Sofia Adventures
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If you’re looking for a Bulgaria packing list, look no further — we’ve spent years living in Bulgaria and traveling around it, so it’s safe to say we know what to expect when it comes to weather, seasons, and activities you’d do in Bulgaria!

We’ve created this guide to what to pack for Bulgaria for women and men to assist you in planning your trip. This guide includes what to wear in Bulgaria by season, what extra things you should bring, what to pack everything in, and more.

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Planning to visit Bulgaria? This ultimate Bulgaria packing list for all genders and seasons will be your guide. This women's and men's packing list for Bulgaria in winter, summer, spring, or fall will help you decide what to pack for Bulgaria and what to wear in Bulgaria (and what to leave behind!)
Planning to visit Bulgaria? This ultimate Bulgaria packing list for all genders and seasons will be your guide. This women's and men's packing list for Bulgaria in winter, summer, spring, or fall will help you decide what to pack for Bulgaria and what to wear in Bulgaria (and what to leave behind!)

What to Pack Everything In

Your Main Bag: Backpack or Rolling Suitcase?

Personally, Stephanie and I both prefer traveling around Bulgaria with a backpack. Even in the capital, Sofia, the sidewalks are a little worse for wear and it can be a pain to have to drag your suitcase over cracked sidewalks and curbs with no easy onramp.

However, if wearing a backpack is not feasible for you due to mobility limitations or comfort – or you simply are planning to pack a lot of stuff – it is perfectly possible to travel with a rolling suitcase around Bulgaria, it just may require a bit more effort. For longer distances between bus/train stations and hotels, you may want to spend the extra for a taxi. (Be sure to read our taxi guide first!)

Our Top Recommendation for Backpacks

Allison has and loves the Tortuga Backpack for traveling Europe. She carries a Tortuga 45L Backpack because they’re compact, carry-on friendly, and don’t scream “backpacker” as loudly as other bags. It has 3 main compartments: one with a laptop sleeve that can also accommodate other flat objects like important papers and books, one giant rectangular compartment ideal for packing cubes filled with your clothes, and one smaller compartment with organizers for passports, pens, odds & ends, etc. – plus one small outer zipper pocket for anything you want quick access to.

It also has a water bottle holder on the outside as well as buckles so that you can strap something like a yoga mat to the outside if needed. Plus, it’s quite comfortable to wear, with a padded hip belt and comfort-molding shoulder straps complete with a chest strap so that you can distribute the weight perfectly across your body in the event that you need to wear your backpack for longer than usual. Check out more specs and details here.

Our Top Recommendations for Rolling Suitcases

We haven’t carried a rolling suitcase in a while, having been converted to the benefits of backpacks a while ago. However, we understand that everyone’s needs and preferences are different!

We recommend Samsonite 4-wheeled suitcases for their ease of use and durability. We generally don’t recommend 2-wheel suitcases as dragging them through cities and airports can get quite tiring!

Your Day Bag: Backpack or Purse

Serbia - Gardos - Backpack

Your day bag should be able to hold all the things you need for the day: water, sunscreen, wallet, any medicine or make-up you may need, a layer in case the weather changes, camera, etc.

It depends what you prefer, but for comfort, a backpack is usually the better day bag because it distributes weight more evenly across your shoulders. However, if you’re used to carrying a purse, that may be what you prefer.

We recommend investing in a day bag with some security features, not because Bulgaria is particularly dangerous (your risk of being pickpocketed here is definitely lower than in major Western European cities), but just because travel to touristic places inherently has its risks and we prefer to protect ourselves upfront rather than deal with consequences down the line.

Our Top Recommendations for Backpacks

We both carry the CitySafe backpack by PacSafe not only on our travels but in our day-to-day lives. It’s cute, it’s functional, it’s comfortable, and it’s secure as hell.

We’re talking about interlocking zippers (which you can then put through a second clasp for two layers of security), slash-proof wire mesh construction, and RFID blockers to keep your personal data safe.

It’s neutral enough to be unisex, it’s roomy enough to fit a small laptop, large camera, and tons of odds & ends, and it fits under the plane seat in front of you. What else could you want? This isn’t sponsored, we’re just straight obsessed. Get yours today.

Our Top Recommendations for Purses

Due to our everlasting obsession with our travel backpack, neither Stephanie nor I really carry purses much for our travels.

However, for a long time, Stephanie was a huge fan of her Longchamp bag and used it on much of her travels.

Due to our satisfaction with our CitySafe backpack, we’d definitely recommend other PacSafe products like their secure purses – they have shoulder bags and crossbody bags.

Our Top Recommendation for Money Belts

Personally, we don’t carry money belts, since we carry secure bags, but we know some travelers feel a lot more safe with a money belt. If that’s you, this is the money belt we recommend.

How to Keep it Organized

Bulgaria - Sofia - Packing
Please pack more sanely than Stephanie does.

Packing cubes

I don’t know how I traveled before packing cubes, and I never want to go back! Packing cubes are extremely helpful for organizing your luggage and keeping it that way, so that when you want to extract one shirt from your bag, you don’t end up exploding your whole bag open.

I personally use eBags packing cubes in 3 different sizes. I use the big one for dresses, skirts, and jeans, the medium one for t-shirts, and the small one for underwear, bras, socks, etc.

Cosmetic bags

A set of cosmetic bags are so useful! In addition to using it for your make-up, you can also use them to stash odds & ends like earplugs, an eye-mask, pens & pencils – things that usually get lost at the bottom of your bag.

Pack-it-Flat

This is one of my favorite packing finds! The Pack-it-Flat toiletry bag is the ultimate way to keep all your toiletries packed. What I love about is is that it packs, well, flat like a book, rather than most toiletry bags which make big bulky squares that take up way too much space and are annoying to deal with.

