If you’re anything like us, you can’t resist bringing home some memento of your trips. Whether its a memory card full of photos or a taste of the country’s local cuisine, we always bring something back with us from all of our Balkan trips.
We’ve previously written about favorite Serbian souvenirs and our top choices for Romanian mementos, and it dawned on us that we actually hadn’t even covered Bulgarian souvenirs on this site yet! Perhaps because we live here, we hadn’t thought about it, but we realized that many people visiting Sofia or other parts of the country will likely want a reminder of Bulgaria to take home with them at the end of their trip.
We’ve lived in Bulgaria for the last two or so years, so we’re here to cut through what isn’t a true Bulgarian souvenir (hint: matryoshka dolls, USSR memorabilia) and what we definitely think is traditional, as well as some helpful tips on where to purchase your souvenirs in Bulgaria.
Our favorite Bulgarian souvenirs
Rose oil or rose products
The number one Bulgarian souvenir is undoubtedly rose oil or other natural cosmetics that use rose oil. Bulgaria is the largest producer of rose oil in the world, and Bulgarian rose oil is widely considered to be some of the highest quality stuff around.
You’ll find no shortage of rose oil specialty shops in Sofia. Our favorite rose product is rose essential oil, which is ultra-pure and should be used in moderation (only a drop or two at a time). However, you can also buy lotions infused with roses, cosmetics with rose oil, and other similar items.
While Bulgaria is most famous for its rose oil, it is also actually the largest producer of lavender in the world as well – yes, even over Provence! Driving through Bulgaria in the summer, you’ll see pops of lavender fields all over the roadside, especially in between Karlovo and Kazanlak.
While a lot of this lavender is exported, you can also definitely buy lavender products in Bulgaria. Again, lavender essential oil is the most common and useful product, and it has great calming and relaxing effects. However, you’ll also find lavender soaps, lavender sachets, and other useful lavender aromatherapy products all over Bulgaria.
Balkan pottery is unique and incredibly beautiful and while every country has some of their own designs, we are partial to Bulgarian pottery for its rich earth-toned colors and beautiful designs.
Some of the most common and useful Bulgarian pottery items you’ll find include earthenware pots painted beautifully and perfect for serving some hearty Balkan food. Other useful pieces of pottery include plates, goblets, vessels for drinking rakia, bowls.
Stephanie brought some home to the U.S. for her parents, and while the earthenware pots held up to the travel, the pitcher’s handle didn’t make it through the rough transit, so we just advise that you pack them well or ask the person you are purchasing your Bulgarian souvenirs from to pack them extra carefully.
While Bulgaria’s traditional pottery is undoubtedly gorgeous, it’s also a fantastic idea to support local artists who are taking traditional Bulgarian art forms and updating them for the modern times.
We love the pottery at Handmade by Art.E, which you’ll find in the artistic district of Sofia, Kvartel.
Bulgarian embroidery is truly beautiful and ornate, and it’s a distinctive gift to bring home from Bulgaria that actually supports local artisans.
Many Bulgarian artists (like artists all over the world) have had their designs ripped off and reproduced by larger designers, so it’s a great way to support the intellectual property of the artists and support Bulgaria’s cultural heritage and protect it from going extinct.
Bulgarian embroidery is done by hand and therefore it is not cheap; however, it is truly a lovely and unique souvenir from Bulgaria so if you are a fan of textiles we definitely recommend picking some up!
Bulgarians love to re-use kitchenware and all over Bulgaria you’ll find secondhand shops selling vintage items for cooking. I love the look of Cyrillic typography and so I’m a huge fan of these vessels for salt, pepper, sugar, and the like.
I found these adorably retro pieces of kitchenware at a secondhand shop in Plovdiv’s Old Town, but you can find reused kitchen items all over Bulgaria.
If you’re a fan of religious art or want to get something for the Orthodox believer in your life, then a hand-painted icon is a wonderful, albeit slightly expensive, piece of artwork to bring home.
The reason why these icons are so expensive is that many of these artisans use traditional gold leaf in the creation of their icons, which of course is not cheap! However, you can also find some icons that don’t use gold leaf, which will seriously reduce the price.
There is an Icon Gallery located in the complex of a church in Plovdiv’s Old Town which sells beautiful hand-crafted icons, and you can also find some icon gallery shops in Sofia.
For whatever reason, I always find Cyrillic signs for sale in Bulgaria. These are often not even saying anything interesting – just the name of streets or signs like “do not park” or “place for trash” (yes, literally!).
However, if you’re a fan of Cyrillic typography or you simply want something kitschy to bring back, a Cyrillic sign may be a good souvenir idea.
We found these in a junk shop on the way to Rila Monastery; however, I’ve also seen these for sale in the flea market outside of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral as well as in the Old Town of Plovdiv.
Of course, paintings are not a uniquely Bulgarian phenomenon, but when the paintings are of traditional Bulgarian architecture or subjects, it becomes a wonderful souvenir to bring back from Bulgaria. It also is a great way to support local artists.
We found these paintings of Plovdiv’s Bulgarian National Revival architecture for sale in the Old Town, and you can also find artists selling their works near Alexander Nevsky Cathedral or occasionally on Vitosha Boulevard.
Magnets, postcards, and related kitsch
Another thing is that is not uniquely Bulgarian, but still a common Bulgarian souvenir, magnets are an indispensable part of many people’s collections.
Of course, you will find magnets virtually everywhere, sold alongside other common souvenir items like postcards, snowglobes, and the like. While likely not made in Bulgaria, it is still a souvenir many people can’t imagine leaving without.
