetables can be found on their official websites or altogether on BGrazpisanie.com 
Bulgarian is a southern Slavic language, mutually intelligible with Macedonian and closely related to Serbo-Croatian, Slovene and Russian. If you know any of these (or another Slavic language) you shouldn't have much problem getting by. Ancient Bulgarian (also known as Church Slavonic) is considered the "Latin" or mother language of the Slavs. Some words and/or phrases might even be understood by Westerners since Bulgarian has a number of loans from other languages (most notably French, German, Turkish, Italian and increasingly English).
Modern Bulgarian is difficult to westerners, as it has three genders, the infintive has fallen virtually out of use, and articles are appended to the end of either the noun (if no attribute is present) or the first attribute (example: kuche = dog, kucheto = the dog, dobro kuche = good dog, dobroto kuche = the good dog), functioning almost like an agglutinative language. Even though the language has lost the case system entirely, Bulgarian makes up for the difficulty with a complicated verbal and noun system (A verb in Bulgarian can have up to 3,000 forms!). It takes a short while getting used to the Cyrillic alphabet, a writing system of which Bulgarians are proud. Be sure to be in Bulgaria for the celebrations of the "Den na Pismenostta" ("Day of the Literacy"). The Russian/East Slavic version of the alphabet is almost identical to the Bulgarian one.
Turkish is the second most widespread natively spoken language in Bulgaria, and it is generally spoken in areas populated by Bulgarians of Turkish descent.
It is also important to remember the fact that many Bulgarians - contrary to most nationalities - shake their head for Yes and nod for No! It is better to rely on the words da for yes and ne for no than on head movements. Bulgarians often use ciao for good-bye (instead of "Dovijdane") and merci for thank you (instead of "Blagodarya").
Most young Bulgarians have at least a basic knowledge of English or/and a second foreign language (usually Russian, but German, French or Spanish can also be spoken) and will often even take up a third one. Those born before the mid-1970s are most likely to speak Russian, German (because of ties with East Germany) or/and Serbo-Croatian and usually have limited or zero knowledge of English at all.
The 100 tourist sites of Bulgaria, a Bulgarian national movement established to promote national tourism covers some of the more popular sites . A reward scheme is available based on collecting stamps from the sites which encourages tourists to travel and sightsee throughout the country.
It is a popular activity in Bulgaria, where a big choice of regions for a day or multyday walking trips is available. The best time for hiking in the highest parts of the mountains is in summer, between late June and September as the snow is already melted and the weather is dry generally. In winter, snowshoeing and ski trips are possible between December and March, depending on the current snow and weather conditions.The main hiking areas are:
There is an extensive network of marked tourist trails available and this allows a large number of different routes. The main accommodation in Balkan, Rila and Pirin mountains are the mountain huts, which usually offer rustic conditions. In Rhodopes is possible to stay in a local guest houses and pensions. A guide with useful information about hiking in Bulgaria - maps, safety isuues, routes, trails, destinations, etc. 
The Bulgarian unit of currency is the Lev (лев, abbreviated "лв", plural: Leva), comprised of one hundred Stotinki. The Lev is pegged to the Euro at 1.95583 Lev for one Euro (which is the same rate as for the former Deutsche Mark, to which the Lev had previously been pegged 1:1). 1 Lev is roughly US$ 0.60 and GBP 0.40 (as of 02/2016).
Shopkeepers and other businesses in Bulgaria will usually not accept foreign money, although many will accept the euro. Bulgaria remains a largely cash economy in the rural areas; but in major cities, credit cards are generally accepted.
In most cities there are many money exchange offices which are marked with signs that say "CHANGE". Most are legitimate, but some may rip you off. For example, they advertise a very competitive rate on the outside, but on the inside, there is a tiny sign with the "official" rates, and these are much worse – so always make sure to ask how many leva you will get for your money before you actually hand it over, and calculate yourselves (e.g., using your mobile phone) how much money you would expect to get. If you now refuse the transaction because the rate suddenly changed, they will make all kinds of unjustified assertions (e.g., "I already entered it into the computer, it cannot be stopped"), but you if threaten to call the police immediately while raising your voice so that other tourists look your way, they usually will let go immediately.
It is much safer to exchange your money at a bank. Banks apply little or no commissions, and generally offer good rates, although they are slightly worse than at a (non-criminal) change bureau. Higher commissions may be applied to traveller's cheques. Old, dirty or very worn bank notes may be refused. Never exchange money out on the street. Beware of people on the street who offer high rates of exchange or who may ask you to make some change for them.
