Physical geography

Bulgaria is situated in Eastern Europe and bounded to the north by the River Ditmubo and Romania to the east by the Black Sea to the south by Turkey and Greece and to the west by Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The Balkan Mountains cross the country reaching the edge of the Black Sea and its golden beaches. The land is heavily cultivated, covered with forests and crossed by rivers. Although Bulgaria lies in the very southeast corner of Europe, the climate is never extreme in summer, even on the red-earthed plains of Southern Thrace. The Black Sea resorts have some of the largest beaches in Europe and offer sunbathing from May until October, while in winter heavy falls of snow are virtually guaranteed in the mountain skiing resorts. Area - 110.994 sq km (42,855 sq miles).


Varies according to altitude. Summers are the warmest with some rainfall. Winters are cold with snow and it rains frequently during spring and autumn.

Economic geography

Bulgaria has a strong agricultural sector, in which the main products are wheat, maize, barley, sugar beet, grapes and tobacco, although its relative importance has declined in recent years. The country is also one of the world's leading wine exporters. Agriculture is mainly organised around large agro-industrial complexes and is relatively efficient: current plans are looking towards further mechanisation of food processing and packaging.

Industry is concentrated in engineering, metals, chemicals and petrochemicals and, recently, electronics and biotechnology Bulgaria is a major producer of bulk carriers and of fork-lift trucks. Tourism and road transport and both important foreign exchange earners. The country has few energy reserves of its own and has, until now, relied heavily on subsidised Soviet oil. Oil from Iraq, moreover, is no longer available following UN-imposed sanctions. Coal and, despite deep reservations among the international community, nuclear power, meet most of Bulgaria's energy needs. The isolation of Iraq and the demise of COMECON has eliminated at a stroke the major markets for Bulgarian goods. At first, this precipitated a major economic crisis from which the country is only now starting to recover. In 1993, the Government embarked on a rapid privatisation programme as part of a raft of measures to attract much needed foreign investment. By 1994 three-quarters of all trade was accounted for by private companies. The Government is now trying to improve the country's infrastructure and introduce further structural reforms. Membership of the European Union is now a high priority for Bulgaria.


Population: 8,459,723 (1993 estimate). Population density: 76.2 per sq km. Capital Sofia - Population: 1,188,556 (1993).


Eastern Orthodox Church; Muslim and Roman Catholic minorities.

Languages spoken by nationals

Bulgarian is the official language. English is spoken by many in the cities and resorts. Turkish, Russian, German and French are also spoken.


GMT + two (GMT + three from last Sunday in March to Saturday before last Sunday in September).


Bulgarian currency is the Lev, (BGL) which equals 100 stotinki. Notes are in denominations of 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1.

Official holidays (all shops and offices closed)

1 January, New Year - 3 March, National Day - 31 March, Easter Monday - 1 May, Labour Day - 24 May, Education Day - 24 -25 December, Christmas.

What one should not fail to see

Dating back to the fourth century BC, the ancient capital of Sofia has a wealth of different architectural styles including Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Bulgarian and Turkish. The city boasts many theatres and museums (including those of archaeology and ethnography), opera houses and art galleries (including the National Gallery of Painting and Sculpture housed in the former Royal Palace of the King) as well as a universities, open-air markets, parks (over 300 of them, including the Borisova Park) and sports stadia. Visitors should see the extraordinary Alexander Nevsky Memorial Church (which dominates the city with its gold leaf dome), built to celebrate Bulgaria's liberation from the Turks in the Russo-Turkish war at the end of the last century. The crypt hosts an exhibition of beautiful icons, and the choir is excellent and well worth hearing. Other churches in Sofia include St Sophia, which is Byzantine and dates from the sixth century; St George, which dates back to the fifth century and contains 14th-century frescoes; and Sveta Petka Samardshijska, which is 14th century. There is an archaeological museum housed in the nine cupolas of the Bouyouk Mosque (the largest in Sofia). The Banya Bashi Mosque is also worth a visit. An example of modern architecture is the Battemerg Square, which contains the Government Buildings and some Roman remains nearby (discovered during the construction of an underpass) with a reconstruction of the city as it was in Roman times.