Travel wallet

A good travel wallet meets a few criteria: RFID blocking, plenty of room for coins, room for bills and receipts, plenty of card slots, and can fit a passport.

My PacSafe travel wallet does all of that and looks cute doing so (I have it in denim).

Laundry bag

Whether you’ll need to do laundry on the road or you’ll wait to do it at home, it’s essential to have a bag to keep your dirty laundry separate from your clean clothes. While that can easily be just a grocery bag, I love this cute travel-themed Kikkerland laundry bag which is easy to hand over to someone on laundry day.

Canvas tote

We recommend bringing a tote with you wherever you go to reduce plastic waste! Plastic bags incur a small surcharge in Bulgaria, so this will also help you save money, too.

Ziploc Bags

While we generally try to avoid single-use plastic, we can’t deny that occasionally, Ziploc bags are really handy for travel (we just reuse them as much as we can). We use gallon-sized Ziplocs for separating wet clothes, grouping together similar things, carrying snacks, etc.

5 Essentials You Don’t Want to Forget

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Colorful Downtown Blue Building

Guidebook

While travel blogs are great, we also definitely see the benefit of having a good paper guidebook in hand to refer to in your on-the-ground travels. We recommend the Lonely Planet Bulgaria & Romania for your travels in Bulgaria!

Travel insurance

It’s always a good idea to be covered when you travel abroad in case of theft, illness, or accidents. Stephanie and I have been paying customers of World Nomads for three years and counting and are happy to recommend them to fellow travelers for the clarity of what they cover, the efficiency of processing claims, and the ease of renewing while still on the road if your trip ends up being longer than expected.

Rain jacket

Bulgaria is a drizzly country throughout the year, and nothing ruins a travel day worse than not having the proper clothing for it. I strongly recommend this Marmot PreCip jacket (here’s the women’s version; here’s the men’s), which is totally waterproof and will keep you going strong throughout whatever weather is thrown your way. If you don’t want to carry a rain jacket, at least pack a travel umbrella.

Medicine

I’ve written a whole section on what should be in your mini medicine kit, but this especially goes for any prescription medications you may need from back home. It’s not always possible to get the same exact medication in Bulgaria, so be sure to stock up on what you need!

Driver’s License

Many of Bulgaria’s best sights – Rila Monastery, Buzludzha, Shipka Church, the pink lake – are best accessed by car. While you could get away with tours and taxis, a Bulgaria road trip is our personal favorite way to discover the country. Be aware that some rental companies may require an international driver’s permit, so organize that before you go or confirm that your national/state driver’s license will be sufficient.

Quick Overview of Weather in Bulgaria

Bulgaria - Buzludzha and Snow - Buzludzha in Winter
Snowy Buzludzha in late December

Bulgaria has a diverse landscape with both mountains and sea, so it’s hard to give an overview. We’ll describe the weather in Sofia, but be aware that it’ll be colder in the mountains and warmer on the seaside. Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo are usually warmer than Sofia in the summer.

Spring in Bulgaria is mild and pleasant. March starts off cool, with lows from 1° C / 34° F to highs from 10° C / 50° F. By May, average highs are 20° C / 70° F. and average lows are 9° C / 48° F. Rain is frequent, about 10-20 days a month.

Summer gets warm, occasionally sticky and hot. Think average highs of 24-28° C (75-82° F) with infrequent scorching heatwaves. Lows are mild and pleasant, averaging 13-14 C° (55-57° F).

Fall is lovely but gets chilly! Highs start at 23° C / 73° F in September but drop to 8° C/46° F by November. Meanwhile, lows plummet from 11° C / 52° F down to 1° C / 33° F by the end of fall.

Meanwhile – winter is cold! Average highs are from 2-4° C (36-39° F), and average lows are below freezing, usually -2° to -4° C (25-28° F). Snow is frequent, as is freezing rain (fun!)

What to Wear in Bulgaria For Women 

Bulgarian women generally like to dress up, but there’s no reason for you to have to go over the top. Dress in what you’ll find comfortable for the season and you’ll fit in just fine.

For visiting Orthodox churches, the dress code is fairly standard. Women should cover at least shoulders and knees. Some Bulgarian women will cover their hair; you don’t have to, but if a church offers you headscarves, it’s polite to take one.

We’ve created two separate packing lists: one for spring through fall, one for winter. You may want to adjust the packing list slightly depending on the season: for example, you may decide to leave the heavier jacket at home in the heart summer, and swap a summery maxi dress for extra leggings in spring or fall. However, there’s enough overlap that we’ve combined it all into one spring/summer/fall list.

What to Pack for Spring, Summer & Fall in Bulgaria

Bulgaria - Sofia - Alexander Nevsky Kate Allison Stephanie

Spring outfits in Sofia!

Clothes

2-3 tank tops: Great for layering, and you may want to add a few more in the summer. We like these ones.

2-3 V-neck shirts: In case you want a little more coverage, or if you’re traveling in spring/fall, these are also great multi-purpose separates. We recommend these ones. I also love to have a simple striped T like this one.

2 long sleeve shirts (fall/spring only): You won’t need these in the summer, but in fall, they’re wonderful to have. We recommend these ones.

1 chambray shirt: Perfect to wear as a shirt in spring/fall or to wear unbuttoned as a light jacket on a summer night – this shirt is so versatile that it’s become my packing must-have.

1 mid-weight jacket: There can be some surprising weather sometimes even in the summer in Sofia, so I still recommend one medium-weight jacket like this denim jacket or a faux leather jacket.

2 pairs shorts (summer only): You likely won’t need these in the fall or spring. For summer, I recommend 1 loose pair of linen shorts and 1 pair denim shorts.

Lightweight scarf: Great for too much A/C, surprisingly chilly nights, surprise church visits, or dressing up an outfit you’ve worn too many times. We like this one for all the color choices.

