I’ve not made it to Bulgaria yet but hearing Alex from EarthOSea describe some of the incredible places to visit in Bulgaria in winter, she certainly made me want to visit! In this post, she shares her top tips for where to go in Bulgaria in winter, opening my eyes to this seriously underrated country.
Bulgaria is one of the oldest countries in Europe. It has been established at the end of the 7th century by khan Asparukh and his horde that approached the northwest part of Black Sea. Afterwards, the horde’s deeds had a huge impact on the events that followed for the Byzantine Empire and its destruction. This led to the creation of the powerful Bulgarian Empire, which conquered most of Eastern Europe back in time.
Nowadays, Bulgaria is not as big and powerful as it used to be. However, this does not mean that it is not as beautiful. Bulgaria is famous for its beautiful mountain ranges spread across through the northwest to the southwest. In the centre of the country, there is the Balkan range which leads to the Black Sea where it creates incredibly beautiful vistas and national parks.
There are lots of things to do and explore in Bulgaria even during the winter season. Whether you would go skiing or snowboarding, check out the thermal baths or simply take a road trip around the country, you will not be disappointed!
Winter Weather in Bulgaria
The winter season in Bulgaria is one of the most awesome times of the year, but the weather can be pretty harsh. Winters in Bulgaria can be as cold as -30C, which can last for a month or more. However, this does not stop people from going to the mountains to practice their favourite winter sports.
Lately, the temperatures are not that harsh, but the weather is quite unpredictable. Thus, it is good to be prepared and always check the forecast. For example, the winter season of 2020 was barely there. There wasn’t lots of snow and the winter was quite hot, which led to most of the slopes being closed. Thus, it is advisable to always check the news before heading to Bulgaria.
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Places to Visit in Bulgaria in Winter
Bansko and Borovets
Bansko and Borovets are prominent resorts in Bulgaria, known for their perfect slopes and hospitality. There are plenty of activities you can take on there including skiing, snowboarding, hiking or stay at the spa in the hotel.
Check out these activities in Bansko:
While Borovets is more of a resort, Bansko shines with being one of the most well-known villages in the country. It is also one of the oldest villages, which was founded by Slavic tribes hundreds of years ago. It is located between Bulgaria’s highest mountains – Rila and Pirin. This makes it a very good spot for all kinds of activities. While in Bansko you can embark on a hiking adventure on either of the mountains and witness some of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe.
Stara Planina (The Old Mountain)
Stara Planina is one of the places you can visit while on your winter visit to Bulgaria. The secluded villages set around the mountain and the snow spread all around them created this cosy winter feeling. Unlike the other mountains in Bulgaria, it is not so easy to reach Stara Planina and its beautiful spots. It requires more time and effort. However, it is absolutely worth visiting it and its jaw-dropping landscapes.
During the winter season, you can visit the Rai hut (Heaven hut), which overlooks Bulgaria’s most beautiful and biggest waterfall – Heaven’s Spring. It is absolutely jaw-dropping even in the wintertime. You can visit some of Bulgaria’s revival cities like Shipka, Karlovo and Kalofer. There you can witness Bulgaria’s beautiful revival architecture and learn more of the way people lived back then.
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Places to Visit in Bulgaria in Winter: Rila Monastery
The Rila Monastery is the most prominent monastery in Bulgaria and also Southeastern Europe. It was found around the 10th century by the hermit Ivan Rilski. The monastery consists of a huge church with 5 domes, 3 altars and 2 side chapels. While inside you will be stunned by the gold-plated iconostasis and the fine frescoes everywhere.
There is also a residential part and if you would like to spend a night there you are more than welcome. The reception is right next to the museum of the monastery and a night there costs around 10-15 euros. During your stay there, you can also check the museum which holds Rafail’s wooden cross and other artefacts since the founding of the monastery.
During the winter season, the Rila Monastery is as fascinating as ever. It is surrounded by a lush evergreen forest near Rila mountain and getting there is not so hard. On top of that, you can take a walk inside it or outside of the monastery where you will find plenty of traditional dishes to eat. It is best to try the Mekitsa, which is fried dough covered with some sugar powder. It is absolutely delish!
