Do you want to explore Bulgaria? This 5-day road trip itinerary will show you some of the must-see places in Bulgaria!
From the medieval city of Sofia to the gorgeous seaside resorts of Burgas and Varna, this Bulgaria road trip itinerary is perfect for travel lovers! Along the way, you’ll get to see some of the most stunning natural landscapes in Bulgaria and explore some of the country’s most iconic historical landmarks. Don’t miss out on this amazing opportunity to see Bulgaria at its best!
If you’re serious about this road trip, I recommend renting a car for the week, as public transport might not be able to take you everywhere you want to go. Also, public transport is usually slower, and it will take you longer to get from one place to the next. I visited Bulgaria many times, and in August 2021, I took a road trip packed with the most beautiful things to see in Bulgaria. Here’s a one-week itinerary in Bulgaria, with details from where to stay, eat and drink to what to see and more.
This beautiful Bulgaria road trip itinerary will start and end in Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria.
Day 1: Sofia
What to visit in Sofia? Fortunately, the Bulgarian capital is a walkable city, and you can see some of the most important sights in less than one day in Sofia.
The most important place in Sofia is the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
The cathedral dates from 1880, it’s the second-largest cathedral in the Balkan region, and it’s so big it has enough room for 10,000 people.
The Nevski Cathedral was originally dedicated to the Russian soldiers that lost their lives in the course of Bulgaria’s liberation from the Ottoman Empire.
Another place that you should now miss in Sofia is The ancient Roman city of Serdica, which is right in the center of Sofia. Unlike any other European capital, Sofia is located on the grounds of a 9,000 square meters Roman city, which has now been partially restored and can be visited for free. Serdica is now the largest open-air museum in Bulgaria. Its main attraction is Decumanus Maximus, the main road of the Roman city, which prospered between the First and Sixth centuries AD.
Visitors can walk around preserved foundations of antique buildings, roads, and a Christian basilica. The 2000-year-old pavement of the road has been preserved almost entirely.
An amphitheater is located under a glass dome at the square between the Council of the Ministers and the Presidency.
If you have more than one day, you might want to check out some museums.
Here is what else you should check out in Sofia:
- St. Sofia Church
- Russian Church “Sveti Nikolay Mirlikiiski” (known as the Church of St Nicholas the Miracle-Maker)
- St. George Rotunda
- Ivan Vazov National Theatre
- The National Palace of Culture
- Old Parliament House
- National Institute of Archaeology (The Treasury included the Lukovit Treasure, which dates to the time of Alexander the Great’s invasion of Thrace in 400 BC.)
- Vitosha Boulevard. It’s one of the most popular streets in Sofia, full of bars and restaurants. The name of the street comes from the mountain, which can be seen at the end of the boulevard. It’s the closest mountain to Sofia, suitable for hikes and outdoor activities.
You can see the complete itinerary for Sofia, Bulgaria, in my travel vlog:
Where to stay in Sofia?
I recommend staying at Hyatt Regency Sofia. The hotel was opened in September 2020 and it is one of the newest and most fancy hotels in Sofia. The room was extra comfortable, the location was great and the breakfast was amazing. And I’m not even a foodie.
This was truly one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed at.
If for whatever reason choose another accommodation in Sofia, make sure to choose a place close enough to the city center, where all the cool bars and restaurants are.
Where to eat and go out in Sofia?
You’ll be surprised to discover the diversity of restaurants in Sofia. They are all affordable places with amazing food and service. In Romania, it’s a known fact that the food in Bulgaria is amazing. Actually, we oftentimes joke about how after a holiday in Bulgaria, you get home with at least extra 5 kilos.
I recommended checking the Vitosha street area for nice restaurants.
Day 2: Plovdiv and Burgas
After breakfast, you will need to hit the road to have enough time to visit the oldest city in Europe, Plovdiv, which is only 150 km away. The trip should take around two hours and a half.
Plovdiv is the cultural capital of Bulgaria and was the European Capital of Culture in 2019.
But I bet you didn’t know that Plovdiv is one of Europe’s oldest inhabited cities (since 4000 B.C.).
It was conquered by many throughout its history, and its architectural landmarks stand proof for that – the Thracian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires.
What to visit in Plovdiv?
- Ancient Roman theatre (Ancient Theater of Philippopolis)
- Plovdiv Roman Stadium
- Plovdiv Old Town
- Regional Ethnographic Museum Plovdiv
In the old historical center, you will find the Plovdiv Regional Ethnographic museum, which is the second-largest specialized museum of this type in Bulgaria. The museum was established in 1917, and since 1938 it has been located in Kuyumdzhieva house, a unique house that is a Bulgarian National Monument of Culture.
The house itself is one of the most picturesque spots in the old town of Plovdiv. You’ll be drawn by its impressive façade, built in 1847. It is a typical representative of the Plovdiv Renaissance symmetrical house, defined by experts as a peak of Baroque architecture in Bulgaria. His owner was a wealthy tradesman from Plovdiv, and it is today a part of the Architectural-archeological reserve of The Ancient town of Plovdiv.
