You'll get all this!
Bulgaria is a land of fascinating contrasts, with a European identity that's rooted in a unique blend of Ottoman, Orthodox, and Soviet soil. You'll marvel at Roman outposts, mystical medieval monasteries, and a dazzling collection of prehistoric gold. All along the way, your Bulgarian Rick Steves guide will connect you with people who make their country's history, art, culture — and hospitality — come to life. You'll be warmly welcomed in neighborhood cafés, rustic mountain villages, and humble monasteries. Join us for the Best of Bulgaria in 12 Days!
- An extra-small group, limited to 20-24 people — less than half the size of most tour groups
- Full-time services of a professional Rick Steves guide plus local experts who will make the fascinating history, art and culture of Bulgaria come alive for you
- All tours and admissions — at no extra cost — covering at least 15 group sightseeing events • Sofia walking tour • Meet with government official • Roma village visit • Rila Monastery tour • Wine tasting • Plovdiv walking tour, including Roman Theater • Cultural performance • Kazanlak Thracian Tomb • Nesebar walking tour • Varna Archaeological Museum tour • Madara horseman visit • Arbanasi visit • Veliko Tarnovo walking tour • Tsarevets Citadel in Veliko Tarnovo • Pomak village visit...and more
- All group transportation from Sofia to Sofia
- 11 nights accommodations in memorable, centrally-located hotels
- All breakfasts and half your dinners
- All tips for guides and driver
- Free stuff including a Bulgaria guidebook, moneybelt and earplugs
- Guaranteed tour price, locked in the moment you make your deposit
- Optional single supplements — this tour has a limited number of private rooms for solo travelers for an additional fee
- Tour alum discount of $50 for each tour you've taken prior to 2013
- 50% discount on a consulting appointment with our in-house experts to assist with your pre- or post-tour travel plans
- Flexibility should you need to transfer, or cancel/interrupt your tour
- Fine print: You are responsible for the cost of your drinks and free-time sightseeing. See our Tour Conditions Agreement for important details regarding everything listed above
- Light = 2-4 miles of mostly level walking throughout the day.
- Moderate = 2-6 miles walking throughout the day with some hills and stairs.
- Strenuous = 2-8 miles walking throughout the day with lots of hills, stairs and uneven terrain.
Day 1: Welcome to Bulgaria
Join your guide and group at 4 p.m. today in our Sofia hotel for a "Welcome to Bulgaria" get-together. We'll take a neighborhood stroll and then enjoy our first taste of Bulgaria's rich cuisine over dinner together. Sleep in Sofia (2 nights). No bus. Walking: light.
Day 2: Exploring Sofia
Today we'll take a walking tour to uncover Sofia's intriguing past and present. We'll visit the Alexander Nevsky Memorial Cathedral — famous for its gilded domes and masterful mosaics — and the Parliament building, where we'll stop for the changing of the guard. We'll wrap up our day by meeting with a government official, who will answer questions and tell us about issues facing Bulgaria today. Then you can "follow the yellow brick road" (Sofia has one) to explore the bustling market hall and more of the city's center on your own. No bus. Walking: moderate.
Day 3: Rila Monastery
We dive headfirst into Bulgarian culture today with a visit to a Roma (gypsy) village, where we'll be welcomed by these fascinating people, visit kids at a local school, and learn about their history and culture. Later, we'll drive through the scenic Rilska Valley, passing traditional villages en route to our destination high in the mountains: the remote and mystical Rila Monastery. We'll take a walking tour of this 14th-century architectural treasure and its fabulous frescoes when we arrive, and sleep as guests in the monastery tonight — with no expectation of hot water or plush beds (1 night). Bus: 4 hrs. Walking: moderate.
Day 4: Bessa Valley Wines
You'll have time to appreciate the tranquility of Rila Monastery (even attend an early prayer service) this morning. We'll leave mid-morning for the city of Plovdiv stopping where merchants from Troy journeyed 4,000 years ago: a Bessa Valley winery. We'll learn the history of some of Europe's oldest vineyards — from ancient times to the Communist "collective era" and the entrepreneurial present — and enjoy a tasting. Then we'll continue on to Plovdiv, one of Bulgaria's most delightful cities, where we'll sleep (2 nights). Bus: 5 hrs. Walking: moderate.
