Sofia Adventures

Welcome to Sofia!

Sofia is an intriguing city, with corners that show at various times a glint of the splendor of Vienna, the charm of Istanbul, the quirkiness of Budapest, and the brutalism of Moscow. You’ll find Roman ruins in our subway stations, medieval icons in the church basements, and Thracian relics in the former presidential palace. Yet Sofia brings all of these seemingly disparate traditions together into one magical, inspiring city.

DISCOVER SOFIA

DISCOVER SOFIA

DISCOVER SOFIA

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7 Things to Know About Tipping in Bulgaria for a Stress-Free Trip

One of the important things a traveler needs to consider when arriving in a new country is the tipping culture of their destination. Regardless of wherever you’re from, remember that you are a guest in their country, and you should adhere to local customs and guidelines.

If it’s your first time in Bulgaria, you may have several questions about how tipping in Bulgaria works, such as how much is expected and when and how you should add a tip.

Stephanie and I have been living in Bulgaria for the last 3 years, and we’re happy to share all we’ve learned about how to tip in Bulgaria so that you (and your servers, taxi drivers, bartenders, and the like!) can have a fantastic time.

Tipping is not compulsory, but it’s more or less expected

When it comes to tipping in Bulgaria, there are a few things to keep in mind. For one, know that often, the base salaries are incredibly low — we have friends who have worked as waiters on a base salary of 20 leva a day, about 10 euros.

A 4 leva tip on a 40 leva bill may not seem like a lot to you, but it may mean your server can afford to take a taxi home when they get off work at one or two in the morning or to afford better groceries.

If you have the privilege to travel, you can afford to tip as well and should factor that into your budget. You should budget to add about 10% tip for fair to good service and more if your service was excellent.

Keep in mind that service standards differ from country to country. What is standard service in the U.S. or Canada would be over-the-top basically anywhere in Europe. Service in Bulgaria is typically a little terser and to-the-point than in other countries, and that doesn’t mean that your server is doing a bad job – it’s just part of the culture.

If you truly have bad service, it’s better to speak with the management about what could be improved about your meal, or to leave a smaller tip of around 5-7%, rather than to just straight up not tip.

Don’t enforce your point of view on tipping culture on others

Continuing on a similar vein from the above point, when it comes to tipping in Bulgaria, please be mindful of the country’s customs with respect to tipping and don’t let your country’s tipping culture influence how you tip in Bulgaria.

I’ve met my fair share of Australian and British tourists while I travel who hate the concept of tipping culture and feel like they shouldn’t have to tip because it’s not expected for them back home. While I have my problems with tipping culture, skimping out on your waiter is not the way to solve those problems — especially when it’s clear that you have a good deal of privilege relative to your wait staff.

Likewise, I’ve met a lot of expats living in Bulgaria who get frustrated with the fact that servers in Bulgaria tend to be more matter-of-fact and less overtly friendly than servers in their home country. As an American, I try to remember that my expectations for service are greatly different than people from other countries, and I try to adjust my expectations accordingly.

When you travel, it’s best to be aware of what the local expectations are and to adjust yourself to that, rather than expect people to adjust themselves to you.

There are different guidelines for tipping in Bulgaria for different kinds of service

The etiquette for tipping in Bulgaria depends largely on the kind of service you’re receiving. We’ll go over the kinds of service workers you’ll most likely encounter during your trip and what a good tipping baseline is for each of them.

Waiter: 10% of the bill for fair to good service or 15% for fantastic service is the norm.

Taxi Driver: Round up to the nearest leva for a bill under 10 leva; perhaps add on another lev if the bill is above 10 such as if you are coming from the airport. For example, if my final bill coming from the airport was 12.50 leva, I would tip 14 or possibly 15, depending on the quality of driving and service.

Barista/Café Worker: Not required if you use counter service, but tipping small change if they have a tip jar and you pay in cash is appreciated. At sit-down coffee shops where you receive table service, round up to the nearest lev or add about 10%, whatever seems more appropriate.

Nail or Hair Salon Worker; Masseuse: Approximately 10% for good service. For example, I tip my manicurist 3 leva on a 27 leva service.

Hotel Housekeeping: It’s polite, but not required to leave a tip of around 2 leva per night for a budget hotel that provides daily housekeeping. You should leave this with a note so that the housekeeping staff knows it’s a gratuity and not an accident. For a more luxurious hotel, around 5 leva per night is more appropriate. You can tip daily or in a lump sum at the end of your trip.

It’s extremely rare to have a service charge added, but do check before paying regardless

In our combined 5 years of living in Bulgaria, neither Stephanie or I could think of a time when we received a bill in Bulgaria with the service charge already added.

However, there is a chance that some places may add a service charge to your bill, so do quickly scan your bill to see. Be sure you’re not confusing the VAT/tax with the service charge! If you’re confused (as most bills are in Cyrillic), simply ask your waiter to clarify your bill.

It’s not always possible to tip on a credit card, so have some cash on hand

Depending on the point of sale device, it is not always possible to add a tip with a credit card. Even when it is, cash tips are generally appreciated as it is more likely to go directly to your wait staff rather than the restaurant management.

While in the U.S., for example, you often have the ability to add a tip at the very end of a meal after your credit card has already been run, in Europe that’s not the case and you usually have to tell your waiter exactly how much to charge on a card if you are tipping by card. For that reason, I think it’s generally less awkward to simply tip with cash.

Tip using Bulgarian leva, not Euros

Bulgaria uses the leva (singular: lev) for all payments, and Euros are not accepted basically anywhere except in extremely dire circumstances.

You should tip in leva as well – you don’t want to give your server the errand of also going to convert that currency in order to get their tip. Make sure you either exchange your money or take out some local currency from an ATM so you can tip in the right currency!

Don’t forget to tip your tour guides!

Bulgaria - Sofia - Graffiti Tour Street Art Tour
The Sofia graffiti tour

Tour guides often get forgotten about when it comes to tips, but they shouldn’t be — they have to go through licensing procedures which are time-consuming and expensive, not to mention how much time they spend preparing to be ready to guide people each day.

I suggest a tip of approximately 10% of the cost of the tour for your tip for your guide, keeping in mind that if you have both a driver and a guide, they will likely share the tip.

If you take a free tour – such as the excellent Free Sofia Tour – we recommend tipping a minimum of 5 leva and better yet, around 10 leva per person.

Bulgaria Travel Resources

Bulgaria - Sofia - Sofia Opera Stephanie and Allison

We want you to have the best trip to Bulgaria possible! If this will be your first time in Bulgaria, check out our Bulgaria trip planning guide as well as our packing list for Bulgaria.

To help you, we’ve created a number of resources that will be helpful. If you’re visiting Sofia, this 101 things to do in Sofia should be a nice start! Also read our Sofia travel tips post and where to stay in Sofia.

For transportation, check out our guide to avoiding taxi scams in the city. If you’ll be flying into Sofia, you can read our tips for flying in and out of Sofia Airport.

We also have Sofia restaurant and bar recommendations. We also have articles for popular day trips from Sofia like Plovdiv, the Rila Lakes, and Buzludzha.

If you’re thinking of Borovets instead of Bansko, check out how to get to Borovets from Sofia, our favorite Borovets ski resorts, as well as our favorite Borovets restaurants.

For more resources for your trip, check out our pages on traveling in Bulgaria and the Balkans

Planning a Trip to Bulgaria? Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

Bulgaria - Nessebar - Typical residential architecture and narrow cobblestone street in the old town of Nessebar, Bulgaria

We strongly suggest that you travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. While the country is safe, accidents can happen anywhere. If you experience an accident or theft, travel insurance will help you recover your costs and enjoy the rest of your trip.

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.

Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.

How to Visit Delos on a Day Trip from Mykonos

One of the best perks of a trip to Mykonos is its proximity to so many beautiful islands. Luckily, the closest island to Mykonos is also one of the most interesting and beautiful: the beautiful island of Delos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The island of Delos ticks all the boxes for a perfect day trip from Mykonos. Frequent connections by ferry, a beautiful setting, a stunning and well-preserved set of ruins: a day trip to Delos from Mykonos is as easy as it is rewarding.

While it can be hard to peel yourself away from the beautiful Mykonos beaches, I really recommend you do. Delos offers an incredible insight into ancient Greek civilization at its peak, and taking a tour of Delos reveals the hints of what life was like back in Delos’ heyday, more than 2,000 years ago.

Visiting Delos was one of the highlights of my recent trip to Greece, and I’d put Delos as one of my top 5 archaeological sites in Greece for history lovers. It’s right up there with the Acropolis, the Oracle of Delphi, and Akrotiri as must-visit sites. And since it’s only a 30-minute boat ride to Delos from Mykonos, you’d be a fool to skip it.

Getting to Delos from Mykonos

Mykonos - Greece - Beach with turquoise water and three white windmills

Truly, planning a day trip to Delos from Mykonos couldn’t be simpler. Boat connections leave from Mykonos Town (Chora) multiple times a day.

A ferry with Delos Tours is the most common way to get to Delos from Mykonos, and it’s what I personally did and recommend because they have phenomenal tour guides.

I did this tour with Delos Tours, and my guide, Athena, was fantastic. She’s an archaeologist and historian as well as being a guide, so she was able to bring so many of the structure to life for us and give us an insight into what clues were left behind by this ancient civilization.

To get to the port where they leave to Delos, walk to the Delos Tours ticket office at the Delos port. This is about a 10-minute walk from the Old Port, or a 5-minute walk from the restaurants on the harbor.