Inside the museum, you will find a place where one can see, touch, and feel tradition. It features a rich collection that represents the traditional culture of Thrace, the Rhodopes, and the Sredna Gora mountains during the period of National Revival.
Don’t miss the Plovdiv Ethnographic museum if you want to discover how the population from the region used to live. You’ll also get to admire the national traditional costumes, textiles and carpets, musical instruments, and the urban style of living at the time.
Where to eat in Plovdiv, Bulgaria?
For lunch, head over to Kapana, the creative quarter of Plovdiv, which is right next to the old town. I recommend Pavaj restaurant, where you definitely must try one of their many Rakia options. Right next to it is Veggic, a nice vegan restaurant.
After lunch, continue the Bulgaria road trip towards the Black Sea. The next stop is Burgas, which is 300 km from Plovdiv. The drive should take about three hours and a half.
Burgas is the 4th largest city in Bulgaria.
While it’s often underrated, Burgas intrigues its tourists with natural attractions and museums.
What to see and do in Burgas, Bulgaria?
- Lake Atanasovsko (famous for its bright pink hue)
- Aquae Calidae ruins (Roman baths built on thermal springs)
- Burgas Pier
- Sea Garden
- Sand Festival (July – October)
- Take a boat to St Anastasia Island
- Ethnographic Museum
- DiVes Estate Winery
Where to stay in Burgas, Bulgaria?
I recommend staying at Grand Hotel & SPA Primoretz. The hotel has a beautiful spa and pool, and it is right next to the beach.
Where to eat in Burgas, Bulgaria?
Just a few minutes away from the hotel, you will find the lovely Neptune restaurant, which is right next to the beach. The interior is gorgeous, and the outside terrace is wonderful. Make sure to make a reservation.
Day 3: Nessebar and Varna
After breakfast, get ready to continue your Bulgaria tour, and the next stop is Nessebar, the historical city by the Black Sea. The old city of Nessebar is connected to the mainland by only a narrow strip of land.
It is known as the Pearl of the Black Sea and it has been continually inhabited for more than three (3!!!) millennia.
Nessebar was originally a Thracian settlement (Menebria). Afterwards, it became a Greek colony, and then part of the Byzantine Empire.
Nessebar is a UNESCO Heritage site since 1983.
What to see in Nessebar, Bulgaria?
- Nessebar old town
- Archaeological Museum of Nessebar
- Tower Nessebar
- Old Windmill
- Church of Christ Pantocrator
- Aquapark Nessebar
- Watch the sunset at Cape Emine
Where to eat in Nessebar, Bulgaria?
After all that walking in Nessebar, you must be starving. I recommended having lunch at Neptun restaurant, which has a great panoramic view over the Black Sea. This restaurant shares the same name and owner as the Neptune restaurant from Burgas. Both are worth the hype.
After lunch, continue the Bulgaria road trip towards Varna, the largest coastal city in Bulgaria. While Varna is only 100 km away from Nessebar, the drive will take around two hours. The winding road, lack of highway and summer traffic is to blame.
Varna is the largest city from the Bulgarian Black Sea coastline. It is also a preferred seaside getaway for most tourists.
Nature offers many interesting sites around and history lovers have to see the oldest gold treasure in the world (6000 years old) at the archaeology museum.
What to do in Varna, Bulgaria?
- Sea Garden
- Visit the Archaeological Museum
- Aladzha Monastery
- Varna Cathedral
- Varna Park Museum
- Stone Forest
- Varna Roman Baths
- Retro Museum
- The Wonderful Rocks
Where to stay in Varna, Bulgaria?
I recommended staying at Graffit Gallery Design Hotel. The location is close to the city centre and it’s only a few minutes walk to the beach.
If you decide to stay at another hotel in Varna, I recommend choosing one close to the port. That’s where all the nice restaurants and beach bars are. And the location is great for an evening stroll. I stayed for 2 nights in Varna, while discovering the nearby places as well. It’s nice to spend more than one night in a place because I feel less stressed about having to pack every morning.
Where to eat in Varna, Bulgaria?
The restaurants in the port of Varna are all amazing, and I assume they all have tasty food, based on how they all were. I had dinner at Staria Chinar, one of the busy restaurants in the port of Varna, and it was perfect. As I said before, no Bulgaria vacation will leave you starving. The food in Bulgaria is simply the best.
Day 4: Balchik
After breakfast, I recommend getting in the car and driving to Balchik, as this is one of the top places to visit in Bulgaria. You’ll want to get there early before the sun’s heat becomes unbearable.
Balchik is a small seaside town in Bulgaria famous for its beautiful summer palace of the Romanian Queen Marie.
Did you know that Balchik was part of Romania after the Second Balkan War (1913)? That’s when the Queen visited this town and fell in love with it.
What to visit in Balchik, Bulgaria?
- Queen Marie’s Summer Palace
- Queen’s Winery House
- Botanical Gardens of Balchik
Note that you will need to purchase an entry ticket for the gardens and another one for the Palace. The two ticket sale points are at the entry, right next to each other. Bring your student card or other badges to get a discount ticket.
