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Everything you need to know before visiting Bulgaria

Travel to Bulgaria

Heading to Bulgaria for your inaugural visit and unsure about what awaits you? Fear not, for I’m here to guide you. In this piece, I’ll provide essential travel advice for Bulgaria, aimed at simplifying your trip and enhancing your experience. Situated on Europe’s fringe, both geographically and in terms of tourism, Bulgaria often lacks the comprehensive, firsthand insights travelers seek before their visit. However, this obscurity can be seen as a blessing, allowing you to discover incredible, authentic locales still untouched by mass tourism.

In preparing for your journey to Bulgaria, there are several key factors to take into account. This section aims to address common queries related to visa requirements, the Bulgarian currency, the optimal time for visiting, and places that might be best to steer clear of during your stay.

1. Visa Requirements: Understanding Bulgaria’s visa policies is crucial. Depending on your nationality, you might need to apply for a visa before arrival. It’s essential to check the latest visa regulations through official Bulgarian diplomatic channels or their website to ensure you have the correct documentation.

2. Bulgarian Currency: Bulgaria uses the Lev (BGN) as its official currency. Familiarizing yourself with the exchange rate and considering where and how to exchange your money is advisable. Credit cards are widely accepted in urban areas, but cash is king in smaller towns and rural locales.

3. When to Visit Bulgaria: Deciding on the best time to visit Bulgaria hinges on your interests. Summers are ideal for exploring the Black Sea coast, while winters cater to ski and snowboard enthusiasts in mountain resorts like Bansko and Borovets. Spring and autumn are perfect for hiking and sightseeing, offering mild weather and fewer crowds.

4. Places to Avoid: While Bulgaria is largely safe and welcoming, it’s wise to be cautious in overly touristy areas prone to scams or pickpocketing. Also, certain secluded areas may be less safe at night, so it’s recommended to stay informed and heed local advice on places to avoid.

Bulgaria is in the EU but is not a Schengen country

Traveling to Bulgaria from an EU-member state involves undergoing passport control at the airport, a process that is also mandatory when entering the country via car through any checkpoint. For those coming from outside the EU, it’s essential to consult with the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs or your nearest Bulgarian Embassy/Consulate to determine if you require a visa for entry. Detailed information on the countries that necessitate a visa for Bulgaria, along with the specific requirements, can be found through these official channels.

Money

Although Bulgaria is part of the EU, the country does not utilize the Euro as its currency. Instead, the national currency is the “lev” (лев) for singular and “leva” (лева) when referring to multiple units, such as 5 leva or 10 leva. Commonly, the abbreviation “lv.” (лв.) appears in price listings, menus, and similar contexts. For formal and banking purposes, the official currency code is BGN.

An interesting tidbit: “Lev” translates to “lion” in English, a creature emblematic of Bulgaria and featured on the nation’s National Emblem. A crucial tip for travelers keen on avoiding scams is to remember that the lev is pegged to the euro at a fixed exchange rate: 1 EUR equals 1.95583 lev. This makes conversions fairly straightforward – simply halve the amount in leva to approximate the value in euros.

Regarding financial transactions, withdrawing cash from an ATM is recommended for obtaining local currency. While not all exchange offices engage in deceitful practices, opting for ATMs or banks is advised to ensure security. It’s important to note that payments in Bulgaria cannot be made with US dollars or euros, despite euro banknotes bearing the word “евро” in Bulgarian. This inclusion follows Bulgaria’s accession to the EU in 2007, making Bulgarian one of the official languages of the Union.

Weather in Bulgaria

Bulgaria experiences a continental climate characterized by cold winters, where temperatures can plummet to -20°C (-4°F), often accompanied by significant snowfall. Conversely, summers in Bulgaria are notably warm, with temperatures soaring between 30-35°C (85-95°F). One of the climate’s greatest perks is the presence of four distinct seasons, each offering its unique charm. Spring in Bulgaria ushers in mild temperatures and occasional rain, paving the way for vibrant blooms and fresh greenery. Autumn is equally enchanting, marked by a mild, golden “Indian summer” that blankets the landscape in warm hues.

And for those wondering about winter activities, yes, Bulgaria is indeed a destination for skiing! This fact remains a pleasant surprise to many, as the country’s snowy landscapes transform into prime skiing terrains, rivaling other popular European destinations. Whether you’re an enthusiast of winter sports or simply love to indulge in the scenic beauty of snow-covered peaks, Bulgaria’s ski resorts offer an unexpected adventure in the heart of Europe.

Places to avoid in Bulgaria

Once hailed as jewels of the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, Sunny Beach and Golden Sands have evolved into overcrowded resorts characterized by excessive drinking and unruly behavior among tourists. This shift has unfortunately led to a decline in service standards across the board. Visitors are often seen merely as sources of income, leading to experiences that fall short of expectations. Despite the allure of seemingly low prices by Western European standards, patronizing these locations contributes to overtourism without benefiting the local tourism sector positively. Having visited Golden Sands in my childhood, due to my parents’ careers in tourism, it’s disheartening to witness the negative impact of insufficient regulatory measures on the sustainable development of tourism in these areas.

Tip: For those seeking a seaside holiday, consider alternatives like Kavarna, Kranevo, Shkorpilovtsi, Obzor, Ravda, Pomorie, Chernomorets, Primorsko, Kiten, or Ahtopol. These destinations offer a more authentic and enjoyable experience away from the crowds.

If you’re uncertain about where to choose along the coast, feel free to seek advice in the comments section below—I’m here to assist.

It’s important to note that Bulgaria’s promotional efforts as a travel destination leave much to be desired. Beyond the Black Sea Coast, Bulgaria boasts a stunningly diverse natural landscape ripe for exploration. I encourage thorough research before your visit and am available to offer advice should you need more information than what’s readily available online. Bulgaria’s beauty and diversity are waiting to be discovered, promising an enriching experience beyond the well-trodden paths.

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