Over the past years the ATM network in Bulgaria has grown considerably, making it relatively easy to obtain cash from the numerous ATMs in Sofia, as well as in all other major cities and resorts. The national credit/debit card circuit BORICA , to which all ATMs in the country are hooked up, accepts VISA/Plus, Visa Electron, MasterCard/Cirrus, Maestro, American Express, Diners Club, and a number of other cards.
Prices in Bulgaria for some items are around half that of Western Europe, and good bargains are to be had on shoes and leather goods as well as other clothing.
In Sofia and a few major cities you can find branches of international hypermarket chains like Billa, Carrefour, Hit, Kaufland, Lidl, Metro, and other. There are also local supermaket chains like Familia, Fantastico, Picadilly, and Grizli. All Bulgarian supermarkets sell products of European quality.
Bulgarian cuisine is a representative of the cuisine of Southeastern Europe with some Turkish and Greek influences, but it has some unique elements. The relatively warm climate and diverse geography produce excellent growth conditions for a variety of vegetables, herbs and fruits, Bulgarian cuisine is particularly diverse.
Famous for its rich salads required at every meal, Bulgarian cuisine is also noted for the diversity and quality of dairy products and the variety of wines and local alcoholic drinks such as rakia, mastika and menta. Bulgarian cuisine features also a variety of hot and cold soups, an example of a cold soup being tarator. There are many different Bulgarian pastries as well such as banitsa.
Certain entries, salads, soups and dishes go well with alcoholic beverages and the alcohol of choice for some is Bulgarian wine.
Restaurants serving international cuisine have also made a presence in the country, offering various options such as Chinese, French, Italian, and international contemporary.
Most common foods
Most Bulgarian dishes are oven baked, steamed, or in the form of stew. Deep-frying is not very typical, but grilling - especially different kinds of meats - is very common. Oriental dishes do exist in Bulgarian cuisine with most common being musaka, gyuvech, and baklava. Pork meat is the most common meat in the Bulgarian cuisine. Chicken, fish, and beef are common too.
Salads made of organic vegetables are very popular in Bulgaria. Three vegetarian dishes that are commonly available are боб чорба/bob chorba (warm minty bean soup), таратор/tarator (cold cucumber yogurt soup), and Шопска салата/Shopska salad. Fresh tomatoes and peppers can be found in many markets and are some of the most flavoursome in the world. American vegetarians may be surprised to find meat inside innocent-looking breakfast pastries.
Traditional milk products
There are only two native kinds of cheese: the yellow-colored kashkaval ("кашкавал") - more or less akin to the Dutch Gouda - and the more popular white Sirene (Сирене) - a kind of Feta cheese, similar to Greek Feta in taste. Originally made from sheep milk, it is available from cow or goat milk, or mixed.
The native Bulgarian kiselo mlyako (yogurt) contains Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, a bacterium which serves as the basis for active culture "plain" yoghurts in other countries. Traditional Bulgarian yogurt cultures contain this bacterium in a slightly larger proportion than western brands, which gives the yogurt a bit more sour taste. Normally made from cow or sheep milk, it can also be prepared from buffalo milk, with a remarkably stronger taste.
Being a staple, and quite favourite around the country, Bulgarian yogurt is also an ingredient in many dishes, the most famous one being tarator (таратор), a cold soup made from yoghurt, water, cucumbers, garlic, dill and walnuts. A drink called ayran - a salted yoghurt-water mixture - is also very popular.
Traditional bakeries prepare different kinds of pastry products. Banitsa and mekitsa are the favorites. Pizza, dyuner (döner), sandwiches or hamburgers are also very easy to be found at the streets. There are also many local and international fast-food chains. Some of the best and cheapest fast food options in Bulgaria are the kebapche and kyufte, spicy meat sausage and meatballs.
There are more than six hundred mineral water springs around the country, so local mineral water is something you should try. In most regions, tap water is safe to drink, but it is better to ask the locals first.
Ayran (yogurt, water and salt) and boza (millet ale) are two traditional non-alcoholic beverages with Turkish origins that you can find in Bulgaria widely.
Grape growing and wine production have a long history in Bulgaria, dating back to the times of the Thracians. Wine is, together with beer and grape rakia, among the most popular alcoholic beverages in the country.
Some of the well known local wine varieties are Mavrud, Pamid, Gamza (red dry), Melnik, Dimyat, Misket, Muskat, Pelin (wormwood flavored wine), Kadarka (sweet red) and Keratsuda (dry white).
Beer (bira / бира) is consumed all around the country. Excellent local varieties like Kamenitza, Zagorka, Ariana, Pirinsko and Shumensko, as well as Western European beers produced under license in Bulgaria like Tuborg, Heineken and Amstel, are readily available.