Alternately, if you are visiting Mykonos on a cruise, you’ll be coming from the New Port. In this case, you should take the sea bus for only two euros all the way to the Delos departure area.

The Delos to Mykonos Ferry Timetable

On Mondays, there is a ferry from Mykonos to Delos at 10 AM from May 2nd to October 31st, with a return ferry at 1:30 PM.

The Monday afternoon tour differs depending on the sunset time. From May 2nd to September 15, the ferry leaves at 5 PM and returns at 7:30 PM. From September 15 to September 30, the ferry leaves at 4:30 PM and returns at 7 PM.

From October 1 to October 14, the ferry leaves at 4 PM and comes back from Delos at 6:30 PM. From October 15 to October 31, the ferry leaves at 3:30 PM and returns at 6 PM.

On Tuesdays through Sunday, the schedule has many more options for morning tours, all between May 2nd and October 31st. There are morning departures at 9 AM, 10 AM, and 11:30 AM, with returns at noon, 1:30 PM, and 3 PM respectively.

The evening tours are staggered and follow the same timeline as the Monday afternoon tours listed above.

How far is Delos from Mykonos?

The boat to Delos to Mykonos is blissfully short. It’s only 15 kilometers, and the boat takes only 30 minutes. The ride is absolutely beautiful!

Can you stay overnight on Delos?

You cannot – Delos is strictly an archaeological site, and there are no hotels or any capacity to stay on the island overnight.

How much is the ferry from Mykonos to Delos?

The ferry costs 20 euros return, which does not include the 12 euro entrance fee, for a total of 32 euros.

I strongly recommend adding on a guide. For 50 euros, you get a return ticket, the entrance fee, and a roughly 2-hour guided tour of Delos. This is the half-day tour I booked: The Original Morning Delos Guided Tour. If you’d rather visit in the evening, you can check the Evening Tour offered by the same company.

Alternately, you can visit Delos as part of a full-day yacht sailing cruise which also includes Rhenia Island, so you can drink white wine, eat lunch, relax in the sun, swim and snorkel with the provided equipment, and enjoy a two-hour guided tour of Delos Island. This is the yacht cruise I recommend if you have the time!

What to See When You Visit Delos Archaeological Site

The Delos Archaeological Site is pretty big and spread out. Going on a tour will ensure you see all the highlights, which is why I chose to do it that way. Here are the top 5 things you should keep an eye out for when you visit.

The Temples of Apollo. There are three temples which were dedicated to Apollo, which now stand largely in ruins. The statues from these temples have been moved to the inner museum.

The Archaeological Museum of Delos: Many of the statues you’ll find in Delos have been moved inside, and replicas now stand in their place to protect the originals from Delos’ strong winds.

The Terrace of the Lions: This row of lion statues made of the finest Naxian marble is one of the most iconic sights of Delos. The originals have been moved into the museum to protect them from the elements, but replicas of the lions are placed where they originally stood for millennia.

The House of Dionysus: Best known for its beautiful mosaic floor and the remains of plaster stucco wall paintings, the House of Dionysus is a wonderful insight into the lives of the extremely wealthy who lived on Delos many millennia ago.

The Odeon. The ancient theater of Delos has been damaged quite a bit over the centuries, but it’s an impressive site nonetheless.

5 Big Mistakes People Make When They Visit Delos

Not bringing sun and wind protection. Delos is an open archaeology site, with virtually no protection from the elements. You will want to bring, at the very least, a large bottle of water, a sun hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses. At the same time, be sure to bring some sort of sweater or windbreaker in case the wind picks up, as Delos can get incredibly windy.

Not wearing the right shoes. Delos is rocky and unpaved. Unlike Akrotiri, which has a boardwalk around the whole perimeter and through the town, you are walking outdoors on uneven terrain the entire time at Delos. I recommend walking shoes like sneakers or a really sturdy pair of sandals. I do not recommend cute flats that you don’t want to get gravel in with every other step…

Not going with a guide. While you can save some money by not going with a guide, I really don’t recommend skimping on this. Most of the interesting sites such as the Odeon and the House of Dionysus have very little information about them on placards, so you won’t really know what you are seeing.

A guide will help bring not only these important structures to life, but the everyday structures — the taverns, the houses, the fish markets, etc. – to give you the full imagining of what life on Delos would have been life.

Stepping on the marble. There are many marble blocks strewn on the ground at Delos, which is incredibly soft and porous. Do not step on the marble, as you risk damaging it and wearing it down over time.

Not eating beforehand. Delos is strictly an archaeological site, so there’s really not much in the way of infrastructure. It’s just a ticket booth, a museum shop (which was closed when I went), and a bathroom with just two stalls. Be sure to eat beforehand — you can buy snacks on the boat or grab something to eat before you leave Mykonos harbor.

Delos Tours Mentioned in the Post

For a quick list of the Delos tours I mentioned in this post, here they are:

Pin This Guide to Visiting Delos from Mykonos Here

Planning to visit Mykonos, Greece? Make sure you make time for a day trip to Delos from Mykonos. Delos Island is an incredible UNESCO archaeological site, an ancient island full of history. Here are crucial things to know before you go from Mykonos to Delos on a day trip: one of the best things to do in Mykonos on your Greece itinerary.
Planning to visit Mykonos, Greece? Make sure you make time for a day trip to Delos from Mykonos. Delos Island is an incredible UNESCO archaeological site, an ancient island full of history. Here are crucial things to know before you go from Mykonos to Delos on a day trip: one of the best things to do in Mykonos on your Greece itinerary.

5 Things to Bring with You to Greece

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

If you’re planning a trip to Greece, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Greece packing list.

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. We generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Mykonos roads are winding, especially around the coast. If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

 Travel safety items. We think Athens is safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Stephanie or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack.

It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Read More: Essential Greece Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Greece

More Greece Resources

Mykonos - Greece - Sunset in Little venice with colorful chairs and buildings

First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more.

Next, you’ll want to read our all-season Greece packing list.

If you are still trying to figure out your Greece itinerary, check out our guides on where to go in Greece, the best places for island hopping in Greece, and when is the best time to visit. 

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

I’m sure you’re aware that it’s a good idea to have travel insurance for traveling in Mykonos, Greece in general, or anywhere in the world!

Stephanie and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption. 

While Mykonos is safe, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel like theft or injury, so it’s better to play it safe.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here <<

10 Big Mistakes to Avoid When Visiting the Acropolis

Note: This post on mistakes to avoid when visiting the Acropolis is a guest post by Monique Skidmore of Trip Anthropologist. See below the post for our recommendations and tips.

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10 Big Mistakes to Avoid When Visiting the Acropolis

No visit to Athens is complete without stopping by the Acropolis, one of the most important archaeological sites on earth. For many, a visit to this incredible place is a highlight of their time in Greece.

There are a few pitfalls, however, that can take your trip from totally mind-blowing to kind of underwhelming. At best, visiting the Acropolis is magical – but at its worst, it can be hot, over-crowded and slippery!

Acropolis

So, to make sure you see the Acropolis at its best, here are ten common mistakes – and how to avoid them.

The Top Mistakes You Can Make When Visiting the Acropolis

Here are the worst mistakes you can make when you visit the Acropolis.

Not buying your ticket in advance

Acropolis

The last thing you want to do when you finally arrive at the Acropolis is spending hours waiting to buy your ticket! Not only does it eat into your sightseeing time, but it’s also likely to be hot and uncomfortable.

Luckily, since 2017, you have been able to buy tickets to the Acropolis online through the official Greek Ministry of Culture website or through Get Your Guide. I recommend booking through Get Your Guide as your ticket will be refundable up to 24 hours in advance. On the other hand, if you book through the official website then you cannot make any changes once you’ve bought your ticket.

Another great tip is to buy a skip-the-line ticket. It does cost 5 euros more, however, this will keep time in hot and boring queues to an absolute minimum. That leaves more time to explore the Acropolis!

The absolute best ticket to pre-purchase is a Skip-the-line ticket that you download to your phone and doesn’t have to be exchanged for a “real” paper ticket at an office or kiosk hundreds of meters away from the Acropolis entrance.

>>Check the reviews, pricing, and schedules for the Acropolis Skip-the-Line Ticket with Guided Tour<<

Visiting during the busiest time

Crowds at Acropolis

The Acropolis is amazing, but the experience is not as great when there’s a sea of people and searing heat. Not only is it uncomfortable, but there’s also the difficulty of trying to capture some great photos when every square inch is crawling with visitors!

The Acropolis is so popular that it’s pretty much impossible to visit without sharing it with at least a few other eager visitors! However, with a bit of pre-planning, you can see it at its best.

The Acropolis is at its busiest around 10 am to 2 pm, which is when the cruise ships and day-trippers arrive. You can beat them to it by arriving as early as possible. The site opens at 8 am, so I recommend arriving at 7:30 am so you can be near the front of the line.

You’ll be able to enjoy the Acropolis a lot more, without the crowds and before the sun is out in force! This is especially the case during the busy summer season when temperatures are often over 35°C degrees (95°F).

If you aren’t able to visit early, the next best option is to go in the late afternoon when the crowds have thinned. The Acropolis stays open quite late, especially in summer, so you can visit after 5 pm to have a calmer and more enjoyable experience.

A final reason to skip the most crowded time of day is about photography. The Parthenon, in particular, is difficult to photograph without a wide-angle lens. As you look out from the Acropolis over Athens, the panoramic views are best captured with a wide-angle lens. It’s hard to take these shots amid a throng of tourists!

