If you’re planning a trip to Bulgaria, you probably have a lot of questions. Well, rest easy – we’re here to help. This guide was written by two Americans who have made Bulgaria their home away from home, and we’ve brainstormed all the things you’d want to check off your travel checklist before arriving in Bulgaria so that you can have an organized, stress-free trip.
This guide will cover everything you need to know when planning a trip to Bulgaria, from visas to vaccinations to trip planning and beyond, in 11 easy steps!
Step 1: Check to see if you need a visa
Before you arrive in Bulgaria, you should probably see whether or not you need a visa! Note: While we will do our best to ensure this page is updated, you should always check the MFA’s website to confirm any visa information.
At present, this is the list of countries who do not need a visa to stay for 90 days or less in a 6-month period, but again, please double check at things may change!
Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Malta, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, San Marino, SAR – China (Hong Kong, Macao), Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, USA, Uruguay, the Vatican, Venezuela.
Also, Serbians, Macedonians, and Montenegrins can visit Bulgaria for 30 days in a 6-month period.
If your country is not on the list, you may be in luck if you have a valid Schengen visa, which would grant you the same 90 days in 3 months rule. However, keep in mind that if you have a single-entry Schengen visa, and you leave the Schengen zone to visit Bulgaria, you will not be allowed back into the Schengen zone as you will have used your entry.
Similarly, if you have a valid visa for Romania, Cyprus, or Croatia, that would be fine as well. If you don’t have any of the above valid visas at the time you want to visit Bulgaria, you will have to visit your nearest Bulgarian embassy to apply for a visa.
Step 2: Book your tickets
Unless you are coming by bus from a neighboring country, you will likely want to fly to Bulgaria. While Bulgaria Air serves several destinations in Europe, they are usually not the cheapest option.
You will be better off booking with one of the three budget airlines that serve Bulgaria – Wizz Air, Ryanair, and easyJet. They have routes all over Europe, so you’re likely to find a cheap flight from virtually everywhere in Western and Central Europe (unfortunately, Eastern Europe has fewer options).
We usually use a combination of Skyscanner and Google Flights when we are searching for flights. I like Skyscanner’s “Everywhere” feature, which is helpful for determining which cities fly to your destination. Meanwhile, Google Flights has a nicer interface and updates with the correct prices faster, so there’s no disappointments when you click through unlike Skyscanner sometimes has.
Step 3: Plan your itinerary
For the purpose of this article, we’re going to assume that you are only visiting Bulgaria. If you are planning a multi-country Balkan trip, we have a whole post all about Balkan itineraries for you to read!
If you have only a short amount of time, say, a weekend, we recommend sticking to Sofia, and making an optional day trip to Plovdiv. Sofia is a vibrant capital with so much to see and do that it would really be a shame if you skipped it!
If you have 4 or more days, you can start planning a multi-city trip. If you have 4 days, I would recommend picking two cities, and spending either 2 days in Sofia and 2 days in either Veliko Tarnovo or Plovdiv. If you have 5 days, add an extra day in Sofia. If you have a week, I’d spend 3 days in Sofia, 2 in Plovdiv, and 2 in Veliko Tarnovo. On any of those Sofia days, you could make a day trip to either Rila Monastery or the 7 Rila Lakes for a beautiful hike (or hike Mount Vitosha to the Cherni Vrah peak if you want a 2200-meter-high hike without leaving the city).
If you have more than a week in Bulgaria, I’d recommend trying to also add in the Black Sea coast. Varna is a wonderful coastal city and has a great vibe; Burgas is smaller and quieter but has a gorgeous pink lake and mud baths right in the city. There are also countless smaller beach towns all up and down the coast: Sinemorets, Sozopol, Byala, Chernomorets, Nessebar, and many more. And there’s also the love-it-or-hate-it Sunny Beach (spoiler: we actually kind of love it!), a resort town and party hotspot on the Black Sea coast.