Day 5: Renaissance Plovdiv
Once the capital city of ancient Thrace, Plovdiv is actually older than Athens and Rome, with archaeological relics dating back 4,000 years. We'll start our day with a walking tour of Plovdiv's old town, including Trajan's 2nd-century Roman amphitheater and its commanding view of the city. We'll also enjoy the structures that Plovdiv is proudest of: the old town's unique collection of elegant, pastel-pretty "Bulgarian Renaissance" homes from the 19th century. The remainder of the day is free for you to explore more of this cultural and cosmopolitan city. No bus. Walking: strenuous.
Day 6: Kazanlak and Nesebar
We'll drive to the Black Sea today, stopping in Kazanlak en route to visit one of the greatest examples of early Hellenistic art: a 4th-century BC Thracian tomb covered with magnificent murals and packed with beautifully-preserved gold and bronze artifacts. We'll end our day along the seaside in the lovely little island town of Nesebar — dotted with Byzantine churches and even a windmill — and connected to the rest of Bulgaria by only a narrow isthmus. Sleep in Nesebar (2 nights). Bus: 7 hrs. Walking: light.
Day 7: Nesebar and the Black Sea
This morning we'll take a time-tripping walk through Nesebar, learning about its important Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Turkish and Bulgarian past — a lot happened in this tiny place! The rest of the day is yours to relax on the beach, stroll around town, take a boat ride on the Black Sea or sample the local catch direct from the fishermen. No bus. Walking: moderate.
Day 8: Treasures of Varna
We'll drive along the Black Sea coast to the resort city of Varna where we'll stop to tour the Varna Archaeological Museum and marvel at the oldest gold jewelry ever discovered. We'll get oriented to the bustling town of Varna and settle into our hotel. The rest of the afternoon is yours to explore this modern town and stroll the extensive, waterfront park and promenade before we gather again in the evening to enjoy a memorable dinner together. Sleep in Varna (1 night). Bus: 2 hrs. Walking: moderate.
Day 9: Over the Balkan Range
Today we'll drive up and over the green Balkan Range to one of Europe's most dramatically-situated towns: Bulgaria's medieval capital of Veliko Tarnovo. En route we'll see the Madara Horseman, carved high into a rock cliff 13 centuries ago, and stop to tour the stuck-back-in-time village of Arbanassi. Tonight we'll enjoy a hearty dinner together, and admire the striking night view of Veliko Tarnovo's illuminated citadel across the valley. Sleep in Veliko Tarnovo (2 nights). Bus: 5 hrs. Walking: light.
Day 10: Veliko Tarnovo
We'll walk from one hill to the next, learning about Veliko Tarnovo's role in the medieval birth of the Bulgarian Kingdom, its 14th-century fall to the Ottoman Turks, and the 19th-century uprising that led to the end of Bulgaria's Ottoman occupation. As the story unfolds, we'll wind our way along narrow cobblestone streets, meeting local artisans along the way, then finally conquer the ruins of one of Europe's mightiest citadels. After our trek together you'll have free time to continue exploring this unique town or work your way back through the medieval streets to where we started. We'll meet up later this evening and drive to a nearby community center and enjoy a fabulous folk performance. Bus: 1 hr. Walking: strenuous.
Day 11: Pomaks and Sofia
This morning we'll visit the remote Pomak village of Glogovo — a community that converted to Islam under the Ottoman Turks, and has kept that faith ever since. We'll have lots of opportunities to interact with local school kids and adults. In fact, the villagers are preparing a traditional lunch for us today! This afternoon we'll return to Sofia and have a festive final dinner together, where we'll share travel memories and toast new friends. Sleep in Sofia (1 night). Bus: 4 hrs. Walking: light.
Day 12: Tour Over After Breakfast
Bulgaria's international airport is just outside of Sofia, or you can hop a nearby train to other European cities. Your guide will help get you pointed in the right direction. Radvayte se na pytuvaneto!
Itinerary specifics subject to change.
Rick Steves tours are physically active!
This is an integral, essential part of the "back door" experience. On our Best of Bulgaria in 12 Days tour — among other things — you'll need to happily...
- Carry/roll your luggage over uneven pavement (several blocks possible) and up stairways to reach your hotel; then up several flights of stairs to reach your room.
- Be on your feet for up to 3 hours walking and standing, both inside museums and outdoors in all weather conditions (hot sun, rain, etc.).
- Sleep with no (or weak) air conditioning and street noise in some hotels.
- After orientation and transportation lessons, be able to navigate towns and cities on your own.
- Walk up steep streets to the Tsarevets Citadel in Veliko Tarnovo.
- Be content with rustic conditions during our one night stay at the Rila Monastery (possibility of sharing bathroom facilities, shortage of hot water and sleeping on cots).