Using the main entrance

arriving at the acropolis

Another big mistake (that most visitors make) is using the main entrance to enter the Acropolis. Sure, you’ll get in – along with hundreds and hundreds of other people.

Instead, use the lesser-known second entrance located at the south of the site. You enter through the ticket office, on Dinysiou Areopagitou, not far from the Acropolis Museum. The line here is usually much shorter than the main entrance on Rovertou Galli.

By using this entrance, you’ll save some precious sightseeing time! This is especially important if you are visiting during the Acropolis peak period between 10 am to 2 pm.

Not wearing appropriate shoes

Acropolis Hill

To get to the top of the Acropolis (where the Propylaia, Pantheon, and Erechtheoin are), you need to walk about twenty minutes uphill. While the walk is not difficult, it’s not the place to wear your stilettos!

The stones on the ground have been worn smooth over the centuries, meaning they are extremely slippery – especially if there’s been any rain. Make sure to wear footwear with a bit of grip. Sneakers and hiking boots are great options! A bit of ankle support is also a good thing.

There is an elevator for people with mobility concerns, however, check ahead to make sure it’s working as it is often out of service.

Trying to do it alone

Parthenon

The Acropolis is one of the world’s most important archaeological sites, and its history is seriously astonishing. It can be quite overwhelming to try to understand the site’s incredible history all on your own. Without some kind of guide, you’re likely to miss out on a lot of the smaller details and context.

This is especially the case as there is not a great deal of signage around the site.

The ultimate way to experience the Acropolis is to take a guided tour so that you can ask questions and hear some insider information. However, if you’re on a budget, then there are several excellent audio guides available to download – completely free. The Rick Steves’ Europe audio guide is particularly well-regarded.

Forgetting to visit the Acropolis Museum

Acropolis Museum

If you think the Acropolis looks a tad empty, that’s because the smaller objects and artifacts have been moved out of the site. This way, they can be preserved and studied.

Luckily, they’re not too far away – just down the street, in fact, at the Acropolis Museum. Sadly, quite a few people skip over the Museum. This is a big mistake! The recently renovated Museum is full of artifacts that give a glimpse into what life at the Acropolis was once like.

You can visit the Museum before or after the Acropolis (do note you’ll need a separate ticket). It comes down to personal preference, however, if you only have one day then I’d recommend visiting the Acropolis first to avoid the crowds, and then going to the Museum afterward.

Once you’ve seen the images that have been removed from the Acropolis, you have a whole different perspective on just how incredible it must have been to have seen it in Antiquity.

>>Check the reviews for the Acropolis + Acropolis Museum Skip-the-Line Ticket with Guided Tour<<

Not leaving enough time to see everything

Erechtheoin

The Acropolis is essentially a very large rocky complex, made up of many different structures. However, many visitors just rush up to the Parthenon before leaving the site – missing out on many great places along the way.

For example, the Erechtheion is famous for the astonishing Caryatids – the sculptures of the maidens – that support for the porch that faces the Parthenon. 

But the Erechtheion is also the location of “trident marks” where the god Poseidon wanted to show his power and struck the ground with his trident causing seawater to spout from the ground.

There is a hole deliberately left in the ceiling of the Erechtheoin that architects left there to show the path of Poseidon’s trident as it flew through the air before lodging in the ground.

On the opposite side of the Erechtheion is the sacred olive tree. It was replanted after the original olive tree was chopped down by the invading Persians.

The original olive tree is believed to have grown from the spot where the goddess Athena struck the ground with her spear in a bid to be seen as more powerful than Poseidon. Apparently, the Athenian love of olives won out and Athena won the context as the most powerful and revered deity in Athens.

I recommend leaving a minimum of two hours to properly visit the Acropolis, but you might like to stay even longer. The longer that you can stay, the more time you’ll have to discover all the smaller details and oft-overlooked places on both the Northern and Southern Slopes.

Again, a guide can help you to discover all the different sights. Another option is to take a walking trail such as the Peripatos Walk. It takes about two hours in total, and you won’t want to rush through – so make sure you leave yourself plenty of time.

>>Check the reviewS for the Acropolis + Acropolis Museum Skip-the-Line Ticket with Guided Tour<<

Not bringing any water

Acropolis tourists in summer

Your trip to the Acropolis is unlikely to be as enjoyable if you find yourself thirsty, hot and bothered while exploring it. There is one water fountain at the Acropolis, but there’s nowhere to buy water once you’re inside the site.

This means that bringing some kind of hydration is a must! It can get extremely hot at the Acropolis in summer, and the walk is quite tiring. If you drink it all, you can fill it back up at the water fountain.

If you’re visiting in summer, you’ll also want to wear some sunscreen to make sure you don’t leave the Acropolis looking like a lobster!

Skipping the southern slopes of the Acropolis

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

The most show-stopping parts of the Acropolis are on top of the hill such as the Parthenon and the Erechtheion, and many visitors barely glance at what’s around the lower part. This is a big mistake! There are major archaeological sites to see on the Southern Slope.

Most famously, the Theatre of Dionysos was a central point of religious life in Athens from the 6th Century B.C. It is also considered the birthplace of the European Theatre.

The plays performed here honored Dionysos and were written by some of the greatest Greek writers such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. 

The most impressive structure on the southern slopes is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. This enormous stone theatre was completed by 161 AD, It once had a Lebanese cedar roof but the Odeon was destroyed by the Heruli (an East Germanic tribe) in 267AD.

It remains a wonderful part of the Acropolis – be careful on the steps from the Acropolis down the slope to the Odeon!

Several smaller sights are well worth exploring, including caves, churches and several sanctuaries. 

 So, once you have headed to the top to take in the dazzling views, be sure to leave some time to explore the wider sights.

Not getting the combined ticket if you’re visiting multiple sites

Temple of Olympian Zeus columns

Archaeology lover? History buff? If so, then chances are you’ll want to visit other sites than just the Acropolis. However, those entry fees will start to add up if you are purchasing them individually.

Luckily, there’s a great solution that will leave more euros in your pocket. You can purchase a multi-pass which will give you access to a number of the most important archaeological sites. This includes Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library and the Roman Agora. You’ll be able to visit all of the sites over five consecutive days.

You can only buy the Special Package Ticket on the official Ministry of Culture website, or at the entrance to the sites. As the Special Package Ticket is the same price all year round (30 euros), it is better value in summer when the Acropolis ticket price alone is 20 euro.

Monique_Skidmore_TripAnthropologist_headshot

About the Author: Monique Skidmore is an award-winning cultural anthropologist and a prize-winning writer. An Australian and a long-time expert on Myanmar, Monique blogs about the culture, history and scenic beauty of some of the world’s most fascinating and iconic destinations.

See below for our Greece resources and tips.

Organized Tours Mentioned in this Post

Greece - Athens - Detail of caryatids statues on the Parthenon on Acropolis Hill, Athens, Greece

Here are all the guided tours mentioned in this post in one easy-to-reference list:

Basic Acropolis Ticket

Acropolis Skip-the-Line Ticket with Guided Tour

Acropolis + Acropolis Museum Skip-the-Line Ticket with Guided Tour

5 Things to Bring with You to Greece

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

If you’re planning a trip to Greece, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more packing tips, check out our complete Greece packing list.

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Greece for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. While generally, the tap water in Athens is drinkable, we generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! There are places in Greece, especially on the island, where the water tastes like minerals.

We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Santorini roads are winding, especially around the coast. If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

– Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.

 Travel safety items. We think Athens is safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Allison or I use these. Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack.

It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Read More: Essential Greece Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Greece

Where to Stay in Athens

Greece - Athens - Sunset from Hotel Balcony

View from my last Athens hotel

We have a complete guide to where to stay in Athens, plus a separate post for those looking for the best hotels with Acropolis views. If you are looking for our overall top picks, here are the best places to stay in Athens for each budget category:

Budget: If you’re looking for a budget hotel in lively Monastiraki, book a stay at Fivos Hotel. Located right by Monastiraki Station, the hotel has free wifi and ensuite bathrooms. Most rooms include continental breakfast. You’ll be just minutes from Ermou Street, Monastiraki Flea Market, and the Cathedral. 

>>Check out reviews, pictures, prices, and availability here.<<

Mid-Range: For my most recent trip to Athens, we stayed in a couple of different places, but my favorite was the Ares Athens Hotel off of Omonia Square. I loved it’s location, close to Omonia station, across the street from a Coffee Island (my personal version of Heaven), and with views of Mount Lycabettus. The rooms are clean and comfortable, and each room has a private terrace. 

>>Check out reviews, pictures, prices, and availability here.<<

Luxury: To enjoy a bit of luxury in the middle of Monastiraki, check into the four-star Emporikon Athens Hotel. The rooms are sophisticated and swanky, with a mid of modern textures and colors with a traditional take on comfort. Located in Agia Irini Square, the building dates back to the nineteenth century. This is a true Athens boutique hotel in one of my favorite parts of the city. 

>>Check out prices, reviews, photos, and availability here.<<

Read More: Where to Stay in Athens: Hotels & Accommodations We Love!

More Greece Travel Resources

Greece - Delphi - Stephanie Selfie

First read our guide to planning a trip to Greece, which covers visas, budgets, vaccines, and much more.

Next, you’ll want to read our all-season Greece packing list.

If you are still trying to figure out your Greece itinerary, check out our guides on where to go in Greece, the best places for island hopping in Greece, and when is the best time to visit. 

Since if you landed on this page, chances are you’ll be spending time in Athens! Check out our Athens Instagram guide, the best Athens day trips, and our complete Athens hotel guide. We also have a guide to the best things to do in Athens in winter

We also have Athens safety tips so your trip can be hassle-free. We are currently working on our mega-post of things to do in Athens as well as our itineraries, so stay tuned! 