Black cardigan: Great for cool nights in summer and dressing up fall and spring outfits; we suggest this one.

2-3 pairs black leggings: I love leggings so much – for sleeping, for lazy days, to avoid chub rub, to make a summer dress fall appropriate. We recommend bringing a few pairs if you can (we suggest these).

1-2 pairs skinny jeans: 1 in summer, 2 in fall or spring. We like these ones, but jeans are so personal, so bring your favorites.

2-3 skirts: We love skirts for travel! In summer, I love midi skirts and maxi skirts, whereas in spring and fall, I prefer mini skirts that I can wear with leggings and boots.

2-3 summer dresses: I try to buy dresses that are great for summer but can transition well to fall and spring with the right accessories. We think this one and this one are super cute!

Maxi dress (summer only): I love maxi dresses for summer, but they don’t transition as well as shorter dresses for fall. Here’s a simple black one we like.

Shoes & Sandals

Travel sandals: Depending on what you’ll do in Bulgaria. If you’re just going to be walking around the cities, I love Birkenstocks and live in them about half of. the year. If you’re going to the beach, pool/spa, or staying in a hostel, also add on a pair of simple rubber flip flops.

Comfortable but cute sneakers: Gone are the days where I can comfortably wear flats for a day of heavy sightseeing! I strongly recommend a stylish pair of sneakers like these black Nike running shoes for your busiest city days.

Ankle boots: I definitely recommend a water-resistant pair of ankle boots for rainy days, cold weather, or going out at night if you want a more dressed-up option. These Teva ankle boots are adorable yet comfortable.

Underwear & Socks

No-show socks: Nothing worse than socks that clash with your shoes! We like these no-show socks.

8+ pairs underwear: Bring one pair for every day of travel you want to go without doing laundry, plus one extra. If you need new travel undies, we recommend these comfy quick-dry ones.

2-3 bras: Depending on your needs and activity levels. I usually bring 1 bra and one bralette, but if you’re active you may want a sports bra or if you like to wear backless or strapless tops/dresses you may want adhesive or strapless bras. If you want a quick-dry travel bra, we recommend this one.

Sleepwear: I personally love having dedicated sleepwear – this silky pajama set is so comfortable!

Jewelry & Accessories

Headbands: Great for keeping hair out of your face or hiding greasy hair if you need to! We think these are ultra-cute.

Jewelry: Pick cheap statement jewelry and leave heirlooms or expensive jewelry at home. Theft is rare in Bulgaria, but it’s better to make yourself inconspicuous.

What to Pack for Winter in Bulgaria

Bulgaria - Pernik - Kukeri Stephanie Allison

Clothes

2 long sleeve shirts: Great for layering with skirts and leggings or jeans. We recommend these ones.

2 pairs skinny jeans: We like these ones, but bring your favorites that are already broken in if you have them. A little looser is better so you can fit an extra pair of leggings underneath if it’s super cold.

2 sweater dresses: I love cute sweater dresses like this one for cold winter days.

2-3 skirts: I prefer above-the-knee skirts that I can easily pair with leggings in winter.

3+ pairs warm leggings: I personally wear fleece-lined leggings nearly all winter long because I’m sensitive to wool. However, merino wool is ultra-warm (and non-microbial and odor-resistant) so I recommend a pair of merino wool leggings if your skin can handle wool.

1 ultra-warm parka: It can get to -20 C in Sofia in the winter (or -4 F) and it can get even colder in the mountains! Don’t neglect a super-warm winter jacket like this North Face parka. It’s a little pricy, but it literally comes with a lifetime guarantee and they will repair or replace it for free if you ever have any issues with your coat. I’ve owned mine for nearly a decade.

Ultra-light down jacket: For less cold days or for layering it underneath your parka for the truly cold days. This rolls up and packs easily in your day bag so it’s good to bring along – I have one really similar to this.

Shoes & Sandals

Ankle boots: For cold weather shoes that are still good for going out at night, we suggest these Teva ankle boots.

Waterproof leather boots: For snowy days and super cold weather when you still want to be comfortable, I love these knee-high Blondo boots and have owned them for over a decade.

Snow boots (optional): If you’re spending a lot of time in mountain resorts like Borovets or Bansko – or you want a dedicated snow boot – we suggest these ones.

Underwear

6+ pairs wool socks: Wool socks will keep your feet so much warmer than your standard cotton socks! We suggest these affordable yet cozy socks.

8+ pairs underwear: Bring one pair for every day of travel you want to go without doing laundry, plus one extra. If you want underwear specifically made for travel, we recommend these comfy quick-dry ones.

2-3 bras: Depending on your needs and activity levels. I usually bring 1 bra and one bralette, but if you’re active you may want a sports bra too. If you want a quick-dry travel bra, we recommend this one.

Jewelry & Accessories

Winter scarf: Bulgaria can get cold in the winter, so you’ll definitely want a warm winter scarf like this one.

Touchscreen gloves: You’ll want to cover your fingers and still be able to use your favorite touchscreen devices, so we recommend gloves like these which are compatible with your smartphone.

Fleece-lined knit hat: You lose a lot of heat from the top of your head and ears, so a fleece-lined knit hat that you wear tight, like a beanie, is a fantastic choice. Pick a colorful one for cute photos!

Jewelry: Go with inexpensive statement jewelry and leave heirlooms or expensive jewelry at home. 

What to Wear in Bulgaria for Men

Bulgaria - Buzludzha - Stephanie and Valentine

In general, younger Bulgarian men tend to dress smartly in the cities, especially compared to Americans and Canadians. While you don’t need to bring a tux (unless your itinerary calls for one), we advise you avoid the khaki shorts and fanny packs that scream “tourist” — not only is not a great look, it can also be a safety hazard in some cities where pickpockets target people who look like oblivious westerners.

