Bulgaria travel guide
Bulgaria is a beautiful country, with a sprinkling of mountains; it is small in size but rich in ancient culture, scenic splendour, friendly people and old-fashioned warmth and hospitality. Situated in the southeast of Europe, on the Balkan Peninsula, Bulgaria is not as much a tourist destination as its Greek and Turkish neighbours to the south are. This despite the popularity of its reasonably priced Black Sea resorts, which are scenically captivating with their fine sandy beaches, sunny climate and safe seas.
Although better known for its sea resorts, the essential character of Bulgaria can really be found in its spectacular mountainous regions. The six very different mountain ranges in the country vary from high, snow-covered peaks to gentle green slopes and forests, harbouring thermal springs and mineral spas, and valleys where the air bears the fragrance of flowers and herbs. The Valley of Roses lies in the heart of the country and is one of the largest producers of rose oil in the world, giving credence to Bulgaria's soubriquet, 'Land of Roses'. At the foot of the Vitosha Mountains lies the laid back capital city, Sofia, boasting a great number of architectural monuments and museums. The rugged heights of the Rila and Pirin mountains form a spectacular setting for ski resorts, as well as the famous Rila Monastery and the majestic landscape of the Pirin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Crossing the entire country is the Balkan Range, a 329-mile (530km) chain that offers some of the best hiking in Europe.
As varied as the different mountain ranges are the people who dwell in them, with distinctive regional customs, crafts, festivals and folklore adding colour to the Bulgarian landscape. Small picturesque villages welcome guests with typical warm-hearted Bulgarian hospitality, sharing traditional cooking and a delight in their pastoral environment.
Bulgaria's history is displayed across the country in its old towns, ancient Thracian relics and treasures, decorated churches and monasteries, and in the rustic settlements that have preserved the traditional beliefs of its people. One of the country's biggest assets for visitors is its variety, but whatever aspect one chooses to explore, there is always the assurance of a warm welcome.
The official currency is the Lev (BGN), which is divided into 100 stotinki. Bulgaria has strict currency regulations. If you enter Bulgaria with cash of any currency amounting to the equivalent of BGN 8,000 or more, you must declare it to customs officials. Foreign currency may be exchanged in banks, hotels or at one of the numerous bureaux de change; however, due to a common practice of misleading rates of exchange it is better to go to banks to change money. A receipt called a bordereaux is issued when exchanging currency, indicating the amount that will be given, and it must be kept until departure. Major international credit cards are increasingly becoming accepted by tourist hotels, upmarket shops and restaurants, travel agents and car rental agents, but Bulgaria is still largely a cash economy. There are ATMs in the main cities and at Black Sea resorts.
Language : Bulgarian is the official language, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet, but English, German and French are spoken in resorts, hotels and restaurants.
Electricity : Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. European two-pin plugs and schuko plugs are in use.
Entry Requirements :
Citizens of the US do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days. Passports must be valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay.
British Citizens do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days. A passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay is required.
Canadians do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days. A passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay is required.
Australians do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days. A passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay is required.
South Africans need a visa to enter Bulgaria, except for stays of up to 90 days for holders of a Schengen visa. A passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay is required.
Irish nationals do not need a visa to visit Bulgaria for a period of up to 90 days. A passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay is required.
New Zealanders do not require a visa for a maximum stay of 90 days. A passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay is required.
Passport/Visa Note :
Visitors must have proof of sufficient funds or onward or return tickets in addition to other documents needed for the next destination. Valid health insurance is required. All visitors to Bulgaria, other than EU nationals, must register as foreigners at a local police station within five days of arrival. This registration is usually done as a matter of course through the hotel or accommodation establishment. Visitors are advised to check this, as a dated registration slip has to be submitted when leaving the country. Immigration and entry regulations are very strictly enforced. Passports of all visitors should be valid for at least three months after leaving Bulgaria. We recommend that passports be valid for six months after intended period of travel. Visitors should be prepared to show proof of valid medical insurance upon request. Visa requirements vary from country to country.
Travel Health :
Bulgaria poses few health risks and there are no vaccinations required for entry. Vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B are, however, always recommended for travellers, and a typhoid vaccination is recommended for travellers who may be eating and drinking outside of hotels and restaurants and travelling off the beaten track. Similarly, a rabies vaccination is recommended for travellers who will be spending a lot of time outdoors or who will be exposed to animals and have any risk of animal bites. Medical treatment can be expensive and payment is expected immediately. Facilities in local hospitals are basic and specialised treatment or equipment may not be freely available. Medical insurance, with provision for emergency evacuation, is therefore vital. Travellers from the UK should also hold a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in case of emergency medical treatment.
Tips of 10 percent of the bill are customary in restaurants, while hotel porters and taxi drivers expect visitors to round up the bill for good service. With non-metered taxis you needn't add a tip to the fare you agreed on beforehand.
Safety Information :
Most visits to Bulgaria are trouble-free. Violent crime is rare, but criminal groups target casinos and nightclubs and groups of young pickpockets are active in city centres and the Black Sea holiday resorts. Car theft is common.
Local Customs :
Foreigners should be aware that traditionally a shake of the head means 'yes' and a nod means 'no', although allowances are often made for visitors; it is useful to clarify the answer verbally to avoid confusion.
Relationship building is important in Bulgaria, and initial meetings may be used as an introduction, after which more business-related meetings can be planned. Face-to-face meetings are therefore preferred over communication by email, fax or phone. The use of English in business is increasing, however the services of a translator might be required, and presentations should include the use of visuals where possible. Introductions include firm handshakes, and the exchange of business cards. Dress should be conservative business attire and punctuality is expected. Business hours are generally 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.