We publish new content about the Balkans almost every day! For more information about traveling to Greece and the Balkans, bookmark our Greece and Balkan travel pages so you can find out what’s new before your trip.

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

I’m sure you’re aware that it’s a good idea to have travel insurance for traveling in Greece, the Balkans, or anywhere in the world!

Allison and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last three years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption. 

While Athens is safe, there’s always a risk inherent in everyday travel like theft or injury, so it’s better to play it safe. The saying goes “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel,” and we think it’s true!

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here <<

Pin this Guide to Mistakes to Avoid When You Visit the Acropolis for Your Trip!

10 Big Mistakes to Avoid When Visiting the Acropolis

 

10 Big Mistakes to Avoid When Visiting the Acropolis

Where to Stay in Sunny Beach: Hotels & Resorts for Every Budget!

Sunny Beach is a relaxed beach resort town with tons of amenities for foreign tourists. Once you’re here, you can sit back and relax, but planning a trip here can be a bit confusing. There are just so many hotels to choose from! Here are our favorite Sunny Beach hotels for those wondering where to stay in Sunny Beach.

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Where to Stay in Sunny Beach the Best Sunny Beach Hotels

Where to Stay in Sunny Beach on a Budget ($50 USD or Less a Night)

Here are our favorite Sunny Beach hotels for budget travelers. 

Harmony Suites Grand Resort

Harmony Suites Grand Resort offers the best option for any kind of traveler, whether you’re a group or even solo. You can choose from a studio, 1-bedroom, or a 2-bedroom apartment with fully furnished and equipped features. All of their apartments have a mini kitchen (with fridge and cooking equipment), a balcony with outdoor furniture, a washing machine, and safety storages for your valuables.

There’s s a garden outside of the hotel, so you can truly feel that you are in an oasis by the sea. Plenty of sun loungers are beside the outdoor pool if you want to take a refreshing dip just to ease the tension from walking and swimming al day. Families will appreciate the playground for children to let out some energy.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Harmony Suites Grand Resort here ««

Bulgaria - Sunny Beach - Beach Umbrellas

Harmony Palace

Harmony Palace is the perfect place for couples and smaller families. They offer studio rooms and 1-bedroom apartments.  The rooms all have a kitchen and a balcony and features to make your stay hassle-free. They also soundproofed the rooms so you won’t hear noises coming from the sea or the neighboring rooms. You also don’t need to bring toiletries and towels, because they already have it in their ensuite bathrooms. Slippers, robes, and a hairdryer are also provided.

You may have your breakfast at the café. There are also drinks and cocktails available at their pool bar. You can also enjoy the onsite hammam and hot tub.

It has a small fitness center you can use for free with all of the necessary equipment so you can get in a good workout.  They even offer some fitness classes so you can join in on the fun. 

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Harmony Palace here ««

Bulgaria - Sunny Beach - Pier

SmartLine Meridian Hotel

This hotel offers budget-friendly accommodations that guests love. They all have double rooms with sizes perfect for couples or families with two kids. All rooms have a balcony and the interiors are simple yet comfortable. 

Another thing that’s great about this hotel is their amenities. They have a huge pool with plenty of sun loungers so you don’t have to wait for that lady who’s been tanning all day in the sun to FINALLY give up her spot. There are even nets in the pool so you can play volleyball.  Aside from this, they also have an entertainment room with billiards, table tennis and darts – plus a dedicated staff is here in case you need to borrow something.

Before you go out on a date night with your partner, you can get yourself ready at their salon or barbershop. There’s also a gift shop for that last-minute souvenir shopping. Something you shouldn’t miss is the view from the rooftop restaurant. But aside from this place, you can also dine and get some drinks at their Irish Pub and Pizzeria or the pool-bar.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at SmartLine Meridian Hotel here ««

Bulgaria - Sunny Beach - Lucy on the beach with my Longchamp and travel towel and Ecco sandals

Mid-Range Places to Stay in Sunny Beach ($50-100 USD a Night)

If you want something a little more upscale, check out our recommendations for the best mid-range accommodations in Sunny Beach.

HVD Club Bor

This hotel has a tagline that says “Ultra All Inclusive” so they truly aim to please! It has fabulous amenities for all guests, and it doesn’t just end with their features since their service is also top notch. They have a large round pool outdoors, surrounded by sun loungers. The entire property is fully covered with WiFi, so regardless if you go near the pool or at one of their restaurants, you can stay connected.

They have 55 rooms in total and there are ample choices for guests to choose from. Most of their rooms are best for couples or families with two children (around four guests in total). All of the rooms have a minibar that they fill with snacks, just in case you want to munch on something but don’t want a meal. The balconies also showcase a grand view of the sea and you can hear the birds singing in the morning and crickets chirping at night. 

They have entertainment facilities for adults and kids. You can check out their billiards, darts, and table tennis, but if you want something more chill, then you can listen to some of the live performances they put on.

Kids can play at their kids’ club or run and have fun at their playground outdoors. They also have packages and treatments at their spa aside from soothing massages for your tired muscles.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at HVD Club Bor here ««

Bulgaria - Sunny Beach - Man Relaxing

Hotel Neptun Beach

If you’re thinking about getting a mid-range beachfront hotel, you won’t regret booking this hotel because you can experience the golden beaches and the bright blue sea. We spent tons of time on the beach out front, and it’s one of the best spots in town!

This huge hotel offers 278 rooms which include 45 studio rooms and 17 apartments. Despite being just beside the beach, they also have a garden that gives it a green vibe for guests as they flock to the parasols and sun loungers beside the outdoor pool (where you can also get some drinks at their pool bar).

Their rooms have a balcony and a work desk plus a minibar. All are simply furnished and each has huge comfortable beds to give you a good rest after a long day checking out the beach or nearby tourist attractions.

It has a  restaurant with a terrace and a garden restaurant for a more al fresco dining experience (there’s also nice music played here). You can enjoy some of their services at the spa plus there’s also a Jacuzzi, children’s pool, hammam, and sauna.

You can also get currency exchanged onsite if you need additional cash. It is quite difficult to book this hotel, due to its perfect location and amenities, so it is still best to book in advance.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Hotel Neptun Beach here ««

Bulgaria - Sunny Beach - Beach Bar

Royal Palace Helena Park

Royal Palace Helena is another contender for the best beachfront resort hotel in the area. Not only does it have a private area of the beach (which is great because there’s less crowd and Sunny Beach gets really crowded during peak season) it also has a lush garden where you can just get nice sitting areas under the shade of some trees.

They have 149 double rooms and there are also 18 apartment type (suite) rooms suited for more guests. The rooms are styled simple, yet they look elegant. Some rooms have a small balcony with outdoor wicker chairs and a wooden table for two. All rooms have a minibar, safety storages, and satellite TVs.

While most of their outdoor and indoor pools are closed during the winter season, you can try their hammam, hot tub or sauna instead. If you need to get a new hairstyle or just a nice and relaxing spa treatment, then you can visit their salon and spa.

For someone who just loves to sing, you can check out their karaoke at their entertainment room where you can find other activities to kill your boredom. Kids can also be entertained with games and programs, plus they can enjoy the kids’ pool.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Royal Palace Helena Park here ««

Bulgaria - Sunny Beach - Lucy

Royal Palace Helena Sand

Another hotel inside the Helena Resort Complex is the Royal Palace Helena Sand. The architecture of the property is unique and includes a clock tower that has four clocks that carry the symbol of the Proto-Bulgarian Calendar (which they say is the oldest and more accurate than the Gregorian calendar).

They have double rooms, maisonettes, suites, and apartments to allow guests to pick which best suits their needs. All of the rooms are elegant and still follows the signature theme of Helena Resorts. If you want a balcony with a view of the sea, you may want to consider their double rooms, suite or apartment rooms (it all depends on your budget, the higher tier of course has higher rates).            

They usually have shared amenities and facilities outdoors, but the complex is big and you’ll be going to the beach to check out the warm sand and the cool waves (you can also check the beach bar here). On the property, itself, there are several restaurants to choose from. Poseidon Restaurant offers an international menu while Dolphin Restaurant serves yummy seafood dishes.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Royal Palace Helena Sands here ««

Bulgaria - Sunny Beach - Sunset

Before you leave, make sure you read our checklist for planning a trip to Bulgaria!

Best Luxury Hotels in Sunny Beach ($100+ USD a Night)

Our picks for the best luxury hotels in Sunny Beach.

Blue Pearl Hotel

Blue Pearl Hotel is an ultra-all-inclusive 4-star hotel right on the beach. There’s even an umbrella for each lounger if you don’t want to get baked from the sun.

For couples, you can get their double rooms but for bigger groups, you have a 1-bedroom suite or a 2-bedroom suite to choose from. You can even get their budget or promo rooms (which are usually their double rooms) but these are typically fully booked so hurry up and check for your preferred dates – the earlier the better!

You will love how they keep the rooms looking bright and cheery. If you want a balcony, make sure to select this feature when you book.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Blue Pearl Hotel here ««

Bulgaria - Sunny Beach - View from Khan's Tent

Best Western Plus Premium Inn

 This is best for couples or families who want the best hotel with complete world-class facilities and features like a casino, restaurant, and a water park.

Some rooms have a balcony and if you choose a suite-type room, then you’ll automatically have one. Free toiletries are available at your disposal in their ensuite bathrooms.

There’s private parking on-site and you will pay only BGN 5 per day (around $3 USD). They also have a kids’ pool available to entertain the kiddos. 