Think sophisticated European style, pared down a bit for comfort, or casual streetwear that is fitted and classic.

If you’ll be visiting a lot of churches and Bulgarian monasteries, be sure to wear pants that go past your knees and always remove any hat or baseball cap before entering. 

What to Pack for Spring, Summer, & Fall in Bulgaria 

Keeping in mind which season you’ll be visiting in (and our overview of the weather in Bulgaria above), here’s what we suggest men pack for Bulgaria. Adjust the items and layers slightly to better match the season (for example, opt for fewer short-sleeve shirts in spring or fall and go with more long-sleeve shirts or sweaters if the weather calls for it)

Clothes

4-5 everyday shirts: Whether your go-to everyday shirt is a t-shirt, a polo shirt, or something with a bit more style, bring enough that you can go with only doing laundry once or twice a week. Make a few of these long sleeve shirts in early spring and in the autumn, but during summer long sleeves aren’t necessary. 

1-2 collared shirt: Bring a nice collared shirt, like this Oxford shirt, for a date night, if you decide to go to a performance, or even just to enjoy a bit of a fancier night on the town. This is especially important if you’ll be traveling with your partner!

If you’re traveling single, this will also come in handy for going out, though you might want to pick something that can do double-duty and go from the opera house to the club.

3-4 undershirts: If you wear undershirts, bring them. Expect to be doing laundry 1-2 times per week during your trip, so bring enough to cover half a week (plus you’ll be wearing one as well).

1-2 pairs of shorts: Summer in Bulgaria can be brutally hot (especially in Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo). In this situation, you will be happy to have some shorts. Just avoid shorts that look overly touristy. We think something like these jean shorts would work. Again, avoiding khaki is for safety (but it’s also about fitting in). 

The cut and style of the shorts you choose will really make a difference in how Europeans perceive you, but remember that men in Europe rarely wear shorts. Therefore, all shorts are statement shorts (and the statement that you’re making, typically, is rob me).

2 pairs of jeans: The sophisticated-yet-still-fun older brother of the jean short, this is what most tourists in Europe end up wearing to fit in yet still be comfortable. While European men wear slacks or dress pants more than jeans, a crisp pair of jeans is almost always acceptable. While we always appreciate a good dad jean, for Europe think more of a relaxed fit like these Levi’s

1 pair of wrinkle-free dress pants: While you can wear ironed jeans out on a nice evening, you’ll probably feel more comfortable wearing a nicer pair of slacks. Get one with a wrinkle-free fabric like these so you don’t have to worry if your accommodations don’t have an iron handy. 

1 medium-weight jacket that can handle rain: There can be some surprising weather sometimes even in the summer in Bulgaria, so bring a jacket that can handle rain and a bit of wind. We like the look of this this Colombia rain jacket.

1-2 pairs of swim trunks: This is dependant on your itinerary, but I think it’s always a good idea to bring something to swim in. Whether you spend time at one of Bulgaria’s beautiful lakes, its mineral baths, your hotel pool, or the Black Sea, you’ll be happy to be able to slip into the water. 

Note that many older European men will opt for the Speedo. This is one area where we do not recommend a North American tourist to try to fit in. 

You can choose to show a bit of your personality in your swimwear, by going either super traditional like these trunks or something with a bit more flair, like this pair of pineapple swim trunks.

Shoes & Sandals

Travel Sandals: If you’ll be in Bulgaria during the summer, sandals are a great idea, especially if you’ll be spending time walking around the cities. Consider a sports sandal like these leather athletic sandals or a classic pair of Birkenstocks.

If you’re headed to the beach, the spa, or even just a communal shower in a hostel, you also need to pack a pair of rubber flip-flops.

Comfortable Sneakers or Walking Shoes: If you’ll be doing a lot of sightseeing (and most likely, you will be) bring a pair of functional shoes that can support your feet at the end of a long day. We suggest getting a pair of Chuck Taylor’s (avoid white pairs) or something like these Sketchers

Boots: If you’ll be doing a lot of hiking in Bulgaria, bring a pair of sturdy hiking boots like these Keen waterproof hiking boots. If you’ll be walking around doing mostly normal sightseeing, opt for something like these Timberlands instead. 

Dress Shoes: You don’t need something super fancy, but if you are planning to have a nice night on the town with your partner then you should bring a pair of shoes that will go with a slightly nicer outfit. For example, these Oxford sneakers will transition better from day-to-night than a typical sneaker will. 

Underwear & Socks

7-8 Pairs of Underwear: While we expect you’ll be doing laundry once or twice a week, it’s nice to be able to go an entire week with clean underwear if you need to. If you want to invest in a few new pairs, get something like these quick-dry boxer briefs so that when you do hang your laundry to dry, they dry quickly. 

7-8 Pairs of Socks: Only you know if you like your socks with a bit of flair or if you’re a socks-blend-in kind of guy. If you want no-show socks, get something like these quick-drying ones. No one wants to put on socks that didn’t get completely dry before an entire day of sightseeing.

1-2 tee shirt and shorts for sleeping: Whatever you sleep in, bring one or two. If you sleep naked, don’t book a room in a hostel dorm, please. This pajama set will keep you from getting in trouble in any shared sleeping situation.  

Jewelry & Accessories

Wrist Watch: If you’re a watch guy, bring it. Unless it’s a super expensive watch or a family heirloom. In that case, leave it at home and use your cell phone to tell time. 

Any personal jewelry: If you wear jewelry, bring it, especially if it’s an important item like your wedding ring. However, anything that’s a family heirloom or insanely valuable, leave at home. (Other than your wedding ring…if your wife finds that you’ve left that behind, you might not have a home to come back to).

1-2 Hats: If you don’t feel dressed without a baseball cap or hat, bring one or two options. 

What to Pack for Winter in Bulgaria

Use the packing list for spring, summer, and fall section above as a guide, but with the following additions and substitutions. 