Excursions and sightseeing

Some 121km (75 miles) from Sofia is Rila Monastery, perched high up on the side of a mountain in the middle of thick pine forests. Rila has a fascinating collection of murals, woodcarvings, old weapons and coins, and manuals and Bibles written on sheepskin. The monastery itself is notable for its delicate and unusual architectural features. Originally founded in the tenth century by the hermit and holy man, Ivan Rilsky, the monastery acted as a repository and sanctuary for Bulgarian culture during the 500-year Turkish occupation from 1396. Fire has destroyed most of the early architecture and the present buildings date from the 19th century, with the exception of the 14th-century Hrelio's Tower. Rila is an excellent place from which to start climbs and hikes in the surrounding countryside. The mountain of Vitosha on the outskirts of Sofia is a National Park with chair lifts and cable cars to aid ascent as it is about 2,000m (7,000 ft) high. Here, the mediaeval church of Boyana can be seen, with its beautiful and ancient frescoes, painted around 1200 and thought to be some of the oldest in Bulgaria. South of Sofia lies Blagoevgrad, home of the Pinn State Ensemble (the world-renowned folklore group); Sandansky, an ancient spa town and birthplace of the Roman gladiator, Spartacus; and Melnik, known for its wine cellars, 18th/19th century architecture and its proximity to Rozhen Monastery with its beautifully carved altar, stained glass windows, murals and icons.


Founded in 342BC and the country's second-largest city, Plovdiv is divided by the Maritsa River and contains both an old quarter and a new commercial section. The old part contains many buildings dating from the 18th and 19th centuries (and earlier) in typical National Revival style. It is possible to wander along the narrow cobbled streets and see Roman ruins (including an amphitheatre), picturesque mediaeval houses and buildings from the 17th century with their upper sections overhanging the street and almost touching those opposite. The Archaeological Museum has collections of gold Thracian artefacts, including cooking utensils, and the Ethnographic Museum is also worth seeing, as are the churches of St Marina and St Nedelya.

Some 8km (five miles) from Plovdiv is Batchkovo Monastery, founded in the 11th century, with some rare frescoes, icons, manuscripts and coins. Batchkovo lies within the area known in ancient times as Thrace (partly occupied by the Rhodope Mountains) and many items of archaeological interest have been discovered, including wonderful gold Thracian objects. The valley of Kazanluk has a Museum of Rose Production and is the centre of Bulgaria's major export: attar of roses. The valley of Kazanluk itself has countless archaeological/historical treasures - Greek, Roman and Ottoman. Turnovo, ancient capital of Bulgaria in the 13th and 14th centuries, contains extraordinary collections of historic works of art, including church relics. The Preobrazhenski Monastery is quite close, as is the open air folk museum at Etur.

Black Sea Coast

Bulgarian Black Sea Riviera resorts are ideal for the traditional seaside family holiday. Thickly wooded mountains sweep down into wide bays and long golden beaches stretch four or five miles in length. Some of the resorts along the coast have been called a 'children's playground,' as swimming is generally safe; even at 150m (500 ft) away from the shore the water is only shoulder-high. Areas where currents are a problem are clearly marked. The Black Sea is one of the cleanest and clearest seas in the world and has half the salt content of the Mediterranean. Some of the sand is pulled by currents from as far away as the Mediterranean, flowing through the Bosphorus and Dardenelles. Bulgaria offers sunny weather and good, clean air, particularly along the coast. The coast itself has a breeze which blows gently inshore, taking the edge off the heat. Special children's pools have been installed on many of beaches: swings, slides, playdomes and donkey rides are also available and a wide range of watersports are found at most resorts.

How to dress

Medium weight clothes most of the year; warmer outdoor wear necessary in winter.


There are dozens of attractive resorts on the Black Sea Riviera. Drouzhba is Bulgaria's oldest Black Sea spa centred around the Grand Hotel Varna, the largest and most luxurious hotel on the Riviera. Albena, named after a famous local beauty, is situated on the edge of a lovely forest, and is Bulgaria's newest resort (a showcase and vivid monument to contemporary Bulgarian design), with good food and lively nightlife. Golden Sands, Bulgaria's second-largest resort, has good facilities and probably the best nightlife on the Black Sea Riviera and is only 15km (nine miles) from Varna, the Black Sea capital founded in the sixth century and still housing many Roman and Byzantine remains. Sunny Beach is a large purpose-built family resort with beautiful and safe beaches. Close to Sunny Beach lies the seventh-century fishing village of Nessebar with its wooden fishermen's houses and famous four dozen Byzantine churches. The Black Sea port town of Burgas has a maritime park and an extensive beach.

Bulgaria is a fast-growing destination for Western skiers for adults and children alike. There have been some dramatic improvements in all the major resorts in recent years.

