Briefly Bulgaria: A Pleasant Surprise

I considered passing straight through Bulgaria and not making a single stop.

Before arriving, the only thing I knew about the country was that it had appalling beaches full of resorts, with people covering every square metre of sand. That was definitely not somewhere I wanted to be.

As desperate as I was to get to Istanbul and finally stop moving, I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t see any of Bulgaria. We managed to squeeze three nights into our schedule and spent them in Veliko Tarnovo and Plovdiv.

Looking back, this was a huge oversight on my part. Within minutes of arriving in the insanely picturesque village of Veliko Tarnovo, I knew I wanted to stay for months. It was just so beautiful!

veliko tarnovo

Struggling with our bags in the midday sun, Dave and I stumbled down the steep pathway to VT Poolside Hostel, one of the best hostels from our time in Eastern Europe. And yes, having a swimming pool definitely helped.

We couldn’t possibly spend our entire time in Veliko Tarnovo lying by the pool so in an effort to actually see some of the city, we decided to take the free walking tour.

Streets of Veliko Tarnovo

While the walking tour wasn’t particularly impressive, the views during the walk certainly made up for it. From cottages nestled into the hillside to a ridiculously enormous fortress, Veliko Tarnovo has to be one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been!

Houses Veliko Tarnovo
Veliko Tarnovo Fortress

We finished up the tour at the Asens monument, which serves as a backdrop from what feels like everywhere in town. Commemorating the formation of the second Bulgarian Empire, it provided beautiful views over the town and the Yantra River.

Veliko Tarnovo statue

After finishing up the tour, there was just one thing left to do.

Eat cheese.

One of my best discoveries in Bulgaria was the amazing cheese, available in every form. It was cheese that was so good that I had it for every single meal while I was here — yes, even for breakfast! Cheese on toast, cheese on chips, cheese wrapped in bacon, cheese salad, I could not stop eating it!

And so, in just two days I had come to the conclusion that Veliko Tarnovo is a wonderfully chilled out place to spend a while wandering down cobbled alleyways, exploring medieval fortresses and eating cheese.

Sadly, two days was all we had in Veliko Tarnovo, and so it was with great reluctance that we packed our bags and jumped on a bus to Plovdiv.

We had even less time to spend in Plovdiv, with just a single day to cram in as much as possible. Fortunately for us, there wasn’t all that much to see.

The Old Town was compact, pedestrianised and walkable, lined with colourful shop fronts and bustling cafes. After having spent the past 6 weeks visiting Old Towns just like this it was hard to feel excited. Sure, it was a beautiful place to be, but was there really anything that made Plovdiv different from all the other cities I’d visited in Eastern Europe.

I was feeling uninspired.

Streets of Plovdiv

…And then we stumbled upon something amazing. 

Plovdiv is the oldest, continually inhabited city in Europe so I shouldn’t have been surprised when Dave and I came across a gorgeous Roman theatre in the centre of the Old Town.

I’m not usually one for spending hours wandering around ruins, but this theatre was incredible, I just couldn’t tear myself away.

Plovdiv Amphitheatre
Plovdiv Amphitheatre
Plovdiv amphitheatre

Wanting to soak up my final few moments of my journey through Eastern Europe, I paused for a hour or so. Perched on one of the crumbling marble seats in the theatre, I reflected on how far I’d come over the last 6 weeks.

Germany to Bulgaria. 10 countries and 16 cities. 13 trains and 8 buses. I’d had an incredible time and while at times it had been absolutely exhausting it was one of the craziest adventures, and some of the most fun, I’ve ever had.

As the sun started to set in the sky and my stomach began to rumble, I stood up, sadly knowing that it was now time to leave Bulgaria.

I had arrived with extremely low expectations and left eager to explore more of the country. We didn’t give ourselves enough time and subsequently were only able to scratch the surface. Bulgaria was a wonderful surprise and the perfect way to finish off our time in Eastern Europe.

I’ll definitely be returning sometime soon…

About the author

Lauren Juliff

Lauren Juliff is a published author and travel expert who founded Never Ending Footsteps in 2011. She has spent over 12 years travelling the world, sharing in-depth advice from more than 100 countries across six continents.