If you can drive, renting a car may be a great idea to see some other Bulgarian highlights that are not quite so easy to get to, like Krushuna Waterfalls, Saeva Dupka Cave, Belogradchik Fortress, and Buzludzha.
Step 4: Plan your activities
Once you’ve determined what cities are on your itinerary, it’s time to plan your activities! We have guides on things to do in Sofia, what to do in Plovdiv, and what to do in Veliko Tarnovo. Those resources are a great start for planning your trip!
If you want to do any city tours or day trips, we recommend booking in advance, as sometimes tours book out especially in the peak season (May to September). We personally use and recommend GetYourGuide when searching for tours in Bulgaria and the Balkans in general. We like that they have a best-price guarantee and that they tell you the name of the tour companies they partner with (unlike Viator), so you can research it and be sure it’s worth your money!
Step 5: Budget your trip
Once you’ve planned how long you want to spend and where, it’s time to budget your trip!
If you want to stay as a backpacker, staying in hostels, cooking for yourself and indulging in cheaper eats like sandwiches and pastries, you will find it easy to travel on a $30 USD a day budget. Of that, about $10 will go towards your hostel; the other $20 can be spent on food, drink, activities, and transportation, within reason.
We personally feel that Bulgaria offers the best value to mid-range travelers. This means staying in a cheap but cheerful private room, eating out at a mix of local restaurants and higher-end restaurants, going out for drinks at the local bars, taking taxis, and indulging in a few guided tours. On this budget, you can have a fantastic time in Sofia for $50-70 USD per day, and that range largely has to do with whether you are traveling solo or with a travel partner (solo will be more expensive) and just how much exactly your accommodation costs.
However, it is possible to do Bulgaria in absolute luxury and not spend too much money! This means the nicest hotel in town, no-holds-barred when you order, nice drinks, taxis galore, and guided tours. Even on a blow-out budget, you will spend between $100-200 USD per day tops.
Step 6: Book your accommodations
Once you’ve sorted out what you want to spend per night on accommodations, it’s time to get booking! We use Booking.com because we like that they have free cancellation if you end up changing your plans and they have the widest selection and best prices.
We’re in the process of creating comprehensive guides on where to stay in each Bulgarian city, but for now, here are our top recommendations.
Step 7: Research any vaccinations you may need
TL;DR – if you’re a frequent traveler who is usually up-to-date on their vaccines, you’ll be fine in Bulgaria.
There’s really nothing that special that you need for Bulgaria. The CDC recommends being up-to-date on all your standard vaccines, which you should be anyway. This includes MMR, tetanus, chickenpox, polio – the usual. You may want to consider getting vaccinated for hepatitis A, if you’re not already vaccinated against it, as it can be spread by contaminated food or water. This is unlikely to happen as Bulgaria’s water is clean and safe to drink in nearly all cities, but being vaccinated against hepatitis A is a good idea anyway for future travel.
The CDC also suggests possibly being vaccinated against hepatitis B if you, for example, want to get a medical procedure done or get a tattoo, and also possibly getting vaccinated against rabies. I think most travelers can safely skip both. I got bit by a cat in Ukraine earlier this year and had to get post-exposure shots. While it was a pain in the ass (not literally, anymore – the shots are now done in the arm, luckily!), it is 100% effective if the protocol is followed. And since you have to get post-exposure shots regardless of being vaccinated, it is not that much more of a burden in the extremely unlikely chance of an animal attack.
Step 8: Learn a few common Bulgarian words, and possibly the Cyrillic alphabet
We think it’s a nice idea to learn some basic words in the country you’re traveling to! Luckily, while Bulgarian is a hard language to master, the basics are easy enough! Here are a few, hear the pronunciations here:
Hi = Zdrasti
Good day (more formal) = Dobar den
Please = Molya
Thank you = Merci (or blagodarya, if you really want to impress a Bulgarian – this is hard to master!)