Clothes

A Winter Coat: Upgrade the rain jacket to a real winter coat. Remember that when you’re traveling somewhere new, you will spend significantly more of your day outside than if you are working or living somewhere. We suggest something like this North Face parka (Bulgaria gets cold).

1-2 Wool Baselayers: The key to dressing for winter in Bulgaria is layers. You want to be able to get warmer when needed, and then be able to remove the layers if the weather changes. Adding a wool base layer under your shirt is a great way to get some extra warmth in. 

Long Underwear: You can make your jeans sightseeing-in-winter ready by pairing them with some long underwear. 

1-2 Sweaters: Another great way to add in an extra layer is to wear a light sweater over your shirt, giving you a bit more warmth with an option to still put your coat on if you need even more. We like these v-neck pullover sweaters.

Shoes & Sandals

Waterproof Leather Boots: Upgrade your boots to the waterproof variety, like these Timberlands. Trust us, nothing is worth than walking eight miles sightseeing on hilly streets in waterlogged shoes.

Waterproof Sneakers: If you still want to spend your days in sneakers, get a waterproof pair like these Colombia waterproof hiking boots.

Snow Boots (optional): If you’ll be spending time in the resort towns like Bansko and Borovets (or if the forecast during your trip calls for lots of snow) then you’ll be happy to have a pair of snow boots with you. We like these from Sorel.

Underwear

7-8 pairs of wool socks: Upgrade you regular socks to warm, wool socks to keep your toes toasty warm even when it’s freezing out. 

Flannel Pajamas: Upgrade your t-shirt and shorts to flannel pajamas. This is especially important if you’ll be staying in hostels or hotels in historic buildings which aren’t known for their warmth!

Jewelry & Accessories

Winter Scarf: Add a thick cable knit scarf or cashmere scarf to keep the wind out. 

Waterproof Touch-Screen Gloves: You probably know that you’re going to want gloves, but there are a few finer points to consider. You’ll want waterproof gloves in case it’s snowing, and touchscreen capabilities so that you can continue to take photos and navigate with your cell phone. Check out this affordable pair from Finger Ten.

Fleece-Lined Knit Hat: Don’t waste your time bringing any winter beanie. Get one that’s lined with fleece to keep as much of your warmth as possible. We like this one from LETHMIK

Toiletries 

Toiletries for Women

Hair Care & Bathing

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Hemingway Restaurant Stephanie

Shampoo & conditioner: I love shampoo bars personally since I try to pack carry-on only and reduce my plastic consumption. I like the ones from LUSH as well as these ones from Amazon.

Dry shampoo: We all have those days when showering is hard – dry shampoo will perk up any oily locks.

Brush or comb: Whatever you use – I like this small travel-sized one.

Hair ties: If you have long hair, you’ll likely want some hair ties.

Hairdryer & straightener: Optional, but if you do your hair at home, you’ll probably want this when you travel as well. If you’re coming from outside of Europe, you’ll want dual voltage.

GoToobs: For your favorite shampoo/conditioner or body wash/lotion from home, I love these squeezy silicon GoToobs.

Body wash and lotion: Either full-size or in carry-on-sized containers like above.

Skin Care

Moisturizer: Travel will beat your skin up. If you use a moisturizer at home, bring it. If you’ve never used a moisturizer before, you really should start. You’ll be happy to give your face a boost before heading outside all day. 

Facewash: For washing all the dirt, dust, sweat, and other travel-related impurities off your face at the end of the day. Make sure you bring a travel-sized version, like this travel Clean & Clear. 

Tweezers: For emergency chin hair situations and the like – you know what I mean. I always carry tweezers like these.

Sunscreen: You can buy sunscreen here, but it’s likely cheaper at home or bought online in advance. I love this solid Neutrogena sunscreen. Who doesn’t love a good solid for liquid swap? Great to keep in your bag without worrying about sunscreen explosions

Razor & refills: It’s not always easy to find your brand on the road. I use Venus and I can find it easily in Bulgaria, but it’s more expensive than back home. Here’s the razor + refill cartridges.

Anti-chafe balm: If you have thick thighs and are traveling in summer, this stuff works miracles! Vaseline also works great.

Make-up

Bulgaria - Sofia - Sofia Opera Selfie Stephanie Allison
Red lipstick is a travel must!

Foundation: I love this Benefit Oxygen foundation because it doesn’t make me break out and it’s very lightweight coverage with a bit of SPF.

Mascara: I love Urban Decay, but YMMV.

Blush: I prefer creme/gel to powder to avoid breakage – I suggest this awesome Tarte cheek stain.

Red matte lip stain: Red lipstick is my ultimate travel hack. I use the matte lip stain from Sephora and it works a dream and lasts for ages.

Concealer: I swear by Make-up For Ever concealer – it’s the best I’ve ever used, and I used to struggle with serious acne.

Dental care

Toothbrush: I have a small folding toothbrush and I love it for travel, as I always break or lose the clip-on caps.

Toothpaste: Whatever you use at home will do! Stephanie’s mother, who’s a dental hygienist, keeps me stocked with travel-sized tubes of Sensodyne

Floss: Because your mother will know if you don’t use floss. (Or at least Stephanie’s will – I’m in the clear). 

Eye Care

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Selfie Stephanie Ancient Roman Theater

Sunglasses: Either prescription or regular, depending on needs

Reading glasses: If needed.

Glasses: If needed

Hard Glasses Case: If you bring glasses or sunglasses, have a hard-shell case like this one to keep them safe when you’re not wearing them. Travel can beat up your glasses if you don’t store them properly. Remember that if you have very large or wide glasses, you might need a larger case. 