The country dialling code for Bulgaria is +359, followed by the relevant city code. The city code for Sofia is (0)2. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relavent country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). Betcom or Bulgarian Telecommunication Company phone booths require a special card available from kiosks. Telephone offices are also available and are attached to post offices. Bulgaria is one of the few countries in Europe that has no peak or off-peak call times. The country has mobile GSM operators, and several Internet Service Providers. Internet cafes are on the increase in the big cities.
Duty Free :
Travellers to Bulgaria, aged 17 and older, do not need to pay customs duty on 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco; 1 litre of spirits and 2 litres of wine; 50g of perfume or 100g of eau de toilette; and gifts. Allowances are larger for goods purchased within the EU. Prohibited items include arms and ammunition, narcotics and pornography.
Sofia International Airport
Location: The airport is situated six miles (10km) east of Sofia.
Time: Local time is GMT +2 (GMT +3 from the end of March to the end of October).
Contacts: Tel: +359 (0)2 937 2211/2 (international flights departures and arrivals).
Transfer between terminals: A free shuttle operates between the terminals at 30-minute intervals from 7am to 7pm.
Getting to the city: Regular bus services 84 and 384 run on a frequent schedule day and night from the bus station close to Arrivals. Passengers will have to pay extra for large pieces of luggage. The journey takes 40 minutes on weekdays, and is slightly faster on weekends and holidays. Most hotels and tourist resorts run their own airport shuttles.
Car rental: Avis, Hertz, Budget, Europcar and Sixt have desks located in the arrivals hall.
Airport Taxis: Taxis are available, and passengers are advised to use OK Supertrans taxis from outside the arrivals hall; their enquiries desk is located inside the arrivals hall of both terminals. If no taxis are available, passengers can request one at the taxi desks located within the arrivals halls.
Facilities: The airport is well equipped with banks, currency exchange, ATMs, restaurants, cafeterias and bars, duty-free shopping, a chemist, travel agency, tourist information desk and first aid facilities. There is also a business lounge with internet access, and a luggage-wrapping machine at departures.
Parking: Parking at Terminal 1 is in an open lot, and costs BGN 2 for 20 minutes, BGN 3 for an hour, BGN 6 for two hours, BGN 9 for three hours, escalating to BGN 30 for 24 hours; each additional day is BGN 10. Payment is made at the cash desk at the car park exit. Parking at Terminal 2 is in a parking garage, and charges similar rates; payment is made at the machine by the elevators, or the adjacent pay desk.
Varna International Airport
Location: The airport is situated on the western outskirts, about five miles (9km) from Varna.
Time: Local time is GMT +2 (GMT +3 from April to September).
Contacts: Tel: +359 (0)52 573 323.
Getting to the city: Public bus 409, which passes through central Varna and travels as far as Golden Sands resort, serves the airport; departures are from in front of the VIP hall. Taxis are available in front of International Arrivals, but the meters are often not working and it is advisable to agree on a fare with the driver before departure. Many resort hotels run their own shuttle services to and from the airport.
Car rental: Car rental agents are on site at the airport including Avis, Hertz, Sixt and Europcar.
Facilities: The airport has currency exchange facilities, a large restaurant and duty-free shops.
Parking: Parking is available just opposite the terminal and is open 24 hours a day. The first ten minutes are free and charges start at BGN 2 per hour thereafter. However, a flat rate of BGN 15 applies for between seven and 12 hours of parking, while charges increase slightly thereafter.
Departure tax: US$20 (nationals of the USA only).
Bourgas International Airport
Location: The airport is situated six miles (10km) from Bourgas.
Time: Local time is GMT +2 (GMT +3 from April to September).
Contacts: Tel: +359 (0)56 870 248 (Departures); +359 (0)56 870 272 (Arrivals).
Getting to the city: Most passenger flights into Bourgas Airport are part of package holiday deals and visitors are conveyed by their host tour operators. Taxis are available, and local buses serve the airport.
Car rental: Car rental is available.
Facilities: The airport has a bureau de change, bank, restaurant, duty free shop, post office and first aid facilities.
Departure tax: US$20 (nationals of the USA only).
Bulgaria has a temperate-continental climate, which is typical for Central Europe. The weather is not too extreme and there are four distinct seasons, all of which have advantages for visitors: summer is long and hot and is generally considered peak tourist season; autumn is also a pleasant season, popular with tourists for its rich autumn colours and the fact that it is less crowded; winter is fairly mild and offers great skiing opportunities; spring is warm and lovely because all the blossoms are out. Bulgaria is generally a sunny country with between 2,200 and 2,500 hours of sunlight every year. It can rain throughout the year and thunderstorms are common in the summer months. Snow falls abundantly between December and March, especially in the mountainous areas. There is a marked difference in weather between the mountains and the milder, southern regions near the Mediterranean sea. Summer temperatures, between June and August, average around 75°F (24°C); whereas winter temperatures, between December and February, average around 32°F (0°C). Bulgaria is a year-round tourism destination because it attracts off-season visitors for skiing, but the most popular time to visit is summer.
Bulgarian Tourism Office, Sofia: +359 (0)2 987 9778 or
United States Embassy, Sofia: +359 (0)2 937 5100.
British Embassy, Sofia: +359 (0)2 933 9222.
Canadian Consulate, Sofia: +359 (0)2 969 9710.
Australian Consulate, Sofia: +359 (0)2 946 1334.
South African Embassy, Sofia: + 359 (2) 939 5015
Irish Embassy, Sofia: +359 (0)2 985 3425.
Bulgarian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 387
Foreign Embassies in Bulgaria
Bulgarian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7584 9400.
Bulgarian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 3215.
Bulgarian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6286 9711.
Bulgarian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 3720/1.
Bulgarian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 660 3293.
112 (General Emergency Helpline)
Bulgaria Emergency Numbers
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