We've put together some specific information on what you should know about this tour before you go. You'll also find more general information about "Getting Ready for Your Tour" on our Tour FAQ.
Sightseeing On Your Own
If you arrive in Sofia before your tour begins, ride the public transportation, try out a few words of Bulgarian, and get over your jet lag with lots of fresh air and exercise.
Here are suggestions for sightseeing in Sofia that we will not be doing as a group: National Art Gallery, Ethnographical Museum, National Museum of Military History.
Your guidebook also has plenty of ideas for any extra time you may have before or after your tour and your guide will be happy to help you with post-tour plans.
Most tour members arrive a day or two before the tour begins — and those who don't, wish they had. This allows you ample time to get over jet lag and make the most of the first few days of the tour. Sofia is becoming a large transportation point in the Balkans, making additional travel plans before or after your tour quite easy.
For links to helpful rail and air websites, go to www.ricksteves.com/plan/links and look under "Transportation." Flying within Europe has also become more reasonable. Ask your travel agent or check the above web links.
Read Rick's Guide to Eurail Passes and decide if your travel plans merit a railpass (or contact our Rail Department for advice at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425/771-8303 ext. 214).
Prior to your tour departure, you will receive detailed directions on how to get from the airport to your first tour hotel, as well as contact information for your first and last hotels in case you wish to book pre- or post-tour hotel accommodations.
If you need more information about additional European travel or for specific questions about your tour, contact the Tour Department at 425/608-4217 or email email@example.com.
See a chart with monthly rain and temperature information for this tour.
While it is important to pack light, there is one thing we'd like you to consider including when packing for this tour. We will be visiting many Orthodox Churches throughout the tour and women are expected to cover their heads with scarves. You may want to include one in your suitcase or purchase one upon arrival in Sofia. For ideas on what to pack, check Rick's Packing List and our Women's Packing List.
Tour Guide Raves
"I can't say enough good things about Lyuba as our guide. I have had other guides that were good, both with RS and other tour companies but she is outstanding in her knowledge, contacts and just the people she knew along the way. I don't know of another guide that brings that much to a tour. Rick has found a gem in her."
— Connie in Littleton, CO
"Lyuba is a real treasure and the ‘heart and soul' of this trip. Her warm personality and genuine character brought Bulgaria's history and culture to life. Her personal stories and perfectly timed jokes made the time on the bus fly by. She was constantly sharing snacks, little treats, warnings about uneven surfaces, and even dance lessons."
— Margaret in Mondovi, WI
Favorite tour memories from recent alums:
"I really liked the visit to the Roma cultural center and the time we had with the students from the Roma community. I also liked the visit to the Pomak village — they were very friendly. I enjoyed seeing the school and being invited into their homes to see their cottage industry!"
— Bill in Shepherdstown, WV
"There were several 'wow' moments. One was the fantastic choral music during the Alexander Nevski Cathedral Service and being there when the Patriarchs in their elaborate brocade robes blessed the lines of people. Another was the fantastic music and folk dancing in the Community Center at Gorna Oryaholitsa. The energy and expertise of the young dancers was terrific. As was their graciousness when they asked us to join them dancing after the official program (which of course we did)!"
— Deborah in Cambridge, MD
To see more comments on Rick Steves' tours, read through our tour member reviews.
Videos & More
This region is rich in history, art and culture. To help you get the most from your trip, we've put together this collection of travel resources from Rick's TV shows, radio interviews and articles, as well as recommended books, films and music.
Rick Steves' TV Clips & Shows
(For more TV clips on this region, visit Rick on YouTube.)
- Stolen Eyes (2004)
- Lady Zee (2005)
- Monkeys in Winter (2006)
- Investigation (2006)
Rick Steves' Radio Interviews
(For more radio interviews on this region, see Rick's Audio Europe™ files for iPod, PC & MP3.)
Rick Steves Audio Europe™
- Traditional/folk: Bulgara, Sofi Marinova, Ivo Papazov
- Jazz: Teodosii Spasov
- Gypsy brass band: Karandila Orchestra
Rick Steves' Articles
(For more articles on this region, see Rick's Best Destinations.)
- The Shortest History of Bulgaria — Nikolay Ovcharov
- A Concise History of Bulgaria — RJ Crampton
- Imagining the Balkans — Maria Todorova
- Princes Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians — Garth Cartwright
- The Balkans — Mark Mazower
- Natural Novel — Georgi Gospodinov
- Wild Tales — Nikolai Haitov
- Roads to Freedom — Geo Milev
- Rates of Exchange — Malcolm Bradbury
- The Porcupine — Julian Barnes