The Most Unique Places in Central Bulgaria
Updated: Nov 22, 2021
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Bulgaria is internationally known by tourists for its beautiful seaside resorts along the Black Sea, as well as its numerous winter resorts in the mountains which are very popular for ski breaks. But there are a lot of unique places in central Bulgaria to visit as well which are sadly often bypassed by tourists who are looking to make a quick getaway to the coast. We spent a week in Bulgaria, visiting a few of the country’s popular cities, but we also took time to explore some hidden gems in Bulgaria as well, which make up part of the country’s rural tourism.
Some of the best destinations in Bulgaria are probably those that you’ve never heard of before, and in all honesty they’re places that I hadn’t heard of either until I started researching what to do in Bulgaria. Visiting Bulgaria in the off season meant that many of the points of interest we had added to our itinerary either weren’t accessible in the current weather conditions or weren’t worth driving to, which was a shame but that just gives us an excuse to visit in the summertime! Here are the most unique places in central Bulgaria that we managed to visit and would recommend adding to your Bulgarian itinerary:
No trip to central Bulgaria is complete without visiting the famous Rila Monastery. The monastery is a very popular day trip from Sofia if you happen to be staying in the country’s capital. It’s considered to be one of the top places to visit in Bulgaria and draws in thousands of tourists every year. Situated in the mountains, Rila Monastery dates back to the 10th century and is one of nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bulgaria. You’re free to explore almost all areas of the monastery apart from the monk’s apartments which are completely off limits. The big attraction is the church at Rila Monastery which is covered in beautiful colourful frescoes, both inside and outside. Entry to Rila Monastery is free, though you need to pay €2.50 to park and they only take cash, and there are a few souvenir shops on site too. It’s definitely one of the most unique places in central Bulgaria to visit, so make sure you stop by!
One of the best cities in Bulgaria you can visit, apart from Sofia, is Plovdiv. Not only is it one of the oldest cities in the world, but it also claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe as well. As you make your way through Plovdiv on foot, you’ll notice there are Roman ruins at almost every turn, including a massive amphitheatre. If that isn’t enough, Plovdiv’s old town still retains its medieval charm and many of its buildings which are now museums, making it beautiful to walk around (even in the rain). Plovdiv was built on seven hills, but if you only have one day in Plovdiv, I would recommend walking up to Nebet Tepe which is popular with locals and offers amazing sunset views. Although it’s one of the more touristic places in Bulgaria to visit, Plovdiv is an incredible city that’s bursting with history and has quite a bubbling food scene.
During our trip around the Central Balkan National Park, we managed to find time in our schedule to make a quick stop at Veliko Tarnovo, the old capital of Bulgaria. Veliko Tarnovo is right up there on the list of unique places to visit in central Bulgaria, as it’s home to a number of important historical attractions such as Tsarevets, a large medieval fortress that was once the centre of power in Bulgaria. It dates back to the 8th century, but its major developments didn’t begin until the 12th century. For a small entrance fee, you can have access to the entire fortress and its grounds - just make sure you arrive early so you don’t run out of time! The fortress is one of the most popular things to see in Bulgaria, but Veliko Tarnovo itself is worth exploring as well.
Etar Open Air Museum
If you’re unable to hit up some of the many hiking trails in Bulgaria due to the weather, I’d recommend taking a drive and visiting the Etar Open Air Museum. It’s a fantastic hidden gem in Bulgaria to visit, and is very budget friendly too. The open air museum allows you to walk through Bulgaria’s rural history where you can also see some artisans at work and taste some of the local cuisine in one of the restaurants on site. Even in the rainy weather, we had a great time taking photos here as the museum is very picturesque and colourful. As you leave the museum, you can take a quick drive up the mountain to visit Sokolski Monastery too. The area is a very unique place to visit in central Bulgaria and is perfect for getting off the beaten path.
The town of Troyan is famous for its handmade pottery which you can find on sale all across Bulgaria. If you happen to be passing by Troyan, I would recommend purchasing it from one of the local shops as it’s significantly cheaper than in the cities. Just outside of Troyan sits the third largest monastery in the country, making it one of the most spiritual places in Bulgaria to visit as well. Troyan Monastery was founded in the late 16th century and has a very ornately decorated church within its grounds. If you’re interested in staying at the monastery, they do offer accommodation for travellers and you can try some of their plum brandy which is made using a medieval recipe. Unique places in central Bulgaria don’t come much better than this!