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Best Western Plus Premium Inn here ««

Bulgaria - Sunny Beach - Lucy on Lounge Chair

The Best Sunny Beach Villas 

For families looking for larger, more private (or more special) Sunny Beach accommodations.

Vila Krista

Villa Krista brings you the comfort of staying in a homey and cozy house that’s private and pet-friendly. You can warm yourself up at their outdoor fireplace during the cold winter season. It’s also very close to the beach (and in a quiet place), and you can get there as quick as five minutes.

Their villa can accommodate up to twelve guests – it’s actually a good place to rent if you’re a large group of travelers or friends. There is a sea view, so you can see how remarkably beautiful it is in the morning (aside from the typical crowds you will see during peak hours). The entire villa is also very spacious and there are five bedrooms inside. A/C and heating keep you comfortable regardless of the weather.

It has a fully equipped kitchenette, which makes it easy to prepare meals. There are six bathrooms, and the villa includes a washing machine. 

What past guests have loved with this villa are the hosts, who are attentive. The entire house is also very clean and the villa is one of the most highly recommended places to stay for anyone who wants to be in town for more than a few days. 

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Vila Krista here ««

Bulgaria - Sunny Beach - Action Aquapark Stephanie and Valentine

Eden Park Luxury Villas

Eden Park Luxury Villas offer beautiful private accommodation with 2 bedrooms. It also has a large living area with a nice fireplace to keep everyone warm and cozy when the weather gets cold. 

You will see a lovely garden that’s landscaped alongside a pool with sun loungers. Palm trees give you a tropical paradise escape vibe. Some outdoor furniture is also available so you can have breakfast or a nice dinner outside.

The rooms all have comfy beds and chandeliers on the ceiling. The huge private bathroom is also fully equipped with amenities – you will love soaking in the bath tub and viewing the garden outside through the window!

This villa has all of the things you need and you might find yourself wishing you can stay here as long as you can!

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Eden Park Luxury Villas here ««

What to Pack for a Bulgarian Beach Vacation

Bulgaria - Sunny Beach - Mamacita Mexican Restaurant Stephanie and Valentine

Don’t forget your sunnies!

If you’re planning a trip to Bulgaria, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more, check out our complete Bulgaria packing list. 

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Bulgaria & Romania for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. While generally, the tap water in big cities in Bulgaria is drinkable, such as in Sofia and Burgas, we generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Bulgarian train and bus rides can be hot and cause motion sickness! If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

– Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans on trains and buses tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.

 Travel safety items. We think Bulgaria is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Allison or I use these.

Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack. It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Read more: Essential Bulgaria Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Bulgaria

More Bulgaria Travel Resources

Bulgaria - Veliko Tarnovo - Stephanie and Valentine at Tsarevets

If this will be your first time in Bulgaria, we have some resources to help make your first trip here a breeze. Check out our guide on how to plan your trip to Bulgaria, which goes over everything from visas to ground transportation to budgeting your trip.

Don’t forget to check out our Bulgaria packing list which has details of everything you’ll want for your trip.

You’ll also want to check out the best beaches in Bulgaria and if you haven’t picked your hotel yet, you can check our favorite beach resorts in Bulgaria here.

If you’re still considering staying in Sveti Vlas or Nessebar, we have hotel suggestions for both! Check out where to stay in Nessebar and where to stay in Sveti Vlas for our hotel picks in these two nearby towns.

If you’ll be flying into Sofia, here’s how to get from Sofia to Burgas and from Burgas to Sunny Beach.

We have a guide to the best Instagram spots in Sunny Beach and Nessebar so you can take incredible photos of your trip! You’ll also want to set aside time to visit the stunning Pink Lake just outside Burgas.

Next, check out our guide to avoiding taxi scams in Sofia. We don’t have taxi guides yet for Varna and Burgas, but the information about common scams and how to avoid them is the same. Sunny Beach taxis are OUTRAGEOUS compared to the rest of the country, both in terms of pricing and scam frequency.

You will also want to check out our overview of Balkan currency, which describes Bulgarian leva and what to tip in Bulgaria.

We publish new posts almost every day! Bookmark our Bulgaria and Balkans pages so you don’t miss any new resources that come out between now and your trip!

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

Bulgaria - Sunny Beach - Stephanie RIP Prescription Sunglasses

RIP Prescription Sunglasses. This photo was taken about twenty minutes before they floated away at Sunny Beach, never to be seen again.

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.

>>Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.<<

Pin this Guide to Sunny Beach Hotels for Your Trip to Bulgaria

Where to Stay in Sunny Beach the Best Sunny Beach Hotels

The 7 Best Sveti Vlas Hotels & Spa Resorts for Every Budget!

The tiny resort town of Sveti Vlas on Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast is one of the Bulgarian Riviera’s hidden gems. Popular with British and Russian tourists, the town is, in a word, bougie, with fancy cars and restaurants lining the marina. But just because the town is fancy doesn’t mean you have to spring a lot for a hotel room – there are still great Sveti Vlas hotels for every budget!

So if you’re wondering where to stay in Sveti Vlas, here are our picks for each price range, plus tons of resources to help you plan your trip!

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Where to Stay in Sveti Vlas the Best Sveti Vlas Hotels

Where to Stay in Sveti Vlas on a Budget ($50 USD or Less a Night)

Here are our favorite Sveti Vlas hotels for budget travelers. 

Bulgaria - Sveti Vlas - Summer night view on Marina Dinevi, Sveti Vlas town and Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

Joro Guest House

This is probably one of the lowest prices you can get in the area with a decent choice of rooms to choose from. You can get it for as low as $29 USD per night for two people. Their rooms can accommodate up to 3 people, but don’t expect really spacious rooms – just enough for a safe and private space to sleep if you’re all day traveling and just sleeping at your hotel. You’ll be spending most of your time at the beach, after all!

Each room has its own mini-fridge, electric kettle, clothes iron, clothes rack and a private entrance. The private bathrooms are a little narrow but you get free toiletries and towels so you can pack lightly. All of the rooms have their own balcony and some even have plastic chairs and tables if you feel like having some snacks or coffee outside.

Kids can bring their beloved dogs and cats by request for an extra fee. (This is important to us because we always travel to the beach with our dog, Lucy).

The place is perfect for families. Parents can request for baby safety gates and their electric sockets have safety covers too – making for a stress-free holiday with your kids. 

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Joro Guest House here ««

Bulgaria - Sveti Vlas - Bulgaria, Sveti vlas, in the summer of 2017, view of a street next to the marina

Casa Bella

Casa Bella is another contender for rooms that are fit for travelers who really don’t want to spend much on their accommodation and still get better features. It is also located in a quiet area in the city center. You can choose from rooms that can accommodate up to three or more guests; for a family or group of 4, you can check out their Family Junior Suite.

Each room has its own balcony, and there’s also a private bathroom. The only issue you may find with the bathrooms is the size, the toilet is so close to the shower area and there’s no shower curtain to prevent the toilet from getting wet. This is typical in Bulgaria, but may be unfamiliar to foreign travelers. 

Not only does it have a beauty salon for ladies, but there’s also a barbershop for men. You can buy gifts or souvenirs at their mini shop. You can also park free near the street, but just in case there’s no vacant space then you can look for one nearby and it is usually just around 5 BGN which is around $3 USD.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Casa Bella here ««

Bulgaria - Sveti Vlas - Sign

Villa Florence Aparthotel

It is expected that hotels near the beach can be a little pricey, but if you’re an early bird, you can get a budget hotel that can still give you mid-scale features at budget-friendly prices like Villa Florence. It depends on the number of guests you wish to bring with you; you may want to consider a studio apartment (for 2 guests), a 1-bedroom apartment, or a 2-bedroom apartment.

Their studio apartments for couples are as low as $45 USD per night and just like all of their rooms. (Though you may want a bit more room if you’ll be in town for a week).

They have an outdoor pool and it is filled up with seawater (which is not common and it requires more maintenance). Be sure to make time to check out their sauna, hammam, as well as massages and treatments.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Villa Florence Aparthotel here ««

Bulgaria - Sveti Vlas - Boats in Harbor

Mid-Range Places to Stay in Sveti Vlas ($50-100 USD a Night)

If you want something a little more upscale, check out our recommendations for the best mid-range accommodations in Sveti Vlas.

Guest House Radenkovi

This guest house looks like an apartment building from afar, and it offers both rooms and apartments at a lower mid-range price. Most of their rooms are in the budget range but if you are looking for a more private, apartment-style room with good features to offer, then you’re lucky to have it at a lower mid-range price of as low as $59 USD per night. They have their own mini kitchen, a balcony, and climate control with its A/C and heating.

A pro tip for solo travelers who don’t like shared bathrooms would be to get their twin rooms – you won’t regret it because you can get it for as low as $15 USD per night. Instead of paying for shared rooms with communal areas, you can simply get this one. All rooms also have a balcony so you can enjoy the cool sea breeze in the morning.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Guest House Radenkovi here ««

Bulgaria - Sveti Vas - Tents on a sandy beach after rain in the village of Sveti Vlas in Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

SRC Official

They offer an apartment with a view of the Black Sea and it has one bedroom and a living area with a comfortable sofa that can be used as a bed. It can accommodate a maximum of 4 people, so this one is best for families. It’s the closest thing to experience the comfort of being home, even if you’re literally on vacation.

Inside the apartment, you’ll find great amenities like the mini kitchen, the washing machine, the full-sized fridge, and the separate dining area.