Seven Rila Lakes
Although the Seven Rila Lakes are at 2000 meters above sea level, lots of people go hiking in even during the winter. The Seven Rila Lakes are of glacial origin and all of them have names resembling their main characteristic. There are the Lower, Fish, Twin, Kidney, Trefoil, Tear and the Eye lake, which is the clearest.
To hike to the 7 Rila Lakes you can get to the lift, which will take you to Rila lakes hut and from there you can embark on your 5-hour hike around the lakes. However, you should consider your equipment and be properly dressed and have plenty of water.
In the end, you can even stay at the hut and stargaze, which is probably one of the best things you can do while there. You can find more information on how to explore the Seven Rila lakes here.
Vitosha Mountain is the perfect place to go if you want to explore nature near the capital of Bulgaria. The mountain is half an hour drive from the city centre of Sofia and there are lots of places to visit there and is a great place to go hiking in Bulgaria.
Some of the best places you can visit during the winter season is the Aleko hut where you can grab something to eat and enjoy the beautiful view of the mountain and the city. Near it, you can check the Golden Bridges (Zlatnite Mostove), which is a formation of huge round stones spread around the ridge of the mountain.
If you are an avid hiker, then it is best to go for a hike to Cherni Vruh (Black peak), which is the highest peak in Vitosha Mountain. During the winter the hike takes around 2-3 hours and requires good equipment. It is also advisable to notify the personnel at Aleko hut, so that they are aware of your travel plans. However, you can embark on a less risky adventure to the Dragalevtsi monastery, which is located in the village of Dragalevtsi and takes around 1 hour to get to the monastery. It is a very beautiful and secluded monastery in Vitosha mountain.
Last but not least, you can go to Boyana waterfall, which is the most beautiful waterfall in Vitosha mountain. However, the hiking trail to it can be quite challenging especially during the winter season.
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Where to go in Bulgaria in Winter: Plovdiv
During the winter season, the city of Plovdiv is a very good choice. The sunniest city in Bulgaria is always welcoming and there are lots of things to do there.
While in Plovdiv you should definitely visit the ancient theatre of Philippopolis. It is located in the old town of Plovdiv and is of Roman origin. Back in the days, Plovdiv was a city in the Roman Empire and was considered to be the Emperor’s favourite city to visit. Due to this, there were built the theatre and the ancient stadium, which can be found in the heart of the old town.
The city is known as one of the most revivalist cities in Bulgaria. There are lots of traditional revival houses built in its city centre, which belonged to the noble and rich families of the Bulgarian Revival. While there you can explore their beautiful and unique architecture, traditional setting and learn more about the way of living in Bulgaria during this period.
Last but not least, visit the Kapana neighbourhood. It is full of modernistic pubs, cafes and restaurant offering incredibly tasty dishes, which will leave you speechless, but well-fed. Furthermore, you can check if there are events happening in this district as it is Bulgaria’s cultural spot.
Separeva Banya and Hisarya
If you want to get away from all of the hassle and bustle of the cities full of people doing winter sports, then you can opt for the thermal spas. There are lots of option for thermal spas in Bulgaria, but Separeva Baya and Hisarya are the most prominent.
Separeva Banya is close to the capital of Bulgaria and is around an hour and a half car ride from it. It is a small village, which offers lots of guesthouses built in a traditional Bulgarian style. However, if you would like to learn more about Bulgaria and its ancient history while resting in the thermal spa, then you should opt for Hisarya.
Hisarya was found thousands of years ago by the Thracian tribes. Later, it was conquered by the Romans and became an important and well-known city in the Roman Empire. While in Hisarya, you will witness some of the most well-preserved Roman buildings that stand till this very day. There are the remains of an amphitheatre, city walls and churches. Now, you can also explore the richest Thracian tomb of Starosel that is close to Hisarya.
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If you are a history lover then you should definitely visit the city of Veliko Tarnovo. There you will find the Tsarevets Fortress, which was the residence of the royal family of the First Bulgarian Empire. It encompasses a huge land and spreads all over the city surrounded by huge city walls. Inside there can be found the Ascension Cathedral where kings were claimed and people were Christianized. Going to the south of the fortress is Baldwin’s Tower. It is known for holding the Byzantine Emperor Baldwin captive after the defeat of the Byzantine army by the Bulgarians.