The Valley of the Thracian Rulers
You may not know this, but Bulgaria is home to its very own valley of the kings. In recent years, a large number of Thracian burial mounds have been discovered in the Kazanlak Valley in central Bulgaria, which in turn prompted an archaeologist to give it the name of The Valley of the Thracian Rulers. If you have time, you can easily hop between the tombs which take no more than 10 minutes each to go through. We chose to visit the two most popular ones, the Tomb of Seuthes III and the Kazanlak Tomb, which are both easy to locate by car. This area is also where you can find the world’s only Museum of Roses, which digs into the history and popularity of rose oil and rose water in Bulgaria. It may not be one of the most popular places in Bulgaria for tourists to visit, but the valley is certainly very educational!
Shipka Memorial Church
There are many spiritual places in Bulgaria to visit, but one of the most unique spots is the Shipka Memorial Church. This church was completed in the 19th century to commemorate the soldiers who died in the Russo-Turkish War. The outside of the church is very colourful and reflects the 17th century Muscovite style, but the inside is just as impressive with its religious frescoes and gold trimmings. This historical church is free to enter, though they do charge you if you want to take photos inside. There’s also free parking available on site, next to a row of souvenir stalls. If you can visit in the off season you’ll have the place all to yourself!
If you’ve never visited Sofia before, or this is your first time in Bulgaria, a trip to the capital is a must! There are a lot of things to do in Sofia, so I would recommend spending at least three days here so that you can see all of the city’s main attractions at a leisurely pace. Luckily, if you only have one day in Sofia to spare, it’s quite a small capital city compared to others in Europe, so many of the main attractions in Sofia are easily accessible by foot. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is considered to be one of the most beautiful places to visit in Sofia, but you’ll be pleased to know that there are also plenty of ruins to see throughout the city too since it was built on top of a Roman city! It’s also a very inexpensive place to visit in Europe, and the food scene here is unbelievable. Sofia is a very unique place to visit in central Bulgaria, even though it’s the capital!
Where To Stay in Central Bulgaria
One of the best places to stay in Bulgaria if you’re a history lover like me is Chateau Copsa. Located in the heart of the Rose Valley, this winery-turned-hotel is a fantastic option for accommodation in central Bulgaria as you make your way south towards Plovdiv. We stayed in one of their large double rooms inside Maison Copsa, overlooking the Middle Ages-inspired tower, which is also used as part of the hotel. Our L-shaped room was enormous, with a large and comfortable double bed, two seating areas, a walk-in shower with a separate toilet room, and plenty of storage space. Our one regret is that we only had time to spend one night here, and we didn’t have the best weather either.
In the evening we were treated to one of the hotel’s taster menus in Restaurant Zelanos, which included several dishes each paired with a different wine, fresh from their very own vineyard. They also offer wine tasting experiences which take place in the cellar of Chateau Copsa. The winery and hotel is family owned and run, with Maison Copsa, where we stayed, being added in 2017 so it's very new and modern inside. It's quite an experience driving up to the hotel too, as you get to drive right through the heart of the vineyards! Chateau Copsa is a beautiful and unique place to stay in central Bulgaria, and is perfect for anyone who loves history - and wine!
>> Click here for the most up to date prices at Chateau Copsa <<
If you’re thinking of visiting Bulgaria in the future, make sure you consider adding some of these unique places in central Bulgaria to your itinerary before heading off to the coast or a mountain resort. There are many beautiful places in Bulgaria to visit in this part of the country that may surprise you and that you’ll most likely have all to yourself. We can’t wait to return to Bulgaria in the summer months and see what natural Bulgarian landmarks we can come across!
Have you visited Bulgaria before? I’d love any recommendations on what other places we should visit on our return trip. And if you have any questions or concerns about visiting Bulgaria, please leave me a comment below or drop me an email. Don’t forget to follow my adventures through my Instagram page too!