You can enjoy their pool in the mornings for a quick workout or in the evening when the bar is open.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at SRC Official here ««

Bulgaria - Sveti Vlas - Seashore of resort city Saint Vlas (Sveti Vlas), Bulgaria

Best Luxury Hotels in Sveti Vlas ($100+ USD a Night)

If you want to enjoy the best that the town has to offer, here there’s only one choice of the best Sveti Vlas luxury hotel.

Grand Hotel Sveti Vlas

What’s so convenient about this luxury Hotel are the options. You can easily customize your preference with their room choices and you can also choose whether you want to include your breakfast, lunch, and dinner or just breakfast and dinner (half-board). 

It has a resort-type ambiance, so expect really good services and amenities. It has rooms and apartments available and all you need to do is see which one best suits your needs.

They have state of the art amenities and you can use their pool or try some of the rejuvenating services at their spa. Of course, you can also try their Hammam or hot tubs. They also have a fully equipped gym and you can even lift some weights here, not like other hotels that mostly have cardio equipment.

Kids can enjoy their kids’ club and you can leave them safely with the trained staff or have them taken care of by a sitter if you can’t bring them for a night out. There are even kid-friendly options at the buffet. 

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Grand Hotel Sveti Vlas here ««

Bulgaria - Sveti Vlas - Bay ,Marina, motor boats and boats on the black sea in Bulgaria in the resort a Beautiful view of the mountains hotels

The Best Sveti Vlas Villas 

For families looking for larger, more private (or more special) Sveti Vlas accommodations.

Royal Bay Residence and Spa

With the word “Spa” attached to its name, you are surely off to a nice treat with their massage and wellness services. A hotel known for wonderful customer service, you’ll feel completely taken care of here. This is also a beachfront hotel, which is great in a town as hilly as Sveti Vlas! The property looks like a manor with a courtyard and the interiors have luxurious details in French chic style.

They offer maisonettes with features that will make your stay as comfortable and as convenient as possible. Bigger families and groups up to 6 can enjoy their two bedrooms plus a living room with a sofa bed. It has two levels, and you will see the terrace on the second floor, where you will find a private hot tub or just sit and relax on the outdoor chairs while you are simply mesmerized by the view of the sparkling blue sea.

Like most hotels in the area, their outdoor pool is only available during the summer season to help their guests cool off from the summer heat – but who needs a pool when the beach is just a walk away! You can also enjoy the hammam, hot tub and sauna if you need more help to relax!

If you want your kids to have a little vacation of their own, you can take the to the kids’ club for an extra fee. You may also leave them under the supervision of a sitter if you need to run for an errand. But if you don’t want to get a sitter just for this, then there’s a bar and restaurant on-site to take them for some snacks.

»» Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Royal Bay Residence and Spa here ««

What to Pack for a Bulgarian Beach Vacation

Bulgaria - Sunny Beach - Mamacita Mexican Restaurant Stephanie and Valentine

Don’t forget your sunnies!

If you’re planning a trip to Bulgaria, you’ll want to pack all the normal essentials, but here are a few things we strongly recommend bringing that may not have crossed your mind. For more, check out our complete Bulgaria packing list. 

– A physical guidebook, in paper or on Kindle. We love Lonely Planet Bulgaria & Romania for this region and strongly recommend it to supplement blogs. Blogs are great, but a combination of a blog and a guidebook is key to having the best access to information easily at your fingertips.

– A water bottle with a filter. While generally, the tap water in big cities in Bulgaria is drinkable, such as in Sofia and Burgas, we generally recommend using a water bottle with a purifying filter to reduce your plastic consumption and ensure you won’t drink any funny-tasting water on your stomach that could make your trip unpleasant! We recommend the GRAYL water bottle – it filters water perfectly in an instant so that you can even drink from lakes, bad taps, etc.

– Motion sickness pills. Bulgarian train and bus rides can be hot and cause motion sickness! If you have a weak stomach as we do, save yourself and bring some non-drowsy motion sickness pills.

– Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans on trains and buses tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.

 Travel safety items. We think Bulgaria is very safe to travel, but at the same time, it never hurts to be prepared! Some people like to carry money belts, but neither Allison or I use these.

Instead, we both carry the same PacSafe anti-theft backpack. It has locking zippers, slash-proof construction with metal mesh hidden in the fabric, and tons of other smart security features — all while being cute and stylish enough to be our everyday bag. We recommend it highly for both male and female travelers, as it’s neutral enough to be unisex. We also strongly recommend travel insurance! Our recommendation is at the bottom of the post.

Read more: Essential Bulgaria Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Bulgaria

More Bulgaria Travel Resources

Bulgaria - Veliko Tarnovo - Stephanie and Valentine at Tsarevets

If this will be your first time in Bulgaria, we have some resources to help make your first trip here a breeze. Check out our guide on how to plan your trip to Bulgaria, which goes over everything from visas to ground transportation to budgeting your trip.

Don’t forget to check out our Bulgaria packing list which has details of everything you’ll want for your trip.

You’ll also want to check out the best beaches in Bulgaria and if you haven’t picked your hotel yet, you can check our favorite beach resorts in Bulgaria here.

If you’re still considering staying in Sunny Beach or Nessebar, we have hotel suggestions for both! Check out where to stay in Nessebar and where to stay in Sunny Beach for our hotel picks in these two nearby towns.

If you’ll be flying into Sofia, here’s how to get from Sofia to Burgas and from Burgas to Sunny Beach (Sveti Vlas is a few more kilometers past Sunny Beach, but it’s essentially the same information). 

We have a guide to the best Instagram spots in Sunny Beach and Nessebar so you can take incredible photos of your trip! You’ll also want to set aside time to visit the stunning Pink Lake just outside Burgas.

Next, check out our guide to avoiding taxi scams in Sofia. We don’t have taxi guides yet for Varna and Burgas, but the information about common scams and how to avoid them is the same. 

You will also want to check out our overview of Balkan currency, which describes Bulgarian leva and what to tip in Bulgaria.

We publish new posts almost every day! Bookmark our Bulgaria and Balkans pages so you don’t miss any new resources that come out between now and your trip!

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

Bulgaria - Sunny Beach - Stephanie RIP Prescription Sunglasses

RIP Prescription Sunglasses. This photo was taken about twenty minutes before they floated away at Sunny Beach, never to be seen again.

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.

>>Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here.<<

Pin this Guide to Sveti Vlas Hotels for Your Trip to Bulgaria

Where to Stay in Sveti Vlas the Best Sveti Vlas Hotels

27 Incredible Things to Do in Tirana, Albania

Tirana is one of my favorite cities in the Balkans, and it always breaks my heart when I hear a traveler has only dedicated a day – or worse, a mere transit stop – to visiting this incredibly vibrant capital.

OK, Tirana isn’t “pretty” in the traditional European sense of the word. It’ll never beat the Parises or Romes of the world for its beauty. But Tirana has a vibe uniquely its own, and in a world full of cookie-cutter European cities with tourist-packed Old Towns, Tirana is endlessly unique and utterly fascinating, worthy of at least two days on your Albania itinerary.

Get your bearings with a Tirana walking tour

Albania - Tirana - Skanderbeg square and Skanderbeg monument in Tirana in a beautiful summer day, Albania

I love starting my time in a city with a walking tour. It helps me to understand what the main tourist sites are, and I find that after doing a walking tour, I can usually tick off about half the things I wanted to do in that city in three hours or less.

I took the Tirana Free Tour on my first visit to Tirana back in 2016 and it was a fantastic introduction to the city of Tirana and the history of Albania. The tour is full of facts without a hint of dullness, as Albanian history is endlessly fascinating and completely new to most travelers.

Go deep into Albania’s dark past at Bunk’art 2

Albania - Tirana - Bunker in downtown Tirana, Albania with the Ministry of Urban Development in the background - Image

There are two Bunk’arts in Tirana, and each covers a slightly different aspect of Albania’s past. If you have two days or more planned for Tirana, I think it’s worth it to visit both. If you only have one day in Tirana, make it this one.

I’m putting Bunk’art 2 higher on this list of things to do in Tirana because it’s in the dead center of the city, making it far more likely that visitors will come here: it’s pretty hard to miss one of Albania’s signature bunkers emerging from a ground in one of Tirana’s main squares, after all.

Bunk’art 2 is more straightforward in telling the story of Albania’s past century of oppression and paranoia under the cruel hands of Enver Hoxha, the former dictator who ruled over Albania from 1944 to his death in 1985.

Those four decades were some of Albania’s darkest, and Bunk’art 2 illustrates that with poignant stories of those persecuted, imprisoned, and tortured by the regime — all in the home of a former bunker used by the Ministry of Internal Affairs during those years.

See the abandoned Pyramid at the heart of Tirana

Tirana - Albania - Pyramid Horizontal

The ‘Pyramid of Tirana’ is one of Tirana’s biggest quirks, an abandoned museum set inside a park in the heart of the capital. It was built as a museum in 1988 by Enver Hoxha’s daughter to memorialize him after his death. However, upon the fall of communism in Albania in 1991, the museum’s original function became defunct.

It has since moonlighted as a conference center, NATO base, radio station, film set, and beloved oversized slide by local children (though it is now fenced off to prevent this).

The Pyramid was at risk for demolition for years, but Tirana citizens fought against it; luckily, it was announced last year that the Pyramid will be converted into an IT center for young coders and programmers. If that doesn’t show the direction that Tirana sees itself going forward, I don’t know what does.

See the poignant Bell of Peace next to the Pyramid

Tirana - Albania - Pyramid Bell Horizontal

In the same park as the Pyramid, you can’t miss the Bell of Peace (Kambana e Paqjes), a small monument with an interesting story.