Rakia (ракия) is the Bulgarian national alcoholic drink and is served neat, usually at the beginning of a meal with salads. It is a strong (40% ABV), clear brandy that can be made from grape, plums, apricots or other fruits. In some villages, people still distill their rakia at home; it is often much stronger than commercially available rakia (around 50% ABV).
Another quite popular drink is mastika (мастика) (47% vol), an anise-flavored drink closely related to Greek ouzo and Turkish rakı. It is usually drunk with ice, or with water in a 1:1 mixture.
Menta (мента) is a peppermint-flavored liqueur that can be combined with mastika.
Finding an accommodation in Bulgaria is very easy, for any price. You can find everything - from hostels in Sofia and Plovdiv, very cheap boarding houses along the coast to inexpensive hotels in all cities and luxury hotels in large cities. There are many "mountain huts" or villas available for rent all around the mountains in the country. Overnight accommodations can also be acquired at about a dozen of the monasteries. There are also plenty of guest houses and villas. Bulgaria is famous for offering quality budget accommodation for rural and ecological tourism in charming small towns in its mountains as well as at the seaside. In some of the coastal villages, elderly ladies often approach tourists disembarking from coaches and trains, offering accomodation in boarding houses. These can often be excellent value for money (from as little as $5 a night) and can offer an authentic experience, however its recommended you check these out before you agree on a stay.
In Bulgaria there are many campsites offering basic services such as electricity, food and running water; prices range from very cheap to very expensive.
Outside the regulated campsites, wild camping is a legal grey area; some municipalities are more tolerant of it, while others try to ban it and enforce the ban. In the summer, Irakli beach and Karadere beach (both located south of Varna) are some well known wild camping destinations.
The oldest Bulgarian university is the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" that in 2008 celebrated 120 years from its foundation. It is considered to be the largest and most prestigious university center. There are many newer centres of education in Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Shumen, Veliko Tarnovo, Blagoevgrad, etc.
For most subjects, programs are available in Bulgarian or English, depending on the university. Elementary and middle schools are supported by local authorities budget. As with most nations, teachers complain about small salaries. Literacy is nearly universal. Bulgarian people speak mostly English, German, French and Russian.
Some of the universities that offer education entirely in English are the American University in Bulgaria, the New Bulgarian University and the Technical University of Sofia. The last one offers also degrees in German language.
The American College in Sofia offers secondary education in English.
Bulgaria is generally a safe country, and people are quite friendly. You should however use common sense when you are outside of the main tourist areas, i.e. don't show off that you have money, don't dress too touristy, watch out for your belongings. If in Sofia, try to avoid dark streets at night. Stepping in a pothole is a much greater danger in Bulgaria than getting robbed.
Emergency phone numbers
The pan-European standard number 112 for all emergency calls is working everywhere in Bulgaria since September 2008. If, for some reason, you can not connect to 112, dial 166 for police, 150 for ambulance and 160 for the fire department.
Driving in Bulgaria can be "nerve-wrecking", as in any foreign country. There are a few modern highways. Some roads are in poor condition and full of potholes. The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria for all passengers, except pregnant women. Take caution while crossing the streets. Driving with your headlights ON is mandatory even during daytime. If you are caught driving without having your headlights on during daytime, you could get a ticket. The fine is €25 (or 50BGN), so be sure to turn your headlights on. In case you get caught, explain to the police officer that you are a foreigner and you weren't aware of this law and let them know it won't happen again. It is very likely that they will let you go with just a warning.
In general, organized crime is a serious issue throughout Bulgaria, however it usually does not affect tourists. Bulgaria is safer than most European countries with regard to violent crimes, and the presence of such groups is slowly declining. Pickpocketing and scams (such as taxi scams) are present on a wider scale, so be careful, especially in crowded places (such as train stations, urban public transport, near major tourist areas). If you find yourself suddenly surrounded by a loud group of people that create havoc, immediately move away from them, as someone may be trying to divert your attention, while they pickpocket you.
Car theft is probably the most serious problem that travelers can encounter. There is also terrible customs bureaucracy involved if you enter the country with a car, and leave without one. If you drive an expensive car, do not leave it in unguarded parking lots or on the streets at night - these locations are likely to attract criminals. If, by any chance you do leave your car in such a location, you need to be sure that the vehicle has a security system that will prevent the vehicle from getting stolen.