Rakia is a way of life in the Balkans, and there is no beverage that is more quintessentially Bulgarian than rakia. You’ll find it on almost every menu, and this beverage is so beloved by Bulgarians that it’s not unheard of to have with their shopska salad at lunch!
Rakia is often homemade, and we prefer buying it from small vendors at roadside stalls or at monasteries or small vineyards for the real stuff.
Now of course, you should probably also have a classic rakia glass to enjoy your rakia with! Traditional rakia glasses look a little bit like chemistry beakers, made of glass and rounder on the bottom with a narrow neck. Supposedly, this makes rakia more palatable, though at 40%+ alcohol, we’re not exactly convinced.
We found these at a kitschy souvenir shop in Plovdiv but you will find traditional rakia glasses in other stores around Bulgaria as well.
Now onto a Bulgarian beverage that we truly love! Bulgarian wine is absolutely delicious but unfortunately, it is rarely exported outside the country because the demand just isn’t there. But that’s not because it’s not high-quality, and you’ll find that nearly every restaurant in Bulgaria proudly offers a wide range of local Bulgarian wines in addition to other world wines.
I’m a big wine geek and I rate Bulgarian wines among some of the most delightful and affordable in Europe. Bulgarian whites and reds are both lovely, but Stephanie and I are both huge fans of Bulgarian rosés. We think that the best wines come from the Thracian Valley and the area around Melnik!
One of our favorite Bulgarian customs is the yearly ritual of buying martenitsi to give to your friends!
Martenitsi (the plural form of martenitsa) are red and white threaded bracelets that you give friends, family, and loved ones on Baba Marta Day, which is the first day of March. You’re supposed to wear it until you see either the first blossoming tree or the first bird returning from their winter migration, at which point you tie it to a tree for good luck.
While a martenitsa is a traditional springtime gift, you could also bring this Bulgarian souvenir home yearround if you find yourself attached to the story behind it.
Bulgarians love to read and you can find a great stash of used books all over Bulgarian cities. While many won’t come in handy unless you can read Bulgarian, a Bulgarian version of a beloved book can be a nice souvenir. You’ll also find a growing number of English-language books sold by used book vendors across the city.
Bulgaria has traditionally been a land of craftsmen throughout the years, and because of its time in the Ottoman empire it has taken on a lot of traditional Ottoman crafts such as silver filigree.
In Veliko Tarnovo you’ll find artisans crafting silver filigree from hand the traditional way. It makes an excellent souvenir! You can also find these in selected souvenir shops around the country though always inquire to see if these were made by hand and by whom, so that you purchase something local and handmade.
Of course, lots of people want to mark their trip to Bulgaria with some Communist memorabilia, especially if they are fans of red tourism. While we think there are tons of other gifts that better exemplify the Bulgarian experience, Communist paraphernalia is definitely a trendy souvenir to bring back from Bulgaria.
You can find the best Communist memorabilia from Bitaka Flea Market on the outskirts of the city or outside of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Just a reminder that Bulgaria was never part of the USSR or Yugoslavia, so any USSR/Yugoslavia-themed memorabilia is not authentically Bulgarian.
Where to Buy Bulgarian Souvenirs
Sofia doesn’t have an Old Town (which we actually find charming about the city, as there’s no one place for tourists to get trapped in!) so this doesn’t apply, but in the old towns of Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo you’ll find a ton of souvenir shopping to be done both on the streets and in speciality dedicated crafts shops.
If you’re after vintage wares or Communist memorabilia, your best bet is a flea market. We haven’t been to Bitaka Flea Market on the outskirts of the city yet, which is only open on Saturdays, but it’s the largest flea market in Sofia. A less budget-friendly but more convenient option is the flea market that operates in front of Alexander Nevsky Cathedral on a daily basis.
Junk & Secondhand Shops
There are tons of junk shops all around Bulgaria selling secondhand wares – think vintage goods without the vintage markup! We had a great time browsing the junk shop in Kochinerovo on our way to Rila Monastery. But there are other secondhand shops that you’ll find throughout the cities if you just keep an eye out.
Of course, a souvenir shop is always a logical place to find souvenirs. However, in these shops, you’ll likely find a combination of authentic Bulgarian products (such as rose oil) and Chinese-imported goods like magnets and other kitsch. Souvenir shops can be found on some of the major streets in Sofia like Vitosha Boulevard, G.S. Rakovski Street, etc.
Pro tip: The souvenir stores in the subways and the airports are actually pretty good places to shop! The airport is especially great to shop at as you don’t have to worry about lugging it around with you all day, and it’s surprisingly inexpensive.
Where to Stay in Bulgaria
If you’re planning a trip around Bulgaria and don’t know where to stay, we’ve picked a few of our favorite hotels and guesthouses for each major tourist city for each budget category.
Don’t Leave For Your Trip without Travel Insurance!
Finally, make sure you always travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. The country is a very safe place to travel, but accidents or theft can easily ruin your trip if you don’t have the travel insurance coverage to recover the losses. Recently my aunt fell on a train in France and needed surgery, but luckily her travel insurance covered the costs in full. Thank goodness!
For travel insurance, I use World Nomads. I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.
Originally from California, Allison has been living in Bulgaria for the last two years and is obsessed with traveling around the Balkans. She has been published in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, Matador Network, and the Huffington Post. She loves befriending dogs, drinking coffee, geeking out about wine, and cooking food from around the world.