Contacts & saline solution: If needed. Note that saline solution is considered a medical supply and you are allowed to bring more than 100 ml in a carry-on. Make sure that your contact case has screw tops like this one and is not the kind that just snaps shut. Otherwise, you might find yourself with lost contacts. 

Note that if you typically wear contacts, it’s a good idea to bring a backup pair of glasses in case you hurt your eyes or lose your contacts for whatever reason.

Personal Care

Whatever you need for your period: I personally prefer a Diva Cup as it’s reusable, eco-friendly, comfortable, and can be worn for up to 12 hours at a time. Others may prefer tampons or pads. Bring whatever you need to feel comfortable, as you may not find your exact brand in Bulgaria.

Condoms or birth control methods: If you may have a little… romance in Bulgaria, bring your own birth control methods, whether that’s condoms, birth control pills, or something else.

While we know that men and women travel with many of the same toiletries, there are typically (though not always) a few differences. 

Toiletries for Men

Hair Care & Bathing

Shampoo & Conditioner: While some guys don’t mind using whatever shampoo comes with the hotel, we know that many of you guys are way more particular than that. If you have a shampoo preference that’s very specific, bring it with you. 

If you want to minimize your plastic use, pick up a shampoo bar like the ones at LUSH or these ones from Amazon

Also, it’s possible that your accommodations won’t provide shampoo and conditioner. Check ahead. Worst case scenario, you can pick some up in Bulgaria – a DM or a Lilly is usually the place to shop for toiletries with the best selection.

Brush or Comb: I like traveling with a travel hairbrush, but if you prefer combs then I wouldn’t worry about getting a smaller version since it will lay flat in your bag.

Hair Accessories: If you have a particular hairstyle that needs accessories, bring a few. 

Hair Products: If there’s a hair product that you use every day, bring it. Keep in mind airline carryon restrictions for liquids. 

GoToobs: For your favorite shampoo/conditioner or body wash/lotion from home pick up some GoToobs.

Body wash and lotion: Either full-size or in carry-on-sized containers like above.

Skin Care

Bulgaria - Sofia - Sofia Opera House Allison and Tulio

Moisturizer: Travel will beat your skin up. If you use a moisturizer at home, bring it. If you’ve never used a moisturizer before, you really should start. You’ll be happy to give your face a boost before heading outside all day. 

Facewash: For washing all the dirt, dust, smog, sweat, and other travel-related impurities off your face at the end of the day. Make sure you bring a travel-sized version, like this travel Clean & Clear. 

Tweezers: For emergency splinters, etc. I always carry tweezers like these.

Sunscreen: You can buy sunscreen here in Bulgaria, but it’s likely cheaper at home or bought online in advance. I love this solid Neutrogena sunscreen, which works great for men or for women

Razor & refills: We know that the type of razor you use is very particular. If you use an electronic razor and live in North America, keep in mind that the voltage in Europe will fry your razor.

We suggest bringing a good handheld razor instead, like the Gillette Fusion5 and a few extra razor blades.

If you prefer to get a shave with a straight razor at a barbershop, you will be able to find barbers in all major Bulgarian cities. However, we can’t vouch for language barriers, since these kinds of shops rarely get tourists. 

Anti-chafe balm: If you tend to chafe when you get sweaty, this stuff works miracles! Vaseline also works great. Keep in mind that you will be walking in the heat for long periods of time in summer, so if you’ve EVER chafed it’s better to be safe than ruin your vacation. 

Make-up

We know some men wear make-up every day and look absolutely fabulous doing it. We don’t have product recommendations for men’s make-up looks but bring what you love from home. Just keep in mind liquid limitations on airplanes and try to minimize your makeup kit to the smallest workable version. 

Dental care

Toothbrush: This small folding toothbrush will keep your teeth clean and your bag light.

Toothpaste: Whatever you use at home will do! Stephannie’s mom, a dental hygenist, recommends Sensodyne

Floss: Because your mother will know if you don’t use floss. (Or at least Steph’s will). 

Eyecare

Sunglasses: Either prescription or regular, depending on needs. Bulgaria can be VERY sunny. 

Reading glasses: If needed.

Glasses: If needed. If you have a back-up pair, it’s nice to have two in case one pair breaks. (Or be able to switch between a pair of glasses and contacts).

Hard Glasses Case: If you bring glasses or sunglasses, have a hard-shell case like this one to keep them safe when you’re not wearing them. Travel can beat up your glasses if you don’t store them properly. 

Contacts & saline solution: If needed. Note that saline solution is considered a medical supply and you are allowed to bring more than 100 ml in a carry-on. Make sure that your contact case has screw tops like this one and is not the kind that just snaps shut. Otherwise, you might find yourself with lost contacts. 

Note that if you typically wear contacts, it’s a good idea to bring a backup pair of glasses in case you hurt your eyes. This happened to me on a trip to NYC once, and I had to wear my prescription sunglasses all weekend since I couldn’t get my contacts in my eyes (and forgot my glasses). 

If you’re flying transatlantic, keep your glasses in your carryon. Long flights tend to dry out your eyes, and you’ll be happy to have the option to switch to glasses if the need arises. 

Personal Care

It’s important to plan ahead for your personal needs before you leave for your trip. This means packing condoms or the preferred birth control methods of you and your partner. If you don’t have a partner traveling with you, but hope to meet one once you’re here, bring condoms from home. The brands here can be different than what you’re used to.

You also want to think about any sex-related prescription drugs you use at home. If you use Viagra at home, bring it with you (but also bring proof that you have a prescription). 

Miscellaneous Items to Pack for Bulgaria

Reusable water bottle with filter: While you can drink the tap water in most of Bulgaria, if you’ll be visiting a lot of small villages or doing some hiking, I recommend a filter water bottle like the GRAYL. If you’re sticking to big cities, a regular reusable bottle will do just fine. This one is cool because it’s collapsible!