The bell itself is made of over 20,000 melted-down bullets from the civil unrest and violence that occurred in 1997, after a pyramid scheme practically bankrupted the country and led to a violent outburst that caused 2,000 deaths.

While it’s not a large monument by any stretch of the imagination, the history it represents is an important part of understanding modern-day Albanian history, and I find it rather moving.

Chill out in the hip cafés of Blloku

Albanians love to relax in bars and cafés…. a lot. As in, it’s the world leader in most bars and cafés per capita, and there are so many impressive cafés in Tirana that I wrote a caffeine-fueled post dedicated to them.

Cafés in Tirana are a significant part of the social life of locals, who sip espresso all hours of the day chatting with friends. The weather in Tirana is pretty mild year-round, so most bars and cafés have a large terrace area to relax in.

I could wax poetic about all my favorite cafés in Tirana (oh wait, I already did!) but a handful of my favorites are as follows: Komiteti Kafe-Muzeum, Small, and Nouvelle Vague.

Sip creative cocktails at the colorful Radio Bar

My favorite bar in Tirana is Radio Bar. I went there on my first visit to the city and fell in love with its funky décor — I sat at a table adorned with a vintage sewing machine, so I was pretty much in heaven.

My second visit, I visited during the daytime and noticed how completely colorful the outside area is, with rainbow-colored chairs and tables. I fell in love even deeper with this wonderful bar when I tried their tasty rakia caipirinha (try it if you’re brave – rakia packs a punch to the uninitiated!).

Relax in Skanderbeg Square, the heart of Tirana

To understand the direction where Tirana is headed, you need to visit Skanderbeg Square.

When I first visited Tirana in 2016, Skanderbeg Square was besieged by cars at all sides, and crossing from Et’hem Bey Mosque to Skanderbeg Square was almost like playing real-life Frogger with a dozen maniacal drivers.

Now, Skanderbeg Square is the largest pedestrianized space in the entire Balkan peninsula — and in the words of its mayor, it has become “a destination, rather than a place of transit”.

The architecture around Skanderbeg Square is still a bit of a chaotic pastiche: a socialist realist mural bedecking the National History Museum, an Ottoman-era mosque with a clock tower, newly repainted government buildings in a riot of colors. Its mishmash summarizes modern-day Albania perfectly: a wild variety of influences held together by a modern vision of the city.

Climb the clock tower (when it’s open!) for gorgeous views

The Tirana Clock Tower (called Kulla e Sahatit in Albanian) is located right next to the Et’hem Bey Mosque, built contemporaneously. This gorgeous clocktower is a reminder of the centuries of Ottoman rule that greatly shaped the course of Albania’s history.

The Clock Tower is usually open for visitors so that you can ascend the 90-odd stairs to get sweeping views over Tirana and in particular Skanderbeg Square. However, when I visited in summer 2019, it was temporarily closed, as well as the adjacent Et’hem Bey Mosque, for renovations, so it may still be closed. Please update me if this changes!

Admire the improbable Et’hem Bey Mosque

Why improbable? Well, during Enver Hoxha’s rule over Albania, religion was outlawed and hundreds, if not thousands, of mosques, churches, and other religious buildings were destroyed on his command.

Very few religious buildings remain from the pre-Hoxha era, except those which were of great cultural significance (and those were converted into secular institutions where worship was no longer permitted). Et’hem Bey, constructed in 1823, is an exception to this, having survived destruction by Hoxha’s party due to its cultural importance.

Today, it’s the oldest surviving mosque in Albania. When I visited the interior in 2016, it was clear it was in need of a little TLC, so I’m super happy that it’s getting the renovations it deserves, even if it means being closed for a year or two.

See the construction of the new mosque

It’s hard to ignore the construction of an enormous new mosque in the center of Tirana, which is known as the Great Mosque of Tirana or the Namazgâh Mosque. When completed, it will be the largest mosque in the Balkans, fitting up to 5,000 visitors and worshippers.

The mosque is being completed with the help of Turkey (who is also assisting with the Et’hem Bey restorations), and due to the history of Ottoman occupation and Turkey’s current political situation, that naturally brings up complicated feelings for some Albanians.

Turkey’s influence is clear in the aesthetic of the mosque, which to me resembles a modernized version of the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul.

While it’s not yet ready, I still think it’s worth walking by, since it’s due to be one of the most important religious sites in the Balkans in years to come.

Take a peek at Enver Hoxha’s former residence

While Albania on the whole has done a better job than most Balkan countries at addressing its complex past of communism and authoritarianism, the city of Tirana always seemed a bit perplexed on how to address the former home in Enver Hoxha.

Located in the heart of Blloku — once reserved for the party elite, now a hipster playground for Tirana’s youth — Enver Hoxha’s residence stood guarded yet virtually untouched for nearly 30 years.

This year, it was announced in an article in the Guardian that it will be converted into a public space. Prime Minister Edi Rama said this of his vision for the space:

“If you erase everything completely it would not be good. It’s important to have his ghost inside. My point is that it should be Enver Hoxha’s house, but inside all the things the guy would hate should happen. This could include modern art classes and exhibitions, literature talks and foreign policy discussions… all things Hoxha would have despised.”

As you’ve probably gathered from all the projects underway I’ve mentioned, the number of things to do in Tirana is always increasing, due to the innovative visions for the city and its entrepreneurial and daring spirit.

While it’s not yet open to the public, that should change shortly. In the meantime, it’s worth visiting it. It’s located at the intersection of Rruga Ismail Qemali and Rruga Ibrahim Rugova

Catch the sunset at Tirana’s chic Sky Bar

One of the best places to catch the sunset in Tirana is from the rotating Sky Bar, located on Rruga Ibrahim Rugova, not far from Hoxha’s former residence.

As predictable for a Sky Bar, prices for drinks is a bit higher than elsewhere in Tirana, because you’re paying for those views. It’s not too outrageous though — expect to spend about 400 lek (~$4 USD) for beer or wine and more for cocktails. The food is supposed to be pretty good, but I can’t vouch for that personally… and there are so many other good restaurants in Tirana worth eating at!

See the historic Tanner’s Bridge

It’s not the most beautiful bridge you’ll ever see, but the Tanner’s Bridge is an interesting sight in Tirana nonetheless, as it’s of the remaining relics of the Ottoman era in the city.

It was built near the now-destroyed Tanners’ Mosque, hence the name of the bridge. This bridge used to be part of the Saint George Road, a network that connected Tirana with the eastern, mountainous part of the country, which brought in livestock and vegetables from rural parts of Albania into the city.

Now, it’s not much more than a curiosity in the center of Tirana, but due to its central position, it’s worth a quick photo stop.

Marvel at the colorful rainbow buildings around Tirana

There are dozens of colorfully painted buildings all over Tirana, centered around Blloku and Pazar i Ri.

Wilson Square (Sheshi Uilson) is one of the epicenters of Tirana’s unique approach to urban revival: the colorful painting of otherwise rather ugly apartment blocks to add a touch of whimsy to the city’s landscape and revitalize it an affordable, quick way.

This approach was championed by Tirana’s former mayor, Edi Rama, (now the Prime Minister of Albania), who was also a painter. His painting blitz of Tirana’s central apartment blocks would change the look of modern Tirana immensely, and I think it’s central to the vision of Tirana today: reworking Tirana into a more liveable and exciting place, with a dose of realism on what the city can and can’t afford.

Learn about Albanian history at the National History Museum

The history of Albania is quite distinct from other countries in the Balkans, which have had more overlap and interaction throughout the centuries. While generally, many tourists focus on learning about Albania’s history in the admittedly intriguing past century of conflict, communism, and independence, the history of Albania is a lot more complex than that.

While it’s a small museum that can be seen in about 30 minutes to an hour, it’s well worth visiting the National History Museum (the building beneath the enormous socialist-realist mosaic in Skanderbeg Square) to get a sense of Albania’s pre-communist history, which is all too often ignored by visitors to the city.

Marvel at the modernist Cloud sculpture and exhibition space

Tirana’s “Cloud” sculpture (called Reja in Albanian) is so much more than meets the eye.

From afar, it looks like an oddly geometric cloud, but you can walk inside and sit and see it from all sorts of unique angles. It was created by the Japanese artist Sou Fujimoto, who also showed the piece in London.

It’s also an interactive events space – in the summer, movies are shown here, and it hosts workshops in front of the National Arts Gallery (below).

Check out modern Albanian art

After visiting the Cloud sculpture, be sure to head inside to the National Arts Gallery, which shows Albanian art and has intriguing exhibits which change regularly.

It’s a relatively small museum and only needs perhaps an hour if you’re a big art fan or a bit less if you just want to browse. That said, I still think it’s worth a visit if you have two days in Tirana, but maybe it shouldn’t be one of the top things to do in Tirana if you only have one day.

See the Albanian Open Air Museum (Post-Blloku)

This small ‘open air museum’ is really a series of three sites in one park across the street from the Gallery of Arts, all dedicated to the theme of the end of communism.

There’s a piece of the Berlin Wall on display here, as well as one of Albania’s hundreds of thousands of nuclear bunkers, and finally an abstract sculpture made from columns from a mine shaft at Spac Prison, a forced labor camp and political prison located near Tirana and used against political enemies during Hoxha’s rule.

Explore Tirana’s up-and-coming street art scene

Tirana - Albania - street art

There are several pieces of interesting street art and murals around Tirana, in addition to the colorful paint jobs that many of the buildings in the center have.