Veliko Tarnovo is also known as one of the cultural centres of Bulgaria. Around the city, there are a couple of ethnographic complexes and museums depicting the Revival period in Bulgaria.
If you want to get a better look at the city you can go to park “Sveta Gora” and hike a bit there.
Places to Visit in Bulgaria Winter: Sofia City
The capital of Bulgaria has a lot to offer, whether it be museums, galleries or natural monuments, it has it all. Some of the most famous landmarks that worth a visit are in the city centre of Sofia. One of them is Cathedral Saint Aleksandar Nevski. It is the most famous cathedral in Bulgaria and is known for its beautiful frescoes and its gold-plated domes. Another very beautiful religious building is the Russian church, which is a couple of minutes away from the cathedral.
If you are curious to find out more about the way, the Bulgarian culture evolved you can visit the National Art Gallery and the Ethnographic museum there. There are lots of artefacts from the Revival period of Bulgaria and a section dedicated to the Bulgarian kings and queens. A bit to the side is the famous Rotunda of Saint George, which is the oldest religious building of the city. It was built in the 4th century and is located in the middle of the presidential palace, but is free to enter.
Going further, a stop by the National Museum of History is necessary. Probably there you will get a better understanding of the way the country has been founded and evolved. Along with that, you can check out Boyana Church, which is prominent for its well-preserved frescoes of the first royal family. Keep in mind that the ticket for the National Museum of History is also valid for the church.
Last but not least, you can check the Palace of Vrana, which can be found at the east entrance of the city. It belonged to the Bulgarian royal family but is now open to the public for long walks.
Christmas in Bulgaria
Christmas in Bulgaria is one of the most magical times of the year. All of the streets are covered in Christmas lights, there are lots of Christmas markets and events for the upcoming holiday.
You will probably find it to be a very charming period of the year, especially during the winter evenings, which start at around 5:00 pm.
Another best thing about this period of the year is the food. Bulgaria is prominent for its incredibly tasty cuisine and it has lots to offer. Whether it will be the traditional banitsa, cabbage with meat or beans stew, everything tastes amazing.
Christmas in Bulgaria is a family holiday and as per tradition, all of the family members should gather together. Then, the oldest member of the family divides the bread to all of the other members and then the traditional dinner begins. After that, the family would go to church to show their gratitude to Jesus Christ. On Christmas Eve, the food stays at the table until the morning, so that the great spirit can feed himself.
New Year in Bulgaria
The celebration of New Year starts around midnight in every single town of the country. There are firework shows and all kinds of festivities like concerts and folklore dances. If you happen to be in Sofia you should go to Knyaz Batenberg square where all of the people gather. Usually, there is a concert with popular Bulgarian singers, folklore dances and other entertainments. Then, at midnight there are the fireworks, which is expected by everyone.
If you happen to be in Veliko Tarnovo, then you should definitely watch the fireworks show at the Tsarevets Fortress, as it is truly astonishing!
No matter what time of year you visit Bulgaria I am sure you will enjoy it, but winter Bulgaria will certainly not disappoint! I hope this post has given you some ideas about the best places to visit in Bulgaria in winter, all that is left now is planning when to go.
About the Author
Alex is a blogger at EarthOSea who has extensively travelled around Europe for the past 3 years. Originally from Bulgaria, she lived in Portugal in 2019 where she got more familiar with the Portuguese culture, traditions and language.
Alex’s speciality is mainly in travelling in a sustainable and less harmful to the environment way. She is focusing more on ways to travel on a budget. Along with that, she loves hiking and discovering uncharted islands, but she also loves staying at the beach with a book in hand. You can follow her adventures on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.
All photos credit to EarthOSea, except the cover image.
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Just to let you know, this post may contain paid or affiliate links, which help to maintain Tales of a Backpacker and give me the chance to keep travelling, and to keep creating awesome content for you! I only recommend goods and services I believe are useful and reliable.Last updated: November 21, 2020