Mini bathroom kit: For poorly stocked bathrooms at bus stops, you’ll be happy you have this! I carry a small hand sanitizer and these wet wipes.

Travel umbrella: It rains here frequently and unpredictably – have a small travel umbrella stashed away for unexpected showers.

Hiking boots: If you plan to come to Bulgaria to hike, you’ll definitely want your hiking boots! I recommend these Ahnu hiking boots for women, and these Keen boots for men.

Trekking poles: Not needed, but if you like them, you’ll want to bring them. I recommend these travel-friendly poles.

Medicine Kit

Serbia - Belgrade - Pharmacy Allison

Pepto-Bismol: This is my favorite medicine for when I have stomach trouble as it’s not really as harsh on your stomach as Imodium, but they don’t sell it in Bulgaria. Bring some from home.

Imodium: In case of any stomach emergencies (read: diarrhea before a long bus or flight), Imodium is a good option. You can buy it in Bulgaria, but if you have diarrhea, you probably don’t want to be communicating that to a confused-looking pharmacist. Bring some from home.

Painkillers: Aleve works better for me, but YMMV. I also bring some Excedrin Migraine as I’m prone to migraines.

Pedialyte hydration packs: Perfect after drunken shenanigans, long hikes, or just plain dehydration. Made for kids, but work just as well for hungover adults. I buy these ones.

Bandaids: For blisters, small cuts, breaking in shoes, etc., bandaids are always handy to have.

Tiger balm: I discovered this is Southeast Asia and left obsessed. It’s great for aftercare for bug bites, nursing headaches, rubbing on aching muscles, and basically anything. You won’t find it Bulgaria, so buy it online.

Mosquito repellent: You can bring ones with DEET or without DEET, or I love having some of these mosquito repellent wipes that I can keep in my bag in case I suddenly start to get swarmed and don’t have my regular repellent with me.

Motion sickness pills: Great for bus rides especially on mountain roads – I buy these non-drowsy ones. You can also try these natural motion sickness bands which use acupressure to reduce nausea – they actually work pretty well.

Technology & Accessories

Canva - Back view of a woman taking photo with a smartphone

Camera, lenses, and chargers: I use a Sony A6000 with a kit lens and the 18-105mm f4 lens, which is a good starter camera that is lightweight but not quite professional caliber. Stephanie uses a Nikon D810 which is better but more expensive and bulkier. If you want a smaller camera for video or adventurous travel, a GoPro would be perfect.

Smartphones: Then again, more and more often, we find ourselves taking photos with our smartphones and leaving our bulky cameras in our bags. I use an iPhone X and Stephanie uses a Samsung Galaxy.

Kindle: We love having our Kindles with us when we travel, especially in places like Bulgaria where the selection of English-language books is often small or nonexistent.

Laptop and charger: We both use Macs as our travel and work laptop, but if you just want a cheap laptop for travel, a Chromebook is a good choice.

Extras for Hostels 

Bulgaria - Plovdiv - Fountain in front of Raffy

Sleep mask: Any will do, but for the year or so that I spent living out of hostels, I loved my contoured sleep mask!

Hearos ear plugs: I tested many earplugs when I traveled around the world staying in hostels – Hearos are the clear winners.

Mini combo locks: Most hostels will have lockers for you to use, but most do not come with their own locks. I prefer mini combo locks to locks with a key as it’s harder to forget your combination than to lose your key.

Travel towel: Great for hostels where you may have to rent a towel, but we also just recommend this towel in general as its awesome.

What to Pack for Studying or Working Abroad or Homestays

Bulgaria - Veliko Tarnovo - House in the Old City with Laundry

If you’re coming to Bulgaria to study abroad or you’re going to be doing a homestay with friends or on an official homestay program, there are a few extra items you need to pack. Bring a small gift from your home city or country (something that you wouldn’t get anywhere else).

For work abroad, bring enough to give to administrators, your superiors, and any coworkers. 

For homestays, bring something a bit larger, but you only need one for your host family. So instead of little pins, you might bring a nice snowglobe or a box of candy or local jam. 

For these items, small tokens do the trick. Your gifts don’t need to be extravagant. It’s the thought that counts! 

Important Documentation

Crete - Heraklion - Cosmote Passport

Make sure you remember to bring these important documents with you when you come to Bulgaria!

Your Passport is the most important piece of documentation that you need (they won’t let you on the plane without it)! However, just having your passport tucked into your travel wallet isn’t good enough. You need to make copies before you leave.

Scan your passport and email it to yourself. Then print out three hard copies. Hide one in your luggage, one in your day bag, and give one to your emergency contact at home. (You can also email it to this person). 

If you make sure you always have access to a copy of your passport, even in cases where everything is stolen or you don’t have access to the internet, you’ll be able to get an emergency one made if your passport is lost or stolen (or damaged). 

A passport holder to protect your precious passport. Did you know that you can be denied boarding on your flight if your passport has visible damage? I’ve seen it happen, and it doesn’t matter how much you scream at the poor airline employee, they aren’t going to change their mind.

If you’ve taken our advice and will be using a travel wallet during your trip, then keep your passport safe in the passport pocket during your trip. 

If you will be doing a lot of water activities like enjoying the Bulgarian Riviera, river rafting, or sailing on Iskar reservoir, then you might want to pick up a waterproof passport holder to make absolutely sure your passport doesn’t get ruined during your trip.

Your travel insurance policy information in case you need to make a claim during your trip. I like to use the same system as I do with my passport – three hard copies and a soft copy. Make sure your emergency contact has a copy of your insurance policy information as well. In certain (unpleasant) situations, they will need to file the claim on your behalf.

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

Driver’s License for renting a car or driving in Bulgaria. While you’ll still need to bring your passport with you to pick up your rental car, a driver’s license is required if you actually want to be allowed to drive the thing. This also works as an ID when you don’t want to take your passport somewhere.