Travelers should also be cautious about making credit card purchases over the Internet on unfamiliar websites. Websites that offer merchandise and services may be created by scam artists posing as legitimate businesses. A recent example involved Internet credit card payments to alleged tour operators via Bulgarian-based websites. In several cases, the corresponding businesses did not actually exist.
Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy. Due to the potential for fraud, credit cards should be used sparingly and with caution - for example, in large supermarket chains or reputable hotels. Skimming devices, surreptitiously attached to ATMs by criminals, are used to capture credit card information and PIN numbers to make unauthorized charges or withdrawals; these practices are somewhat common in Bulgaria. If you are unsure which bank's ATM to use, a good rule of thumb is to use one located inside of a reputable bank branch. In general, it is best to use cash instead of a credit card.
On occasion, taxi drivers overcharge travelers, particularly at the Sofia Airport and the Central Train Station. It is recommended that travelers use taxis with meters that have posted clearly marked rates on a sticker on the passenger side of the windshield; these taxis charge generally less than the taxis with no meters. Make sure your cab has a meter! One useful tip is to check the price for your trip from a trusted source beforehand, online, through a friend, or an official at the station or at a tourist bureau. If by any chance you are trying to be lured into a rogue taxi, it is best to reject the offer, or just simply walk off. Likewise, if you are offered a taxi by a stranger which you did not request or hail yourself, it is best to not take it.
Bulgaria has harsh drug laws, and penalties for drug possession are generally more severe than in other European countries.
Do not exchange currency on the street! It is a common scam to offer you fake money as exchange in tourist areas such as train or bus stations. If you need foreign exchange services, bank branches offer good rates and no risk of fraud.
Stray dogs are common all over Bulgaria. While most are friendly, there have been a number of accidents with stray dogs, so beware. In particular, watch out for symptoms of rabies.
Wild bears and wolves can sometimes be seen in woods, so be careful.
Corruption exists in Bulgaria as in many other European countries. For example, some policemen or officials may request to receive a bribe for certain action. If this happens, decline the proposal and ask for the name & ID of the individual. Corruption in customs is also a problem, but tourists are usually not involved.
If you are ever asked for a bribe, or you feel that you are being exploited, you can either fill out an online query with the police at http://nocorr.mvr.bg/, or call 02 982 22 22 to report corruption.
Unfortunately begging and random people trying to sell you stuff is quite common in Bulgaria. In the holiday resorts both in the mountains and on the Black Sea coast you may see people trying to sell you various things like roses and pirate DVD's. Often they can wander into the hotel restaurants in the evening. You should make it absolutely clear you are not interested in what they offering, so they leave you alone. In the ski resorts there are many people who sell "Traditional" Bulgarian bells. They know when tourists arrive and how long they are staying for and will pester you all week to buy a bell. If you make it clear at the start of the week that you do not want a bell they will usually leave you alone (for a few days at least) but if you do not say no, or even say maybe they will tag you with a cheap plastic bell to force you to buy one later in the week. The bell men will suddenly become your friend for the week as they try to get you to buy a bell, but of course if you want to buy a bell make sure you haggle! And if you really don't want to buy a bell, by the end of the week your bell man will demand his cheap plastic bell back and won't be very happy! Don't feel bad about not buying a bell as they often charge extortionate prices unless you really haggle. If you do buy a bell however, you will find that the bell men will be genuinely friendly and chatty people and really aren't all as bad as they seem!
As a country with a temperate climate, Bulgaria does not present any particular health risks.
Air pollution may sometimes exceed safe limits, especially in large cities. That is more common during winter, when wood and fossil fuels are burned for heating. People with breathing difficulties, such as asthma, are at a greater risk.
If you are at the Black Sea, mind the strong sun at the beach, especially in July and August. Wear sunscreen and stay in the shade during the hottest hours of the day (early afternoon).
Bulgarians have a reputation for their smoking habits, and evading the fumes of cigarettes is difficult. Smoking in all indoor public spaces, including bars and restaurants is banned. However, in some places the ban is not strictly observed.
Eating and drinking
Most food is quite safe to eat. Make sure you wash fruits and vegetables prior to eating. Especially during the hot summer months, products such as meat and eggs may be more easily contaminated with bacteria, so try to buy food from clean and reputable places.
Tap water in most of Bulgaria is safe to drink, and natural mineral water is also cheap and widely available. Since Bulgaria is a mountainous country, natural springs are quite abundant and many villages have one or more mineral springs.
Healthcare in Bulgaria is relatively good. Conditions in Bulgarian hospitals may vary - from the very clean and sparkling, with all the latest technological utilities, to the downright drab, dark and cold. There are some new hospitals, and some very old, with old technology. Medical personnel is very good at their job.