Borovets is a World Cup venue. It is only 70km (45 miles) from Sofia, the capital, at 1,300m (4,300ft) in the Rila Mountains. There the 2,400m (8,000ft) Yastreoets (Hawk's Nest) is a steep, twisting red trail for the advanced skier, in operation from November until April. Seven comfortable, friendly and well-run hotels provide most of the accommodation and there is a village of timber-framed houses (each sleeping six) nearby. In Bulgarian resorts, hotels usually provide most of the nightlife. Also Pamprovo and Vitosha.

Main holiday sports

There are facilities for tennis, mini-golf, horseriding and cycling. Watersport: Water-skiing, sailing, surfing and scuba diving are all available on the Black Sea coast.

What to eat and drink

The main meal is eaten in the middle of the day. Dinner is a social occasion, with dancing in all restaurants. Food is spicy, hearty and good. National dishes include cold yoghurt soup with cucumbers, peppers or aubergines stuffed with meat kebapcheta (small, strongly spiced, minced meat rolls). Fruit is particularly good and cheap throughout the year. Banitsa is a pastry stuffed with fruit or cheese. There is a wide variety of national dishes, as well as West European standard dishes, which can be chosen on the spot at any restaurant. All good hotels have restaurants and there are many attractive folk-style restaurants and cafes throughout the country.

Drink - Coffee, heavily sweetened, is particularly popular. Drinks are also made from infusions of mountain herbs and dried leaves, particularly lime. White wines include Karlouski Miske Tamianka and Evksinograde. Heavy red wines include Trakia and Mavroud.

What to buy

The main shopping area of Sofia is the Vitosha Boulevard. Bulgarian products, handicrafts, wines, spirits and confectionery can all be purchased. Shopping hours: Shops and stores are generally open 10.00-20.00 Monday to Friday: 08.00-14.00 Saturday. Many shops open late until 19.00.

Frontier formalities

Note: All visitors to Bulgaria must register with the police, a hotel or a guesthouse within 48 hours of arrival.


A valid passport with at least six months remaining validity after day of departure is required of everyone.


Required by all except (a) nationals of Armenia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, CIS, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, South Korea, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Tunisia and Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro);

b) nationals of the USA as tourists for up to 30 days;

(c) nationals of EU countries on any holiday prearranged through Balkantourist or an authorised agent/operator if it is booked for at least three days. In all other cases EU nationals can obtain visas at the border if travelling by road or air. If travelling by rail, however, a visa is required in advance;

(d) nationals of Australia, Canada Japan and New Zealand on any holiday prearranged through Balkantourist or an authorised agent/operator if it is booked for at least three days;

(e) nationals of Bahrain, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan (China), United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe on any holiday pre-arranged through Balkantourist or an authorised agent/operator if it is booked for at least three days.

Note: A legalised invitation from Bulgaria is required. If travelling by rail a visa is required in advance.

Type of visa: Tourist (£20 in cash or by postal order); Business (single-entry: £20; multiple-entry: £26 for three months validity; £46 for six months validity); Single-transit (20): Double-transit (£26). Express visas have been introduced for visits of less than seven working days; these will be issued immediately if applying in person, or by return if applying by post. The cost of an Express visa is £40 (in cash if applying in person, or by postal order if applying by post). Tourist visas are single-entry only and are valid for three months for a stay of a maximum of 30 days. Business visas are available single and multiple-entry. Visas are issued free of charge to nationals of the following countries: China, Cyprus, North Korea and Zimbabwe. Validity: For tourist and business trips visas are normally valid for three months. Transit visas allow one to stay for up to 30 hours. Enquire at the Embassy for further details.

Application to: Consulate (or Consular section at Embassy).
Application requirements:

(a) Application form (two for business visas);

(b) One passport-size photo (two for business visas);

(c) Valid passport;

(d) If applying for a Business visa, the application must also be accompanied by a letter of invitation from a Bulgarian company and a letter from the applicant's company (for a multiple-entry visa an additional letter/fax from the Bulgarian company certifying regular business relations).

(e) If applying by post, a registered, stamped, self-addressed envelope large enough for return of passport. (For visitors staying with friends or relatives an official invitation from their hosts, legalised by the respective Bulgarian local authorities, is required);

g) An Aids test may be required by certain visitors staying more than one month.

(h) Fee payable in cash or by postal order. Working days required: seven for single-entry (two to three weeks by post): 14-30 days for multiple-entry. Transit visas can be issued on the spot. Temporary residence: Enquire at the Bulgarian Embassy.