Bulgaria - Buzludzha - Buzludzha Roadtrip Selfie
If you want to travel to Buzludzha independently, the best way is to rent a car.

Credit Card & ATM Card Information in case your cards are lost or stolen. I use the same soft and hard copy system for my cards as I do for my passport and travel insurance information, with one major exception: I don’t send or leave a copy with anyone. 

For your copies, make scans of both the front and back so you have every number you need (including the phone number to call from overseas). 

Student ID or Senior ID so that you can utilize any available discounts. Some museums and heritage sites have discounts for students and seniors (and it never hurts to ask if one is available).

Tour Confirmations for any pre-booked activities in case you can’t get internet access for check-in. Where required, you should have printouts of your confirmation, but other companies will allow you to use an electronic ticket or even their app.

This is one reason we book our own activities through GetYourGuide because you can easily organize all your booked tours in their mobile app! 

Accommodation Confirmation for every place you’re staying. While you can reasonably expect to be able to check-in without producing a copy of your confirmation, bring it anyway in case of an emergency like they’ve lost your reservation or you can’t remember the name of your hotel to give to your taxi driver. 

This is also good so you don’t have to hand over your smartphone to a taxi driver – I’ve had one instance where this turned weird in Kosovo when the driver tried to get me to leave the car to use the ATM while he still held on to my phone (uh, no?).

Another reason to make sure you have your hotel information is to make sure that the charges align with what you’ve booked. I’ve been in a situation where I was charged more and had additional fees that were not in my original contract. 

That’s one reason I prefer to use Booking.com to book my rooms. They have pretty flexible cancellation policies and I have a number to call for customer service in case there’s a problem. 

Transportation Information for your flights, buses, trains, and car rentals. I use the app TripIt (see the App section) to organize these things, but you’ll also want to save the emails and print out any tickets or boarding passes before you leave. 

You’ll also want to have the instructions for using ground transportation to your first accommodations, especially if you won’t have data or will be arriving after dark.

Books About Bulgaria

Bulgaria - Veliko Tarnovo - Bulgarian Wine

Lonely Planet Bulgaria & Romania is a great guidebook for your visit to Bulgaria. It can be really hard (sometimes impossible) to buy a physical guidebook in English once you’re in Bulgaria, so if you like having your guidebook in your hands you will need to bring it with you from home.

A Travel Journal so that you can write down your own experiences and musings from your time in Bulgaria. This is also a great place to jot down phone numbers and other important pieces of info so that you have this information available offline somewhere. 

Stork Mountain

A Concise History of Bulgaria

End of the West

Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe

Beyond Hitler’s Grasp: The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews

Apps to Download Before Your Trip

Bulgaria - Sofia - Taxi
We love Yellow Taxi! We’ve never had an issue with a Yellow Taxi scam in more than a hundred rides.

Here are the apps you want to download on your phone before you leave home. 

TaxiMe or Yellow Taxi app for hailing safe, registered taxis. Uber does not work in BUlgaria, so don’t bother! 

Google Translate so that you can easily get out of any jams caused by language barriers. You can even use the photo setting to translate menus and signs (provided you have wifi access or a data plan).

Google Maps for navigating while on the road, especially for walking in cities and driving on roads. You can even download the maps for the cities you’ll be visiting before your trip so that they are available to you offline.

Moovit for using public transportation since the routes are more reliable in the Balkans than Google Maps.

Skype so that you have a way to make phone calls on the road. This will come in handy if you need to call your bank if something happens to your credit cards. Purchase Skype credit in advance to avoid issues.

Facebook Messenger for staying connected with family back home for free. Alternatively, you can use Whatsapp or Viber. Some tour companies (especially small ones) will use Whatsapp or Viber to communicate logistics as well.

Instagram because you know you want to post the gorgeous Instagram pics you’ll take in Bulgaria! We also love using Instagram for trip inspiration when in new places.

Adobe Lightroom Mobile for editing your travel photos on the road. While Adobe for Desktop is a paid service, the mobile version for your phone is free.

iTunes, Podcast Addict, or other Podcatcher if you like listening to podcasts on your trip. 

Dropbox Mobile for backing up cell phone photos as you travel. This is important in case your cell phone gets lost, broken, or stolen. I like to back mine up at night over wifi (don’t back up over cell data unless you have unlimited data). If you use an iPhone, double-check that iCloud is backing up your photos, otherwise get Dropbox or another third party app.

Your Airline App if you’re flying in or out of Bulgaria so that you can utilize mobile check-in and avoid having to print your boarding cards (a lot of the time, this incurs a big fee with budget airlines).

You Bus Company App if you’ll be using a bus company that has a phone app, download it. While most bus companies that operate in the Balkans don’t have apps, companies like FlixBus offer apps that will allow you to avoid printing your ticket. 

Tour Company Apps for any pre-booked activities. We book our tours on GetYourGuide and then use their app to keep the confirmations and itineraries organized. 

TripIt for organizing flights, hotel accommodations, and tickets. I really don’t understand how anyone gets around without it!

More Bulgaria Travel Resources

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.

To get started, this post on 101 things to do in Sofia should be a nice start! 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 LakesBuzludzha.

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

Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance

We’ve mentioned it, but it bears repeating! We think it’s a good idea to travel to Bulgaria with a valid travel insurance policy. Travel here includes outdoor activities and travel to highly touristed sites. It’s a good idea to be covered in case you have an accident or fall victim to theft. Travel insurance will help you recover your expenses and continue to enjoy 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.

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Planning to visit Bulgaria? This ultimate Bulgaria packing list for all genders and seasons will be your guide. This women's and men's packing list for Bulgaria in winter, summer, spring, or fall will help you decide what to pack for Bulgaria and what to wear in Bulgaria (and what to leave behind!)