Lauren's travel advice has been featured in publications like the BBC, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Cosmopolitan, and her work is read by 200,000 readers each month. Her travel memoir can be found in bookstores across the planet.


  1. Juliann
    November 26, 2012

    It looks beautiful. An old boyfriend of mine went to Bulgaria during his days with the Peace Corps and I always wondered what it looked like there. Very pretty.

    • December 1, 2012

      I’m glad I could help you see what Bulgaria looks like, Juliann :)

  2. November 26, 2012

    Beautiful places/pics. The second photo (walking in Veliko Tarnov) is my favorite.

    • December 1, 2012

      Thank you! Veliko Tarnovo was certainly beautiful! :)

  3. November 26, 2012

    WHY DIDN’T I READ THIS SOONER?! After a lot of contemplating, I decided to leave Bulgaria out of my trip next year and go through Moldova and Ukraine after Romania. Flights booked and all!

    Oh well…from the looks of it, Bulgaria is worth more than the two or three days I’d have given it anyway.

    I also feel that at some point we need to do some kind of blogger collaboration involving cheese. Basically, we go to amazing places, eat cheese, and post photos of the cheese whilst writing inspiring lines like, “OMFG THIS CHEESE FHJDHJFHG,”

    Now THAT is a winning idea. We can begin in Bulgaria. Or the dairy aisle of Asda.

    • December 1, 2012

      Oh well, plenty of time for you return at some point in the future! :)

      Erm, that collaboration sounds incredible! No instagram allowed.

  4. Koren @ City Gal
    November 26, 2012

    Bulgaria looks beautiful! I have a few friends who have been but know relatively nothing about it. Definitely going to add it to my list for my next Europe trip!

    • December 1, 2012

      Great! I’m glad you’re adding it to your list, Koren! You won’t be disappointed :)

  5. Monique Lozeron
    November 26, 2012

    We LOVED Bulgaria!!! Very friendly people and great sights. We were heading in the opposite direction, from Turkey to Europe and found it was a great first country to check out.

    • December 1, 2012

      And I found it to be a great last country to check out! :)

  6. November 26, 2012

    I’ve only heard good things about Bulgaria but like many others it’s been left off the itinerary.

    After seeing a few ancient theatres in Greece this one is pretty impressive.

    • December 1, 2012

      The theatre in Plovdiv is probably the best theatre I’ve seen so far :)

  7. Scarlett
    November 27, 2012

    Loooove your pictures – I want to go here so much, please switch lives with me! xx

  8. Amanda
    November 27, 2012

    “A pleasant surprise” is definitely how I would describe Bulgaria, too. I really enjoyed just about every part of the country I visited, and was blown away by how PRETTY it all was! Plus, those Roman ruins in Plovdiv? AMAZING!

    • December 1, 2012

      The ruins were incredible, weren’t they?! Bulgaria is so beautiful!

  9. November 27, 2012

    Glad you got your cheese fix! I have a cheese sandwich pretty much every day at work and I’m worried how I will cope without when we travel. It gives me hope though that if a cheese-obsessive like you can survive, so can I. Great pics too by the way!

    • December 1, 2012

      I ate cheese sandwiches everyday for about 10 years straight and I still manage to have one every few days while travelling! Trust me, you’ll find them everywhere.

      The best cheese sandwich I’ve had on the road was in Laos!

  10. Ian [EagerExistence]
    December 6, 2012

    Plovdiv is my favourite city/town in Bulgaria. The women are so gorgeous!

  11. nomadic translator
    December 7, 2012

    I didn’t know the oldest, continually inhabited city in Europe was in Bulgaria! Interesting eh? The things you learn everyday :)

    and the cheese… Don’t even get me started talking about cheese!

    and that village looks freaking adorable. I would love to spend some weeks there as well. Gee, I really need to get to Eastern Europe!

    -Maria Alexandra

  12. May 27, 2013

    I’m glad you had a chance to visit Bulgaria on your travels! An amazing country = I lived there for 2 years.

  13. MP
    July 31, 2013

    Bulgaria is beautiful. One of the oldest countries in Europe with one of the richest cultural heritages in the world.