Currency regulations

The import and export of local currency is prohibited. There are no restrictions on the amount of foreign currency though amounts over US$1,000 have to be declared. The export of foreign currency is limited to the amount declared on import. Local currency can be exchanged at the airport on production of a bordereau. The will be given on arrival and must be kept until departure. Visitors are advised to change money at bureaux de change and not on the black market.

Main travel routes

International: Sofia's airport is 10km east of the capital. Varna and Bourgas and also have airports.

Air: Balkan-Bulgarian Airlines operates eight domestic services connecting Sofia with the coast and main towns. The journeys from Sofia to Varna and Bourgas can be made in under an hour. Air travel is comparatively cheap, only slightly more expensive than rail travel.

River: Regular boat and hydrofoil services along the Bulgarian bank of the Danube link many centres, including Vidin, Lom, Koloduj; Orjahovo, Nikopol; Svishtov, Tutrakan and Silistra The official crossing points into Romania are by ferry from Vidin to Calafat and by road bridge from Ruse to Giurgiu.

Rail: There are over 6,500km (4,040 miles) of railways in the country. Bulgarian State Railways connect Sofia with main towns. Reservations are essential and first-class travel is advised. For details contact the State Railway Office.

Road: There are over 13,000km (8,000 miles) of roads linking the major centres and in general the quality is good. Traffic drives on the right. International road signs are used. Car hire: Self-drive cars can be hired through hotel reception desks and through Hertz-Balkantourist Joint Venture Company. There are no fly-drive arrangements through the airlines. Most transactions are in hand currency. Documentation: An International Driving Licence should be obtained, although foreign driving licences are accepted for short visits. A Green Card is compulsory.

Urban: Bus, tramway and trolleybus services operate in Sofia; in addition, a metro is under construction. Flat fares are charged and tickets must be pre-purchased. Buses and taxis are provided in all the main towns. There are also trolleybuses in Plovdiv and Varna.


Electricity: 220 volts AC, 50Hz plugs are two-pin.

Communications: Telephone: IDD is available to main cities. Calls from some parts of the country must be placed through the international operator. There are many public telephones in the main towns. Fax: Facilities are available at BTA (Bulgarian Telegraph Agency) offices. Telex/telegram: International communications via telex and telegrams are available. Public telex booths are available at general post offices and major hotels in Sofia. The General Post Office in Sofia, at 4 Gurko Street, is open 24 hours, with facilities for both telex and telegram. Post: Airmail to Western Europe takes from four days to two weeks.

Representatives abroad

Balkantourist, Boulevard Vitosha 1, 1040 Sofia, Bulgaria, Tel: (2) 43331. Fax: (2) 800 134. Telex: 22583. Bulgarian Tourist Chamber Triaditza Street 5, Sofia, Bulgaria. Tel: (2) 874 059. Fax: (2) 882 066.

Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria, 186-188 Queen's Gate, London SW7 SHL, Tel: (0171) 584 9400 or 584 9433 or 0891 171 208 (visa enquiries: calls are charged at the higher rate of 39/49p per minute). Fax: (0171) 584 4948. Telex: 25465. Opening hours: 1000-1800, Monday to Friday (1000-1200 visa section).

Balkan Holidays, Sofia House, 19 Conduit Street, London W1R 9TD, Tel: (0171) 491 4499. Fax: (0171) 491 7068.

British Embassy, Boulevard Vassil Levski 65-67, Sofia 1000. Bulgaria, Tel: (2) 885 361/2 or 885 325. Fax: (2) 656 022. Telex: 22363 (a/b PRODROME) or 24212 (a/b BRITCO BG).

Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria, 1621 22nd Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008 Tel: (202) 387 7969. Fax: (202) 234 7973.

Balkan Holidays (USA) Ltd, Suite 508. 41 East 42nd Street, New York NY 10017 Tel: (212) 573 5530. Fax: (212) 573 5538. Also deals with enquiries from Canada.

Embassy of the United States of America, Saborna Street 1, Unit 1335, Sofia, Bulgaria, Tel: (2) 884 801. Fax: (2) 884 806.

Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria, 325 Stewart Street, Ottawa, Ontario KIN 6KS, Tel: (613) 789 3215. Fax: (613) 789 3524. The Canadian Embassy in Budapest deals with enquiries relating to Bulgaria.

We have been able to publish the present tourist information on Bulgaria thanks to the co-operation of Balkantourist, London.