Lunch in Balchik: Where to eat in Balchik?
After you admire the beautiful gardens of Balchik, it’s time for lunch in one of the most beautiful locations in Bulgaria.
I recommend having lunch at El Balkon del Mundo, near Cavarna. I recommend this place for the breathtaking views, mouth-watering food and outstanding service. It’s not the cheapest restaurant in Bulgaria, but it’s totally worth the hype. After I posted about this place on Stories, someone messaged me back saying “Thank you for the recommendation. It was the best!”. No other words needed.
While in the area, after lunch I strongly advise you to visit Cape Kaliakra. The area offers breathtaking views of the cliffs of Bulgaria as they meet the Black Sea. Read more about Cape Kaliakra.
Where to eat in Varna: Dinner near Varna
For the evening, I recommended a special dining experience, close to Varna. It’s a perfect place for a group of friends, team building and anyone who loves wine and is looking for something special.
It’s called Wine Club Varna, and it is available only on a booking basis. Make sure to book your wine tasting experience or tasting + dinner experience as soon as you know the exact day you will be in Varna (they have lots of wine lovers visiting them from all over the world).
The host is Dimo, and the place is called Wisteria villa. It was a total surprise to discover this place. This location is especially cool if you are a wine lover such as myself.
Head back to Varna to spend the night and prepare for an early wake-up tomorrow.
Day 5: Veliko Tarnovo
Before you leave the beautiful coastline of Bulgaria, you have to witness at least one sunrise. I recommend renting a boat and admiring the breathtaking sunrise from the openness of the Black Sea.
This wasn’t my first time seeing the sunrise by the Black Sea, but it was the first time on a boat on the Black Sea.
As this is a private experience, you will need to book it in advance, at least a day or two before.
After sunrise, head back to the hotel for breakfast. A long trip to Veliko Tarnovo awaits. The 230 km drive to Veliko should take around 3 hours.
Where to eat in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria?
You should arrive at Veliko Tarnovo just in time for lunch. Since you only have one day here, I recommended booking a table with a view at Shtastliveca. This restaurant offers a panoramic view over the Yantra river, the Assen Dynasty monument and the colourful city.
For dinner, I recommend the restaurant at Yantra Hotel for its wonderful panoramic view over the Tsaravets fortress. During summer, the fortress offers a light show every evening. You can admire it as you serve your dinner.
What to see in Veliko Tarnovo?
Veliko Tarnovo is one of the oldest cities in the country and the former capital of Bulgaria.
I’ve been here before, but I never got the chance to explore the city. And this place is only a 3-hour drive from Bucharest, Romania, where I live.
What to see in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria?
- Tsaravets Fortress
- Old Town
- Archaeological Museum
- Assens Monument
- Holy 40 Martyrs Church
Make sure to visit the Tsaravets Fortress and wander on the wonderful streets of the old town of Veliko Tarnovo.
Where to stay in Veliko Tarnovo?
Veliko is a tourist place and offers many accommodation options. However, this is the place to splurge a bit on the accommodation and choose a hotel that offers nice views. I recommended Grand Hotel Yantra. For the best views, ask for a room with a view over the Tsaravets Fortress.
This is the same hotel I recommend for dinner, for the evening views over the fortress valley.
Bulgaria Trip Day 6: Back to Sofia
This is the last day of this Bulgaria road trip. Enjoy your morning in Veliko Tarnovo, strolling on the streets of the old town. If you’re a coffee addict, some friends recommended Samurai Specialty Coffee Shop.
The trip from Veliko Tarnovo to Sofia should take less than 3 hours (220 km).
If you still have some hours to spare before catching your flight back home, you can head over to the old town of Sofia.
Tips for the best Bulgarian road trip
Bulgaria might sound like an exotic place to travel to in Europe, and you might be right if you’re coming from really far away. But as a general rule, Bulgaria is not that different from other European nations, and it’s quite similar to the other Eastern European countries.
Bulgaria trip: Bulgarian roads
Bulgarian roads are generally in good condition. Note that Bulgaria doesn’t have many highways, and most of the places from this Bulgaria trip are connected by national and European roads. That’s why most roads only have one lane in each direction.
Bulgaria trip: Driving in Bulgaria
Driving in Bulgaria is generally safe. Make sure to always follow the rules, and you won’t have any issues. Make sure to not exceed the speed limit when driving in Bulgaria. Most roads have many mobile radars placed on them, and dealing with the Bulgarian police isn’t easy to do since they do not speak English.
This Bulgaria road trip has come to an end
I hope this Bulgaria road trip itinerary will help you plan your one week in Bulgaria or at least give you an idea of all the wonderful places to visit in Bulgaria.
Of course, there are so many more other tours of Bulgaria that you can do, but this is a good start if you want to cover as much as possible.
Disclaimer: This trip was organized by the Bulgarian Ministry of Tourism. However, everything I wrote and mentioned in this blog post is my own opinion.