Unfortunately, the information about Tirana’s street art scene isn’t super organized as of now, so it’s more of a ‘walk and discover’ situation than being able to outline a street art walking route. I expect this will change in the near future as more street art seekers travel to Tirana and document it!

Visit Tirana’s scenic artificial lake

The Grand Park of Tirana is the lungs of a built-up, dense city: one of few green respites from the busy, chaotic traffic of Tirana, located just due south of Blloku. And at the heart of the Grand Park is the artificial lake (Liqeni Artificial i Tiranës), which may be manmade but is extremely beautiful nonetheless.

A handful of great restaurants have opened up here, including one of my favorite restaurants in Tirana, Mullixhiu, which focuses on creative Albanian farm-to-table dining.

The loop around the lake is about 5 kilometers, so only embark on it if you have an hour or two to dedicate to walking; otherwise, I suggest visiting it briefly, grabbing a cup of coffee at one of the cafés flanking the lake (it is Albania, after all – a café is never more than a stone’s throw away) to relax and take in the views.

Take the cable car up to Mount Dajti

Tirana’s artificial lake may be the green lungs of the city, but Mount Dajti is its true nature escape. Take the Dajti Express from the outskirts of the city up to the top of Mount Dajti, a 15-minute journey that costs 1,000 lek roundtrip (~$10 USD).

It’s the longest cableway in the Balkans and is ultra-modern, using Austrian cable cars (as someone who has taken a handful of ultra-slow, rickety cable cars in the Balkans — I appreciate this!) to whisk you up over a thousand meters rather quickly and smoothly.

At the top, there are hiking trails so you can enjoy Dajti National Park, as well as paragliding and mountain biking opportunities. For those looking for a little less activity, there’s also plenty of relaxation to be had.

There’s also the Dajti Tower Hotel where you can stay the night if you want to wake up in the mountains, a rotating bar in the Dajti Tower where you can enjoy marvelous views over Tirana, and the delicious Resturant Ballkoni Dajtit where you can get a great traditional Albanian meal like a meshana skara (mixed grill).

Visit the immersive, impressive Bunk’art 1

Combine your visit to Mount Dajti with a visit to Bunk’art 1, as the entrance to the cable car is only a few minutes’ walk from Bunk’art 1.

Though part of the same project, the two museums are rather different, and having visited both on separate visits to the city (as Bunk’art 2 wasn’t there yet on my first visit to Tirana) I can say it’s worth seeing both, even back to back.

Bunk’art 1 is especially interesting as it is much larger: five levels, in fact. It was meant to be used by Hoxha and his regime as a bunker in case of nuclear attack. The museum covers the history of Albania’s past century in depth, similar to Bunk’art 2. However, it also includes a lot more conceptual art as well as rooms in the bunker preserved as they were originally intended to be used to give you the sense of how the bunker would have been used in decades past.

Shop at the colorful Pazar i Ri

Another new fixture of Tirana’s tourism scene is the Pazar i Ri, “New Market.” It’s located a short walk from Skanderbeg Square and it’s one of the best places to shop in Tirana — I picked up the kitschiest souvenir ever here, an Albanian bunker-themed ashtray. My friend was delighted by it, and it’s a wonderful quirky gift for friends back home.

There are also vendors selling fresh produce, canned and jarred edibles like local honey and jams, and other souvenirs that you’ll be tempted to take home with you. I’m not a big shopper but I still couldn’t help but leave with a handful of goodies for loved ones back home.

It’s also one of the most colorful places in the city, with beautifully painted buildings inspired by textiles and embroidery, so it’s well worth a photo stop even if you don’t get inspired to buy.

Stroll down the pedestrian Murat Toptani Street

Tirana - Albania - Toptani Mall

Tirana’s Murat Toptani Street is the first true ‘pedestrian’ street in the city — one that is sorely needed amongst the traffic and congestion of downtown Tirana.

The castle area (Kalaja e Tiranës, below) is one of the highlights of this street, but there is also a large shopping complex and several cute cafés with extensive terraces on Murat Toptani as well.

Relax in the revitalized Kalaja e Tiranës area

Tirana - Albania - Tirana Castle development

Another new fixture in Tirana’s tourism scene, the ‘Tirana Castle’ area was completely undeveloped when I first visited the city but now is one of the cooler places to hang out and enjoy a coffee or shop for souvenirs.

I loved my mid-day snack at Luga e Argjendte, full of traditional Albanian appetizers like rose jam, homemade cheese, and spicy stuffed peppers. There are also several souvenir shops selling slightly elevated versions of what you’ll find in many of the bazaars around Tirana.

Learn about the Albanian secret police at the House of Leaves

The House of Leaves is dedicated to the actions of the Sigurimi, Albania’s secret police force, during the Communist era. It focuses on the vast surveillance efforts that the Sigurimi used to monitor the Albanian people and quell uprising efforts.

There is quite a bit of overlap in terms of thematics and history covered in Bunk’art 2, so you may want to give this or the other a skip. I’d say if you are narrowing it down to two museums between Bunk’arts 1 and 2 and the House of Leaves, to visit Bunk’art 1 outside the city center and the House of Leaves inside the city center to see two different visions of preserving the past without overlapping too much on the history.

Sample Tirana’s fine dining scene

Tirana - Albania - Restaurant Mellixhiu

Tirana is quickly becoming a gastronomic destination, with a focus on local ingredients, seasonal produce, and a combination of returning to Albanian traditional and looking to outside influences as well.

I had a number of fantastic meals in Tirana (I’ve outlined my favorites in more detail on this post on Tirana’s best restaurants), but I’d say SALT is fantastic if you crave a little Asian flair, A La Santé and Vila at Artigiano are some of the best Italian-inspired options, and Mullixhiu is delicious for local Albanian fare executed beautifully.

5 Things to Pack to Travel Hassle-Free in Albania

Gjirokastra - Albania - Town
Lovely Gjirokastra – a can’t-miss stop in Southern Albania!

We have a complete packing list for Albania, but make sure you bring these five items with you!

Lonely Planet Western Balkans is a great guidebook for your visit to Albania, and it’s great if you’re also visiting any combination of the following countries: North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia. It can be really hard (sometimes impossible) to buy a physical guidebook in English once you’re in Albania, so if you like having your guidebook in your hands you will need to bring it with you from home.

Unlocked Cell Phone: Stephanie and I both have unlocked cell phones that we bought in Europe (Steph uses a Samsung and I use an iPhone). This allows up to get SIM cards when we travel so that we always have the internet. This has gotten us out of so many jams! 

If you don’t have an unlocked cell phone that can use an Albanian sim card, you can buy a cheaper unlocked phone online and bring it with you!

Pacsafe Citysafe or Other Anti-Theft Bag: This is the bag both Stephanie and I use (and they also make men’s versions). It has a pouch with RFID technology so our credit cards can’t get scanned from afar, interlocking zippers to make it harder to pickpocket, and it’s roomy enough to be a perfect sightseeing day bag. It’s also aesthetically pleasing and stylish enough to be used as an everyday bag, which is unusual for a bag with so many safety features.

A Sturdy MoneybeltIf you don’t want to get a new bag with anti-theft features as I use, you can use a money belt instead. I prefer to have these features built into my bag instead, but I know for a lot of people a money belt is a less expensive investment than a new bag. 

Grayl Water FilterWhile the water is safe to drink in the country’s larger cities, you need to avoid it in the small towns and villages inland and on the coast. If you don’t want to be buying millions of plastic water bottles, you can get a reusable water bottle that comes with a water filter so that you can stick to the tap water and reduce your plastic waste. 

Wet wipes, hand sanitizer, TP & other Balkan transit needs. Bathrooms in the Balkans tend to be… how can we say it?… not so well-stocked. Save yourself the disappointment and bring a mini-rescue pack of wet wipes & hand sanitizer.

Read next: Essential Albania Packing List: What to Wear & Pack for Albania

Where to Stay in Tirana

We are working on hotel guides for Albania’s major cities. When traveling to Albania, we recommend checking out Booking.com as early as possible. The country is gaining in popularity as a tourist destination, so some of the best spots do sell-out early (especially in summer in Tirana and on the coast)!

More Albania Travel Resources

Albania - Berat - Berat Flowers

First, start by reading our post on planning a trip to Albania. It covers everything from visas to vaccinations to what to pack, so it’s a great jumping-off point for your travel plans.

Next, check out our Albania packing list and our suggested one, two, and three week Albania itineraries.

If you’re curious about the currency used in Albania (the lek) and how tipping works, we recommend our Balkan currency guide to learn all about the Albanian lek and tipping culture. We also have a post on Albanian cuisine!

If you’re looking for even more places to add to your Albania itinerary, we have a bunch of ideas for you from us and other bloggers in this collaborative post about the 15 best places to visit in Albania! If you love UNESCO sites, make sure to check out Gjirokastra, Berat, and Butrint!

We are working on all of our Tirana guides, but for now, we have posts on the best restaurants in Tirana, the best Tirana cafes, and the best Instagram spots in Tirana, plus how to visit the Tirana Christmas Market.

We add new content almost daily! We recommend you bookmark our homepage, our Albania page, or our general Balkans page to refer to when planning your trip.

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!

If you’re planning a trip to Albania, make sure to travel with a valid travel insurance policy. While we feel safe in Albania, it’s a good idea to be covered in case of an emergency. Travel insurance covers you in case of theft or an accident, which can save your trip if there’s an incident.

For travel insurance, Allison and I use World NomadsI’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.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here. <<

Planning a trip to Sofia? Check out our best free trip planning resources