Citizens of the European Union are covered by Bulgaria's National Healthcare System as long as they carry a Eurocard (or European Health Insurance Card), obtainable from their own national healthcare authority.
Dental procedures in private clinics in Bulgaria are of excellent quality. Many people from Western European come to Bulgaria to have their teeth done for the quarter of the price they pay in their home countries.
The national emergency number is 112. If you need an ambulance, it may take a long time to arrive (up to two hours in the worst cases) - in Sofia they are over capacity and traffic is bad, and in remote rural areas road access may be difficult. If possible, consider using your own means of transportation to the nearest emergency center. In small towns service is usually faster.
Bulgarians are incredibly friendly and very interested in talking to foreigners. Bulgarians tend to be far more open than some other Eastern Europeans and engaging in dialogue with these people is much advised and worthwhile. In smaller towns, especially in the Rhodopes, people may invite you for lunch or even to sleep over. Often it is a pleasant gesture to give someone a "Dobar Den" when walking past a quiet stall or past a person. Kak ste (hows it going) will usually suffice for the younger generation.
As a rule of thumb for most countries worldwide, you should avoid topics involving politics and foreign relations, and on some occasions football (soccer) as well. If you are pulled in to such a conversation, try to stay neutral. Remember that your own knowledge of local situations is unlikely to be as good as a Bulgarian's!
For certain people, Macedonia is a sensitive subject to talk about, but feel free to ask your questions, provided you do not discuss it with those more likely to take offence (i.e. nationalists and skinheads). Many Bulgarians feel that Macedonia belongs to Bulgaria, but unless you know the subject and the people you are talking to, just asking questions is the best option.
Most of the Bulgarian people do not feel anger or resentment towards Russians (unlike a number of people from other former Eastern Bloc countries), and Bulgarians tend to have a much better perception of Russians, however caution may sometimes be needed in discussing issues regarding Turkey. Likewise, discrimination against Turks are widespread.
Bulgarians don't really do chit chat, so trying to make conversation with someone at a till in a shop will probably result in odd looks (either from not understanding or not wanting to engage) or they will just ignore you. Likewise Bulgarians are quite impatient and will often honk their car horn at you if you walk in front of a car, especially in winter in the mountains as they try to keep a grip on the road.
Landlines are available almost everywhere, via the PSTN (operated by Vivacom) or VoIP.
Mobile phones are widespread in Bulgaria - many people have two or three phones. You can buy prepaid cards in almost every shop. There are three networks, all using the GSM/3G standards (Mtel, Telenor and Vivacom). A fourth carrier, Max Telecom, has a 4G network and offers data-only plans, but with a smartphone you can also receive and make phone calls with their VOIP app.
Mtel offers services under two separate brands - Mtel and Bob, but the network is the same. Telenor was formerly branded as Globul, and Vivacom was branded as Vivatel. Locals may still use these old brand names when referring to mobile carriers, and older phones may display the old network names on the screen.
MTel has almost full national coverage (97% of the surface of the country), followed by Telenor (formerly branded as Globul) and Vivacom. Fares are average for the European Union (5-40 Eurocent per minute, 7 Eurocent/SMS). Both pre-paid cards and subscriptions are available, and special options for discounted international calls exist with some pricing plans.
Subscribers of carriers from other EU countries can benefit from cheap EU roaming fares (0.19€ outgoing calls, 0.05€ for incoming, 0.06€ per SMS). For visitors from other countries, roaming is rather expensive.
Internet is fast, cheap and widely available in Bulgaria. Broadband Internet is available through cable, ADSL, fiber optics and Ethernet connections. Prices start at around 15 leva for 10 Mbps.
Free WiFi is very widely available in big cities - in public areas such as cafes, parks, hotels and restaurants. When Bulgarians sit down for a cup of coffee, the first thing they usually do is ask for the password. Some gas stations (such as Lukoil) also offer WiFi, and there is an unsecured WiFi connection at Sofia Airport.
All mobile carriers (Mtel, Telenor, Vivacom, and Max) offer prepaid data plans at comparable rates. 4G speeds are offered by Telenor and Max in some large cities and Black Sea resorts. The other carriers are launching their own 4G networks in the next few months. 3G is available in virtually all urban areas, EDGE in the rest of the country. There is signal in all inhabited areas and on the major roads.
Internet cafes are available in most towns and cities, and in some villages. Computers are usually not available in libraries, or in public places such as train stations.
More Travel Information
TheTravelBug  concentrate on the Stara Zagora and central region of Bulgaria but also provides video and photographs of many tourist spots around Bulgaria and advice on what to visit.