Goodbye = Chao
Excuse me = Izvinite
OK, Good = Dobre
Yes = Da
No = Ne
I don’t understand = Ne razbiram
Do you speak English? = Govorite angliiski?
Fun fact: Bulgarians often nod their head when saying “ne” and shaking their head from side to side when saying “da” – it’s quite confusing, but a fun cultural quirk!
If you have an interest in languages, you may want to consider learning the Cyrillic alphabet! It’s easy to learn the basics and it will help you immensely, such as being able to find familiar words on a menu (many Bulgarian words are Cyrillicized versions of English/Latin words), finding the right bus at the bus station, or spotting a fake taxi!
Step 9: Pack your bags
What you should pack depends greatly on the time of year. We have some packing lists that we’ll add soon to help you plan for your trip to Bulgaria, but for now, here are five things we don’t recommend you visit without!
- A Lonely Planet guidebook, to help you plan when on the ground
- A raincoat and/or umbrella, since Bulgaria’s weather can be unpredictable
- An unlocked smartphone, so you can buy a cheap Bulgarian SIM card and use taxi appsHow to Get a Bulgarian Sim Card & Stay Connected on Your Trip
- Wet wipes and hand sanitizer, in case of a poorly stocked bathroom
- Comfortable walking and/or hiking shoes, so you can make the most of Bulgaria’s cities and mountains
Step 10: Prepare for your arrival
You’re nearly done planning your trip to Bulgaria, but don’t miss this last crucial step – planning what you do when you arrive!
Firstly, money – you’ll either want to withdraw cash from the ATM at the airport or exchange your money. We recommend withdrawing cash instead, as you will get a better exchange rate at money-changers in the city. However, if you plan to use the ATM, you should probably call your bank to advise them of your travel. The last thing you want to happen is for your bank to deny your card when you arrive! I always advise carrying at least $50 USD/euros as a backup in case of any card problems.
Next, transportation. We have this guide to Sofia airport that may be helpful for you to read, and we consider this Sofia taxi guide essential reading for any visitor to the city, especially the part of how to get a taxi at the airport. While Sofia is safe and the taxi system at the airport is highly regulated, there are occasionally scammers who will try to prey on unsuspecting tourists. Don’t let this be you! A taxi should only cost around 15 leva maximum during the day and 20 leva maximum at night, and it could well be less (about 7.50-10 euros). Ignore anyone who wants to do a flat rate and insist on the meter with a registered cab (read how on the taxi guide above) to avoid any problems.
If you don’t want to take a taxi and you land during the day, you can easily take the Metro to the city center. If you fly into Terminal 2, the metro is walking distance from the terminal and costs 1.60 leva (about 80 euro cents). It takes about 45 minutes to reach the center. You will need cash, so take some out at the ATM or exchange it. If the ATM gives you big bills, like 50 leva notes, you may want to try to break it into something smaller at the airport if you can.
Finally, be sure you have your hotel or Airbnb information (address and phone number) easily accessible so that you or your taxi driver can contact them if you have any trouble reaching them. We also recommend pre-downloading the Sofia city map on your phone so that you can know your location if you get lost, even if you don’t have wifi or data. Once you arrive, you can pick up a Bulgarian sim card, but they don’t sell them at the Sofia airport.
Step 11: Don’t forget travel insurance!
We put this last so it’s fresh on your mind: travel insurance is essential for Bulgaria and for travel in general! Stephanie and I have both been paying customers of World Nomads for the last two years. We love the peace of mind it gives us in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, or trip cancellation or disruption.
While Bulgaria is perfectly safe to travel around, there’s always risk inherent in everyday travel, so it’s better to play it safe. The saying goes “if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel” is true!
Originally from California, Allison has been living in Bulgaria for the last two years and is obsessed with traveling around the Balkans. She has been published in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, Matador Network, and the Huffington Post. She loves befriending dogs, drinking coffee, geeking out about wine, and cooking food from around the world.