    The countryside is incomparable. Mountains, valleys, beaches, sea.

    Besides Veliko Tarnovo and Plovdiv, you might also want to visit these wonderful places: Koprivshtitsa, Melnik, Nessebar, Sozopol, Kovachevitsa, Leshten, Arbanasi, Varna, Bozhentsi. Google them for images.

    If you want beaches, go in the summer. If you want to ski, go in the winter.

    If you love roses, check out the Valley of the Roses near Kazanlak during late spring and early summer. Bulgaria is the biggest producer of rose oil in the world. As well as lavender oil. There are endless fields of lavender and roses. The only place I have seen that can rival this beauty is perhaps the South of France.

    Also, it’s worth to mention the Bulgarian wine country. In these lands people produced wine thousands of years ago and exported it to Greece and elsewhere, long before any other European region was known for winemaking. This is the land of the Thracian God of wine and funtime Dionysus, after all.

    If you want to explore Bulgarian wines, I recommend the Melnik region. The industry is just getting back on its feet, but there are lots of small operations that craft interesting vintages. Go in the early fall when they make the wine.

    • August 5, 2013

      Thanks for the advice! I’ll be sure to check back when I return to Bulgaria :-)

  14. Maya
    March 15, 2014

    I am a Bulgarian and I am happy to hear that you and other people like my country. I love Bulgaria although I dont live there for ages…
    Except the places that MP wrote, I would recommend you to visit some of the churches and monastery, like Rila Monastery, Bachkovo Monastery, Cherepishki Monastery, etc.
    A nice places to visit are Belogradchik rocks, the famous Seven Rila Lakes, Kaliakra and some Thracian tombs, like Sveshtari and Starosel.

    Take care,

    • November 14, 2015

      Thanks so much for all of the recommendations, Maya! I hope to hit them up very soon :-)

  15. Monika
    May 18, 2014

    Plovdiv-my home town :) I’m so happy you liked it, and I hope one day you’ll come back to Bulgaria and explore some more and eat more cheese of course :)

  16. Surya Bhattacharya
    June 5, 2014

    Aaah, I remember reading this post when I was contemplating going to Veliko Tarnovo myself. I did go in December with low expectations, like you, and was pleasantly surprised. Plovdiv was amazing for me, maybe because I took a walking tour very early and found those amazing theatres right at the start :D
    I love your pictures. I went in the winter and the weather was disgusting :/

    • June 24, 2014

      So pleased to hear you enjoyed Bulgaria as much as I did! :-)

  17. Atanas
    August 19, 2014

    Hi, Lauren.
    Just like Maya, I`m also very happy you liked my home country. Bulgaria is a pleasant surprise to many travelers, because they don`t have big expectations. And the reason is – Bulgaria is not so well advertised as a touristic destination (like our neighbors Turkey and Greece) and people don`t know much about it. l`m a little disappointed that most people just past transit either on their way to Turkey or on their way from Turkey to Western Europe. Because it`s really much to be seen and done here – wonderful nature, delicious food, old history, etc. Plus – no huge touristic crowds (like in Istanbul).
    And, of course – everyone likes our cheese :) I hope you had not missed to try also our yellow cheese, called “kashkaval”. If you did, don`t miss next time ;) Actually, our white and yellow cheeses are two of the reasons I`d probably never go living abroad. I would miss them soooo much. As well as things like luytenitza, banitza, etc.
    Next time – come for longer and see some of the places people above me recommend.You` won`t be disappointed.
    Have safe travels.

  18. Dave
    July 15, 2016

    There are a few other places that I’d recommend visiting such as the 7 Rila Lakes, the old town in Plovdiv, the Lozenetz Seaside resort, Kaliakria, Devin municipality (lots of beautiful lakes and caves, including the worldwide popular cave – the Devil’s Throat), Stara Planina a.k.a Old Mountain stretches across the whole country and has lovely toursit paths for a leisurely walk among the nature. Vitosha, Bansko and Pamporovo are a great winter resorts you can visit, to skii or snowboard or just to go for SPA and party during the winter.

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